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Apr 09

Fairy Tale Success is in Reach for Party Planner

Posted by: Steve Marr

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Laura Joyce-Miss Laura to her customers-loves to throw parties. So it's only logical that her business, Once Upon A Time, is devoted to children's dress-up and birthday parties. To find strategies to increase profits, she recently met with small business consultant Steve Marr.

The story

Laura Joyce came here from Chicago in June 1999 to be close to family and leave behind the ice and snow. Joyce has three children and, in Chicago, was a day care provider.

Day care was a natural business for Joyce. Kids are drawn to her, and she's the kind of parent who enjoys 20-kid sleepovers complete with go-go dancing on the furniture and creative ice cream concoctions, she says.

When Joyce arrived here, she worked in her mother's Green Valley geriatric consulting business as an in-home caregiver. She wanted to open a party place similar to one she'd seen in Chicago.

"Children are asked to grow up in an over-stimulated world and don't get a chance to use their imaginations," she says. At here home, there is no Nintendo and just one television without cable or satellite service.

In October 2000, she contacted the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and got help writing a business plan. She enrolled in several of SCORE's business seminars.

With financial assistance from family, Joyce leases a house at 1515 East Broadway and draws a salary. The leasehold improvements turned the house into a giant playhouse. Children dress up in costumes, wear make-up and pretend they are at English teas or fashion shows. There are no competitive games and parties are mostly oriented to girls, she says. Joyce provides all supplies and entertainment for parties of eight to 14 kids. Parents sit back and relax.

The doors opened in January. The business plan says Once Upon a Time will begin to break even after one year. Joyce advertises in Bear Essential News for Kids and Tucson Family magazine. The remainder of her business, about 30 percent, comes by referral from customers.

2001 revenues are expected to be $25,000. In the next year, Joyce will design and create a Fantasy Fairy Garden in the back yard. In three years, she would like to open a second location in northeast Tucson.

The advice

Once Upon a Time occupies a unique niche by providing a location dedicated to high-quality birthday parties, children's etiquette classes and open tea parties, say Steve Marr. Competition is limited to in-home parties and event locations like Chuck E Cheese, Golf N' Stuff and Funtasticks.

Joyce does an excellent job of explaining her party concepts to parents who call. About 50 percent of callers book parties. This is an exceptionally close rate, say Marr. The facility and party execution generate high customer satisfaction.

Most costs are fixed, including rent and salaries. There are small variable expenses for each party. Increased sales volume would immediately contribute to profitability, says Marr. The key business issues are increasing revenue and determining the best way to market. Most revenue is from birthday parties, and that is where Joyce should focus her time and advertising budget.

There is high demand for weekend dates, and Joyce schedules two parties per day. To avoid turning away weekend parties, she should schedule three parties each day by setting an earlier start time for the first party and adding part-time staff to reduce cleaning and setup time between parties. The change will add about $17,000 in annual income, says Marr.

Parents bring birthday cakes to the parties. Joyce may want to add this service to generate revenue, says Marr.

The relatively high cost of a party is the biggest negative factor, say Marr. Parties cost $18 to $24 per child, depending upon length and type of party. Reducing prices on weekdays by 20 percent may help sell to parents concerned about price and encourage them to book those days. When school is in session, parties can be held after school or in the early evening.

Given the limited weekend availability, additional demand during the week is necessary and just two discounted parties per week will add $15,000 in annual revenue, he says.

Special events should be offered in the summer and during school vacation periods. Weekday parties like kindergarten graduations, "Dickens Christmas" and "Santa Claus Arrives" parties may draw customers who might then return for birthday parties.

Advertising seems effective, says Marr, and should be continued for maximum long-term effect. Joyce should use discount coupons in newspapers to offer incentives for early bookings or weekday parties.

Joyce should create a professional business card to supplement her fliers and fact sheets. People often keep business cards for reference, says Marr. She also should write and print a children's etiquette booklet to sell and to advertise the business.

Steve Marr, Your Christian Business Coach

 If you would like to be the subject of an upcoming makeover, call Star small-business reporter Charlie Rochman at 807-7760 or send email to

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