The Party People: Having fun is serious business

When Mala Salakas first began using MYOB software, she couldn’t have expected that her business, The Party People, would still be going from strength-to-strength nearly three decades later.

Would you be surprised to learn that the Australian Retail Association’s 2018 Retail Leader of the Year was a business started by a clown named Patches?

Thirty years ago, Mala Salakas (also known as Patches the Clown) started a small business catering for children’s parties. It wasn’t long before she also signed up with MYOB so she could handle the books herself.

Fast forward to today, and The Party People is a leader in the party supply space an award-winning retailer that has been showcased on national TV, with two bricks and mortar stores, 40 employees and a forward-thinking approach to new retail technology and digital strategy that make it a true standout in its field.

The Party People, Mala Salakas.
Mala Salakas A.K.A. “Patches the Clown” back in the early days of The Party People.

 

These days, The Party People is run by Mala’s sons Peter and Dean Salakas. Dean describes his role as ‘Chief Party Dude’, but behind the lighthearted job title is a dedication to the business of having some serious fun.

Salakas’ life in and around the party supplies business has given him unique insights into the industry, as well as its specific challenges.

“We started as a small family business, where the owners did everything, and there wasn’t much in the way of systems or technology,” Salakas said.

“Back then my mum started with MYOB to do the accounting herself.

“As the business got bigger, it was easy to grow with MYOB, we added multiple accounts for multiple entities MYOB allowed us to scale.”

Salakas credits MYOB with helping The Party People overcome some of their biggest challenges.

The nature of the party business is seasonal, and this can cause cash flow woes, but by banking the profits at their seasonal peaks, Salakas can use MYOB’s reporting tools to forecast their financials.

READ: How to manage cash flow in a seasonal business

But the biggest challenge for The Party People wasn’t cash flow it was managing rapid growth.

Fast growth meant that capacity issues were a continual frustration, from running out of space, staff, and even computers.

These days, that’s less of an issue thanks to monthly financial reviews, planning and budgeting meetings, ensuring they’re ready for whatever lies ahead.

And with native integrations for add-ons like Employment Hero, The Party People gain the benefit of payroll, time management and attendance – all handled with greater efficiency.

While their physical retail spaces are impressive (one of their stores is the largest of its kind in Australia), the real key to success has been the Salakas’ early online presence, and early adoption of new technologies.

“We launched online early in 1999; Australia’s first online party store” Salakas says, “and we’ve continued to offer online firsts.”

“We were offering click and collect from the very beginning — we were Google’s first Australian Adwords customer, Microsoft Bing’s first advertiser and we were involved in piloting Facebook’s accelerator program.”

When the brothers took over the business in 2007, they kicked the party into high gear — focusing on improving the store experience, and aggressively building their already healthy online presence.

In 2015, The Party People appeared on the first season of Shark Tank, and sensationally turned down a $400,000 offer from Boost Juice founder Janine Allis. It’s a decision that paid off in the long run the exposure was great for business and created many opportunities for the company.

READ: How cloud technologies are helping Shark Tank contestants grow their businesses

Salakas explains: “today we’re preparing to create a chain of party stores, so that every Australian can create their dream party”.

New technology has been there, every step of the way.

The Party People again is at the forefront of retail technology, pioneering a checkout free retail environment, where customers use scan and go technology. They’re rolling this tech out at a Halloween (the busiest party event of the year) pop-up store out the front of Paddy’s Markets Haymarket in Sydney.

The Party People aren’t just leveraging new technology to grow their award-winning retail business, they’re also using it to allow a more modern, flexible workplace, something important to Salakas, who manages to balance running a successful business with raising his one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half year-old children.

And MYOB is helping with the challenge.

“A few years ago our bookkeeper decided to tour the world,” Salakas said.

“We set up MYOB AccountRight Live so she could work while travelling, and she continued to use MYOB remotely.

“She has been doing it for two years now, and we’re delighted that MYOB has allowed us to maintain continuity of staff.”

The system has also allowed The Party People’s bookkeeper, and many others, to continue their work from wherever they are in the world making bookkeeping a more flexible job than ever before.

If one thing is clear, it’s that Chief Party Dude Dean Salakas isn’t afraid to adopt new tools and technologies so that The Party People can continue its mission of helping Australians create their dream party.

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