Q&A with Jerry Sykes, president
Number of stores: 3
Locations: Albany, N.Y.; Clifton Park, N.Y.; West Springfield, Mass.
Year opened: 1985
Ted Vayos, BODY: Describe your store.
Jerry: The Party Warehouse is a full-service party store. Our store appearance changes with every season and holiday. Springtime brings cut-outs of flowers, hearts, shamrocks, eggs and many beautifully decorated masks and colorful beads for Mardi Gras. Summer is mainly devoted to graduation with school colors displayed prominently, as well as luau décor that seems to be the favorite theme of summer. In the fall, the store turns into a haunted warehouse full of gory and kid-friendly decorations and electronic displays. Our costumes and wigs are displayed on a huge 8-by-36-foot photo banner that customers can easily view to see exactly what they’re getting. The aisles are filled with masks, make-up, and accessories for anything you want to be for Halloween. Autumn leaves and turkey cut-outs lead us into the winter, with snowflakes for your tables, windows and walls. A large Christmas tree is decorated brilliantly in the middle of our warehouse, surrounded by holiday bows, bags and boxes, along with menorahs, dreidels and party supplies for Chanukah. We end the year with towering displays of new year party sets, noisemakers and decorations to accommodate a small house party or a huge banquet hall full of 1,000 people. Everyday party supplies include bridal shower, wedding, anniversary, baby shower, kids’ licensed birthday, first birthday, milestone birthday and retirement. Year-round themed party supplies include fiesta, casino, rock and roll, Hollywood, western, luau and Mardi Gras. Custom invitations and banners that are done on-site can be printed in three days or less, and formal wedding invitations (available through vendor wedding albums) can be ordered within two weeks. Decorators are also available to make your party an unforgettable event, with balloon arches, columns and centerpieces that will dazzle anyone. We have a whole aisle devoted to cake and candy-making supplies, and a large selection of cater-ware including trays, bowls, aluminum pans, bulk cups, etc. We also rent helium tanks, tables and chairs. We offer a large assortment of balloons — both latex and foil — for every occasion, and we provide balloon delivery service seven days a week.
Ted: What makes your store special?
Jerry: We are a local, privately owned company that prides itself on customer service and believes in giving back to the community. Our customers know they will be greeted with a smile and that a friendly sales associate is always available to help. We offer special discounts to local organizations and businesses and make frequent donations to charitable events and fundraisers. As a result, our customers are our best advertisers and keep our business in strong competition through word of mouth.
Ted: What trends are popular in your store?
Jerry: Looking at Halloween costumes, our hottest trends currently are basics such as witches, nuns, pumpkins and other trendy classifications like Indians, police, honeybees and Red Riding Hood.
Ted: Which brands are important to your store, and which brands do customers ask for by name?
Jerry: Occasionally customers will ask if we specifically carry Leg Avenue or Dreamgirl costumes, but this is not as critical to our assortment as the presentation of the key trends such as vampires, flappers, pirates, nurses, French maids and more. We focus on keeping a full inventory of appropriate accessories to complete each outfit which helps us increase our average sale. For the most part, customers ask for a specific costume — doctor, cop, bar wench — especially with the licensed ones like Strawberry Shortcake, Dora, Iron Man, Darth Vader, etc.
Ted: What are your price points and size ranges?
Jerry: We offer promotional price points in every classification, ranging from infants through plus size. Within each area we also present medium through better retails in order to satisfy all our customer requests. All of our stores provide sales-associate-monitored fitting rooms where we help customers decide on the item they prefer and we help them accessorize their selections to complete their outfit.
Ted: What is your average customer size?
Jerry: There really isn’t a typical or average customer size for costumes, although plus sizes have increased in importance over the last few seasons.
Ted: What does the average customer spend per visit to your store?
Jerry: Our average sale on an annual basis is approximately $24, although during October — because of Halloween — it is approximately $42.
Ted: Describe your customer base.
Jerry: Our main customer base is definitely female. Whether it’s a bride, mom, daughter, nanny or an office staff member, it usually tends to be a woman coming in to make the purchases.
Ted: What is the key to staying successful in this economy?
Jerry: The key to having a successful small business in this economy is being equipped with a strong and efficient staff and having a good relationship with your vendors. Our major competition usually comes from chain stores. In order to stay competitive, we treat our customers as we would like to be treated — with respect — and also provide personal attention to their needs and wants. If a customer is looking for an item that we do not carry in our stores, instead of just saying, “Sorry, we don’t carry that,” we try and help them find an alternative. As a locally owned business, we tailor our assortments to meet the specific needs of our customers, an approach that a national chain cannot easily do.