East Bay Business Times

Retail: Healthy going into strong season

By David Goll

Marty Allen, president and CEO of Party America is a veteran of the retail world, where he served a stint at Williams-Sonoma. Allen could have taken an easier route than taking over the helm of Party America in 1996. That’s because the following year, the Alameda company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Since emerging in December 1997, the retailer has added new Party America stores and acquired other companies under Allen’s leadership. Today, he presides over one of the nation’s largest chains of gift and party goods stores, rivaling the dominant Party City chain.

Store sales up: “We will have a reasonably good quarter, with (comparable) store sales increasing in the high single digits, perhaps even into the low teens. Graduation, which is our third-largest season of the year, will be a very strong as we continue to increase our mix of merchandise. We are better prepared this year to take advantage of being one of the few players in this field and have stepped up our advertising.”

Party business: “All of us in this segment are a bit healthier than we were a year ago. We started out this quarter with a tougher Easter than we’ve had in the past, which may have been because it was early this year, before the nice spring weather had a chance to bring out shoppers. Our company did a bit better than last year, but it wasn’t a significant increase. Generally speaking though, I anticipate this retail segment will continue to be healthy and profitable as we move into a very busy season.”

Retail competition: “Companies in our segment will continue to have stiff competition from big-box discounters and the 99-cent stores. But those retailers compete on price alone, while we are selling price and quality. For example, Target sells our category of products, but they don’t have the breadth and depth of our merchandise. We will continue to evolve more into a necessity specialty retailer because home entertaining has become such a staple of people’s lives. You can live without Pottery Barn, but you can’t live without Safeway. We are becoming more like the store you can’t live without.”

Party America receives the first “Retailer of the Year” award at the National Party Retailing Awards gala in Chicago, an event sponsored by American Greetings, Hallmark and Greetings, Etc.

Marty Allen is nominated and becomes a finalist for the prestigious Ernst & Young Award for Entrepreneur of the Year.

Party America completes ten consecutive years of growth and increased profits under the leadership of Marty Allen.

Party America makes the list at number 32 of the 100 fastest growing companies in northern California three years in a row, clocking a growth increase of 180%. Amazingly, it is also the fifth largest company in sales on the list.

Greetings, Etc., establishes a Party Retailing Hall of Fame to honor individuals who have made a significant contribution to the industry. Marty Allen is the first to be inducted. Editor Ms. Krassner points to Mr. Allen’s creativity and leadership in growing the Party America chain from just a few dozen stores into an industry powerhouse by upgrading in-store and corporate technology, overhauling the inventory system and improving customer service through better employee training.