Parents are still spending a lot on childrens’ birthday parties. Partnering with a local salon to attract young girls may be a way to capture MORE business.
Sweet & Sassy Franchising LLC, of Southlake, Texas, a “salon, spa and party place specializing in girls’ celebrations,” offers “a pink party limo, pop-star and princess parties, and spa-inspired services for the toddler-to-tween crowd.”
Some limousine operators have taken a cue from the success of this franchise, and are creating a similar experience with local salon owners. Limousine operators have long cross-promoted with salons to draw more female customers, but now are getting female customers a bit earlier by reaching out with tween limo packages geared toward girls ages eight to 12.
According to a 2006 Hallmark survey, Americans spend about $10 billion a year on birthday parties. Children’s parties accounted for 65% of all spending. While that number may have declined since the recession hit, several limousine operators agreed that while parents may not be parting with as many dollars as before, they are still more likely to indulge their children more than themselves.
Spotting an opportunity, operators such as Bill Atkins, president of Red Bank, N.J.-based Red Bank Limo has begun offering transportation for parties for tweens. “We like to partner with other business. It helps another business, which is always a good thing, and enhances what we do.”
Red Bank works with Alana’s salon, run by owner Alana Larsen, based in Fair Haven, N.J. While Alana’s only caters to adult clientele, the two businesses cross-promote each other with gift cards. Partnering entails relatively little. Most of Red Bank’s business travelers are men. Still, Atkins says that the salon gift cards make the perfect present for clients’ wives and daughters. Any time you can create a memory, that’s better than giving a material gift, he adds. “These kids sometimes have a lot of stuff. On the East Coast, a day at the spa isn’t so common.”
Red Bank used its Chevrolet Suburban SUVs for the handful of tween birthday parties they have handled so far. Atkins says that the girls tend to prefer them to the stretch limousines.
Atkins advises other companies planning to get into the tween party business to remember that safety is even more of a critical concern, and operators need to reassure parents that their children will be safe. “Some of our drivers are either current or former police officers,” he says. “We get drivers who are in tune, who can be responsible. The parents are not paying us for transportation, but to get the kids there safely.”
It’s also important to select a driver who can interact with the kids in a professional way but also let them enjoy the event, he points out. “That driver is almost like a surrogate parent.” The parents often take their own car, to make it a more special event for the kids, Atkins adds. “It makes them feel important. They could join the girls if they wanted to, but I think they want to make it a special occasion.”
Atkins believes serving the tween set could be lucrative for Red Bank because its clientele tend to be wealthy, and able to spend more on their children. Additionally, kids will talk about the party not only in school, but also on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. “These kids have information about everything because of the [availability] of the Internet. They’re very social, so they’re continually communicating about what’s going on.”
Dan Baxter, owner of Absolute Dream Limousines, based in Oak Forest, Ill., also has taken on only a few jobs with tweens. However, he says that if he found that it was growing more popular, he would invest more in it. “I would take that over a bachelor party any day,” he says. Absolute Dream mainly takes wedding-related and prom work.
What has made the tween salon party jobs successful is having the equipment that appeals to this age group, Baxter says. For Absolute Dream, that has been its Hummer H2, which holds 26 passengers and features a jet door, disco floor and ceiling, strobe lights, and iPod hookups. “It’s brand new, as high-tech as it gets. It lights up like a Christmas tree. They’re all about flashy.”
Like Atkins, Baxter emphasizes the need to choose a driver with the right personality for such jobs. “If he can’t stand the loud stereo and screeching, he’ll go insane,” he says.
However, these groups are very easy to handle, he adds. “They’re going to be loud, but they’re generally easy to control. That’s the nice part. If they’re that young, it’s a little easier than dealing with prom: juniors and seniors who think they know everything. We give them nice speeches [on] the rules, do it in front of the parents. It’s not so much a lecture as it is a pep talk. Usually, we have no problems with kids that age.” With children less than 13 years old, Absolute Dream requires an adult chaperone to be present.
SIDEBAR: Providing The Complete Package
Riverview, Mich.-based VIP Salon & Spa and King Louie Express Limousine offer both the salon experience and the limousine ride. Renee Borowy, CEO/president, bought a 2004 Ford Excursion in January 2010 to add an extra special touch to her service. The vehicle has a maximum capacity of 14. She named the limousine after her cat, King Louie. The average number of girls per group tends to be about 10 to 12.
With a clientele base of more than 30,000, VIP salon uses the limousine for all of its services, including bridal, spa, childrens’, princess, and birthday parties, Borowy says. With so much demand, she decided to create packages that included a limousine. She also rents out the limousine when it’s not in use at the salon to subsidize the cost. We just can’t go out of state or to the airport. It’s always on call,” Borowy says.
To prepare for the girls’ festivities, VIP Salon adds several special touches, including putting on the car a pink sign with pink flowers reading “Happy Birthday” and the name of the birthday girl. Borowy makes up pink, fuzzy bags with nail polish, coupons, and the limousine service card for each girl. At the salon, they get manicures and pedicures. The staff takes a picture of them in front of the limousine, and then lets them use the back of the limousine for the party.
The limousine doesn’t add a lot of money to the service, Borowy says, just enough to pick up and drop off. ”It’s a great incentive. It just worked out as a win-win.”
At somewhere between five to 10%, these parties do not comprise a big chunk of VIP Salon’s business. Still, the benefit of the tween market is that the salon and limousine get more bookings, and it has been a good way to attract repeat customers, Borowy says. “Every year, the children want to come back for a birthday here.”