Shop Talk: Party Source of Eustis Inc.
Spotlight On: Eustis, Fla.
Location, location, location
Three months after opening the doors of the 2,500-square-foot Party Source of Eustis, Inc. store, owner Penny Narain realized they were going to need more room. With a nail salon having already singed a lease for the space next door, they were out of luck until their lease was up three years later and they were able to move to a 12,000-square-foot store located about 40 miles north of Orlando, Fla.
"My husband (Don) and I were both in real estate and did very well, but I knew I didn't want to do real estate forever," Narain said. "My parents had owned a small business when I was young and that made me think, ‘Hmm...retail. I can do that.' We did some research, decided our area needed a party store and we've been open since December 2006."
Learning on the Job
They had learned a bit about balloons and Don went to Chicago to learn more in the balloon seminars, but Narain admits that aside from the customer service skills they had honed through real estate, they didn't really have any kind of training going into this venture.
"We've had to donate many a paper plate and napkin though when we bought a lot of themes that weren't hot," she said, "but we've pretty much learned everything as we went along."
Their current location was previously a hardware store, then a Staples office supply store and then it sat empty for quite some time. Narain said they were able to negotiate a reasonable rate of rent and decided to go for it. But going from 2,500 square feet to 12,000 square feet was a big jump and left a lot of room to fill. Since the space was so large in comparison, they kept the wall color white and used the colorful merchandise as a focal point - including more than 500 piñatas hanging from the ceiling.
"My husband is a Craigslist fanatic, so we found several stores that were closing down and bought out their stock," Narain said. "The new store still wasn't filled to the hilt when we opened, but we were able to give the illusion of it being full by double pegging items, etc. We were also able to add much more product to hot themes like luau and catering."
They've merchandised the store in order of life events - bridal shower to wedding to baby shower to first birthday to toddler birthday, etc. The most common themes are luau-although this has slowed down quite a bit, Mardi Gras, Over the Hill and baby showers. They also have a cake decorating aisle and offer classes that they do very well with.
"We are the only store within approximately 30 miles that has the Wilton method classes and lately our classes have been filling up," Narain said. "It seems the Wilton supplies fly off the shelf. Our most popular items are the basics like Wilton brand icing, icing mix, icing colors, icing decorations and cake toppers."
They have a few sales reps that come by and show them the new catalogs and Narain heeds their advice about what to purchase. Patriotic, Mardi Gras, some spring, luau and Chinese New Year product is kept out all year. They also keep graduation product out all year round and start putting it out just after Valentine's Day, as there are a lot of graduations in December.
"It gives us a chance to sell off any last minute year-specific items and we find that people purchase little by little every week or so," Narain said. "We also have special deals on balloons and pick one item, such as the cups or rectangle table covers, and put them on sale."
Costumes are also a permanent fixture, located in a section off to the right as soon as you walk in the door. Narain hopes people walk in and think, "Oh, they have costumes," and keep that in mind for the future. Costume parties, especially adult theme birthday parties of the decades like '50s style and flapper parties, are quite popular.
An older population -"the snowbirds" - usually comes down October to April, and Narain said the mobile home/RV parks and social clubs are always partying.
"We have an inside joke that you have to be 65 or over to purchase placemats," Narain said. "They love placemats, but snowbirds buy everything - from purchasing wearables for the holidays to funny cocktail napkins to get well balloons."
In general, solid color tableware sells the best year round and a large portion of their business comes from balloons. "When you walk in our store and look to the left and see our balloon wall, it's like ‘Wow! Look at all the balloons!'" Narain said. "We are constantly up-selling."
They have a special price of $8.99 dozen for solid color latex, and also have bouquet specials - an unlicensed foil, six solid color latex and a weight for $8.99. If they have a balloon that matches a theme, they always tell the customer and try to get the balloon order right then and there. All in all, Narain estimates that they inflated more than 50,000 balloons last year, many of them for graduations.
"We build a sculpture for a local high school - a huge set of numbers (graduating year) - that the students walk through," Narain said. "It goes with our business philosophy: it's all about customer service and being a part of the local community."
Party Source is located less than a mile away from the "famous three" (big-box stores,) but Narain said they generally don't worry about it. While the chain stores are less expensive on the paper products, Narain said they don't have the selection of Party Source or the personal customer service sets them apart.
"Don has met customers as early as 4:30 a.m. for balloons and all three stores send customers our way for the items they don't carry," Narain said. "We have a carved out a niche in our little section of the county and we find different customers shop with us. Many people love the convenience of purchasing all the items in one place, even if it means paying a little more."
After all, it's about location, location, location-and dedication to service and success.
By Abby Heugel