sue-pierce.jpgFor 25 years, I juggled working in the corporate world with raising a family and keeping a home. Despite my busy schedule, I earned a reputation for giving unique parties that were the most exciting in town. As the years passed and my family grew, I continued to spend time on my passion -- creating extraordinary children's parties, spectacular weddings and elaborate black-tie affairs. One issue that consistently came up was finding the time to search for unique, fun and high-quality items for my parties. I didn't want to just have an average party and hand out the typical party favors. I wanted to give my guests a party to remember, along with keepsakes they could take home and treasure. I felt it was important to leave my guests with a lasting impression.

In 2005, I retired and left the corporate world behind, but I wasn't ready to stop working. I decided it was time to give my dream a shot. I left the security of a lucrative income to pursue my passion, and Posh Party Box was born. My goal was to create a one-stop shopping experience for busy women who wanted to throw a party that was unique and fun, but who had little time to plan and shop. Even though I was a grandmother, I knew that my entrepreneurial spirit had no age boundaries. As a mother and grandmother, I had vast experience to draw on and the perfect test market for my creations.

With my ideas and business plan in place, a partner and I launched Posh Party Box in 2006, for an initial investment of $50,000. Mary had been in the retail business and knew the ins and outs of getting started, such as the process for getting a business license and reaching out to suppliers. I appreciated her knowledge and assistance, but she didn't have the same passion I did for the business. I bought her out, and we parted on good terms.

Today, I work with my daughter, Kristi Sayler, who is a single, stay-at-home mom. She is responsible for administrative tasks associated with the website, keeping up with Twitter and Facebook and making sure we have a presence on blogs.

ahoy-mates-pirate-party.jpgAlthough there are numerous online party suppliers, there is a shortage of upscale themed party supplies bundled for one-click shopping. Every item in our inventory has been carefully handpicked to suit each themed celebration. Posh Party Box prides itself on creating unique themes that cannot be found at the local party store. To accomplish that, we took the time to research premier manufacturers with the goal of obtaining unparalleled party supplies.

As my first step, I created the themes and created a list of all the items I thought would make a great party box. Then I hunted for suppliers who could fulfill my requirements. In addition to researching on the web, I attended national gift shows and the LA Mart. I also visited boutiques and stores, looking for quality products. When I found them, I located and contacted the manufacturer, registered as a reseller, and ordered products that fit my needs.

I currently have about 15 vendors that I use consistently for common items, and 25 other vendors who fulfill more specialized needs.

Tips for Online Startups

My advice for would-be entrepreneurs:

  1. Do your homework. Understand your market and your competitors, and make sure you provide something that is unique. You have to stand out in a crowd, as nearly every business idea has competitors.
  2. Understand how to market your business. If you have an e-commerce site, made sure you fully understand what is required to drive traffic to your site. Without traffic, you'll get no orders.
  3. Write a detailed business plan.
  4. Have a passion for what you're doing

My vision has changed since I launched Posh Party Box. In the beginning, I wanted to provide party boxes for all occasions. As time went by, I realized that boxes for bridal showers, baby showers and holiday parties didn't sell as well as children's party boxes. My primary focus is now children's parties, and I'm phasing out the bridal and baby shower boxes.

I also discovered that there was a lack of children's party boxes that not only entertain but educate. I decided to create party boxes that provide a subtle bit of education along with the fun. For example, our Dinosaur Dig Party transforms each child into a junior paleontologist. Kids learn to excavate dinosaur bones from a clay rock and then assemble the skeleton for display. All About Bugs teaches kids how to collect, observe, and identify different insects and plants in nature. Le Petite Chef givess children a hands-on experience with food, all while learning about measurements, nutrition, and how to combine ingredients to make something fun and tasty.

I made several marketing mistakes at first. I was so flattered when a magazine or a website asked me to advertise that I wasted a lot of money advertising in the wrong venues. I didn't understand that each publication's job was to find advertisers, and it wasn't specifically looking for me. Since then, I've learned to make sure that the magazines and websites I spend advertising dollars on target my market and reflect my goals.

I did make a successful investment in PR, using daughter-in-law Kimberly Pierce's agency, Pierce PR. She created press releases, and contacted magazines and television stations to promote Posh Party Box. During the first year, I garnered quite a bit of media attention; I was featured in several magazines and appeared on some televised morning shows. The PR resulted in more awareness and several orders.

The biggest challenge I faced was my website. I thought if I built a website, "they would come." I quickly learned it doesn't happen that way. I wasn't prepared for the additional costs associated with SEO, pay-per-click and advertising required to drive traffic to my site. In addition, because I wasn't savvy about technology, I was ripe pickings for companies that promised to get me a great deal of traffic but didn't deliver. I spent a great deal of money on SEO, with very little to show for it.

I wish I had known more about how websites work -- how you drive traffic to the site and what social networks and blogs you should be on. I'm still learning, and because technology changes so quickly, I have to rely on other experts to make sure I'm on top of things. I've come to realize it's a never-ending process.

Posh Party Box is a celebrated winner of two iParenting Media Awards (a Disney internet media property focused on parents) and four Creative Child Magazine awards for Product Excellence and Product of the Year. To show our thanks to the community, Posh Party Box donates a portion of proceeds to charities that benefit children. We also provide party boxes for fundraisers and donate toys to the Toys for Tots program each year.

Although starting my own company has been a challenging learning experience, it is an experience that I embrace and love, and my passion shows in each of the parties I create. I love being able to deliver memorable celebrations.