Business Monday

Small Business Makeover: Taking A-KiD’s Party Express in Hialeah to the next level

GETTING ADVICE FROM SCORE: Isabel Arias, left, who owns A-KiD's Party Express with her husband Daniel Guzmán, talks to Senen Garcia. A photo of the company’s “Fun Slide” is on the wall. In , right, a corporate attorney and former chair of the SCORE Miami-Dade Chapter. , on Thursday, March 5, 2015. As part of their Small Business Makeover in the Miami Herald, Arias and Guzmán sought advice on how to take marketing and branding to the next level at their company, 2465 West 80th St.. in Hialeah. The company presents events for kids and adults -- spanning corporate, school, house of worship and family events. A-KiD’s Party Express sets up amusement rides, inflatables, slides, rock-climbing walls, carousels, tents, tables and chairs, among other amenities.
GETTING ADVICE FROM SCORE: Isabel Arias, left, who owns A-KiD's Party Express with her husband Daniel Guzmán, talks to Senen Garcia. A photo of the company’s “Fun Slide” is on the wall. In , right, a corporate attorney and former chair of the SCORE Miami-Dade Chapter. , on Thursday, March 5, 2015. As part of their Small Business Makeover in the Miami Herald, Arias and Guzmán sought advice on how to take marketing and branding to the next level at their company, 2465 West 80th St.. in Hialeah. The company presents events for kids and adults -- spanning corporate, school, house of worship and family events. A-KiD’s Party Express sets up amusement rides, inflatables, slides, rock-climbing walls, carousels, tents, tables and chairs, among other amenities. MARSHA HALPER

For Daniel Guzmán and Isabel Arias, the path to entrepreneurship — and eventually marriage — began in Detroit 10 years ago with a single glance.

Arias met Guzmán, who worked at General Motors at the time, when he was a customer at Comerica Bank where she worked. The two hit it off instantly and eventually tied the knot before moving to Miami in 2004 to try their collective hand at owning a business.

“I noticed him looking at me and I was smitten,” Arias said. “We started off as friends, and our relationship evolved to marriage. And then we decided to own a business together.”

The couple did their due diligence on opportunities in Florida and settled on purchasing an existing business rather than starting a new one from scratch. They decided to purchase a 25-year old event business called A-KiD’s Party Express. The company specializes in children’s parties, corporate events, fundraisers and other special events.

“My background is in banking and my husband holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering,” said Arias. “So for us, when we decided to own a business, it was important to make a sound decision on the type of business that would be successful.

“When we found A-KiD’s Party Express, we knew we had a great family-oriented business on our hands.”

With annual revenue that ranges from a half-million dollars to just over a million, the business has four employees and an estimated annual revenue that ranges between $500K to $1 million. But with so few employees, resources to market the company are limited. “We produce major events for the U.S. Navy and we have our solid core clientele, so most of the time we are all pretty business working,” Guzmán said. “That doesn’t leave a lot of time for marketing the business, but it is something that we really need to focus on.”

Arias and Guzmán had been thinking about how to take the company to the next level. They were contemplating a possible name change for the company that would allow them to move beyond kids’ parties. Arias and Guzmán do not have a Facebook or Twitter page for the company and social media was also on their minds. “We knew we had to get with the times in certain aspects of the business like social media,” Guzmán said. “We were also mulling over a name change, but we couldn’t decide and didn’t know where to start.”

To find answers, Arias and Guzmán turned to the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover for help.

The Herald, in turn, brought in Miami SCORE, a national nonprofit organization of retired volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs and built thriving businesses. SCORE identified four counselors to turn A-KiD’s Party Express around.

The SCORE team included Orlando Espinosa, co-founder of Emineo Media; Doug Shavel, CEO of Galante Studio Distribution; Jorge Gonzalez, founder and principal of Vermis Analytics; and Senen Garcia, a Miami-based attorney.

After working with A-KiD’s Party Express for a little over a month, the counselors identified several issues: with the company’s marketing strategy. One of the company’s immediate problems was a lack of exposure on social media. Another factor impeding the company was a lack of a comprehensive marketing strategy and maintaining constant communication with customers to let them know about sales, discounts and special promotions. “A-Kids’ Party Express is a great concept,” Espinosa said. “They have their own equipment, rides, inflatables and anything else you can think of to have a great party. They also have a great reputation. But as a small business in today’s you can’t just rely on word-of-mouth from satisfied customers to grow. You need to develop a marketing road map and follow it to achieve success.”The counselors all agreed that Arias and Guzmán needed to first concentrate on low hanging fruit — efforts that do not require a major capital investment and offer a great return.

The counselors’ advice:

▪ Consider a name change: “One of the first things I talked about with Isabel and Daniel was how open they would be to changing the company’s name,” Garcia said. “My recommendation is to take advantage of the history of the old name while introducing a new one.” He recommended rolling out the name as a new division of the company: “I prefer the new division concept as this would enable a slow transition out of the old name while building the brand of the new name.”

Garcia advised that the new name should be trademarked at least at the state level, if not at the federal level. “While a statement of fictitious name, also known as a DBA, would offer the ability to have access to the name for things such as accepting payments, it would not ultimately prevent others from using the name,” he said. “Of course, if the name was trademarked by someone else already, it would be unavailable for use as a fictitious name, so that also needs to be considered.”

▪ Embrace social media: “It is important that A-KiD’s Party Express has an engaging presence on social media,” Shavel said. “The company needs to create a Facebook and Twitter account at a minimum. Then, create a LinkedIn account to expose the company to other businesses to grow the corporate event side of the house.”

Shavel also recommended the using social listening tools like Facebook Insights to see who is interacting with their brand and how they are doing it. To keep an open line of communication to customers, Shavel also encouraged the company to develop a branded e-blast using Constant Contact, Mail Chimp or another similar tool to send out information on a regular basis to all past and present customers.

“The e-blasts are a great low-cost tool that A-KiD’s Party Express can use to generate buzz,” Shavel said. “Including links to the company’s social media accounts in each e-blast will also increase engagement with their brand.”

▪ Develop an elevator pitch: Gonzalez recommended that A-KiD’s Party Express develop a three-minute elevator pitch that addresses customer questions and concerns: “Parents want to know about safety and making sure their kids have a memorable experience. For corporate customers, they want to know about cost and service reliability. The company needs to tell their story in three minutes and incorporate the wonderful elements of the company like the fact that it is based on family-oriented fun.” Espinosa agreed: “People don’t have a lot of time these days. The quick elevator pitch is important because you need to explain why you’re different from the competition and why you’re the best value for a customer.”

▪ Go guerrilla: Gonzalez also encouraged A-KiD’s Party Express to use guerrilla marketing techniques to market the company: “For example, at every event, they need to take the opportunity to distribute flyers and talk to people about the company. They can also use Survey Monkey to conduct a short five-question survey to existing and former cBM SMALL BUSINESSustomers. Eventually, a customer survey should be administered after every event.” He recommended the company establish a frequent-customer and referral program to benefit corporate clients and those who use the company on a regular basis: “They could also take the referral program to companies and individuals who provide services to kids or corporations such as caterers.”

▪ Measure and evaluate results: Once KiD’s Party Express implements the SCORE team’s recommendations, the counselors advised the company to measure and evaluate the results each month. “They need to get a full picture of whether their strategies and techniques are working so monitoring progress on a regular basis is important,” said Espinosa. “Analytics are key,” Gonzalez said. “Analyzing customer data and behavior can help the company get an accurate snapshot of how they are interacting with their customer base.”

Both Arias and Guzmán said the process of working with SCORE counselors on a makeover was amazing. “We knew we had work to do in marketing the company,” Guzman said.

“We also knew it was time to make the move toward social media,” Arias said. “The SCORE counselors gave us a clear plan of how to achieve our goals in that regard.”

“The SCORE counselors were very knowledgeable,” Guzmán said. “We will take their advice and see where it leads us.”

How to apply for a makeover

Business Monday’s Small Business Makeovers focus on a particular aspect of a business that needs help. Experts in the community will provide the advice. The makeover is open to full-time businesses in Miami-Dade or Broward counties open at least two years. Email your request to rclarke@miamiherald.com and put “Makeover” in the subject line.

About SCORE

Based in Washington, D.C., SCORE is a nonprofit with more than 12,000 volunteers working out of about 400 chapters around the country offering free counseling to small businesses. There are seven chapters on Florida’s east coast, including SCORE Miami-Dade, with more than 90 volunteer counselors.

Counselors from SCORE Miami-Dade meet with small business owners and offer free one-on-one counseling as well as dozens of low-cost workshops, such as “Leasing: What You Don’t Know Could Hurt Your Business” on Thursday or “Building and Funding Your Business Plan” on Saturday. To register or see more, click on “Local Workshops” on miamidade.score.org.

To volunteer or learn more about SCORE, go to www.score.org or www.miamidade.score.org

The makeover

The business: A-KiDs’ Party Express at 2465 W. 80th St. in Hialeah has been in business for over 25 years. The company was purchased by Isabel Arias and Daniel Guzmán in 2004. The business produces events such as kids’ birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, corporate events and fundraisers.

The challenge: Getting a handle on how to potentially change the company name and incorporating social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to increase sales.

The experts: SCORE Miami-Dade counselor Orlando Espinosa, co-founder of Emineo Media, has over 25 years of experience in branding and social media. Doug Shavel is CEO of Galante Studio Distribution, a purveyor of luxury cosmetics. He is also CEO of Shavel Realty, a real estate investment firm. Jorge Gonzalez is the founder and principal of Vermis Analytics, a consulting firm that helps businesses organize and analyze data. He previously worked at IBM and has over 15 years of experience in data analytics. Senen Garcia is a Miami-based attorney specializing in corporate law. Garcia has over 15 years of experience in law and has been a senior partner at SG Law Group for the past five years. He has an MBA and a law degree from St. Thomas University.

The makeover: In just over a month, the SCORE team developed a social media and online strategy for A-Kids’ Party Express. They also walked the owners through the process of changing the company name or rolling it out as a new division.

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