Shop Talk: Celebrations
Spotlight on: Delphos, Ohio
Where award-winning design and service combine for success
In the fall of 2004, Tammy Corzine went to a local party store that was closing to ask about purchasing some balloons and equipment.
She ended up buying the entire store.
They closed the store for a short time to clean, paint restock and reorganize, but by December of 2004, Celebrations in Delphos, Ohio was open for business.
"Up until that point, I was a home-based wedding decorator looking to increase my business," Corzine said. "I felt a storefront was the perfect opportunity to gain more exposure and offer a more professional space to meet potential clients, rather than my living room."
"My retail background was pretty limited prior to opening the store," she continued, "but I am also a wife, mother, registered nurse, EMT and firefighter, so wearing all of those hats has helped me become a great multi-tasker and problem solver."
All those skills come in handy in running a 6,100-square-foot store that offers an extensive selection of party supplies, balloons and decorations for nearly any event or party.
Divided into three distinct areas, the store allocates 2,100 square feet for general party, birthday, themes, baby and seasonal merchandise; 1,100 square feet for bridal and anniversary; and 500 square feet for a showroom and consultation area where they display various rental items such as centerpieces, card boxes, backdrops, linens and more.
They carry a full line of more than 30 solid colors in tableware and nearly 300 different characters and themes and everyday patterns including tableware, decorations and favors.
"Party is by far the most difficult part of our business," Corzine said, "as it's very difficult to predict what to bring in and how deep to go in any given pattern or theme. Our customer base has expanded and changed, so we have had to expand our offerings to keep those newly-found customers coming back."
If they're on the fence about bringing in a new pattern, they'll order a small plate and a lunch napkin so customers can still get something in that theme or pattern and fill in their selection with solid colors, which are by far the best seller year round.
Corzine said they capitalize on that by placing a few coordinating patterns and themes within their solid color walls. Even though customers might come in with the intention of only purchasing solid colors, this encourages them to look around the store and see what else might be available for their party or event.
Sky High Ambitions
What else might be available for their party or event? Balloons.
"We stock more than 3,000 sizes, colors and styles of latex, foil and bubble balloons, create balloon bouquets and arrangements for pick-up or delivery and offer custom centerpieces, balloon sculptures and décor," Corzine said. "In addition to full service event décor, DIY customers can rent centerpieces, backdrops and other decorations and do all the work themselves."
They had been providing balloon décor for nearly 15 years before Corzine had ever heard of a balloon convention. In fact, they had only taken the classes at the local vocational school and focused on making classic balloon columns, basic arches and centerpieces with three balloons on a sand weight. The only sculpture they had ever made was a simple balloon heart.
Then one day she stumbled upon BalloonHQ.com and was blown away by what she saw. In 2005, she attended the International Balloon Assoc. (IBA) convention where she said a whole new world of possibilities opened up for her.
"I then learned about an event called BalloonTown USA in Ohio, and in 2006 I spent almost a week in Cincinnati stepping outside my comfort zone and learning new balloon skills and techniques," Corzine said. "I gained enough confidence that I competed in the following year's IBA convention and took first place in the 2007 large sculpture competition.
"Since then I have competed at FLOAT where I received second place in large sculpture and third place in entrance décor in 2008 and was a member of Cheryl Rupple's large sculpture team that won first place in 2009," she continued. "In 2010, I was honored with FLOAT Designer of the Year and took first place and the Delegates Choice Award for my large sculpture design."
Corzine added that while the opportunities to sell these big designs aren't very common, they do exist. Even if you never sell the design, it's very impressive to your clients when they see that scale of work in your portfolio. Plus, every competition is an opportunity to send out press releases and gain some free publicity, as it makes a great human interest story.
Inventory is by far the biggest challenge at Celebrations - not only what and how much of anything to carry, but keeping those products in stock. Corzine said some of their distributors have started selling items in cases of six rather than 12, which has made it much easier to bring a product in. They've also invested in a point-of-sale system to assist them with inventory control and ordering.
"Another big obstacle is Internet retailers," Corzine said. "It has been extremely difficult to get our customers to realize our prices are very competitive and often times less than what they will pay if they order the products online. Being in a small town has added to this challenge; people just expect an independent store in a small town to be more expensive."
One thing they've done to help overcome this is to have a dollar rack and a 50 percent off rack right inside the door. These racks are stocked with discontinued and clearance merchandise, as well as some items they buy for the sole purpose of stocking the dollar rack and offering value.
Along with offering value, another trend Corzine has noticed with many businesses is diversification.
"It has been my personal experience that there's just no way I can be everything to everyone," she said. "I tried doing so and found that the more different products and services we offered, the more our quality of work suffered. As such, we no longer offer tuxedo rentals, custom printed invitations or silk floral designs and have greatly decreased the amount of wedding accessories, cards and gifts we stock."
Each year they have taken one product or service out of their mix that seems to be more of a burden than it is worth, and each year their remaining products and services improve in quality and sales. Corzine feels all of this supports finding your niche rather than diversifying.
"But great customer service is still your best selling tool," she added. "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Let your customers know you are interested in their event and want to help them make the best choices. Find out what their needs are and find a way to fulfill those needs."
And considering Corzine is a wife, mother, registered nurse, EMT, firefighter and successful retailer, you can bet she will find a way to do just that.
By Abby Heugel