I am continuing my conversation with Julie Roehm, Chief Marketing and Experience Officer at Party City. We’re discussing trends and developments on a regular basis and today we’ll go into questions pertaining to how Party City is dealing with the current pandemic and the ‘new normal’.
It’s an interview in several chapters, this is part 2.
Julie, now that we’re several weeks into this changed world, what do you think will be the new normal when states begin to re-open, and retail in particular? Will there be new trends?
Everyone is talking about the ‘new normal’ and what the world will be like. My hope is that this time in quarantine has given us perspective to appreciate the basic things in life, like spending quality time with family.
The moments that make up life — birthdays, graduations, christenings, weddings and childbirth — are all still happening.
How will Party City deal with re-opening their stores?
It will take time for all of us to once again feel comfortable in situations with ‘others’ and our stores will align with this new normal. We will sanitize everything regularly, we will have appropriate spacing in the store, barriers for check-out, spacing for when people are in line. We will also introduce a contactless scan and go app, so that you can literally purchase an item off the app and pick it up without having any human contact at all. We will also have curbside, same day delivery so you don’t even have to go into a store if you don’t want to.
As a company, we changed and innovated faster than planned, because of COVID-19. We developed packages and fun items for virtual parties and parades which people are organizing. We are coming up with exciting merchandise and leaning into trends like personalized banners and signs — all to help people celebrate.
Are people in a ‘rush’ to get out of their houses?
A lot will change when states start to re-open, not just at Party City. I read a piece of research that said that it will take people 30 days to feel comfortable going out in public again, taking public transportation or even shaking hands.
Working from home has been the toughest (if at all possible) for merchants, who are very much used to being in physical proximity of their products. But they also understand this is necessary, and they’ve adapted.
On the other hand, creating a virtual work space has been a humanizing experience. People don’t always have their hair and make-up done, kids might interrupt a video call, a dog can be barking in the background and so on. These are all elements that make each one of us human and sometimes in an office environment we tend to forget that, but that has changed, maybe for good. This whole experience has had a positive impact on us as people and co-workers. I think once we come back to our offices, there will be a lot more flexibility in terms of how people work and how the company has adjusted its infrastructure to accommodate different ways of working.
Research says it will take a few months for people to feel comfortable going out to dinner, to the gym or to the movies. Although we can stream almost anything at home now — the whole experience of sitting on those big chairs in a theater, having someone make popcorn for you and then enjoying a film on the big screen — it’s all being missed. It’ll be interesting to see how long we take to get back to this normality.
It may take even more time (4–6 months!) before people feel comfortable returning to sporting events and hotels and flying — I would never have thought I’d say this, but I actually miss flying, going places. All these nuances will definitely have an impact on the retail business. Our goal is to make the customer feel as comfortable as possible and that’s why we offer virtual services and experiences. We want to make sure that we are here for our customers, no matter what.
And in the meantime, we want to be a constant reminder to people — there is always a reason to celebrate!
Thanks Julie, we’ll speak again soon!
Julie Roehm — Chief Marketing and Experience Officer at Party City