Breaking the Mold

Click! It's Party Time

Click! It's Party Time
Who: One Hour Parties
Where: 3226 N.E. 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
How much: $30,000 franchise fee; total cost $44.500 to $71,100
What makes it different: Prepackaged party-planning

Leanne Pardo and Christopher Hughes left their jobs at a marketing firm in 2001 to start a party-planning business in Seattle and built it into a highly successful company. For most people, that would be enough. But they have bigger dreams: They want to build their company, One Hour Parties, into the first nationally recognized event-planning brand.

As they considered how to reach that dream, Pardo says, "of course franchising as a business model [rose] to the top." But instead of jumping into franchising, they chose to take a route less traveled. In 2006, they began offering a licensing opportunity that allowed people to use the One Hour Parties concept but run it under their own name. "People in the franchise world will of course tell you not to do that," says Pardo, but she's sure it was the right move. "When you're dealing with an industry like ours that has no established baseline . you really need to get out there and see what would make it work before you sell it to anybody."

Licensing before franchising allowed her and Hughes to confirm that there was a nationwide demand for both their services and their system, and that others could be as successful at the business as they were.

That success stems from the innovations the pair has come up with to make event planning easier and more affordable. While party planning is traditionally a consultation-style business, One Hour Parties allows customers to order "prepackaged" party services online for everything from office parties to backyard luaus to wedding receptions. This allows them to keep their prices low. "Even in a down market, people can still afford to celebrate," Hughes says.

The company's online ordering also benefits future franchisees. Many of the party products offered on the website can be ordered and delivered to areas where there's not a One Hour Parties office. So when a franchisee does enter the market, they'll have a list of customers who are already familiar with the brand before they even open their doors.

Three franchisees have done just that in the year since Pardo and Hughes began offering franchise opportunities. They have yet to reach that dream of a nationally known brand, but they're confident that they're well on their way.

"We feel like we've done all the hard work," Pardo says. "Now we're ready to party."

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Tracy Stapp Herold is the special projects editor at Entrepreneur magazine. She works on franchise and business opportunity stories and listings, including the annual Franchise 500.

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This article was originally published in the September 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Breaking the Mold.

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