Party time?

Posted: October 7, 2010

I had several entertaining conversations with a gentleman named Braxton Reynolds last month. He is the man who applied for a sex shop licence in the quaint Cornish city of Truro, right next door to a shop that sells school uniforms. When he first told me about his plans earlier this summer I was more than a little sceptical of his chances.

As it turned out, the licensing committee received 99 letters of objection and a petition, instigated by a neighbouring shop, containing over 800 names. Yet the application was granted in August.

It’s a remarkable story but Mr Reynolds is a rather remarkable man. You can read how he obtained his licence on page 32 of this issue. And anyone who is considering applying for a licence of their own could learn a lot from his approach –it’s all in the preparation.

We don’t get to hear of too many brand new licensed stores opening up these days but, let’s be honest; we rarely get to hear of any new retailers opening on the British High Street. Indeed, research by the Local Data Company (www.localdatacompany.com) revealed that, at the end of June, 13% of outlets in the average UK town centre stood empty. That’s quite a figure, but it doesn’t tell the whole story – there were some town centres with a vacancy rate approaching 30%.

Why should this be? Well, let me count the ways: how about high rents and business rates, parking restrictions and cut-throat competition for a start? Part of that cut-throat competition comes from the online marketplace of course, that land of milk and honey where we can all be overheads-free entrepreneurs, sat around in our underpants watching the orders roll in. Sadly those days are long gone – if they were ever here – and anyone hoping to cut a dash in the online space has got to work their socks off and be prepared to flash the cash in a big way now.

There is still one sales channel in which a start-up can become a success for very little outlay though, and that’s party plan. For the individual it’s got two big things going for it; minimal overheads and no need to buy stock until it’s been sold. Party plan has also got some pretty significant benefits for the supplier too; the sales force pay all their own expenses, find all their customers themselves and work on commission only. Until fairly recently Ann Summers had adult party plan pretty much all to itself but LoveHoney entered the market earlier this year, when it made a ‘six figure’ investment in BlueBella, and now ABS is also targeting this sector.

Anyone interested in this sales channel should dig out their copy of ETO issue 81, which featured an interview with BlueBella founder Emily Bendell plus an ‘everything you need to know about party planning’ guide. They should also do a little research online. It’s not that difficult to find ‘tales from the frontline’ written by Ann Summers party planners. They detail how much they make, how much time is involved, what tends to work and, of course, what problems they encounter.

Could the party plan arena be the new adult battleground? Ann Summers claims its representatives hold 4,000 parties a week. Well if the average spend is £250 a time that’s £1m a week – so the only real surprise is not that other firms are making inroads into this market but that it’s taken them so long to do so.

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