Smart Picks Part I

Children's Party Planning

Once upon a time, blowing up a few balloons, baking a cake and hollering out the front door for some neighborhood children to join yours for a birthday celebration worked just fine. But times change. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 32 million kids between the ages of 4 and 11 in the United States today, and a lot of them are hoping for a little more excitement than pin the tail on the donkey and a cake with trick candles. Busy, dual-income families with more money than time want to provide their kids with fun, entertaining activities. They just don't have the time to organize them.

Enter the children's party planner. "Relieving parental stress is what this business is all about," says Joy Yates, who, with her sister-in-law, Dawn Yates, started Little Princess Tea Parties from their Gainesville, Virginia, homes last year. "That, and ensuring that the children have a wonderful time."

Planners do everything from creating invitations to providing food, favors, crafts and entertainment--even clean-up--leaving parents free to enjoy the parties, too.

While no association has yet charted the exact number of businesses specializing in children's party planning, Sharon Jansen, owner of Special Event Business Advisors in San Clemente, California, says, "I get calls almost daily from people interested in this field. In fact, there are more calls about this area than any other."

Their first month in business, the Yates sisters-in-law gave five parties. They're now averaging 10 to 15 per month. At a minimum of $150 a pop, the money adds up. And this is a business where a small investment can result in a nice payoff: $500 launched Little Princess Tea Parties. The funds purchased prom and wedding dresses, shoes, gloves, and hats from thrift stores. The sisters-in-law also picked up some suit jackets, vests and ties for the boys who sometimes attend. Other buys included makeup, tea supplies and craft items. But mostly, the women invested time. With business booming, the two currently put in about 10 hours apiece each week, plus they attend and manage all the parties, most of which are held on weekends.

Unlike other children's party planners, who offer an array of party themes from the circus and sports to bead crafts and the latest cartoon phenomena, the women focus on a niche no one else in their area has yet entered. "We started with the idea that kids love to dress up, then realized tea parties were becoming a popular idea among adults," says Joy. "It turned out to be a great combination."

While the women advertise in some parenting and annual party publications, most of their publicity comes from word of mouth, and because they survey both parents and children, they know 99.9 percent of their customers are happy with the service they provide. For the moment, Little Princess Tea Parties will remain a local operation, but the partners are exploring the possibility of providing "tea parties in a box" to grow their business.

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Smart Picks Part I.

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