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Party Time

Steve Diddams, of Diddams Party Stores, offers an insider’s view of what’s hot in the party store space — and how you can capitalize on it

Party supply stores are close cousins of arts and crafts stores, and if the two spaces don’t specifically overlap, they certainly touch on the edges.

Aside from similarities in the products on the shelf, stores in both spaces market to many of the same consumers — party planners, home decorators and other do-it-yourselfers on a budget. Both draw a sizeable business from youth-targeted products, and both face competition from general merchandise retailers, including big box chains and dollar stores.

With that in mind, owners and operators of arts and crafts stores can learn a lot from the party supply space, including how to move merchandise and how to market to a specialized customer base.

“Our core area is juvenile birthdays,” says Steve Diddams, founder and president of California-based Diddams Party Stores. “That includes all of the supplies, including paper plates, napkins, streamers and balloons, even small toys for gifts. Pretty much everything except the food.”

Party stores rely heavily on the one-stop-shop concept. By grouping items together, a customer who enters the store for one item may end up purchasing related items, turning a $5 sale into a $30 sale.

“If a kid is invited to a friend’s birthday party, a lot of times, they’ll need to purchase a gift for under $20, and that’s the price point we try to stick at,” Diddams says. “It’s the same thing with catering supplies, like bulk cups and plates. Once they’re in the store, we want to take that opportunity to get those add-on sales by providing convenience to the customer.”

The related-item concept is evident throughout all of Diddams’ stores. Children’s birthday parties are the core business, but they are only one of five main business lines, which include costumes, candy, baking supplies and specialty balloons. But items aren’t just grouped for convenience in the stores. There is a visual appeal factor at work, as well, that is as important as the convenience factor.

“We try to tell color stories throughout our stores,” Diddams says. “It’s a critical element, because customers are often looking to coordinate colors for showers and parties. We want our customers to be able to look at our displays and visualize their color theme.”

Display arrangement becomes a sales driver once a customer is in the store. Getting customers to drive to the store in the first place, though, is another matter. Marketing is one area where party stores and arts-and-crafts stores are really in the same boat. As specialty stores, both are fighting for face time in a crowded retail market, competing against big-box and discount retailers that carry overlapping inventory, in addition to household products such as groceries and cleaning supplies.

It’s much easier for a big-box retailer to drive party supply sales when a customer is already in the store for groceries. That means stores such as Diddams have to make a much stronger effort to personally connect with customers. On that front, Diddams says he’s gotten much more traction with Internet-based advertising than with print circulars and newspaper ads.

“Things have changed so rapidly,” Diddams says. “Now, we’re finding that we’re having more success with email blasts, which are much more targeted. We collect email addresses for targeted email ad campaigns, and we’re also a lot more active on social media than we’ve ever been. We find that customers check out places like Yelp, and if they like what they see, they’ll check us out.

“Everything is targeted now. How you sell merchandise, how you market your store, you have to really home in on your audience. Casting a wide net doesn’t work like it used to.”

Marketing party supplies

Party supply stores and arts and crafts stores target common customers. As an arts-and-crafts store operator, you may find you have an opportunity to venture into party supplies, too. But before you start calling vendors and scheduling deliveries, you need to develop a plan to promote and sell party supplies. Here are some things to consider.

  • Devote adequate space to these supplies. As an arts-and-crafts store, you’re not in the party-supply business. But if you’re going to carry party supplies, you have to allot enough floor space to deliver adequate product selection and the potential for add-on sales.
  • Build visually attractive displays. Arrange products according to color. Stock complementary products next to each other. Devote the same time and care you devote to setting up a display for a crafting product. Remember that you are still selling to crafters; it’s just that the project is a party instead of a quilt or a scrapbook.
  • Focus your marketing. Casting a wide net isn’t necessarily the most effective means of advertising anymore. Find your audience via social media avenues. Gather email addresses, focus your marketing on smaller audiences of crafting enthusiasts and let them know you now carry party supplies. If you give those people a great customer experience, word will quickly spread that you sell party supplies with the same high standards as your crafting supplies.

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