“What’s Poppin” presents best friends creative outlet

Drew Hoffmaster | The Chronicle

Just through colorful balloons, two best friends blow up their business.

In 2022, seniors Hope Johnson and Sydney Vargo started What’s Poppin, a business creating balloon arches and designs for graduation parties, bridal showers and other events. While Johnson handles the business’s finances and Vargo handles the social media, they both work on the balloon structures together. The business started as a side hustle to help their friends and family but has now expanded to doing projects for clients and companies.

Photo contributed by Angie Vargo
Sydney Vargo and Hope Johnson pose with their balloon arch for Hope Squad.

The idea for What’s Poppin was inspired by a TikTok video Johnson and Vargo viewed as “cute.” With encouragement from Vargo’s mother, Vargo said she and Johnson decided it would be a good way to make a little extra money.

“At first, we were kind of hesitant,” Vargo said. “But the more we learned about [balloon arches and designs] and the more we got better at it, we started finding it actually kind of fun.”

Johnson and Vargo faced some challenges when learning how to string together balloon structures. Vargo said they did not expect to struggle so much, with projects taking three hours or more. Eventually, both of them learned to trust the process and wait until the final product to judge the results.

“You’re like, ‘This looks kinda janky,’” Vargo said. “You don’t know if it’ll work out, and you begin to get nervous. But every single time we get to the end, we are both stunned and think [the structures] are beautiful.”

While Johnson and Vargo run What’s Poppin in their spare time, they have found times when managing the business conflicts with their schedule at times. Vargo said sometimes one of them has to take a step back from the business, and the other one fills in.

“The fact it isn’t a full-time job is really nice,” Vargo said. “With it being a little side thing, it presents us both so much flexibility because if we both can’t do it then we can just say no.”

Johnson and Vargo have been best friends since they were little. Vargo said the best part of the business is working with her best friend and getting to create balloon structures with Johnson.

“I’ve had times where I’m stressing about timing and thinking, ‘What if they get here and we are not done?’” Vargo said. “But Hope reminds me we’re going to get it done and that we just have to keep going, which helps so much.”

To Johnson, one of the best parts of the business is getting to see the reaction of customers. She said customers are often blown away by the difference between the beginning of a project and the end results.

“We did a [project] for a little girl’s Bat Mitzvah,” Johnson said. “It was so cool to see her come in and see the joy on her face and just say, ‘Wow that is beautiful.’”

The pair have also done projects for Mason City Schools, Amazon and the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation, which advocates for the mental health of student-athletes. Johnson said she loved the opportunities to do projects for big organizations.

“We made a balloon arch for a Hilinski’s Hope event,” Johnson said. “It was so fun to be able to contribute to an event raising awareness about an athlete that died.”

Johnson said that What’s Poppin has expanded by word of mouth and social media. Neither of the girls has plans to invest in other ways to advertise because Johnson said they want to keep the business casual.

“[What’s Poppin] is just something we do for fun,” Johnson said. “It is one of those small passion projects that we just get so much joy out of.”

Currently, Johnson and Vargo do not plan to continue the What’s Poppin in college because they are unsure if they will end up at the same university. Johnson said that they have plans to continue the business over the summer and are excited about that.

“I definitely see us when we come back in the summer picking [the business] right back up,” Johnson said. “It is just so fun to create these structures together.

Even if they do not continue the business in the future, Johnson and Vargo said their friendship will remain strong, and that their passion project has been a way to try new things and grow together.

“Our friendship makes [What’s Poppin] a new adventure we are experiencing together,” Johnson said “We are experiencing, learning and growing together while trying out new things. I can’t imagine our lives being any other way.”