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The Party People: “We chose to see change as an opportunity”

Australia’s leading party product retailer The Party People has remained open during the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, helping Australians continue to celebrate while in lockdown. Dean Salakas, ceo, shared his take on the current situation.

“We were never forced to close,” Dean told, “although most Australian retailers did stop trading.  We asked our staff what they wanted to do and they all wanted to keep working, so we stayed open. Initially sales were down 92%, but have since rebounded to about 40% – 50% down after we made some changes.”

These changes involved reacting quickly to the rapidly-changing marketplace, choosing to see those changes as an opportunity rather than a problem.

“As a party business, we have been severely affected by social distancing restrictions,” Dean explained. “People don’t buy party supplies if they can’t hold parties. In the first week of lockdown, our sales were down dramatically and we were forced to ask ourselves where the opportunities were.”

The obvious answer to that were the essentials that people were stockpiling; hand sanitiser, toilet paper, cleaning supplies and other non-party items. “Those products are nowhere near our core business, so there was a risk that people would see us as trying to take advantage of the situation to make money,” he continued, “but we chose to see it as an opportunity to help the supply chain distribute products in high demand.”

Dean was able to source hand sanitiser from an existing supplier and so far the gamble has paid off,  with existing customers buying the product and no negative feedback from consumers.

Finding new ways to help consumers celebrate has been equally successful. “Our best-selling line this whole time has been a personalised balloon bouquet that says ‘Happy Iso Birthday’. We also did one for ‘Happy Iso Mothers Day’, which was a personalised double bubble bouquet which was tied to a hamper that included hand sanitiser, masks, toilet paper, chocolates, champagne and other goodies.”

Despite sales making a recovery and seeing a positive consumer reponse to The Party People’s reaction to the pandemic restrictions, Dean is remaining cautious.

“For us, restrictions only lifted about a week ago. Even now we can only have five people at a house at once, so we don’t see parties occurring for some time.”

“Our biggest question now is Halloween,” he continued. “My colleagues in Canada (from the Halloween Alley joint venture) are very optimistic, as are most suppliers, but the Australian market in general is quite cautious, despite the fact that we are doing much better on the ‘Covid curve’ than most other countries.”

“Halloween for us is still unclear,” he continued. “As restrictions are lifting we are getting small outbreaks which means the government may not lift restrictions further for some time or could go back to previous restrictions. We are seeing mixed Halloween messages from the industry here, with some people thinking the country will party like never before, while others (like me!) believe there will be residual caution left even if restrictions are lifted.”

Dean believes that because Australia took the virus more seriously initially, people are more cautious there than in other countries, adding: “If that is true then I suspect it will also mean that Australians will take longer to go back to partying normally than the rest of the world!”

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