How a children's entertainment focused small business in one of the most populated cities in the United States is handling the pandemic.
When did the idea start to switch to virtual offerings?
It was the second week of March 2020. I received several frantic calls from parents wanting to reschedule. There were only three in person parties that still continued for that upcoming weekend. The families agreed to the new terms - family only, no touching, no hands-on activities like face painting, and we would be using their sink upon arrival and before departure. It didn't work. The crowds of friends were one thing, but the surprise hugs were another. How do you tell a 4 year old child that she can't have a birthday hug as she looks up at you with complete excitement and love? As soon as I got home (or back to the "castle" as we call it) I got to work on how to create a virtual alternative. It was the right thing to do, the safe thing to do. It started as just an offering for our clients who were rescheduling (some rescheduled to a few months later and others to 2021), but when other parents got word we were doing online events they contacted me wanting to book. Then the next week the "lockdown" was official and businesses were scrambling to find a way, but we were prepared. Our virtual offerings were already in full swing by the time the lockdown was official.
What challenges and success have you found in this change?
In just two weeks, I'm proud to say that we mastered Zoom call performance. It was a fun test of our improvisation and multitasking skills - only a professional princess can smile and talk of happily ever after while unbeknownst to the child you mute their friend on the call whose dog just started to bark at the mailman or field a pop up message in the chat from the mom. A lot of our in-person activities like story time, singing, magic show, and royalty lessons all work great in the online format. Other activities like our games have been modified; who knew dancing with a princess could be done over a Zoom call! New activities like show & tell, coloring, and even hide & seek have been added and we keep finding new ways to connect with the kids. The characters send the kids high fives., surprise them with tickles, and even ask them to catch the magic and send it through the screen for help with the magic show. I think that's what really makes us different - we're not just putting on a show, we're connecting. That's what Princess & Me Parties was built on - connection, so naturally it is carried through in everything we do including Zoom.
Are the Zoom calls well received?
These video calls have honestly been great for everyone- parents, kids, performers, and the company. The parents are so happy to have a break. I've seen a few taking naps in the background, cooking, or just zoning out on their phones. It's nice to know they can get some downtime from the surprise full time parenting/teacher that they're all become on top of their everyday jobs. We have some families that have become regulars, attending every Play Time call. Those are group Zoom calls open to the public to join. One character leads a small group of kids through a variety of activities over 45 minutes. They're really fun. The performers are loving having a daily motivation. They're all these talented and beautiful extrovert actresses, nannies, and teachers who love interacting with children. Many have told me that they don't know what they would have done if these video calls weren't happening. The kids are having a blast being able to connect with the characters. While the majority are just in it for the games and fun, some of them are opening up about things that you can tell they're struggling with - loneliness and loss. It's been really comforting for them to be able to speak openly to their favorite character. For me, it's been a blessing too. I'm such a goal-oriented person and am always working on something so I would have probably read unnecessarily painted my entire apartment if I didn't have the business operating right now. I'm working full time and making about 20% of what I do normally because I've put the cost of these offerings very low while still paying my performers their full rate. My personal goals of saving up for my first house and my next vacation can wait. The priority right now is making sure my business that I've worked so hard to create over the past 6 years not just survives this pandemic, but thrives and comes out of this stronger than before.
Have you had calls with kids outside Los Angeles?
Yes! All of the world - Australia, Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, England, Canada... What's great is that we've shifted from seeing these kids only once a year and only kids in Los Angeles to being able to see them, sometimes, every week and being able to meet kids from all over the world. We're now able to reach places we would never be able to visit in person. I have never been more grateful for technology.
What's next for you?
Back in March 2020 I shared my experience with other party company owners who were starting to face the pandemic in their own region. No one else was doing virtual parties at the time. They were all trying to find a way to make the in-person parties work. While the performers were all smiles on the surface, behind the scenes they were a wreck of nerves and worry. I explained that going to an online medium, while unknown territory, was the best for everyone. It brings magic to families in the safest way we can right now. The nature of our business encourages group gatherings and hands-on interaction, so we knew it would be a while until we could "return to normal" or at least some form of normal. These virtual offerings saved us. As we're coming back to in person events with fully vaccinated performers and a thorough safety action plan, we're grateful to still be here. Not every business survived. So while we have big dreams of growing the company more and more, right now, we're turning inward on how we can be better than we ever were before.