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Shop Talk: Ani’s Party Shop

Shop Talk: Ani’s Party Shop

Spotlight On: Suva, Fiji Islands
Getting big results in a small retail space
 

While working as a cultural dance performer with the University of South Pacific’s renowned Oceania Cultural Arts Centre in Fiji, last thing Ani Myers was thinking about was owning a party shop.

But when she married her husband, a U.S. citizen, his work moved them to central California and then Melbourne, Australia, and she worked as store manager in an upscale ladies store and then managed several different stores over the next few years. 

“During my time away overseas, I was always bringing back party items for family members as there wasn’t much available in Fiji, which is what gave us the idea about starting a party store,” Myers said. “Then in 2012, we decided it was time for me to return home to Fiji to help care for my mum, and we started planning the party store. It took nearly a year to locate and secure a lease, order merchandise and open the store.” 

While several shops had some party items, Ani’s Party Shop was Fiji’s first dedicated party store when it opened in March 2013 in Suva, Fiji, and they’re getting stronger every day.

A taxing situation

In Suva, retail space is very limited and it can be quite expensive in the best locations.  However, they knew the store needed to be downtown near the central bus depot, as many people don’t have cars and mostly come to town via bus. Myers said they could have gone into several other strip malls outside of downtown that rent for about 40 percent cheaper, but they knew that would limit their client base.

“As the party store concept is ‘new’ to Fiji, we wanted to be conservative and started with just a 600-square-foot shop,” Myers said. “Due to high shipping costs and high import taxes (up to 67 percent) with importing furniture/display racks, we got a local cabinet maker to build some shelves on lower wall and then slat wall on upper walls. 

“We brought in numerous spinner racks from Creative Converting, and 10 3-foot greeting card racks from Biscay Greetings (Australia),” she continued. “We also built a small storage room in corner and sales counter. That worked well until we outgrew the space, and we now keep minimal product in stock and most back stock is in two bedrooms at our house.” 

As they knew would happen, another retail party shop opened a few months later and the big retail store then expanded their party section and brought in new items that copied many of their products. However, they spent nearly two years setting up the business and working out exclusive arrangements with several of the major party suppliers. Myers said that helped them to develop their niche market, which includes not carrying any of the common counterfeit or cheap import items found in many shops in Fiji.

Myers said they’ve been quite surprised at how well the balloons and balloon décor have done. Although they had no formal training, they turned to the Internet and started to make columns as displays for their store that created a new, profitable market for them and hope to make it to the FLOAT convention in 2015 to get more hands-on training.

“Prior to our opening, most of the latex balloons around town were the very thin, cheap type and selection was very limited,” she said. “After realizing the demand of for latex balloons, we ordered factory direct from Neo-Tex in Korea and these professional grade balloons cost me about one-third as much as if I bought from an Australian balloon distributor. Thus, we can sell for less than any others in our market and make a much higher return. We’ve just ordered more than 300,000 latex balloons that we project will last about four to six months and we go through about 500 foils a month.”

Similar, but different

While there are many similarities between retail in the U.S. and in Fiji, such as the popularity of balloons, there are also many differences. An issue they faced was importing licensed goods such as Disney, Marvel, etc. Although they have been able to parallel import foil balloons successfully, they could not source other party goods through such channels.

“Amscan’s Australia office represents the South Pacific, but in the past did not include Fiji in their license agreement,” Myers said. “However, Amscan was able to quickly get Disney (including Marvel) to add Fiji to their license agreement and we now carry those.”

Incomes are lower there and they have much higher shipping costs and import taxes, and due to shipping time of two to three months, they have to order more stock to keep on hand. On their most recent order of $2,000 in foil balloons, the FedEx freight was nearly $500 more, so around 25 percent. They just had several pallets sent from Amscan with about half being bulky piñatas, and the shipping ratio was nearly 40 percent. 

“Many of the ships between U.S. and Fiji actually go to Australia first and then stop in Fiji on the return,” Myers said. “Last year my shipment kept being bumped in Auckland for a month and our Halloween items arrived on Nov. 6.”

Speaking of Halloween, it’s virtually unknown in Fiji, mostly known only through U.S. television and movies, and kids don’t go trick-or-treating. Costumes are mostly used for school shows or library day where kids are supposed to dress up.

“Last year we only carried basic items like party wigs, cheap latex masks, hats, masquerade masks, etc.,” Myers said. “This year we are working with Rubie’s to bring in some of their products (particularly the licensed items) to test the market. However, as costumes are a textile, they carry an extra 10 percent excise tax on top of the 32 percent import duty and 15 percent value added tax.”  

Because Fiji has a large Indian population (about 40 percent), Diwali is a big holiday, as is Christmas. Other holidays like New Year’s, Valentine’s Day and even St. Patrick’s Day are just starting to catch on. As the big retailers bring in much of the cheap imports for Christmas, Myers said they have kept to specialized high-end items not already available.

Given their limited resources, Myers has turned to Facebook as their primary marketing tool.

“Dan Morris, the international director for Creative Converting, gave me some great early advice about our consumers,” Myers said. “He told me that 95 percent of sales are to females from ages 18 to 50 years old, and with Facebook we can target that market specifically.” 

“We post our new products and about once a week get an order from another part of Fiji just from seeing our pictures online,” she continued. “We are expecting great growth once we set up a Shopify online store, which we will link to our Facebook and also as an in store POS.”

“While there are many differences in how we have to operate the business side in Fiji,” she continued, “the retailing is really still the same — seeing lots of smiling excited people getting ready for their special day.”

— By Abby Heugel, Party & Paper Retailer Contributor

Originally posted Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015