How We Rebounded From A 92% Loss In Sales Due To The Pandemic

Dean Salakas
Founder, The Party People
The Party People
from Sydney NSW, Australia
started January 1986
alexa rank
market size
avg revenue (monthly)
starting costs
gross margin
time to build
7 months
growth channels
business model
best tools
Fiverr, Adobe Suite, LinkedIn
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
35 Pros & Cons
5 Tips
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Start A Party Supply Store

Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

30 years ago my mum Mala Salakas was Patches The Clown. Her passion for parties led her to open a small party shop. In 2007 I and my brother Peter took over the family business so she could retire. Today it’s Australia’s leading online party supplies retailer with over 25000 party supplies. We also operate 2 bricks and mortar stores of which one is Australia’s largest.


Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?

We have had a rough year with COVID. We were at one point down 92% on sales compared to the prior year. This has now rebounded to be roughly normal now. I will talk about this in more detail in the next question.

Also in the last 12 months, we have been a finalist for Innovator Of The Year (of which the other two finalists were bunnings and Officeworks who have a budget for innovation and we did it on almost no budget), Pop up a store of the year (for our Halloween alley pop up store), as well as our store manager winning “Store Manager Of The Year” at the National Retail Association’s National Retail Awards.

Some innovations from the last 12 months include

Buy Now Pay Later Without Signup

We are one the first retailers globally to trial a new Buy Now Pay Later solution where instead of signing up with AfterPay or ZipPay, the user simply enters their credit card as with a normal payment but instead selects for their card to be debited 4 times over a 4 week period. No sign up is required or account log in with a Buy Now Pay Later provider.

Halloween Pop Up

Halloween has continued to grow over the last few years and so we decided to try a specialist Halloween Store as a pop-up concept called “Halloween Alley”. The store is a 3000sqm store at Westfield Knox, Victoria, and offered an unparalleled range of over 15,000 costumes, costume accessories, Halloween candy, and Halloween decorations. The concept of a Halloween specialist store is itself innovative but also the sheer size of the pop-up is also innovative for a pop up which is typically a smaller-scale extension of a brand.

The store experience is uniquely designed so people can interact with them. There was a Haunted House built in the middle of the store with animatronics to provide an experience for customers making it more than just a shopping destination. All staff is either cosplayers, actors, makeup artists, or lovers of Halloween to ensure customers get service from experts who understand what they need. Staff is encouraged to dress up in costumes while they work and were free to “act” the character they are dressed up in.

Here is a walkthrough of the store where you can click to move around the store (similar to google street view we created using an innovative new camera technology). The project was a success and we had planned to open 4 stores this year. Due to COVID19, stores will are now planned for 2021.

Magic Mirror

We were one of only a handful of retailers globally to trial magic mirror technology and the first (and only so far) to trial it with costumes. Customers stand in front of a mirror and with the wave of a hand, can change the costume that appears on them through Augmented reality.

This was first launched by The Party People in its Halloween Alley pop-up store as a trial and with its success, it implemented it into The Party People Megastore in August 2020.

See video.

Innovating in retail can be costly and difficult however when implemented successfully leads to higher satisfaction from customers and increased profitability.

Additionally, I have been named 2018 Retail Leader Of The Year & 2020 Top 50 Small Business Leaders List.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

Talk to your customers about your business direction.

Sales were down by 92% in March due to COVID-19, I asked my team to speak to our customers (the 8%) to find out what they were buying as parties were illegal at the time. The answer helped me form my strategy within a few days and I had the team set up a “Coronavirus Survival” category which we made the main banner. This category had 4 subcategories Coronavirus Safety & Hygiene (which contained sanitizer and masks among other cleaning items), Things To Do At Home (which contained Arts & Crafts, Games, Dress ups, Toys & Balloons), Baking and Gifts.

The Coronavirus Safety & Hygiene category had many staples for cleanliness and virus safety. I had a close relationship with an importer of Hand Sanitiser and Masks so in March I was early to retail the product when most could not source supply or manufacture it fast enough. It became its best selling products. This provided a great service to our customers who struggled to source such products at that time at a reasonable price.

The Baking and Things To Do at Home categories were simply products we already stocked but were presented in front and center to the customer as ideas when people were looking for ways to deal with isolation. The Gifts category was split into Balloons (which it did currently) and Hampers which sold Easter Show bags through a joint venture with a show bag provider struggling to move their bags due to the cancellation of the show.

As a result, sales immediately rebounded to be down only 50% which was a great result given that parties were illegal.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

Given COVID 19, we have a short-term contingency plan for further outbreaks but in terms of long-term growth the plan is looser and the strategy will be revised when a vaccine is confirmed for rollout.

In general, though we are looking at a few things including acquisitions and investment online I can’t say too much at this stage.

Have you read any good books in the last year?

Yes, Catch of the Decade. The catch group has had every business they started a turn to gold and they exited the right time. Those guys really know how to grow a business. I personally know Gabby (founder) and he is an absolute legend.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes, currently we are hiring a receiving manager, assistant store manager, and a balloon manager.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Dean Salakas   Founder of The Party People
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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