THE MAGIC BEHIND THE CURTAIN
How far would you go to get someone to notice you? I know a guy who went so far to get actress Betty White’s attention that he showed up to her house on her birthday with a gift in hand. (Don’t worry, he had permission.) Still, it was a pretty gutsy thing to do.
Tha man was Shane Smith, and those who know him personally aren't really surprised to hear this. He also once held a special open house event for his party supply business right before COVID-19 hit. That was daring too. How do you get people to buy party supplies when the government is pleading with you to social distance? But rather than shrug his shoulders and just give up, Shane embraced the problem - which just might have led to some of his best business decisions yet.
Shane runs Prime Party with this wife Cara in Monroe. Like two peas in a pod, the couple have known each other for so long, they can’t even remember when they were ever apart. When I asked how long that they have been married, Shane asks his wife, “19 years, right?” Cara blinks and says “I think so, yeah.”
It’s understandable. They met each other while growing up in Woodinville when they were just 13. They were good friends, went to school together and took driver’s training together.
“My mom would drive us there and his mom would drive us home,” Cara said. “We were best friend up until about 24-ish. Then we started dating. That was kinda scary though, I had broken up with a long-term boyfriend and it was kind of like, can we give this a try? He was my best friend and I didn’t want to lose my best friend.”
It all worked out for the best though. Nine months later, Shane asked to marry her.
“There was no lallygagging,” says Shane.
Now in their mid-40’s, the couple’s adventure continues with Prime Party, an online party supply store that has gone through a few changes since they first opened in May 2018. The party business is nothing new to Shane, he’s been working in it for 20 years now. But this time, he’s the owner and it’s on his own terms. His perspective has changed.
When the Smith’s first started Prime Party, they focused on juvenile properties, the ones that their son loved when he was growing up like "Max & Ruby", "Llama Llama" and "Geronimo Stilton". But today, the couple is discovering that there is a market for more adult themes.
“Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean that we don’t want to still have fun,” said Cara. “When you go looking for adult party supplies, you get the ‘Over the Hill’ – ‘40 and Old.' That’s not what we want.”
Instead, Prime Party’s inventory represents a lot more nostalgic pop culture properties that mean something to them personally.
Bob Ross "Happy Trees Ring Toss"
“Nostalgic brands become part of your identity as you grow up and people don’t really realize that until they see it again,” says Shane, turning his chair to focus on a yard sign that features a young Joey Lawrence image from the TV series "Blossom" that reads, “Look whose turning the big 4-Whoah?” If you don’t know what that means, then this sign isn’t meant for you.
“You’d never think to have Joey Lawrence for your birthday party, but at the same time, that meant something to you. There was an emotional attachment to that when you were growing up.”
Prime Party’s repertoire contains such properties as "Star Trek", "The Golden Girls", "Bob Ross", "Cheers" and more.
“We just loved 'Bob Ross' and 'The Golden Girls' to begin with,” says Cara. We wanted to do it, but we also wanted to see if they were the things that the world loved as well. To our surprise, they really love it. So that’s been cool to see. And so, it’s actually easier to dive into our themes now because of that."
Typically, when one thinks of party supplies, you think of them as a decoration for a specific occasion like a birthday, but Prime Party’s supplies can be used for just about any occasion.
“I just got one yesterday from a gal asking if we had a 'Golden Girls' baby shower kit,” says Shane. “None of our cups or plates actually say ‘Happy Birthday’ on them.” So he recommended the regular 'Golden Girls' kit and a personalized yard sign that said 'Happy Baby Shower to a real Golden Girl' and it worked out just fine.
“So, to see how people are actually celebrating with this and the different ideas that they are coming up with, and now with our personalized signs, we’re giving the customer the ability to create that party they want for any occasion.”
It was also the ingenuity that helped the couple pivot when Covid hit.
“When we first heard that there was a shutdown, it was kind of a punch to the gut," said Shane.
But then he remembered something a friend had told him earlier – “Only the creative ones will survive.”
(Image: Jeffrey Totey / Seattle Refined)
“That kind of stuck with me in the beginning of it and I kind of took that as a personal challenge.”
Shane knew that families weren’t going to cancel birthdays, but they were going to change on how they celebrated.
“Obviously people couldn’t come over, but there was a lot of drive by celebrations, so we quickly started developing our yard signs. We offered a complete download of our bingo games and to this day we still offer that despite things opening back up.”
With Cara’s display background and Shane’s illustration skills, the two have come up with some extra special features that you won’t find anywhere else. Last year Shane got creative and made a 13-piece set that featured 12, almost life-sized cutouts of Betty White’s character, Rose from "The Golden Girls" so that fans could give the gift of a dozen “Roses” to friends or family. And what better way to promote the product than to plant a bunch in Betty’s yard?
Fans of Prime Party posted these photos of their dozen "Roses."
“I think January 15th is [Betty’s] birthday – which just so happened to be one month before Valentine’s Day, when we were planning the biggest product launch of our time for our company,” says Shane. “What better way than to go with an old school, grass roots method of just showing up at Betty White’s house - which we don’t condone. We actually did meet with our reps from ABC and got it all pre-approved before we showed up. I don’t think I would have felt good about myself if we hadn’t done that. It just made sense.”
The product went over so well with fans, they sent Shane pictures of their "Rose" delivery. Shane then created the pop-up bouquet of “Roses” for Mother’s Day. Then came the heads of Bob Ross so fans could “Bob Mob” friends’ homes. Now fans can personalize their favorite signs to say (almost) anything that they want. And there’s more to come. The two have a few more properties that they want to offer to fans, young and old, when the timing is right, but for now, they aren’t talking.
Personally, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Written by Jeff Totey
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