Birthday Basic Training

This is a true story. However, names may have been omitted to protect a naive, although well meaning, consumer.

I used to work for a boss who was big on birthdays. Whether you were turning 22 or 72, birthdays were acknowledged with decorations, a card, a dessert and a brief, off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

While it could be a bit humiliating at times to be serenaded by your co-workers, now donning birthday hats and floral leis, it was nice to know they took the time to plan that just for you. Then one day something went horribly wrong ... a birthday was almost forgotten.

I will spare you the details and jump to the panic-stricken moment that my boss realized there was a birthday to be celebrated and no party plan to execute. It was determined that all was not lost, so with a rush of crumpled bills and a set of cryptic instructions to run to the party store and get “basic party stuff,” our poor intern was sent on a mission.

What he returned with was a disco ball pinata, a bag of “birthday girl” balloons, a banner declaring “The Fiesta’s Here,” a bag of flowered leis, a game of “pin the tail on the donkey” and a light-up “It’s My Birthday” button he was sure our 55-year old receptionist would love.

Those were his idea of “birthday basics.”

To prevent these situations from happening to other unsuspecting coworkers, read on.

Retail Lesson #1 — Get Back to Basics
The basics for those on a budget are just that — plates, cups, napkins, favors, balloons, banners, hats, etc. For our poor intern, the problem was that he was overwhelmed with the amount of “stuff” available to him. So while most everyone enjoys a rousing game of “pin the tail on the donkey,” they don’t as much enjoy having no plates, no cups and no birthday card to contribute to the celebration.

“We typically discount the basic components of a pattern, both to compete with the big-box retailers and to draw customers in to see our premium items and services,” said Kelly Ludwig, marketing and merchandising assistant and balloon buyer for Card & Party Factory/ Wally’s Party Factory. “If someone must cut back on the expenses, they can mix solids to coordinate with components of a pattern. The end result is very pleasing and some money is saved. Switching to solids is the most common 'trade down’ that we see.”

Carolynn Hendrickson, director of consumer brands for ShindigZ, agreed that solid color party goods and non-licensed patterns are very popular for larger events. "When shopping for a child’s birthday party, our customer is choosing non-licensed patterns (and solids) just as often as licensed patterns,” Hendrickson said.

Retail Lesson #2 — Be Complete
But getting back to basics doesn’t mean you have to shy away from additional add-ons. Although most people plan with one budget, they often shop with another when presented with additional options.

Ludgwig said the Card & Party Factory philosophy is to be as complete as possible, both product and service-wise, and to give the customer the option to tailor their purchase in creative ways.

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Originally posted Monday, Oct. 5, 2009