Dean Salakas – Building Australia’s Largest Party Supplies Business – Episode 35

Dean Salakas - Building Australia's Largest Party Supplies Business

Learn how an online market leader for party supplies in Australia with 2 brick and mortar stores grew from humble beginnings through the persistence of a mother and female entrepreneur 30 years ago. Dean Salakas from the Party People Shop joins us in Episode 35 of the Business & Life Conversations podcast to share their growth and success story and the kind of mindset they have in business that made them thrive over the years. He also shares the changes they’ve implemented since taking over the business and how this has helped accelerate their growth, their biggest failure, their experience in Shark Tank, and their big plans for 2019. And to end on a sweet note, Dean imparts his best advice to business owners and listeners of the podcast.

Important Links Mentioned in the Show:

Party People Website

Party People Instagram

Party People Facebook

Dean Salakas LinkedIn

Angela Henderson Website

Angela Henderson Active Business Facebook Group

Angela Henderson Facebook Business Page

Angela Henderson Instagram

Prefer to read Dean Salakas – Building Australia’s Largest Party Supplies Business? Here’s the transcript:

ANGELA:

You’re listening to the Business and Life Conversations podcast, with Angela Henderson, episode 35.

Hey there, you’re listening to the Business and Life Conversations podcast, my name is Angela Henderson, and on this show we talk about improving your business, life or both. By having amazing and rich conversations with brilliant guests. Who will inspire you and who will give you tips and tricks, to help you grow both in life and in business.

Hey there, Angela here from Angela Henderson Consulting, and welcome back to another episode of Business and Life Conversations Podcast. As always, thank you so much for being here today.

I am thrilled for today’s episode, because today I have Dean Salakas joining us from the Party People shop. He was going to share with us his feature story of how 30 years ago his mother had a dream, and that dream turned into a business, and 30 years later this amazing business is now owned by her two sons, Dean and Peter. This business went from catering for kids’ parties, to the market leader for party supplies online here in Australia, but equally with two bricks and mortar stores. This amazing business was not only Australia’s first online party store, first to offer click and collect, first Australian AdWords customer, and has also appeared on Shark Tank, where they were offered $400,000 but turned it down. I’m super intrigued to also hear about that story. This business story is rich with history, rich with love, and we’ll show you how a simple idea can turn into a market leader online party supply store here in Australia.

Before we get into this amazing feature story, I just want to take a moment and let you know that this episode is sponsored by Profit Pillars, which is my ready to implement eight-week program designed for women in business to give your business the bulletproof advantage it needs to protect itself from overwhelm, frustration, and heartbreaking failure. With a step by step approach and built-in accountability and implementation, this is the only business growth program that shows you how to put passion and purpose together, and generate profits for your business. All you need to do is go to www.angelahenderson.com.au and search for Profit Pillars to join the wait list, as our next enrolment is starting soon.

Let’s not wait any longer, and get started into this beautiful and rich conversation with Dean. Welcome to the show, Dean, and thanks so much for being here today.

DEAN:

G’day Angela, thanks for having me.

ANGELA:

Gosh I’m super, super excited, ’cause I was doing some research, I love that your mum started this years ago. I just think that this is going to be really one of those conversations that listeners out there can see how a wonderful business idea your mum had, and has transformed over the many years. As I do with every guest, though, I always like the listeners to get to know you a little bit more. Can you start by telling us just, not going into the whole history, we’ll do that in a minute, but just a little bit about your business, how long have you been in business for, and what is your favourite party season?

As we were just talking prior to the recording, going live, is Halloween, at the time of the recording of this Halloween is here, and we’ve got Christmas. Being from Canada, I’m all about Halloween. I love it, I love it, I love that Australia now gets into it. I need to also know what your favourite party season is.

DEAN:

Definitely it’s Halloween, but we’ll get into that, I guess, as we go. Halloween’s good fun. All the different stuff happened this year, I think people dropped a lot of the political correctness with a lot of different things, and it’s good fun, you know? We’ve got zombie events and all that sort of fun going on, so it’s great. I love it. Yeah, I guess, into my story, I guess.. oh sorry, yep, you were gonna say?

ANGELA:

No, no, no. Absolutely. So tell us a little bit about the business, when did it start, and things like that, and then we’ll go from there.

DEAN:

Yes. I won’t give you the whole War and Peace on the business, but I guess the shorter version is, yeah, my mum was actually a clown over 30 years ago. She’d go out to kid’s parties.. people’s houses, and cater for kids’ parties, and the business kind of evolved then into a party store, which then, about 10 years ago my brother and I decided to take over, because my mum and my grandfather who ran the business at the time wanted to retire. We took over and we really focused on the digital, and that side of the business really grew. Today, like you said we’re the market leader online for party supplies. We’ve got two bricks and mortar stores which also I guess market leading type offers to the market. We actually won Independent Retailer of the Year last year for those stores, but that’s by the Australian Retail Association, and this year we’re also up for those awards again as a finalist. Hopefully we get it two years in a row.

But yeah, I mean, we’ve got a great business and it’s good fun. We sell balloons, decorations, costumes, novelties, confectionery. Anything you could possibly want for a party, we see ourselves as helping people create the parties of their dreams. If it exists, we wanna have it, and our store’s a large format store, so we have a 17,000 square metre flagship store, which is, as most people would know, is bigger than some supermarkets.

ANGELA:

Yes.

DEAN:

And as a party store, that store has heaps of different things from.. we cater for birthdays, from kids to adults, from everything from first birthdays to 100. And then you’ve got seasonal events from Halloween, Oktoberfest, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, there’s about 30 of them, actually, that we have on our calendar that we manage our business to. Sporting events, again, littered in there as part of what we do. Decorating.. there’s just a lot of different aspects of our business, we just.. anything that’s a celebration, we get involved with and help people make it something memorable.

ANGELA:

Fantastic. So, tell us a little bit about 30 years ago, when your mum decided to be a clown at the kids’ birthday parties, and how did she, 30 years ago, what I also love is that this is a woman in business. We know that women in business struggle to stay afloat for many times. We also know that men dominate the space a lot of times, and I always love seeing and hearing those stories about women in business who have taken an idea and turned it into something legendary. So, tell us a little bit about how did your mum come up with this idea? When did it start? So, it started off with being a clown, and then how did it start to evolve?

DEAN:

Yeah, so she actually.. the funny part about that was, I mean calling it funny as a clown is funny, but. She actually got asked to help out someone who was a clown one weekend, and then she was quite good at it, so they asked her to do it more often, and then it became a business for her. From there, she was having fun having parties, doing parties every weekend, and the business actually grew with clowns. She had multiple clowns working for her, and that grew. She noticed a gap in the market where, back in the 80s, and it’s hard to remember what it was like back then, but back then you didn’t have the kids party venues you have today. People didn’t have experiences to go to when they had a party, go to rock climbing centres or painting centres or whatever it is. You basically had it at home in the 80s, there was no other way. She was going out to parties clowning, she decided to start actually helping people cater for their parties, so she’d make the chocolate crackles and the fairy bread, and all those fun classics.

ANGELA:

Yes.

DEAN:

And did the cleaning up at the end. She realised that there was a gap in having a kid’s party venue, so she decided to set up a venue, and as you kind of told a bit about our story, we’ve been pioneers in a lot of different things. She pioneered that, as well. But she was a little early, was the problem. No one was really doing that. People didn’t really have.. everyone had parties at home, so no one was really up for the idea of having it at a venue, and so that struggled a little bit, and then a few years later McDonald’s opened up their kid’s party venues, which was a real big problem for our business.

ANGELA:

Right.

DEAN:

So my mum pivoted as you do, and opened up.. she actually had a bit of retail in the venues, she blew balloons and stuff like that, and that was going quite well, so she pivoted and focused on that, and that’s, I guess, where the business was really born from. Like you said, she was a woman in business, so she had two kids, my brother and I, who were 2 to 4 years old at the time. Weekends were busy for the business, so my mum was working hard while my dad was driving us around to soccer and all that sort of stuff, as kids. It was definitely tough, I think, growing up, well I definitely, I guess, got a really good childhood, seeing how tough my mum did at growing up with two kids, and having to work so hard. You know, very demanding business. I definitely sort of appreci.. I’ve got more of an appreciation now that I’m in charge.

ANGELA:

Yes.

DEAN:

That’s for sure.

ANGELA:

And have you..

DEAN:

It definitely was great to grow up..

ANGELA:

And you have kids also now, is that correct, Dean?

DEAN:

I do, I have two little ones myself. Two under two, so I put myself through the same pain that she had.

ANGELA:

I was gonna say, how do you have.. do you have a different view on, potentially, maybe other males who didn’t see their mum in those positions? Or do you have a different level of empathy for people who, in business, and who are also managing and juggling two kids?

DEAN:

Yeah, I think once you’ve had kids it’s more obvious how hard it is. I think I was like everyone else that didn’t have kids. Before I had kids, I thought, “That’s not so bad. It’s not so hard. It’s easy, no worries!” And then you have one, you think, “Holy crap, this is full on,” and then when you have two, it’s just out of control, and you then have a better appreciation for.. and I certainly have a much better appreciation now for working parents and even people going out and starting their own businesses with kids, ’cause it is challenging.

I’ve certainly found it very challenging, and I’m still learning myself how to juggle it, and maintaining that work-life balance, because like all parents, we love our kids and we want to be there for everything, but you also have a business which is very demanding, and sometimes you get crossing.. you get conflicting priorities that butt heads, and you have to make choices. That’s where it gets really difficult as a parent, ’cause you want to be there for your child, but you’ve also got a business which you’ve got to keep running. It is difficult, and I’ve definitely got a better appreciation now for it.

ANGELA:

And it is, you know, we’re in the middle, at the timing of this particular recording, we’re in the middle of school holidays here in Australia.

DEAN:

Yeah.

ANGELA:

I tell you what, we had a wedding to go to, and then 30 of us at the wedding got this vomiting bug. It wasn’t food poisoning, it was just lay dormant bug. So, I had two kids puking, plus I puking, plus you’ve got the business to try to take care of, plus there was a public holiday, plus there was school holidays, and you’re just like, some days, you’re just like, “Okay. All I gotta do is just survive, here. I just have to go and eat Nutella from a jar.”

DEAN:

Yeah.

ANGELA:

Just start chugging wine or do something, because some days.. like I said to my husband, I can laugh or cry. So, you’ve got two choices. I’m just gonna laugh, because it’s better to laugh than to cry. But sometimes the struggle is real, sometimes.

DEAN:

Yeah. You definitely have a different take on life, don’t you? Like you said, you laugh or cry. I think now you’re a little bit more relaxed. Now that I’ve got two kids, I’m a lot more relaxed about stuff. It’s always like, “Life could be worse.” I think you start telling yourself that when you see something going not the right way, and you’re much more relaxed about stuff, I think now. Well, I’m much more relaxed about stuff now, that I’ve got two kids.

ANGELA:

Yeah. And I know even when I had.. you know, there’s people dying in the world, right? So, it’s like let’s just try and make it through the day, let’s just smile. Things could be worse. But yeah.

DEAN:

Yeah.

ANGELA:

So your mum starts this.. she starts off as a clown for someone else. She then starts her own business where she’s got multiple clowns doing different parties. She starts to make the food for it also. She then thought she’d kind of do the party venue thing, she then had to pivot because McDonald’s came through. And then what happened? When did the actual party supply business side of that start to take off?

DEAN:

Yeah. So, she had a I guess little business once she pivoted at that point in time that was doing mostly decorating, but also a little bit of party supplies. It really, there wasn’t probably really a point where it just changed into a party supplies business. It just sort of evolved over the last 20 years, because that’s what customers had been demanding. The decorating’s always been there, and then we got bigger and bigger on party supplies, ’cause people over the years just demand more and more choice. There’s more and more options. People like to have unique parties, you’ve got social media now, which anytime there’s something new, people are onto it.

I guess it’s just evolved over the years that customers are demanding more unique parties, and as a business we’re reacting to that by increasing the range, increasing the size of our stores, and growing with the consumer’s changing need. It’s evolved and then I guess my parents, again, my mum was really.. I guess you would say entrepreneurial and innovative in deciding to launch an online business in ’98. Which would put us as one of the early eCommerce businesses, but certainly as a party store, the first party store online. Very visionary of her to think that, because that really set us up for being the leader at that point in time, ’cause we’re the only one, but we just maintain that lead ever since, because we continue to innovate, we’ve got a culture of being an early adopter and innovating and looking for change before it happens. That’s certainly paid off for us over the years.

Like you mentioned, we were, we launched click and collect in ’99, we were Google’s first customer in Australia when they launched here for advertising. Bing, we were also their first customer. We’ve had a string of digital firsts, either in our industry or even just in retail generally. They’ve certainly paid off, because the world’s changing and by us being on top of that, it’s certainly helped us stay ahead of the competition, because they certainly keep coming, and they’re catching up, and we keep pushing ahead. I think that’s been the key to where we are today.

ANGELA:

And I think you’re right. I think that it’s always key, you’ve always got to stay. You’ll always gonna have people trying to do what you do, people always trying to compete, people always trying to copy you, you know? But you still.. it’s when you stop innovating and being creative that they’ll overtake you. If you, as you have demonstrated and continue to take the lead in those platforms, then it’s gonna be very hard for your competitors to ever catch you. Because you’ve already been there longer, done it longer, have the relationships with people, etcetera. Tell me though about..

DEAN:

Yeah. I would say that..

ANGELA:

Sorry, go ahead.

DEAN:

I was gonna say, I would say that the reason all that happens, just to sum it up, is our mindset towards change. We go looking for change, we’re passionate about change. We see change as our competitive advantage, not as a problem, and I think that’s where a lot of businesses struggle, is that they see every time Google has an update, or something happens, they’re like, “Oh man, I’ve gotta react to that,” rather than being pumped about it. Thinking that, “Oh, this has changed. What a great opportunity to get onto it before anyone else does.” I think that mindset has been the difference for us over our competitors.

ANGELA:

I think though that, again, don’t get me started about when I hear people whining and whinging, right, about, say for example, Facebook, and how now you’ve got to basically pay to play.

DEAN:

Yeah.

ANGELA:

People are on these groups..

DEAN:

Yeah.

ANGELA:

And forums, you know what I mean, whining and crying and complaining. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks. Right? But we’re playing in their playground. So, you’ve got two choices. Either play on the playground, or get off the playground. That, to me, are your only two options.

DEAN:

Yeah.

ANGELA:

You can choose to waste your time complaining about how you’ve got to pay, or, like you said, take the positive route and go, “Listen, this has changed. There’s room for us. Let’s adapt early. Let’s learn early, and let’s just rock ‘n roll with it.” It’s those people that just do, take it on, like they may have a whinge for a day, and just go, “This sucks!” but it’s those people that come up with different content strategy, different marketing strategy techniques. Different whatever. They’re the ones that continue to exceed, excel, excel, excel, even though they’re now having to pay to play. So, you’ve got choices to make.

DEAN:

Yep. Yep, a hundred percent.

ANGELA:

Now with your mum, have you always been involved in the business? When did you and your brother come into the business, you and Peter?

DEAN:

Yeah there’s a complicated answer to that question. I’ll go through it. We have always been involved, ever since we were kids old enough to hold a spoon and shovel sand into a bag, which they used as weights for balloon bouquets.

ANGELA:

Yes.

DEAN:

Which was around the age of four, we’ve been involved in the business. As we grew up and we got our licence, we were doing deliveries for them, and that was through school and high school. Even into university, and even when I left university, I got a job at Woolworths as a Business Analyst. I was still working in my parent’s business on weekends, to help them out. I have been always involved, but I didn’t always.. and certainly didn’t plan on it being a long-term career. I wanted to find my own way in the world, and as much as I enjoyed the family business, I really just wanted to go out and do my own thing.

My brother was exactly the same. He went and got an exercise physiology degree, and he was working with physios and doing all sorts of exercise rehab and things like that. We both went our separate ways after university. About five years into me working in the world, and my mum wanted to retire, and it was actually my brother’s idea. He said, “If they’re gonna sell it, why don’t we take it over? Because there’s a real good opportunity here. There’s a gap in the market, and digitally the business is going well, but it could be doing so much better.” It literally was a conversation one Friday afternoon that we had, and said, “Yes, let’s do it.” We actually purchased the business off our parents, so they could retire.

From there, I mean, we haven’t looked back. We’ve been enjoying some pretty good growth, particularly online. We opened a second store since then. I mean, to give a perspective, when we took over from our parents, we had two employees that we took over, and we now have about 30 to 40 depending on time of year. So, the business has really grown quite significantly since we took it over, and we’ve learned. It’s been a great ride. We’ve gone from running a small business that was a family owned and operated operation where everything was done adhoc, no systems in place at all, no tech. To now, I mean I’m talking to you, I’m sitting at home, and I work from home most days of the week, and the business runs itself. It’s certainly seen a massive transition, and I’m still learning. It’s been a fun ride.

ANGELA:

So tell me, from when your mum had it, what would you say is the number one thing that your mum taught you, and you still have in the business today?

DEAN:

The number one thing.. I think.. well, look, it’s probably hard to put a finger on one thing. Definitely I think the philosophy we’re taking at the moment with our business is a slight change at where we’ve been, but it comes from where my mum started, which is that, you know, we’re a retailer, however I think over the years we’ve probably lost a little bit track of what is our.. what is the problem we solve for our customer?

Back in the 80s, my mum saw her job as helping people have parties. That’s the way she looked at it. It wasn’t about whether she sold stuff, or whether she offered these services or whatever it was. Her job was to help them have a party. I think over the years we’ve evolved into a retailer because that’s been pretty lucrative for us, but we’re now starting to look at our business saying, how do we help people have parties more? That’s what my mum did back then.

ANGELA:

Yes.

DEAN:

And we no longer have the clowns on our books and all that sort of stuff. How do we go back to that? How do we actually help people have parties more? Rather than just how do we sell more party products. I think over the next few years you’ll see us evolve as a retailer, providing more of that angle of service to our customers than just purely selling products.

ANGELA:

Yes.

DEAN:

And that’s what I’m working at the moment.

ANGELA:

Which is super exciting because not everyone can afford those, the party centres that you’re talking about. You know?

DEAN:

Yeah.

ANGELA:

I think again that some families, well I know some families like, “Oh well, we just won’t have a party.” Right? We’ve done some parties out, but we’ve equally had many parties in my backyard where I’m going back to the old school pinatas, the old school pin the tail on the donkeys. We had a Beyblades party here where we had five Beyblade contraptions going, and we had it set up as if it was ESPN basketball, like grids going on. And the kids absolutely loved it. So again, the fact that you’re going back to I guess the roots of what your mum talked about, and that was about, “How can you have a party at home?” Or, “How can you collectively make that happen?” I think, again, you’re gonna be touching on something, because I think at a time where everything is over automated and overcomplicated to some degree, I think you going back to the roots of home will be a very.. it’ll be beneficial not only for your clients, but equally for your family.

DEAN:

Yeah, yeah. I mean, everyone’s idea of an amazing party is different, too, you know. What one person sees as a great party, and someone else is different, and I think that’s where our business is evolving into. So, if you wanna have a party at home, then we can help you with that. If you wanna have it at a five-star hotel with all the whistles and bells, then we can help with that, as well. It’s just about helping people with having parties that they want to have.

ANGELA:

Yep. And I guess creating, taking.. would you also say taking the idea they have, and turning it into the full-blown execution of it?

DEAN:

Yeah, in reality, yep.

ANGELA:

Would you say similar to what a wedding planner would do, it could be potentially what a party planner would do?

DEAN:

Yeah, I would say that’s probably as close as you can get to finding something similar. Although the way we’ve been approaching it, I think, there’s many different angles to it, and it’s quite complicated. Because you’ve got some people who just want you to point them in the right direction.

ANGELA:

Yep.

DEAN:

Other people, they want you to come out there, and put every napkin in the right place, and that sort of stuff. There’s varying degrees of what customers want, and what we’re trying to figure out is how do we come up with.. how can we be everything to everyone when it comes to parties?

ANGELA:

That’s the one thing that you take away from your mum, and is still, in your business and I guess, like you said, you’re rejuvenating some of that. What’s some of the things that you and Peter have changed since taking over the business?

DEAN:

I think the biggest one, which is really obvious, is the digital strategy. When my mum launched in ’98, ’99, she decided to launch an online store, but really she just handed me the keys, and said, “Figure it out.” I did most of the digital stuff through school and high school, and the internet was very simple back then, where it’s much more complicated now. I’ve been able to evolve.. and when my brother and I took over, actually before we took over, where the business was, I wouldn’t say having a problem, probably more missing an opportunity, was that my parents were holding back a little bit on that digital growth. When we took over, we said forget Yellow Pages, that’s old school.

ANGELA:

Yes.

DEAN:

We’re going hard and stuff. And that big shift to digital really exploded the business. The sales grew, were growing at 300% at one stage. The sales were growing rapidly. The business really just evolved from there because of the digital growth that we were focusing on. We had to increase our space, get an extra store, all these changes. Get better systems because you know, a small problem when you’re small is not a big deal, but when you’re big and it’s multiplied by a thousand, it really starts to hurt, and could be a problem.

ANGELA:

It could be a big problem.

DEAN:

Yeah, so we..

ANGELA:

And when you say..

DEAN:

As we get bigger..

ANGELA:

When you say digital, I mean digital can mean so many things to so many people. What would you say the top three things you’ve done from a digital point? Are you looking at more content, more video creation? Are you doing increase in your budget for Google AdWords? Did you increase your SEO? What are the three main things that you think have helped accelerate your growth from a digital point of view?

DEAN:

Look, all of the above, because I mean, like we said, obviously we launched in ’98 when the internet.. actually, I found out the other day, we actually launched online the year Google was created.

ANGELA:

That’s awesome.

DEAN:

So, Google wasn’t even around when we started building a website. As the internet, as features started appearing on the internet whether it was Google, or product ads, or affiliate programs, or whatever it was, all the different mechanisms there were to grow online. As they evolved, we did them, and they definitely had big impacts. We’ve done all of them. Depending on what stage a business is at will depend on which ones get you the biggest bang for buck. Certainly AdWords, working with Google advertising, was probably the biggest, I guess, shifter in the dial for us in terms of growth. Once we took off the budgets on all our accounts and just spend as much as we possibly can. The sales just started flowing, and really it was hard to keep up.

I think there’s a lot of different things today, look, I guess, again, it depends on where you’re at with your business. Now there’s a lot more.. the changes are a lot more sophisticated and expensive, if you like, or difficult. They also have smaller benefits. I feel like today, when we do changes, we’re getting these one to two percent gains where back ten years ago, when we were making changes, we were getting 300% type growth off the back of those changes. It’s really.. the world’s really changed. I guess it just depends on where you’re at. I haven’t given you a specific answer.

Certainly for us, we’re focusing now actually more on the bricks and mortar to be honest. We’re looking at how do we increase our store footprint, because I think for us, when we see the future of our business, is to have a very strong digital offering. So, a very strong website, and when I say we’re digital offering, it’s everything from a website to the channels that you sell through, whether it’s marketplaces or eBay or Google.

ANGELA:

Yes.

DEAN:

Or whatever it is. I think having a strong digital strategy, but then also backing that up with a bricks and mortar footprint, because people having parties still do want to.. I mean, I wrote an article the other day for the Australian Retail Association where I talked about how retail today’s only about 8% of.. online retail is only 8%. So 92% of people still prefer to shop in stores at the  moment, or spend their money in stores.

ANGELA:

Yes.

DEAN:

And online retail’s only growing at about 1% a year on those numbers. In 20 years’ time, bricks and mortar is still gonna be where people spend most of their money. For us, that’s us looking at the market saying, “Look, bricks and mortar is a very key part of our business, and we want to expand that footprint and have a very good integrated strategy with our website and each of those strategies.” So that customers can interact with us wherever they want, and still have access to a store if they want to go in and see what they’re buying.

ANGELA:

They get the best of both worlds. And again, as a mum, it’s always.. if it’s a rainy day I like to get out, if the birthday party’s coming up, I like to go and touch deals. Look at things. There’s always something new. Again, the internet is.. though it can be convenient, it’s still not the same as, also just having that level of human connection. Talking with people, being part of the community. And when you’re at a party store, for the most part, it’s happy vibe. People are happy. With birthday parties coming up, the celebration of a baby, it’s a wedding, or whatever that is. You know? That it’s a fun vibe to be around, and there’s always fun little gadgets that you can find and look at. I totally love being able to go into a store, and having that opportunity. What has been your guy’s biggest failure?

DEAN:

Biggest failure, we’ve had quite a few. I think the biggest one we had was, I guess, a success and a failure at the same time, where we.. when we first took over the business and we were growing at that rate, of triple digit growth, we really weren’t prepared for it. I mean, we were running a small business that had no systems or processes. When we were doing the volume we were doing, we only had two employees, so the only people that could do it were us, and so we found ourselves picking orders all the way through the night, and not getting sleep for days on end. It was really quite a horrible experience in one way, because our health was being neglected, we weren’t sleeping, and we really just weren’t ready for the growth.

We went through that problem for about three years, actually, over peak season, and every time we tried to fix it, but the problem just kept getting bigger because we were growing. We’d plan, we’d say, “Look, the first year we did it, we said, that was a tough period. We better get some systems and processes in place so we can start hiring people to do this work.” And then we tripled our business over that period. We did as much planning as we could, but at the end of the day, it still wasn’t enough, because the business had grown so much. I think our biggest failure was just poor planning, and we didn’t have the systems to cater for the volume we were doing.

We actually had one year where we actually switched the website off over the Christmas period, from about, I think, the first of November, something like that. We turned the website completely off, stopped taking orders, because we were two weeks behind picking orders, and it was just out of control. That was terrible to be able to forgo hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sales because we didn’t plan well enough earlier in the year. We learned our lesson the hard way, and now I would say, compared to most businesses, we’re very sophisticated around planning for seasonal events. Like I mentioned earlier, we have 30 events on our calendar, which each of them has about 20 to 30 steps to them that we go through, through the year, to make sure that we’re ready when that time comes.

ANGELA:

When time comes.

DEAN:

When we have Halloween, we’re organising Halloween from January, you know?

ANGELA:

Yes. And you have to be, because as we talked about prior to the recording, it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

DEAN:

Yep.

ANGELA:

Now tell me a little bit about your experience on Shark Tank. Obviously, you guys went in there, you guys, I can’t remember, help me out. Who was it that agreed to partner with you guys for $400,000?

DEAN:

Janine Allis. Yeah. She made an offer.

ANGELA:

Janine Allis, yep, she made an offer to you guys, and you guys turned it down. Walk me through, what was the rationale? Obviously, you went on there wanting to partner with someone, and at the end decided not to, and why was that?

DEAN:

Yeah. We went on there, and it was quite an interesting experience. It was a great experience for me, different people have had different levels, different types of experiences. For some people it’s been horrible, for us it was a great experience. It was very stressful. I mean, at the time, I look back now and I laugh, but man at the time I was freaking out on there. I got on air and that, I guess, they only show you two minutes, but that was a two-hour conversation with those guys that was cut down to.. I think I was probably five minutes or ten minutes after they cut it down to.

ANGELA:

Yeah.

DEAN:

Yeah, you didn’t see the whole story, but at the same time I think they put a reasonable picture of what happened. Probably made me look a little better than really, I was.

ANGELA:

Yeah.

DEAN:

The final result, they show, almost like they made it like I shut Janine Allis down and walked off, but it certainly was a really good conversation with her. It wasn’t so dramatic, if you like.

ANGELA:

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

DEAN:

We had a great conversation, and actually, I mean before Janine made me the offer, John McGrath and I had quite a long, I would guess say ‘heated discussion’ if you like to call it that.

ANGELA:

Yeah.

DEAN:

Some of it they showed on air, most of it they didn’t, where we discussed what our strategy was, and he disagreed with me on what our strategy was, but Janine did, and she basically came straight in after that conversation and said, “No, I agree with you, I’ll make you an offer. Don’t worry about John.” And she did, and we negotiated a little bit there, but really she wanted $400,000 for 40% of the business, which for us was just too much of a percentage to give away for a business we feel is pretty good and worth a lot more than what she was valuing it.

ANGELA:

Yes.

DEAN:

And to be honest, subsequent after the show we did get offers far greater, but again, we didn’t take them in the end. We still don’t have investment, and we’re not looking for any at the moment. Things are going quite well; the business is growing without that money now at the moment. We’re going really well. It was a really great experience, I mean, great exposure. Obviously over a million people watched us on national TV, and watched us ’cause they wanted to, so great PR, if you like, for the business, and really put us on the map with a lot of different, in a lot of different ways. Like I said, great experience, and I guess I was just fortunate that they portrayed me in a way which I think was probably about right.

ANGELA:

Yeah.

DEAN:

It was good fun.

ANGELA:

And like you said, you don’t know going into it, until you come out of it, right? You went in there thinking this is what you guys wanted, but then through that experience, you’re like, “Actually, no. Let’s just sit on it, I think we’re okay.” Which is fantastic. If I had to say to you, then, what are your big plans for 2019, what can the Australian public get ready for?

DEAN:

Well I can’t say too much, because a fair bit of it’s confidential.

ANGELA:

Yeah, fair enough.

DEAN:

We are looking at the high level of it is we are looking at opening more stores.

ANGELA:

Yeah.

DEAN:

And that’s probably all I can say about it, is that we are looking at opening up more stores. And like I was saying, looking at slightly tweaking our business model where we’re looking at helping people have parties rather than just selling products.

Is probably the two main things, or two big changes, that people will notice. We’re doing a lot of other things. I mean, that we’re testing and trialing. We’re working with a couple of different tech companies on a few different things, like using the sharing economy for delivery. I’m working with this cool company at the moment that has an app where customers can walk into our store, scan the stuff themselves, and then walk out, and the transaction’s done on their smartphone, which is called Tilly, and that’s quite an exciting technology, which again, it’s all about, for us it’s all about where’s the future, how’s retail gonna change? And that’s a particular technology where I think that’s gonna come, and the world’s gonna change, and people are gonna be walking into retailers and scanning product themselves.

ANGELA:

Yes.

DEAN:

And then walking out, as the future. That’s something I’m pretty excited to see, how that goes.

ANGELA:

Well that sounds like some amazing plans, and what I love is that the story started 30 years ago with your mum, a woman in business with a brilliant idea, and it pivoted throughout the years, and it continues to pivot to some degree, into something that is absolutely magnificent. It’s lovely to see that you and your brother are carrying on that tradition. For those out there who are listening, and going, “Great, and I need to rush to get some party supplies”, where can everyone find you online, and where are your two bricks and mortar stores?

DEAN:

Yeah, so you can jump online to www.thepartypeople.com.au . So, The Party People dot com, dot au, and that’s our website. We’re on all the socials, so just, I guess, look it up. Look up The Party People, you should find us with the logo. I think on most of the socials it’s thepartypeopleshop.

ANGELA:

Yeah.

DEAN:

And The Party People Shop, we’re on Insta, Facebook, Twitter. We’re on about twenty others..

ANGELA:

Yep.

DEAN:

But they’re the main ones. Also, I’m on LinkedIn, so people feel free to add me on LinkedIn, just look up Dean Salakas and yeah, happy to answer any questions people have.

ANGELA:

If there’s one piece of advice you could give to the business owners out there listening, what would that be?

DEAN:

One piece of advice. Oh, there’s probably about a million you could..

ANGELA:

You could.

DEAN:

I mean, we’ve learned a lot over the years. I think it comes back to, and it probably sounds very fundamental, but it’s all about, for us, for a retailer, to be honest, to still be alive after 30 years, is probably an achievement in itself. For us to still be here today, I guess the key for us has been continually asking ourselves who is my customer, how do we solve the problems for them, and what are they doing, and how do they shop with us.

Always reevaluating where your customer is, and how they’re interacting with you, I think, has been the key for us. We didn’t just become the first company on Google or Bing by accident. It’s because we went looking for those things, we tried to find ways about how our customers were searching for products, how they were looking for us. We’re looking at, obviously, changing our business model slightly around helping people have parties, ’cause again, we’re evaluating how do customers, what do customers want from us? The fact that customers come into our stores and ask us can we help them find a clown, or can we help them with a jumping castle. It’s telling us that customers want something and we don’t provide it. So, yeah I think the key thing for any business owner is to really understand your customer and continue to evaluate whether you understand them. Because they’re changing all the time and you need to make sure that you change with them.

ANGELA:

Brilliant advice and I couldn’t agree more, as a business consultant, I’m all about the business foundations and your customer is always forefront and it doesn’t mean that your customer will stay the same. Your customer can change over time, it’s always important to reevaluate and reevaluate and reevaluate.

Dean, thank you so much for taking time out on Friday, here in Australia. For us to have a chat, like I said, this beautiful story about your mum and how it’s evolved with you and your brother, Peter. I really appreciate it and for those of you listening, I’ll also be putting together the whole transcription for this episode at www.angelahenderson.com.au and of course, I cover all sorts of related business and life topics inside my Facebook group, The Australian Business Collaborative. We’re almost at 4,000 members, I think. So, whether or not you’re from Australia, America, Canada etcetera, make sure you join because we always love to connect with great and like-minded business owners.

For the rest of you, have an awesome day no matter where you are in the world. And I look forward to connecting with you on the next episode of the Business and Life Conversations with Angela Henderson.

Have an awesome day, everyone! Bye.

Thanks for listening to the Business and Life Conversations podcast with Angela Henderson, Dean Salakas. www.angelahenderson.com.au.

Angel Henderson Consulting

​​Founder of the highly successful online store Finlee and Me, Angela taps into the decade's worth of knowledge of how to grow a thriving enterprise and pours it into her business consulting clients. As a business consultant, she partners with start up and small businesses to grow their brands through hands on support, ensuring foundations are laid in order to leverage growth. Her skills were honed at the helm of Finlee and Me, where she learned everything from branding, PR, sales funnels, email marketing, website, copy, SEO and more. She knows what it truly takes to have a strong brand, consistence sales, steady growth and over all dedication. Angela has been featured in the media including Talking Lifestyle with Ed Phillips and David Koch, Inside Small Business and on numerous Australia and International podcasts.

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