Like many business owners, I have tried just about everything over the past decade when it comes to marketing. When I consider how and where I have spent my advertising dollars (including television spots; print advertisements; pay-per-click internet advertising, such as Google Ad Words; networking groups; and Groupon or Living Social deals), the biggest return on my investment has been, without a doubt, throwing parties at my spas and training schools. Even though the concept has been around for many years, I actually stumbled onto it for my own purposes by accident.
It all started several years ago, when my business was still in its fledgling stage. I was chatting with my best friend’s wife about her job as a Pampered Chef representative. I had some cursory knowledge about the company for which she worked and that she spent most of her working hours hosting cooking parties in other people’s homes. I had absolutely no idea that she was then making more than $100,000 a year in her position. Pampered Chef is the wildly successful in-home party business that sells cooking tools, cookbooks, and food products. Most people have either attended one (or several) of its parties or know someone who has. The concept of “parties for profit” is not anything new; however, the Pampered Chef company figured out a way to put a fresh, new spin on it to the tune of about $100 million in annual sales. People do not need to reinvent the wheel to be successful. It is not only okay to build on other companies’ great ideas – it is smart and efficient, too.
My friend’s wife’s success story really got me thinking about my own business. I was doing okay, but I wanted to excel far beyond that. I had a gut feeling that it was time for me to reconsider my business model. After doing some research, I discovered numerous examples of companies that were doing home parties and doing outstanding with their sales.
I began noticing a common theme among the companies that had achieved (or were in line to achieve) tremendous success: their parties focused on fun rather than sales. Do not get me wrong, companies do not end up with $500 million per year by providing nothing more than balloons and giggles, but selling for these companies is the natural result of the attendees’ experience at one of their parties. Selling is not, however, the sole focus. It is what I like to call “by the way” selling. It is understated, but it works. I also believe that this type of subtle approach is an essential part of building long-term client relationships as opposed to grabbing just one quick sale.
“By the way” selling can be found in many forms. For example, think about magazines such as People or InStyle. We know these types of magazines cannot survive without advertising dollars, yet, when people are perusing them, they are not thinking about that. People buy them for their eye-catching covers of attractive celebrities and their promise to “take us inside the new home of Taylor Swift.” While people are enjoying a peek at Taylor’s new house, they may or may not realize that the home furnishings advertisement on the very next page is directly targeting them to buy a couch and rug that look eerily similar to Taylor’s.
CREATING YOUR OWN PARTY CONCEPT
While in the process of reconsidering my business model, I realized that the party concept could be applied to almost any type of business, whether it is product- and/or service-based. Soon after, I began creating my own version, one that revolved around spa treatments. I thought about my own target audience, primarily professional women and/or stay-at-home mothers in their 30s and beyond, and where they were likely to spend their free time and disposable income. Like Pampered Chef, I sent out invitations in advance, highlighting what I planned to offer: free food and drinks, lots of fun, and chances to win spa-related prizes, such as free Botox and laser hair removal.
I quickly learned that an invitation, to what was basically a free girls’ night out, garnered plenty of enthusiasm and a fairly high response rate. But, what really seemed to be working in my favor was my audience’s interest in the products and services that my spa offered and my own level of enthusiasm. Anyone who knows me knows that I am nothing short of wildly passionate about my business, and that enthusiasm comes through when I am speaking to any audience.
I had my target audience. At my very first party, there were only about 10 people (I started out small until I figured out my formula), but I sold three $1,000 packages. I could not believe it! I made $3,000 that night and spent only about $200 in food, drinks, and supplies. I began holding parties approximately every other month, then every month, and then every two weeks! I was on a roll and could not believe how easy the parties were or how much I (and everyone else) seemed to enjoy them.
FINDING NEW TARGET AUDIENCES
Suddenly, I ran out of people to invite! I had already gone through every friend, family member, and acquaintance that both I, and my entire staff, knew and now I was out of ideas. But rather than throwing in the towel, I called up my friend’s wife and asked how she handled the same situation. She explained that she had learned to ask each person at her parties if they had just one friend or acquaintance who had a different group of friends or who belonged to a different social group. More than that, she would offer that person a free product or service if they would invite that group to her next party. I tried this trick and it worked. People are sometimes reluctant to bother their friends, unless there is a free anti-aging treatment in it for them.
GROWING YOUR PARTIES
While my first few parties were relatively small and intimate, allowing me to try out new things and figure out what worked, they quickly grew to something much bigger. Today, regular parties are an integral part of my business model. I call them skin scenes and spa scenes and host them on a national level. I advertise via e-mail, social media, and through my website. Hundreds of attendees join me for great food, drinks, free gift cards (just for attending), prizes, and live demonstrations of cutting-edge medical spa treatments, including Botox, dermal fillers, CoolSculpting, microneedling, and more.
Skin care professionals can easily replicate what I am doing. Start small, figure out what works, and make it a goal to add just five or 10 additional people to each party. The parties will grow quickly!
PRESENTATION IS EVERYTHING
(BUT KEEP IT AFFORDABLE)
My friends tease me that I could have been a caterer or wedding planner as I do have a knack for knowing how to put things together in an enticing way. Skin care professionals, however, do not need to go to the extreme; after all, the parties should be making money, not losing it. I am a big fan of warehouse clubs, such as Costco and Sam’s Club, because they do most of the work for me at a fraction of what I would have spent elsewhere. I purchase large platters of popular items, such as small sandwiches and cupcakes, individual appetizers, and chocolate-dipped strawberries, but throw away the cheap, plastic trays on which they are sold. Instead, I invested in a few nice-looking platters and my staff and I arrange everything on those. I add some flowers and greenery here and there and plenty of candles. Be sure to turn up the lights before starting a demonstration so that all eyes are on the treatment.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
Just as professionals will need to continue finding new sources of invitees, they will also want to consider ways to keep the parties fresh. Pampered Chef does this very well by offering different types of parties – something to suit additional interests and/or wider audiences in other geographic areas. For example, in addition to its regular at-home demonstration parties, it offers the opportunity to hold online or in-person fundraiser parties, which are an excellent way to do something charitable for others while, at the same time, raising the level of awareness about the business within the community. Typically, a percentage of all sales goes to a chosen project or organization. Professionals could also ask attendees to bring a few canned goods to donate to a local homeless shelter and, by doing so, they will receive a small gift.
Consider other ways to pump up the party’s volume: perhaps the professional could have a holiday-related theme party or hire a local college student to act as the DJ. If the professional is an avid Pinterest follower and/or crafty type, there is seemingly no end to clever party ideas that can be replicated; just remember, keeping things simple when it comes to food and decorations tends to be, not only less expensive, but less time-consuming.
A FEW ADDITIONAL PARTY TIPS
Through trial and error, I have learned a great deal over the years about what works when it comes to having a party both fun and profitable. The invitation is important, so do not overlook it. Whether the professional advertises the event through e-mail, social media, or printed invitation (I would suggest all three), it should be colorful, enticing, and include attractive images of past demonstrations, with just a few bold words highlighting the event. Images speak volumes over highly detailed content. Be sure to include the date, time, something free just for attending, information about what the professional is providing (free food, drinks, and prizes), location, the spa’s logo, contact information, and, most importantly, an easy way to respond (a “click here” link works best on electronic invitations).
Ask guests to help market the event by talking it up with their friends and co-workers. Skin care professionals want to create plenty of buzz well ahead of time and it is easy to achieve this when they offer guests a small incentive just to spread the word.
Start out by taking baby steps, then slowly build a party empire. Remember, the hugely successful companies listed above started out small, too, building on the concept that people are happy to get in on the fun, especially when there is something valuable in it for them. Partying is not just for rock stars – it can be profitable, too!