Three's company for Kirkland business owners

Dawn Motes of Dawn
Dawn Motes of Dawn's Candy and Cake Supply shows students how to make a fondant cake during an in-store class Thursday. Motes recently merged her business with Party for Less and Sweet Caroline's to survive the economic downturn.
— image credit: Carrie Wood/ Kirkland Reporter

When Dawn Motes moved her business Dawn's Candy & Cake Supply from her home in Lynnwood to a store in Kirkland last March, she expected her customer base to dwindle. But in a 10-minute period on Thursday afternoon, five of her regular customers from Lynnwood came into her new place in Kirkland's Party for Less.

"I expected sales to go down at first and they didn't," Motes said. "They just keep going up and up and up."

The merger of the three independent companies under one roof - Party for Less, Dawn's Candy & Cake Supply and Sweet Caroline's at 10015 N.E. 137th Street - has been more than just a survival move. It has helped the business owner's outlook in a down economy and is answering the question: "Where does Kirkland go to party?"

The original idea was to reduce expenses for each company, but the result has been a one-stop location for Kirklanders planning parties.

"There are so many win-wins to this situation," said Bob Kelliher, who owns Party for Less and was the original tenant. "Increasing sales is difficult so you have to find a way to reduce expenses. We share rent and utilities and (the businesses) have actually brought in more foot traffic."

For the year, Party for Less is only seeing single-digit losses, whereas most other party supply stores are in double digits, Kelliher said.

"We are holding our own," he added.

Sweet Caroline's, a store for special order cakes and confections, specializing in chocolate drinks, is owned by Kelliher's wife, Caroline, who is a chef. She recently began serving pizza and appetizers produced by Dawn's for their in-store parties.

"When (Caroline) started she was going to go out and rent a place and I said that she should try this first cause rent is so high," Kelliher said.

Sweet Caroline's moved into Party for Less in 2006. And then Caroline, a customer of Dawn's, came up with the idea of asking Dawn to move in as well.

The benefits for the companies have been widespread from employee sharing to customer sharing and combining customer orders. Many store patrons buy their party supplies from Party for Less, get their cakes and food from Sweet Caroline's and have their party in-store with Dawn's.

Mote's business produces everything from personal parties for the young and old, to classes - two-to-eight a day on making different candy and cakes - and selling cake-decorating supplies. Dawn's hosted Food Network personality Nick Lodge for a class, and has a few other big-name food creators that are scheduled in the next year to give classes.

But one of the best changes for Motes comes after hours.

"The hours are a lot better," said Motes, adding with the move her business is able to stay open longer. "It is nice because now when I leave work, I really leave work and I don't have to worry."

Party for Less used to open at 9 a.m. but with the addition of Sweet Caroline's and the sharing of staff with Dawn's, it has opened up a business time frame not accessed by many in the party supply business.

"They can come in and get balloons and cards before work or school," Kelliher said. "A lot of owners are stressed out and they need to think outside the box. More businesses should think about it."

Kelliher admits that the situation works because the products work well together and so do the owners, who have good chemistry between them.

Another unexpected advantage for the three companies has been the difference in their busiest times of year. Party for Less thrives on Halloween sales, Dawn's depends on Christmas and patrons love Sweet Caroline's for Valentine's Day.

Though Halloween will be a challenge for Kelliher as customers pack the smaller floor at Party For Less to find their costumes, he said the benefits far outweigh the obstacles.

"It is so nice to always have an owner on the floor and have things go so smooth. We hope that people will support more independent businesses like ours."

The businesses can be reached at: Dawn's Candy & Cake Supply - 425-348-9380; Party for Less - 425-820-4751; Sweet Caroline's - 425-820-2626.

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