Mar 17, 2017
Carolina Party
Zeke Jennings

Sixteen years later, we check in with the Delorier family of Carolina Party

In 2001, Party & Paper Retailer detailed a party store startup located on the North Carolina coast in a series of articles titled “Blueprint for Success.” That store, Carolina Party Inc., is not only still going, it has since expanded. As it turned out, owners Diane and Dennis Delorier did indeed have a winning game plan.

Much has changed in the past 16 years, not only in the industry, but for the Delorier family as well. Dennis, now in his late 70s, has retired after a career as a general contractor and spends most of his time at home. Diane, 60, works hard to balance the demands of being a small business owner and spending time at home with Dennis, who, like most 78-year-olds, has been in better health. Diane does so by relying on her faith, which she said has increased greatly in the years since opening the store. Diane’s daughter from her first marriage, Jaime, who was 9 when the couple moved to North Carolina to open the store, now lives in Poland, where she works as a researcher and is pursuing a PhD.

So, what else is new? We caught up with Diane to talk shop and find out.

PPR: What has been the biggest change in the industry?

DD: Technology has drastically changed the way people shop. Our world has become one of immediacy. When we opened Carolina Party, people were just so grateful to find and buy what we had. If we didn’t have exactly what they were looking for, well, they would pick something out that would still work and leave happy. We can thank Amazon Prime and Pinterest for a significant change in customers’ buying habits.

PPR: How have you changed?

DD: The biggest thing I have learned and there has been much is not to go it alone and to count on me less. “Life is hard but God is good.” I have learned many things over the last 15 years but what has increased and grown is my faith. My faith and belief has carried me through many things. Many things have happened over the years that were tragic. … I have learned to count on someone bigger than me to get us through the rough spots.

PPR: What is the biggest challenge for you?

DD: I think the most challenging thing about being a small-business owner is finding the right balance between my life at the store and our home life. I would be a liar not to say that there were many times that situations at work have caused stressful days and nights in our house. … My husband is almost 78 and he retired from general contracting in 2008. He has had numerous health issues. At this point, he would like me home, sitting with him “eating a peach on the porch” – one of our little sayings. I try to go in a little later in the day so we have some morning time and I make sure when I come home that the store is not our dinner conversation. Our love and devotion to each other is tremendous and we are grateful to have celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary this past July.

PPR: How do you work with your employees?

DD: We have three employees and me. I count for at least two people, right? We have added employee hours to our budget over the years as revenue continued to grow. During the Halloween season, we add temporary help usually found through customers who have become our friends. … I believe in running our staff numbers efficiently but do not send people home on a slow day. Employees need to be able to count on a certain wage. Loyalty is a two-way street. We stay committed to them as they do to us. This viewpoint might have affected our bottom line over the years but has helped to retain staff. We all know that it is extremely expensive in more ways than dollars to keep training new sales associates. I try to make for a happy work environment, even though it is work. Many days, it is hard work. I occasionally buy lunch for us all. We celebrate our birthdays by bringing in lunch from the restaurant of their choice, give gifts and celebrate each other!

PPR: What is the most fulfilling thing about what you do?

DD: It’s the nature of our product. We help people celebrate life and each other. What is better than that? No one has to do bad for us to do well. Because of Carolina Party, I have made many, many friends. I am grateful for their support in our success.

Quick Q&A with Diane Delorier

How was your Halloween 2016?

I am happy with what I spent, what merchandise I purchased, my advertising strategy and our planning leading up to the season. I wouldn’t have done anything different but our numbers were down year over year. (Delorier noted Hurricane Matthew, which caused the store to close for two days and canceled a popular nearby festival as contributing factors.) I am not certainly going to blame the day of the week (Monday), as one of our best Halloweens by thousands was on a Monday several years back, the days before three temporary shops showed up in our area.

What is the balance of your revenue?

Costumes and accessories are approximately 25 percent of our yearly revenue. It was never my thought when we opened that costumes would ever been such a big portion of our sales. We sell costume items all year long and we are known in the area for that fact. In this economy, I think anyone would be foolish not to try additional categories/ways to bring revenue into their store. If a store doesn’t carry costumes and accessories, try selling some. If a store doesn’t carry decorative flags, try carrying flags, specialty candies, gifts, greeting cards, baking supplies, etc. -whatever is going to make the numbers work!

Where do you find new products?

I typically find out about new products from my sales representatives, from Party Club of America of which I am a member and from your magazine. I have never attended a show. I think shows, for many, are a great opportunity to see what is out there. I like to take my time when buying things. I could not do a show order. First, I have to consider what we already have. Secondly, my thought process is “if I buy this I will then own this item whatever it is… do I want to own this?” Next question, the million-dollar question, “Will we sell this?” If I have to think more than a few seconds about an item it is usually not something I am going to buy.

  • WHAT: Carolina Party Inc., 686 W. Corbett Ave., Swansboro, North Carolina
  • SIZE: 5,100 square feet
  • WHAT THEY SELL: Costumes and accessories, balloons, cake-baking supplies, tableware and decorations for every occasion
  • STAFF: In addition to owner Diane Delorier, there are three regular employees. The staff adds a few part-timers during the Halloween buying season.
  • ONLINE: Find them on Facebook

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