In this Q&A, Sydney-based Dean Salakas explains how, with a healthy serving of ingenuity, determination and business nuance, he and brother Peter have been able to dominate the party supplies industry in Australia with their company, The Party People.
CAPTION: The Party People owners Peter (left) and Dean Salakas.
From their parents purchasing the then small party planning company in 1985 for $2,000 to launching Australia’s largest party store earlier this year, brothers Dean and Peter Salakas have put in the hard yards and achieved some serious success with The Party People.
Prior to purchasing the business from their parents in 2007, in 2003 Dean redeveloped the company’s website and online strategy as part of a university project, which led to The Party People becoming one of the first companies in Australia to utilise Google AdWords. They now boast Australia's largest range of party supplies, which they distribute all over the world.
My Business: What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you started in business?
Dean Salakas: I knew that owning a business would be hard, but it’s much harder than I ever expected. The hardest thing about being good in business is you have to be good at everything. As a small business owner, you cannot be good at just one thing; you have to be good at everything, from IT to stock management to finance to marketing. As the owner you have to know how to provide guidance for these areas, and to do this you need to understand them.
MB: What are your most effective work habits?
DS: I think my best work habit is my active time management techniques. As I run many projects large and small at once and have many things on the go, waiting for many people to get back to me, and many things I have to do for people, I have developed my own system of managing my time that works for me. I have four different ‘to do’ lists that I manage (daily, short-term, medium-term and long-term) and I have done the same with my team, although their systems often differ as I work with them to personalise their ‘to do’ lists and time management techniques for what works best for them since everyone is different. A ‘to do’ list sounds like a very simple concept, but you can make it sexy with colour coding of due dates and filtering for statuses of different tasks so it’s easy to manage.
MB: The most important person in my business is ... because ...
DS: This is a very hard question to answer, my role is to keep the business growing and my business partner ensures the operation is providing the best service to our customers, so I think together we make a great team by working with each of our strengths.
MB: Best business decision you’ve ever made?
DS: Opening of our new store in Drummoyne (Sydney). This has been an amazing success for us.
MB: What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in business? How did you fix it?
DS: We have made lots of little mistakes along the way and you learn from them. We are pretty risk averse and we don’t like the idea of putting staff jobs or the customers at risk, so we discuss all major decisions in a lot of detail before making them. We follow a very strict framework for all big decisions and so far we have not made any big mistakes.
MB: How do you delight customers?
DS: We aim to provide exceptional customer service. We get our orders to customers often the next day after ordering, which really surprises them and we get lots of thank you emails.
MB: Share your number one sales technique with us.
DS: We continually cross sell our products to customers. We tell our staff to have fun suggesting alternatives to customers. For example, when a customer buys pirate tableware our staff will suggest costumes, decorations and other related items and we encourage our staff to get more creative. In this case the staff may suggest sword toothpicks for the finger food for the party or black and red lanterns to match the tableware.
MB: What’s your secret team-building tactic?
DS: As a party store, we love to have fun. We have a team member who organises all the ideas from the team for a monthly party or activity, and then the management team considers the suggestions and picks an activity.
MB: Who do you most admire? Why?
DS: Richard Branson, his innovative approach is always fun and interesting.
MB: What’s more important in business: passion or preparation? Why?
DS: It depends on the context of the situation. In some cases preparation is more important, and often for the team this is the more important factor. However, for a business owner passion is definitely the most important thing in the business. You always have setbacks in business, but if you are passionate enough you will let nothing stop you and you’ll push through the difficult times.
MB: Favourite websites and why they add value to your work?
DS: Google. It is the largest source of customers for our business.
MB: What’s your favourite networking activity? Why?
DS: Partying. If that wasn’t my answer, I would be in the wrong business.
MB: How do you relax?
DS: I like to go fishing up the coast. People find it quite strange that I love my fast paced lifestyle and yet I can go up the coast fishing and sit on a little tin boat for weeks catching nothing and I’m still loving life!
MB: Favourite sporting team? Why
DS: St George Dragons. I grew up one street from the oval and have always followed them.
MB: If someone gave you $100,000 and said “Invest this in your business by the end of the week – or lose it” what would you do?
DS: Throw another massive party!
MB: The internet is a massively disruptive force. What’s your reaction to disruption?
DS: With change comes opportunity. I love the fact that the internet is changing. I keep on top of what’s changing and enjoy the challenges change presents. As my competitors are less technologically savvy than I am, I find this is a competitive advantage. My competitors are always copying, but by the time they manage to copy what I’m doing, I have already moved onto the next big thing. We were one of the first Aussies companies to use on Google AdWords and while Google send us most of our business, we have moved onto many other marketing avenues as well.
MB: How do you foster and express creativity?
DS: We encourage our staff to be creative in many ways. For example we encourage our sales staff to suggest decorating ideas and we have a workshop once a month with our decorators where we have a certified balloon artist train the staff and we “play” with balloons all night.
Follow @mybusinessau on Twitter for breaking stories throughout the day.