Oct 24, 2012
Big Top Fun
Haley Beiter, Special to Party & Paper

Be drawn to the timeless entertainment – and chaos – of a birthday circus

If you’ve been involved in a child’s birthday party in any capacity – host, guest, party supplier, or curious onlooker – then you know there’s only one way to describe the chaos: it’s a three-ring circus, minus the big, swirling tent. Children screaming, running, playing, crying. Wrapping paper flying. Cautious adults trying to keep a safe distance in a quiet corner.

Despite such pandemonium, we do it again and again. Why? Because a little chaos is fun, and everyone needs to color outside the lines now and again. And whether or not you think clowns are creepy, most children enjoy a good circus.

Big Time Fun

The circus has been entertaining people since the 1770s, starting with trick horseback riding, acrobats, jugglers, tightrope walkers and of course, clowns. But today’s popular circus party theme rarely includes horseback riders and acrobats and is instead a magical melding of nostalgic circus imagery combined with the easily-replicated food and activities of a traveling carnival.

And while traveling carnivals are most often seen at county or state fairs today, a transformed version of the carnival has adopted the big top image and landed in party stores and birthday parties everywhere and the wonder and joy that circuses brought when they pulled into town is being replicated for today’s youth in circus-themed parties.

These parties may lack the agile entertainers of circuses like tightrope walkers and acrobats and only a few of them include traveling carnival rides, but a circus party guarantees delicious food, entertaining games and fun for all ages – which is why the circus theme as been a mainstay of children’s party supplies.

Susan Beer, marketing director at Amscan Inc., said that circus parties will always be a great party option for kids.

“Who doesn’t love a themed party?” Beer said. “Good food, fun games and super cute decorations transform any location into a real circus party. Kids love to have fun and run around, so this is the perfect theme to keep them busy. At the same time, it brings back memories for the parents from when they were younger.”

Circus parties are also ideal because of their versatility, something that retailers should emphasize when marketing this theme. Amscan offers a circus ensemble for first birthdays, and for younger birthdays, there is more emphasis on the look of the big-top, clowns and even the animals from the circus menagerie. But it’s important for retailers to remember that for this particular theme, party throwers may need more than decorative plates and napkins – they need the tools to create a backyard midway.

With the molding of carnival games into the theme, there are endless options to keep older kids busy. Parties for older kids will include more game options, as well as giveaway prizes, so there’s a greater emphasis on marketing those accessories – and increasing sales.

Today’s circus party trends tend to capture the look of the big-top, with bold red and white stripes.

“It’s all about the red and white stripes,” Beer said. “Based off of the circus tent stripes, we are seeing a lot of the decor include red/white stripes in the design. We’ve also seen a lot of popcorn containers doubling as treat bags, or containers for other party snacks. Also, another trend is the animals being a focus – ringmaster, tigers, elephants, monkeys, etc. Bringing the animal characters to life adds another layer of fun to this theme.”

Big Time Sales

There are a few circus items that Beer recommends store owners always have on hand, for any circus party.

“Fun games and wearables for the kids to play and dress up with are must-haves,” she said. “Decorations such as banners, balloons, cutouts, treat containers, etc. can transform the space into a ‘Big Top Party.'”

On top of must have inventory, there are a few tips to market circus products to customers so that retailers can improve sales.

Include all accessories – Unlike parties that are difficult to replicate in real life (i.e. Spider-Man or My Little Pony), a circus can easily be recreated (minus the elephants and bearded lady) with the right supplies. Educate your staff on the large list of accessories for circus parties, like costumes, game supplies and take-home bags. And be sure your employees share those ideas with circus-shopping customers for great add-on sales.

Put the circus on display – Show customers what a backyard big top can look like. It can be hard for party-throwers to imagine giant tents, elephants and tightrope walkers in a backyard setting. But if you let them see how magical it can be, they’ll be more excited to recreate the scene for their kids.

Circus equals carnival – Party stores offer all sorts of game accessories like tickets, prizes, etc., but it’s important to remember that when customers Google the phrase “kids circus parties” nearly every Web page refers to carnival games. In today’s world, the two themes go hand in hand. So make sure your circus displays include carnival game offerings or directions to the game section in your store.

Watch out for the clowns – For some people, it’s not a circus without the clowns. But for others, there’s a phobia involved and for whatever reason, clowns can diminish the fun factor. So make sure your customers can throw a circus party without a clown glaring at them from every cup and plate.

Yummy – Birthday parties are usually all about the cakes, but circus parties are a great chance for parents to offer a variety of fun midway foods. This gives retailers a great chance to increase sales by offering everything from vintage style popcorn machines and bags to giant swirling lollipops, peanuts in their shells and delicious lemonade. Circuses brought a variety of delicious foods and drinks to town, so be sure to give customers the ability to offer that same variety to party guests.

Big Time Joy

Circuses will always hold a special place in people’s hearts, reminding them of simpler times where a bag of popcorn and the booming voice of a ringmaster could bring instant joy. Everyone’s fond remembrance of that magical place means it’s a theme that will never go out of style. And with the right inventory and merchandising, you can help bring the Big Top to a child’s backyard – and big sales to your bottom line.

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