Christina Sorensen, managing director of Bay of Plenty-based party business GoBananas, talks about planning corporate functions and making an impression.
Can you describe your business?
GoBananas is an online party planning business based in Whakatane, Bay of Plenty, which organises corporate events, Christmas parties, team building dos, birthdays and stag and hen parties. We operate throughout New Zealand and Australia.
What sparked the idea?
I'm founder of the business in New Zealand and Australia. I was based in the UK and I've got a friend that started GoBananas over there so when me and my husband were returning back to New Zealand I thought it was a great business to start Downunder, and so I pitched it to him and he thought it was a good idea.
How big is your team?
There are four of us in the office.
What parties are most popular?
Right now it's Christmas parties and corporate functions, but once it gets to October and November it will move to stag and hens parties, and of course we organise birthday parties throughout the year.
You have multiple websites for GoBananas, why is this?
We have our big New Zealand website which brings in most of our traffic and then smaller websites which are more niche like one called Hens Weekends, and another called Stag Weekends, which helps when people are searching online.
The great thing about having multiple websites is it doesn't matter which one people click on as it all comes to the same place, but we do find that our bigger websites are the ones bringing in the most traffic.
What makes your event business different to others?
We have a really interesting online booking system which enables those invited to view plans and vote; you could have three different themes and can send that out to your staff or committee and they can all vote on what to do or what theme.
I think what makes us stand out is the range of different activities we offer and that we tailor-make each event. For example we could organise a venue, transport and activities and if it was for a nighttime venue then we could put on a casino night, a murder mystery, and fun team-building activities.
Price-wise, I think we're very reasonable and offer affordable options, and that's because we don't just focus on Christmas parties - we don't need to make all of our money in one month. Our prices are dependent on what's booked, but a lot of the time prices are per person, roughly around $80 per person, but there are also set prices.
We're like a travel agent in a sense. We get a commission from most of our suppliers or have negotiated better rates so our clients don't pay booking or administration fees. The prices shown on the website and their live itinerary is what they pay. We make money from people booking our things.
What regions are your parties most popular with and what do you offer?
Auckland without a doubt, Wellington, and then Taupo, Tauranga and Rotorua for a lot of stag and hen dos, but Auckland is the biggest. We do boat cruises, venues, murder mysteries, amazing races, MasterChef-inspired cooking challenges, cocktail-making classes, comedy nights, cabaret shows and wine tours; to name a few.
Tell me about your background and how it's helped this business?
I started off doing sales and worked my way up into a management role. I also had my own business in the UK, a sales and marketing firm, and we had a team of 20 sales people that we motivated and trained. It was a lot of work but I learnt that when you start things off it doesn't happen straight away - you've got to persist.
What's the best and most challenging part of running a party planning business?
The best thing is that it's fun, we have fun with our customers. Even though we don't get to go to all of the places, it's fun being part of the process.
A challenging thing is that we always have people that ring us up and want to use us as Yellow Pages, which is not what we are.
Our biggest challenges though are always going to be competitors, and those [who] are doing a bad job, who put a bad light on booking agents.
What are your long term plans?
We're launching another side of the business, which is group travel, for people coming to New Zealand, seeing the country, travelling around, and that's moving a little bit away from all the party activities to more of the tourist activities.
Tell me about Australian operations, when did you launch there?
We started in Australia probably two years after we started in New Zealand in 2009. It's the same sort of principle, what works here also works there. We've found that Australians have more money to spend and do tend to go away on some weekends; to Cairns or the Gold Coast.
There's definitely more competition there but what works in our favour there is that some of the suppliers are really slow in replying and that works with us because people can get hold of us. I don't know if they get so many inquiries over there that people are slow at responding.
What advice do you give to others thinking of starting a business?
Give it a go. You can do a lot of talking but sometimes just doing it is the way to go. When I came here there were two or three other businesses doing what I was doing and that can scare you, you can think "Oh god, how am I going to?", but you've just got to do it and then you'll just eventually figure it out.