Back in 2005, I launched a brick and mortar store called Pure Girls, which seems like a lifetime ago looking at where my businesses have changed, grown, and even closed. Pure Girls was a party shop geared towards pre-teen and tween girls, where they could host themed parties, get pampered with their friends and family, and do it all in an environment boasting girl power. When the recession hit, I moved on from this business, taking with me a lot of lessons learned pertaining to event based businesses and how that needs to align with products for success.
This is the mission for a new company in the party supply space, and while it sounds simple enough, given my past experience, I wanted to dig into the nitty gritty details of Coterie with co-founders Sara Raffa and Linden Ellis. When Coterie first crossed my radar, I was reminded of Revelry House, the failed party supply startup with famous co-founder Lo Bosworth. While the closing of Revelry House was much more hush-hush than the launch, one element was totally clear. No matter how much notoriety there was at the launch, and no matter how badly the co-founders wanted Revelry House to be successful, hope is never a plan, and this proves as a case study. This party supply company failed because at the core of the business they failed to understand their market, their revenue streams, and how those two would work together to cripple their approach.
Why Party Supplies?
The team at Coterie believe that special occasions would happen more often if the barriers to make that happen could be more easily overcome. If you knew you could throw a super classy get together next Friday, have everything you need to make it look amazing, and do it on your budget- would that entice you to party more often? Raffa and Ellis point to their market research and say the answer for their consumer base is "yes!". But they knew there were challenges to the market so first things first, they set out to find transparency of these challenges. Seeking out market proof, understanding challenges ahead, and staring down past failures in their category are all stepping stones to success.
Parties Are Stressful When Sourcing (and Shipping) Isn't Simplified
Even Amazon is somewhat behind when it comes to party supplies that are cohesive, easy to find, and that ship quickly enough with Prime. If you aren't a Party City shopper, and if Target doesn't have the matching set you want- where do you go for party supplies? Even some of the other brands Raffa and Ellis studied fell short when it came to shipping on time. If I find a set I love, but can't get it for three-weeks, that's definitely minimizing the chances of repeat business and my throwing a "just because" soiree due to the barriers. Removing barriers is another stepping stone to success Coterie is placing early in their startup. Shipping should be easy, quick, and something the consumer doesn't have to put too much thought into, because this interferes with the purchase.
The Startup Advantage
A lot of legacy retail brands are in a tough position right now. They are too big to tap into the streams a lot of startups have easily fallen into, and they are too bound by their rigid structures to initiate and implement quick changes that would allow them to compete in new areas we've seen retail growth. Party City is one of the big box retailers we've mentioned in this article, and they've seen their total gross profit margin decreased by twenty basis points due to what they've identified as, "increased freight and distribution costs and increased commodity pressures". While their operating expenses have gone up by two and half percent, and they've announced the closure of forty-five stores this year, surprisingly they are defying the odds in a seemingly substandard retail market. If this is a glimpse into the future of party supplies, the market is definitely sticking around, which is great news for the Coterie co-founders.
Speaking of competition, when there aren't a lot of competitors, that's definitely a red flag. Figuring out those reasons why there aren't a lot of businesses in the space allows you to look at whether or not those reasons can be overcome. If you don't know the reasons, you are missing a big piece of the puzzle. If you are aware of the reasons, but don't have a plan to overcome or address those, you're setting yourself up for failure right out of the gate. When Raffa and Ellis felt they were on solid ground with their business plan, they went to the other co-founder of Revelry House Christianne Amodio, to dig into what went wrong. They also studied others in their arena that were no longer in business. Seeing those gaps allowed the team to build bridges rather than falling in.
Get Out of Your Neighborhood
Raffa and Ellis talked about how their market research made them aware of a huge gap in their own strategy. Both being from New York, the trend is to throw parties in restaurants and not at home, so tableware was something they never considered initially. Now, the tableware category makes up the majority of their sales, serving as their best selling category. It's important to make sure you are thinking outside of the box, outside of your "norms" and individual behaviors, to really study the consumer base you are targeting. Imagine what a loss Coterie would have suffered without this realization and understanding of what their consumers wanted and needed from them.
Top 3 Launch Challenges
Challenge #1: The biggest launch challenge has been the lag in when people find out about their brand and when they are ready to throw a party. That lag was something that pushed Coterie co-founders Raffa and Ellis to create new touch points, change up their consumer targeting, and connect with potential buyers on a deeper level.
Challenge #2: Being stuck to holidays and birthdays served as a challenge for repeat purchases. Changing their marketing to encourage consumers to host events as a way to use Coterie, rather than waiting for a party to purchase has been a big deal.
Challenge #3: Pricing was also an interesting challenge because their competition is a diverse group from sellers on Etsy to Party City and everyone in between. Coterie's price point sits above Party City but is mostly aligned with others in their arena. Their research showed that the average amount people spend on party decorations is around $85. This number helped them create a baseline for what their market wanted and what they would pay for it. Again, we see market research prove both important and effective to a successful planning process.