Tony skinner 00:02
Hi, and welcome to the podcast channel for podcastmybusiness.com.au and contentmadeeasy.com.au And yet, we’re going to start on a new series of people that we’ve interviewed during COVID. And we’re circling back around because there’s lots to learn from that period. And it’s very difficult to look back on something when you’re in the middle of it. So we’re gonna start looking back on what things happened and what people will learn from what we can all learn from together. So today, we’ve got things Dean Salakas, the chief party guy from thepartypeople.com.au how you going there, Dean?
Tony, good to be here
Tony skinner 00:47
And we interviewed you for Halloween of 2020. And I’m calling BC, that’s DC. I’ve got all my acronyms or BC before COVID DCS during Covid, and then we’ll go L W. C living with COVID.
Yep, that sounds about right. There’s I’m sure you got another one after that coming.
Tony skinner 01:12
Well, I do. In fact, thanks for throwing it to me, because I didn’t tell you Covo FOMO I haven’t caught it yet. And I’m one of the few that hasn’t apparently. So fear of missing out.
Yeah, I’ve had it. So I’ve been there. But let’s not go on about that. I’ve had that conversation a few times.
Tony skinner 01:29
Exactly. So let’s get into it. So what we do want to get into though, is that what aspect you’re at the time you were pivoting, whether it still hasn’t been replaced, or anything better. So we’ll stick with pivoting, you’re pivoting to even selling a hand sanitizer, and all sorts of things. And you can got some good ideas with people buying the party all in one bag, and all in one go to sort of even dropping in and picking up the bits. So you can send out the whole thing based on numbers. Are you still offering that sort of thing?
Ahh no, look, we’ve we’ve again, going back to normal, I would say in terms of business model. So we learn a few things, which I’m sure we’ll talk about through the podcast, but generally speaking, no, like, you know, we had this whole curve as people who listened to that last one would have recalled we you know, we did this whole Coronavirus survival category and we read it all out. I mean, we’ve pretty much taken that down.
Yeah, for us, that was a bit of a lifecycle thing. It when it was booming, and no one had sanitizer, we had sanitizer when no one had masks, we had masks, when sanitizer started to appear to be coming back.
We got out early, I think we might have even talked about that last time that we’d gotten out already, even though it was probably a few months too early. But you know, in hindsight, it was, we could have waited two months, and we would have been fine.
But I’d rather get out early and have been cautious and been like a lot of people who got stuck with sanitizer, and there’s a lot of sanitizer sitting around the country, and people are trying to give it away for free and they can’t. So definitely wanted to avoid that situation we got on the rat test trend for a little bit.
Because again, you know, obviously I’ve got great relationships with suppliers. So I leverage those to get access to stuff that people may or may not otherwise have been able to get access to. It was hard to get access to. I kind of got a bit of preferential treatment. And as you know, a lot of businesses were hurting around these times. So you take whatever you can get in any way you can survive you. You you find those angles and use them.
So look, we had that Coronavirus survival, we pulled it down. Probably pretty close to where we had our last podcast, probably not long after. It was after. And instead of trading kind of a bit as normal. I mean, there was still a different type of customer shopping with us.
But our focus has slightly changed in that we were still focusing on smaller house parties. What we found through COVID off through that that period, probably from when we had our last podcast to now was that people were having a lot more smaller parties.
People weren’t having them at venues because it was for a while it was illegal to have a party at a venue but there’s still that apprehension of having, you know, a large event at with 50 kids at a venue and you know the way COVID is going around at the moment. There’s still a little bit of apprehension on that.
But you know, over the last 12-18 months has been quite a lot of apprehension to do that. So most people are having little house party. So we’ve been focusing on how do we help people do those sort of events, and balloons and those sort of categories are smashing costumes like categories, like costumes and, and those sort of categories not so much they’ve been doing pretty poorly but you know, obviously we’re riding the wave of what the customer how the customer wants to have their party. So yes, a fair bit to change. But that stuff’s not there anymore.
But you know, I’d say we’re still not 100% back to normal, but you know, things are in terms of running a business pretty much back to normal now.
Tony skinner 04:55
Yeah, exactly. I know. It does take a bit of time and effort and talking about costumes. I happen to know it’s world dracula day next week. Are you doing anything for that one? But I guess it’s things throughout the year isn’t there
there is a lot that’s that’s probably not one we’ve, we’ve done much with. But, you know, we always wrote We probably do a social media post or something like that, that we jump on those trends for those sorts of things, but nothing sort of, I mean, we sell a lot more Dracula stuff, but we tend to have a lot, we get it for Halloween, and it hangs around through the year for a day like this. Yeah. And there’s a few other things that are in a similar boat.
Tony skinner 05:29
Yeah, exactly. One day, you know, you can’t do unless it’s huge, like Halloween, and what have you. So in relation to the business and you pivoting and what have you?
Tony skinner 05:41
What have you noticed with the consumers and how consumers spend at the moment, are they spending more because they’ve got money from the government and savings And what have you?
Yeah, look, I mean, we’re hearing in retail at the moment. I mean, as you know, I do network a lot and get around the retail communities and speak to a lot of CEOs and the general the general issues with sales at the moment is they are down on on last year generally.
And, you know, you’re seeing that in share markets at the moment, a lot of retailers are getting hammered in the share market, it’s carnage at the moment out there in retail land, and in the in the sheer sort of space, but you know, that they’re seeing a lot of, you know, a lot of these businesses that are booming, that were booming during COVID, because everyone was, you know, working from home, and if you’re in the home space, or, you know, hobbies and things like that sort of things boomed during COVID.
And those businesses were booming and their sales have come back to Earth. You know, they’re struggling, I mean, for us, Look, we are up, I think there’s still that pent up demand that’s coming through. Now, you know, if someone didn’t have a party last two years, they, they just hang into habit. So you know, where you might have had someone who said, Oh, look, I’ve had a party the last two years, I’m going to give it a miss this year, he’s going, let’s have it because I haven’t had one for two years.
So you’re getting a lot more dinner parties, and people get getting together. And when there is something on it tends to be a little larger people are sort of, you know, hung over in their busy lives of, of trying to figure out what events they go to the people who are very social, tend to be inundated with, with party requests to come to parties, and they get a bit over it and hop between parties and things like that, where at the moment, you know, just people can’t wait to go to a party. And it’s sort of a great time.
So things are up a little for us on pre COVID numbers. hoping that that will write us into the end of the financial year and make up for the fact that we will close for three months. But yeah, right now things are things are going pretty well.
Tony skinner 07:38
That’s good. Because I’m here in North Sydney and the cafe and I was here in the office every now and again during COVID Or whenever I could. And it was terrible seeing how quiet but now its packed, the cafe was so busy this morning. I couldn’t get a table to get a coffee. So it’s starting to expand and grow. And what do you see in the future have any particular categories or any particular things that businesses should be focusing on?
Yeah, look, I guess there’s some things that also become part of life. You know, I think COVID is going to be part of life for a long time. I can’t see it being gone. But look, I don’t I’m you know, there’s always the pre COVID We didn’t have no, we didn’t have a contingency plan for a pandemic.
Well, I think in businesses now, that was one thing, probably just after our podcast that that I realized was to have a contingency plan for what was going on. And now we’ve got those plans. So if anything happens, again, we’ve got, you know, a contingency plan where you know, if we got I mean, one of the things that that we learned from the first round that we started implementing throughout the pandemic, over the last 12 months was having that lockdown contingency plan. So when they did lock us down in, in July last year, for example, we just had a plan, we rolled out we weren’t caught by surprise, like many people were, you know, it was almost inevitable that was going to happen, or it was a high risk anyway.
So you know, we had that contingency plan ready, we sat there and we said, Well, what happens if we were to be given 24 hours to close? What What would we need to do? We need to make sure that people have access from home, we need to make sure that what what jobs would people do from home, make sure we’ve got those doc jobs ready. You know, all that stuff. Required planning. Because, you know, if you got if you had to make those plans up on the spot, and you had to come up with IT solutions, or you had it problems, or whatever it is, it’s just a massive disaster.
So having that planning was key. And that’s something I think people will start doing more of now. And it’s something we learned in our growth, growth of our business was to plan better. Think of what happens if the, you know, having the contingency plans of what if things go better than we expect?
What if they go worse? And you know, probably COVID contingency plans are going to be another thing that people will keep in their toolbox in there. Because you never know when the next one might come along.
Tony skinner 09:58
Well that’s actually true. Originally, none of us thought and I know, years ago, I worked in an agency, we’re dealing with a cabinet sole contingency plans and sort of continued plans for very large businesses. And yeah, they have contingency plans, but not for what occurred.
Tony skinner 10:19
So it’s very difficult to plan for something like that. But certainly to plan for the unexpected. I think we all failed to plan for the unexpected, because we keep thinking about it. But we didn’t have anything in place for the unexpected. So it’s not just COVID it’s for whatever it might be. Yeah, absolutely. Cool. All right.
Tony skinner 10:43
So you are well known in the world of retail, and in the retail space, and lots of events and things like that. And events are starting to come back. You seeing any particular hesitations or requirements for people heading back to events or you think people are still a little bit reluctant?
No, I’d follow is probably what I said a minute ago, which is that like, you know, like you said, I do go to a lot of events and conferences and pre COVID, I would say, you know, I was I was asking myself, am I going to too many, I need to cut back.
Now that things are opened up, you know that these conferences are aligned, and you know, I just can’t wait to get back to them. Because I haven’t been to many for the last two years. And that’s the general sentiment I’m getting from every one of these things is like, you know, we haven’t been to anything for a long time, we haven’t been to many.
And you just need to get back into these things. So there’s all this pent up demand for this. And people are flocking back. So I definitely finding that, you know, there’s there’s a huge appetite for it.
Tony skinner 11:42
Yeah, and I think that’s true. I mean, online is pretty important. And I do a lot of socials and networking and whatever online. But there’s certainly a lot to be said for doing things face to face, and going and seeing people compared to online. So now that we’re able to do one or the other, what do you prefer?
Oh, look, I think I think, you know, definitely working remotely. I mean, some of my team do work from home and stuff like that. I’m all for working from home. From from an execution point of view. My personal view is it’s very hard to build teams and rapport and, and relationships this way.
Think about the many people here, you know, listening would have would have been through the whole COVID in the zoom thing and having zoom drinks with friends. You know, yeah, it was cool the first time but it was kind of a bit crap. The second time. The first time was novel. The second time was like, well, we’ve got five people on the screen here.
And I’m talking to a screen and it just felt weird and yeah, not not much fun at all. So you know, they were a buzz, and they came in went pretty quick, as a trend. And are gone before the pandemic was even over. Yeah. And people were over them. So I think yeah, building building relationships you need, you need that face to face, we need that interaction, we need to be able to bond and joke and see our hands moving when we’re talking and all that sort of stuff. Yeah,
Tony skinner 13:06
yeah, that’s certainly true. I mean, you know, podcasts and videos, and whatever a nice and it gets your attention. But to drill deeper and deeper relationships, you I think it definitely helps to touch and feel so to speak. You know, we had lunch just a couple of weeks ago. And yeah, that was good. We’re able to talk and explore more ideas than on a video screen.
Tony skinner 13:29
Although I still have friends that insist on doing online meetings, and I’m going to meet up someone No, no, no, don’t want to do that. Why would I do that? You know, people in different time zones. And I still do some of that. But cool. So the next thing you got coming up is Independence Day. So is that a big day for you guys?
Look, it’s pretty solid. Like I mean, when we sit across, we have something like 30 Something events throughout the year that we that we track and manage. And we’re actually going through a bit of a process at the moment to reevaluate what that looks like. And even make that plan more complicated with things like you said, regular day, on a calendar because while we don’t drink a lot, there is a good example where we may not manage it from an inventory perspective too much.
We do need to manage it from a marketing perspective. So you know, there is a lot of events on the calendar and Independence Day is one where, you know, for us it’s an interesting category where it’s it’s not like Christmas, where there’s a lot of people that do Christmas, a lot of businesses do Christmas and it’s very competitive. Independence Days of 1000 times smaller than Christmas, but, you know, we’re one of the few players in that space that sell a lot of products for an Independence Day.
So it’s quite a good category for us. And, you know, we get that without we get that with the you know, the breadth of categories we’re across.
So we’ve got independence day and then you’ve got, you know, probably something slightly bigger like Oktoberfest or St. Patrick’s Day and then you get into things is like Halloween, then go to Christmas, which is massive. And they’re all a little bit different in terms of their size, but you know, where we sit in that, in that market, we kind of know where we sit and what and how we help the customer.
We know with Christmas, we’re never going to be everything to everyone in that. But certainly with, with something like Oktoberfest, we aim to be the brand in the country that has the biggest range. And, you know, is the place the only place you’d want to shop? Basically.
Tony skinner 15:26
That’s fair enough. So what I’m curious about is that when we’re talking about events, so we just had Mother’s Day, and we got Father’s Day coming up, which is more popular.
Our mother’s days would be bigger for us, I think, you know, people do stuff for for dad to be different balloons and stuff like that seem to work quite well for Mother’s Day, less less popular with the dads.
Tony skinner 15:51
We get forgotten. Yeah. It’s not not a big thing, unfortunately. Okay, cool. So when we’re looking at lessons, and I guess tips and things, for learnings, is there anything that you wanted to mention in particular?
I think last time we spoke, you know, there was that, you know, that lesson about talking to the customer, was what we learned the most. And I think, you know, that lesson has never been more more more true in the last two years as well, like I said, we, you know, we rode the wave of, of, when I say we rode the wave, we pivoted and found the wave in COVID. Because we had to.
We found that by talking to customers, as you people have to listen to that podcast is a plug for your Tony, thank you, I’ll have to listen to that one to hear how we did that.
We spoke to customers then. And that’s something we’ve kind of implemented a little bit more started talking a bit more about how that works so well, for us, that we need to do more of it, we need to talk to our customers more need to take that feedback on board, we need to implement the learnings from what customers are saying about our services or that sort of stuff.
What customers are asking for, what products are they asking for? You know, with online, we have the ability to look at our data and see what people are searching for, and figuring out if we’re servicing those searches, but we don’t, we don’t do that with a physical store. So, you know, we’re saying to our staff tell us what are people asking for that we, you know, what happens when someone says, I want x? And we say no, what are those things? So, you know, getting that feedback up the chain and just other things around service and feedback. And, you know, as you become a bigger business, I guess that’s the thing, you know, as a small business, when you’re a small operator, and you’re, you’re the one on the checkout quite a lot, you understand exactly what’s going on with the customers. As you grow, like we have, I’m quite removed from the customer.
To understand what’s going on, I mean, I serve at the checkout once, you know, for a week each year, and it’s something I do so I do keep my finger on the pulse a little bit more than, you know, a CEO probably could, or, you know, I think that’s what we should be doing and see as being on the frontline for a little bit to understand what’s going on be like undercover bosses. You know, I think they learn a lot from being at the frontline. And so we we, we do that as well, me and my business partner both work at the front line in various roles.
When it comes to the busy time of year we put ourselves in the team help them out. But it’s also it’s a deliberate strategy for us to get hands on experience with what’s going on with the customer, what’s going on with the processes, what pain are our staff feeling, all that sort of stuff? And, you know, it just comes back to, you know, talking to our customers more often. And understanding what’s going on there and getting that feedback up the chain to us is critical.
Tony skinner 18:44
Well, talking about staff, I mean, it’s been difficult on them. COVID having to have time off and coming in and exposure to customers. And of course, at the moment there are staff shortages. So how do you keep your staff happy and motivated when there’s been so many changes going on?
Yeah, it’s good question. And I think, you know, again, as a, as a medium size business, we’re a little bit more fortunate and say, a large business. You know, small to medium businesses can be more flexible with their staff.
I mean, we we have, you know, each staff member that reports to me, I customize the role to their lifestyle. So I have one that works from home a lot. I got one that works for him a little. I’ve got one that works all sorts of random hours. You know, and you know, the definitely I find that staff value, flexibility in in, you know, the fact that I customize the roles to suit their lifestyles. They value that way more than money.
The mum that has a new baby that then has to deal with daycare challenges and that stuff values that and then as that baby grows up and starts going to school, they value that they can then change their hours to be doing drop off Have pickups at a different time. So they super value that flexibility. And, you know, I’ve got, you know, I talked to my staff and I work with, you know, I don’t have a set rule on how work should be done, I just think about what they want, and how would it fit with a role and try to find ways to make it work, really. And that’s what we’ve learned, has worked really well for us.
We’ve had a really good retention rate of people that have got got from anything. And once they reach sort of an assistant manager level for us, they generally last about 10 years plus, we’ve had very little turnover in the last I mean, we’ve owned the business for 15 years, we’ve probably been through, we’ve got about eight people at senior level, and we’ve probably only had to leave in the last 10 years, 15 years. So we have very little turnover at that level. And that Flexibility is the key. I guess
Tony skinner 20:51
one of the things is what you’re talking about with staff. You’ve got that’s got you dropped out a little bit there. And we’ll see what happens. Oops, let me add a marker. Click it. Call. Right. So, yep, I guess what you were talking about before about getting responses from customers, and also helping out staff is loyalty. So it seems that having a loyalty of customers and staff and giving back that level of loyalty is really, really important.
Yeah, I mean, it just, I mean, obviously, it’s yeah, you’re right. It’s the same theme, it’s listening to customers listening to staff, listening to what’s going on. And, and, and doing it and it’s, it’s a concept that is easier said than done. You know, everyone says over a customer led business to customer focus, but a lot of them aren’t. They don’t really understand their customer.
Sometimes, you can see that from the outside, but they can’t see it from the inside sometimes. And a lot of it comes down to structure and, and culture. Rather than just saying we listen, you know, just just collecting feedback doesn’t mean you listen to customers, it means you’re collecting it. So you know that that’s probably some, you know, something that we I mean, even we thought we were a customer focused business pre COVID. And then COVID hit, and we were like, oh shit, what’s going on? You know, we don’t know. And then we come up with strategies to manage that, which is in the last podcast. And we learned something from that, you know, we thought we were pretty close to the customer views.
We needed to be a lot closer. And, and that’s been that’s been good for us. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I guess the thing is just listening to people and acting on that, that feedback, and having mechanisms for doing it.
Tony skinner 22:49
Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, trying to connect and be listened to and heard to there’s a quote just out from Jennifer Lopez JLo. I’m sure you’ve heard of her. You heard Jenny from the block? Yeah.
Tony skinner 23:03
Dean, anything else you’d like to add?
No, it’s always fun chatting to Tony. I mean, certainly. You know, it’s always fun and love exploring these topics with you. And it’s been been good.
Tony skinner 23:52
And we haven’t spoken about fishing. So I apologize for that we didn’t get to that’s good on you for doing it. All right. Okay. So let’s do some packets from the party people.com Au. And remember to subscribe to the podcast channel, podcastmy business.com.au or contentmadeeasy.com.au Thanks very much.