Clowns, Sharks and eCommerce: The Party People Story | #216

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Dean shares eCommerce tips from 15 years of The Party People

EP 216
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Nathan Bush is a director at eCommerce talent agency, eSuite. He has led eCommerce for businesses with revenue $100m+ and has been recognised as one of Australia’s Top 50 People in eCommerce four years in a row. You can contact Nathan on LinkedIn, Twitter or via email.


In 2007 Dean and his brother took over the family business. Today they have over 40 employees, operate the market leader for party supplies online and also have two bricks and mortar stores, one of which is Australia’s largest. For the last two years, Dean has been named in the Internet Retailing Top 50 People in Ecommerce and the Australian Retail Association Retail Leader of The Year

You can contact Dean at LinkedIn

In this episode of Add To Cart, we are joined by Dean Salakas, CEO and Chief Party Dude at The Party People. Going online in 1999, Dean and his brother are leaders in the party space with a physical store and over 30 team members. Dean is and has been a figurehead in the Australian eCommerce industry for many years and it was a delight to have him finally join us on Add To Cart. We actually lined up this chat while on the dance floor at the Online Retail Awards.  But despite knowing Dean for some time, I always pick up something new everytime we talk. In this conversation, we cover why he thinks marketplaces are the today opportunity for many retailers, how his approach to acquiring customers via search has changed over the years and we go behind the scenes on what really happened when he pitched The Party People on Shark Tank back in 2015! And if you need anything else, Dean gives his tips for the hottest Halloween costumes this year. 

“We were down 92% so we were looking at ruin essentially and how we were going to navigate that

Dean Salakas

Chasing the 1%

“When I first started in e-commerce in ’99, you’d make one little change, like we took over the business and we changed our shipping down to a flat rate 9.95 and we saw like triple digit growth. And then we did a bit of Google marketing and there was triple digit growth again. You are getting massive results from small changes. 

Now, it’s over time. The changes and the benefits of decisions you made become incremental and rather than massive. So now, we’re always chasing the 1% these days. The one extra percent in sales and one extra percent in conversion rate. We’re chasing small things now rather than going big.  And I think that’s where e-commerce has become super-interesting for the more experienced players, is that now we’re really trying to find ways to get ahead.”

Stay or go

“We had to make a decision as a business, when all those retailers were closing their doors when they maybe shouldn’t have. We had to make that decision because from a business point of view, the best choice was to close and stand down all our employees. The best thing from a people point of view would’ve been to not do that because it seemed like they wanted to work. So we were debating whether we go and ask our employees what they want to do. We’re staying open, putting them at risk or do they want us to close?

And we went and spoke to them in the end. We were a bit worried about that because we were worried what answer we might get, but we thought it’s just the best people decision and we did that early in the pandemic. So that was the first round. And I think that set the tone for our business which really helped us to the back end of the pandemic when we asked our employees what they wanted to do. Do you want us to close or stay open? It’s your choice. 

All but one employee said, we want to stay open because we want to stay employed, we don’t want to be stood down. And that set the tone because I think that built a lot of trust with our employees, that they were scared, they were worried, they didn’t know if they were going to have a job next week.”

The future

“ I think my view of the e-commerce world is that e-commerce will continue to grow as a percentage of sales but I think we are seeing the curve go like this rather than accelerating. I think we’re going to get to a point of saturation, I don’t know where that is, but I think we’ll eventually see e-commerce get to a point of saturation and I think we’re not far off that. And then I think that’s when people will realize that bricks and mortar has a huge part to play. 

So I think we’re going to see a whole bunch of tech in bricks and mortar land, which is why we’re seeing people like Afterpay and Zip Pay and all that, trying to push into the bricks and mortar spaces because they realize that’s where the money is long term. And I think we’re going to see technologies like…Scan & Go technology, for example. 

Personally, I believe that’s the future, particularly for small to medium businesses. There’ll be companies who will do potentially the Amazon Go where you walk in and cameras follow you and you just pick stuff off the shelf and walk out and it charges your bank account.”

Questions answered in this episode include
  • How did The Party People navigate the pandemic?
  • Where do you see the real value in marketplaces?
  • How do you predict upcoming trends in events and celebrations?

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