Celebrating a life event while social distancing? This Fort Wayne business packs a ‘party in a box'

You might say The Confetti Post was made for a pandemic.

A few years ago, while Leitia (Lay-shuh) McHugh of Fort Wayne was scrolling through Pinterest, she came up with the idea for a “party in a box” concept to help people celebrate special life events and occasions from afar. Leitia McHugh

“I thought it was adorable,” McHugh says. “I have always loved parties and how celebration creates community.”

Today, in the socially distant world of COVID-19, The Confetti Post is doing just that—encouraging people to send party boxes to loved ones, keep celebrating special events, and enjoy some whimsy along the way.

Visit the company’s website, and you can choose from a variety of highly curated care packages, from the Feel Better box, to the Happy Birthday box, and even a special Dance Party box. If you’re feeling creative, you can build a custom party box of your own.

And while many industry leaders in the party-planning business may be suffering from mass event cancellations and closures, this nimble Fort Wayne startup is thriving.

McHugh says that during the pandemic, The Confetti Post has been so popular she’s had to implement daily order caps to keep up with the demand. But starting a successful e-commerce business that’s changing how parties are done wasn’t always easy.

The Confetti Post is located at 1412 Delaware Ave. in Fort Wayne.

McHugh came up with the concept about five years ago when she was searching for a new career but didn’t know what direction to take. When Pin-spiration struck, she began working with SCORE NEI, a network of free small business mentors and resources in Northeast Indiana, to do market research and make her idea a reality.

Today, she credits her SCORE mentors with helping her get to where she is, and she’s paying it forward as a SCORE mentor herself in the field of e-commerce.

SCORE NEI sat down with The Confetti Post to learn more about her journey as a Northeast Indiana entrepreneur, the challenges and opportunities she’s encountered along the way, and how her small business is doing in a COVID-19 world.

The Confetti Post team.

SN: Tell us about The Confetti Post.

LM: I call it a party in a box! We create care packages that are colorful and vibrant. They all have confetti, a balloon, and a greeting card included. It’s a great alternative to sending flowers or balloons to someone on a special occasion.

SN: How did you decide to turn that idea into a business?

LM: I was a stay-at-home mom and had just had my second child. I was itching to find the next thing in life. I wanted to get back to work in some regards but also be flexible to the needs of my kids. I had floated the idea of starting businesses in the past, but none of them were the right business or the right time.

Then I saw this idea on Pinterest, where people made their own do-it-yourself care packages. They called them “parties in a box.” They’d send them to their mom, their kid, or a friend who they couldn’t be with on their birthday. They would have cake mix, some candles, balloons, confetti, and other gift items. I thought it was adorable! I have always loved parties and how celebration creates community.

I did some research and realized that I could do it as a business. The gifting industry’s pretty big. But there wasn’t anyone doing it like that yet. It was also something I felt like I could execute from my house and with low enough start-up costs.

The Yay, You! Party Box by the Confetti Post.

SN: What was it like starting the business from scratch?

LM: The beginning was really fun. I love creating a brand. I love to research. And I loved creating a website and the heart behind the business. Then I created a business plan and was able to get a small loan from my Grandpa.

It was also, of course, scary, because you think, “I’ve poured all my heart and soul into something. But what if nobody wants it?” I remember that I took out that small loan from my Grandpa; then we put some of our own savings in there. It’s a scary thing to do when you have a lot of your savings invested. But when I launched, I saw that people were into the idea. That was fun.

But it was scary.

SN: So the reaction was good right out of the gate?

LM: Yes. I got a good response.

Because I was doing it out of my house, and I still had kids, not in school, I was starting small, and I didn’t want to go big right away. My goal wasn’t to create this huge business overnight, but a slow and steady build.

On my first day, I got a sale from a stranger. So I figured that was good. I think it was a big confidence booster, and it validated my idea. Your friends and family are going to support you, no matter what. But I knew that isn’t my audience. I need strangers to buy my product, or I’m never going to have a business.

The second week, my husband submitted my business to this podcast called The Nerdist that has a very, very big following. They thought what I was doing was cool, so they talked about me on an episode. That got me a lot of sales. I think I made 10 from that mention, which isn’t a lot now. But for two weeks in business, it gave me the confidence of, “People like this! This is going to work.” That was a big, immediate confirmation.

The Confetti Post has been so popular during COVID-19 it's had to implement daily order caps to keep up with demand.

SN: No business could have seen the economic impact of COVID-19 coming. How has it affected your company?

LM: Our orders skyrocketed the first week schools were closed, as people were cancelling birthdays, get-togethers, and other celebrations. A few days later, I had a mild fever, and out of an abundance of caution, decided to close the business while continuing to pay my employees. I knew I couldn't risk spreading this to my team or our postal workers.

After two weeks of being fully recovered, we reopened to orders that were at about 4-5 times our best weeks. It is far beyond our capacity, so we have had to implement daily order caps to meet the demand and remain committed to quality customer service.

SN: How have you had to adapt your business model during this time?

LM: My team members and I created a schedule where we all worked separate shifts so as not to occupy the building together. And we’ve introduced more detailed sanitizing guidelines in between shifts. We’ve also had to adapt to slower shipping times and some of our vendors being closed, which forces us to look for alternative products.

The Confetti Post is still operating with caution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SN: Have you utilized any government loans, grants, and stimulus programs?

LM: I am using the Emergency Sick Leave and Family Leave Tax Credits to help me pay my team for the month we were closed. I also use them to help my team for the hours they are still unable to work, as they care for children who are no longer in school.

SN: Outside of the current hardships, every company has its share of struggles. What are some of the ones you’ve faced?

LM: There are a few. Consistency in the manufacturing process is one. We don’t make the components of our products. We source the parts from other people. All of a sudden, our vendors can’t meet our quantity or quality demands anymore.

The postal service is also a challenge. All shipping services have their faults, and the US postal service is the most cost-effective and fast for us. But they are the bane of my existence when they don’t hold up their end, deliver a package on time, or they mishandle a package. A lot of times, I have to eat the cost of problems they cause. It’s the only way to make things up to my customers. That’s a big challenge.

Also, I wish that we could ship faster and cheaper. I think the number one reason our site’s visitors don’t make a purchase is that we can’t get them the product as fast as Amazon or a local company. And because our price point is much more affordable than sending flowers, expedited shipping doesn’t make financial sense.

If we could iron that stuff out, especially the shipping, I’m confident we would convert more customers.

SN: You’ve said that SCORE has helped you address these struggles and get the Confetti Post off the ground. How did you first connect with SCORE?

LM: When I started, I knew finding a mentor would be important. Everyone that’s successful always recommends it. Luckily, I somehow found about SCORE, thanks to all of the free resources here in Fort Wayne.

I set up that first meeting to see if I could get advice on marketing and have them look at my numbers. I met my mentor, Mona (Dewart). We talked for a while, and she was able to give me a few tips and steer me in the right direction.

But I think the real value is the fact that Mona kept following up with me. I felt she was invested in what I was doing, even if she couldn’t help with a specific question. That meant a lot to me. There were times where she reached out, and I said, “Actually, I could use someone to talk to, even though I didn’t realize it until you called.” Knowing that she was following along, that was really nice to have.

SN: What’s an example of how she’s been able to help you?

LM: She helped me hire my first employee. I was very overwhelmed by that. She helped me write my job description and determined what an appropriate pay level would be. She also gave me ideas on how to show appreciation to my employees. She helped me get over that scary time.

It’s nice having someone that I feel I can go to at any time and will help me talk myself through whatever issues come up.

SM: Do you still meet with her?

LM: Yes. She’s also recruited me to be a subject matter expert for people who have questions specific to e-commerce. I have also gone and met with people who are starting e-commerce shops and given them advice or combed through their websites.

SM: What is some advice you’d give to new entrepreneurs in today’s economic climate?

LM: Take every day one at a time. Things change every day, and there is no sense getting stressed out by making plans for way down the line. If you are not able to have your business open, focus on ways you can still build and grow your business, the things you never had the time for previously.

And I would definitely recommend SCORE as a resource. They can help you identify the areas that you’ve overlooked and the things you need to figure out. It’s great to have a champion like that, checking in on you and identifying what resources they can give you. And if they don’t have the answers, they’re willing to dig up the information or find someone else who does have it.

It’s such a great resource. And it’s free, so you have nothing to lose!

This article was originally written for SCORE NEI and adapted for Input Fort Wayne. Learn more at northeastindiana.score.org.

Signup for Email Alerts