The store that mixes family first with party profits
By Abby Heugel, Managing Editor
Six years ago, Kim Martell was a stay at home mom running daycare out of her home, looking for a way to help with bills. Sitting at the dining room table on a January night, it came to her — party supplies! She had bought enough party supplies over the years for her kids, so she figured, what was there to know?
Plenty, as she soon found out along the way to opening Party Pizzazz in Manitowoc, Wisc.
“It has been ‘guess and by gosh,’” Martell said, “learning something new every step of the way.”
She went to local stores, read the back of party supply packages, took lots of notes and spent hours online. With an enthusiastic husband and kids (age nine and 12 at the time), they all decided to go for it.
“I needed them to know that they would always be first priority and that being my own boss would allow me to always be there for them,” Martell said. “So Party Pizzazz has always been a truly a family oriented business. I am at the store most days from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. My husband helps out and my kids, now 17 and 14, also help when I need them.”
After checking into different rental properties, the manager of one of the establishments put them in contact with one of his representatives. Everyone told them that the key to success was, “location, location, location,” and they had just that in a rental location of 1,600 square feet on a main corner in Manitowoc.
However, bank financing provided the next challenge, in that they had none. But with a second mortgage on their house and help from her parents, Party Pizzazz was opened five months later.
“But we got tired of paying someone else’s mortgage, tired of having inventory in our basement, our garage, my mother’s garage, etc. so eventually it was time to move on,” Martell said. “We found a 5,000-square-foot warehouse building a little off the beaten path and bought it in October of 2007. We currently use about 2,700 square feet of the building, with room to grow.”
They hope to continue to grow, expand and offer surrounding communities even more in the genre of party supplies. As it stands, they already have one of the largest selections in the area, offering everything from more than 50 themes to rental items such as a bounce house, yard cards, card boxes for weddings, arches, pillars, lighting, candelabras, a fog machine and more.
“Our goal is to make Party Pizzazz the customer’s first thought when it comes to party supplies, so customer service is key,” Martell said. “We know that a satisfied customer is a returning customer and that if they shop once with us, they will be back.”
But there have been times when Martell had to put a note on the door saying her kids needed her and she would be right back. Since most of her customers are mothers, Martell said they appreciate that, and they wait or simply come back.
Even if it’s on a Sunday, the day the store is normally closed. Martell will come in for pre-paid balloon orders and even has a sign on the door that says, “Party Emergency” that includes their home phone number.
“We want our customers to know that just because the lights are off and the door is closed, we are still just a phone call away,” Martell said. “That is what separates us from the big box stores.”
Day By Day
It’s that personal attention that keeps people coming back. Martell said she loves to find out about the events customers are planning for, talking with them about it and telling them her ideas for different things she has done.
“If we can’t come up with ideas, I offer to go online for them and find some,” Martell said. “I’ve even printed out games and party themed ideas various times. A customer came in wanting to have a ‘Newlywed’ themed party, so I made up a bunch of questions and put them in an envelope for their host to ask them. They loved the personal attention.”
What else they love are theme parties, and kid themes in particular. While luau and Over the Hill are the hardest to keep in stock, they also carry more than 50 kid themes on a variety of products.
Balloons are nearly 30 percent of their business, and they offer more than 250 Mylars, more than 50 solid colored latex balloons and an assortment of themed latex. In addition, they have “more piñatas than you can shake a stick at.”
But there have been and continue to be many challenges in the industry. Along with high gas prices and the economy in general, the move from their first location was a financial set back and getting the word out that they just moved — and had not gone out of business — was also a struggle.
“If I would have known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have listened to the professional when they said, ‘rent, don’t buy,’” Martell said. “I would have invested in myself and in my business right off the bat, preventing a move and starting over.”
And getting the word out is also a challenge, as advertising can be costly. Martell places ads in the local newspaper and has done some radio ads in the past, but is currently trying to think of more inexpensive ways to advertise. For example, she recently started bi-weekly mass e-mails, and offers a $5 coupon for those that give her their e-mail addresses.
“I’ve learned that I can be my best advertising by making my own news,” Martell said. “I try to get involved in small donation events — supplying a bounce house, for example — and then put a business update in the newspaper. I have even had a rummage sale on the other side of our building and advertised it as ‘next to Party Pizzazz.’”
Martell admitted that it gets discouraging when she knows the big box stores are selling items for the price they purchase them for. But for today, it remains one bill, one vendor, one dollar, and one day at a time.
"Before we moved, I told my customers, ‘if you can’t find us, look for us. We moved. We didn’t go out of business,’” Martell said. “Today, I tell my customers, ‘If you can’t find us, don’t look for us. We went bankrupt, but we had the time of our life doing it.’”
And they do it with pizzazz — Party Pizzazz.