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From Clown To Market Leader, The Party People Story

by wrich

30 years ago Mala Salakas was “Patches The Clown” catering for kids parties. Her passion for parties led her to start a small party store with her father Peter Nikolas. In 2007 her sons Dean (me) and Peter Salakas took over the family business so they could retire. At that time The Party People Shop had 2 employees in the shop.

Today the business has over 40 employees, are the market leader for party supplies online in Australia and now have two bricks and mortar stores of which one of them is the largest bricks and mortar party store in Australia. We use to get teased at school because our mum was a clown and today we wear it with a badge of honor.

The Party People is a party supplies retailer stocking over 25,000 party supplies including balloon, decorations, costumes, eco-partyware, novelties, confections, party food, cakes and more. The business also provide a decorating service and free party coordinator service.

The business launched online early in 1999 as Australia’s first online party store and continued to achieve online firsts by offering click and collect from the beginning, being Googles first Australian Adwords customer, being Microsoft Bings first Australian advertiser among other first including piloting Facebooks accelerator program. I helped my mum with the online business while at high school and university and did my final year thesis on the business which led to major changes and an acceleration in growth.

When Peter and I took over in 2007, we drove the businesses digital strategy which has made it the success it is today. We have also focused on building a great store experience which is why the Australian Retail Association and the National Retail Association have both named us as Retailer Of The Year in their small retailer category. I was also personally named Retail Leader of the Year on multiple occasions. 

The business also appeared on Shark Tank Australia where we received a $400,000 offer from Janine Allis which we turned down and today are preparing to create a chain of party stores in Australia so that every Australian can create their dream party.

The Party People has a history of pioneering retail. Last year pioneering Scan and Go across multiple sites, Buy Now Pay Later without a signup (i.e. split payments for customers without a 3rd party), and Magic Mirror for costumes.

In the last 12 months, we have focused our innovation short term at COVID19. The Party People used its agility with innovation and applied the same principles to COVID19 which is to see change as an opportunity not a threat. This might seem difficult when it was at some points illegal to host events, the very basis of the business model.

While sales were down by 92% in march last year, we spoke to customers (the 8%) to find out what they were buying as parties were illegal at the time. The answer helped us create a “Coronavirus Survival” category which we made the main banner. This category had 4 subcategories Coronavirus Safety & Hygiene (which contained sanitiser and masks among other cleaning items), Things To Do At Home (which contained Arts & Crafts, Games, Dress ups, Toys & Balloons), Baking and Gifts.

The final results of this innovative adjustment in business model focusing on servicing people in a COVID19 environment rather than events helped The Party People thrive in an otherwise fatal event for the business. Recently we have won a host of retail industry awards including Online Retailer Of the Year, Independant Retailer Of The Year, Retail Leader Of The Year, Store Manager Of The Year, Innovative Retailer Of The Year, Pop Up Of the Year and more.


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