Julie Roehm (CMO, Party City) - Another Layer of Innovation
Vin: Welcome to The Marketing Stir Podcast by Stirista, probably the most entertaining marketing podcast you're going to put in your ear. I'm Vin, the associate producer here at Stirista. The goal of this podcast is to chat with industry leaders and get their take on the current challenges of the market. And we'll have a little fun along the way. In today's episode, Vincent and AJ chat with Julie Roehm, the CMO at Party City. She explains how customer and journey mapping helps determine the customer experience from start to finish. AJ can't spell Vincent's name and Vincent suggests a game of beer pong. Give it a listen.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of Stirista, The Marketing Stir. I am your host Vincent Pietrafesa, the vice president of B2B products here at Stirista. Ladies and gentlemen, it's so good to be back here. I felt like I haven't recorded an episode in a while, but we're back. Ladies and gentlemen, let's take a pause for a moment, Stirista. This is the only time I'll talk about the company. What do we do? We are a marketing technology company. We own our own business to business data sets, our own business to consumer. We help customers utilize that data to get new customers, to enrich their current database. I think a lot of databases are fragmented, we own our own DSP. We can execute media for you, OTT, connected TV, email me at vincent @ stirista. com. It's a short email address. I'm the only one at the company who doesn't even use my last name because it's long as you know. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm so glad to be back and I'm so glad that this gentleman is back with us, my CEO, my commander in chief at Stirista, my co- host, Mr. AJ Gupta. What's up AJ.
AJ Gupta: Hey Vincent. Yeah, I remember I tried to spell your name and I decided I would just tell the IT guy to make your email Vincent. So if I can't spell it, then I can't expect others to do it.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I know. Yeah. Something important will get missed. You know who does know how to spell my last name though? My four year old. It took me to, I was in first grade to learn how to spell my last name. This little kid, he spells it. He loves it, but I'm like, all right, awesome.
AJ Gupta: Well, I guess the only thing he got lucky with was that he doesn't have a hyphenated name with your wife's name added afterward.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That would be long. Yeah. Good luck filling out a Scantron for those of you who remember what a Scantron is on the tests. But anyway, people probably don't even use those anymore. It's probably all on a computer now, but it is good. How are you feeling, AJ? How is that solid gold wrist?
AJ Gupta: Good news is my wrist is actually feeling much better. I played two matches this month and they've gone well. The bad news is I also got an MRI of my knee, also a tennis related injury. So it looks like I will unfortunately need to get my MCL fixed at some point.
Vincent Pietrafesa: At what point do you say, look, I'm not Andre Agasy, I'm not Sampras? What point? He needs you.
AJ Gupta: Yeah. I have started looking into pickle ball leagues.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That's right. There's always beer pong. That's similar. You can do that.
AJ Gupta: Beer pong. Yeah. I don't know. I'm better with something that I have a racket in my hands.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, but the traditional beer pong has a racket. So let's see. But yeah, someday we can go down that path. I feel good. I'm looking forward. I'm going to see some of you guys in a couple of weeks there. That should be fun. New York City slowly opening up again here. December was pretty bad. That couple weeks where some Broadway shows shut down and the Rockettes, how do you shut down the Rockettes and kill all those little kid spirits? How do you do it? But they did it, but it's opening back up and people are ready to party again. Speaking of party, we're having a party today, AJ. We're having a party today. Let's call this our super bowl issue. I was going to say issue like we're a publication, our super bowl episode, maybe the marketing stir of the publication comes out next. But this is our super bowl episode, because it's right before the super bowl. It's going to air after the super bowl. So let's see. We will check in with this guest again. Hopefully it's good news because you'll be able to see from her background in a moment. But when I say party, what comes to my head is Party City. Everyone knows Party City. This is one of those podcasts where we don't have to explain what the company does. Sometimes we do and we want you to know and to learn about new companies. But if you don't know Party City, you've never been to a party before and we got to get you out more. But ladies and gentlemen, please a warm marketing stir welcome to the chief marketing officer and chief experience officer at Party City, Julie Roehm. What's going on, Julie?
Julie Roehm: Hey. Thanks for having me. So I say party, you say?
Vincent Pietrafesa: Party City.
Julie Roehm: I say party, you say?
Vincent Pietrafesa: City.
Julie Roehm: Party.
Vincent Pietrafesa: City. I love-
Julie Roehm: Party. All right. Great. Now you go, boom.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I love it. I love it. And we love having you on the podcast, Julie. You and I got to meet and to chat a month or so ago and take a look at Julie's background. For those of you who are not listening to us on multiple platforms, including directly right from our website, thank you to all of our listeners. We love you. Keep those positive comments coming in. Keep coming up to me at conferences and telling me how much you love the podcast or don't like it. I can handle that as well. But Julie has a background up. It is of the Cincinnati Bengals. She is a huge Cincinnati Bengals fan. So we hope that this will air and there'll be good news for those Cincinnati Bengals fans. Now, how long have you been a fan? Tell me about... What's the significance? Did you grow up in Cincinnati?
Julie Roehm: I went to high school in Cincinnati. We moved a lot growing up, but I spent all four of my high school years in Cincinnati. And so when I was there in Cincinnati last, actually my freshman year... So I graduated high school... It's all public anyway. I graduated high school in'88 and they went to the Super Bowl in'89. So my freshman year in college, they went and it was crazy Bengals fever in Cincinnati. So Hudepohl beer is a big beer that's manufactured in Cincinnati and they rebranded it HuDey beer. So that was-
Vincent Pietrafesa: Is that where that came from?
Julie Roehm: I don't know. Honestly, I don't know exactly where the HuDey came from. And I know that in New Orleans, the Saints, which is another favorite team of mine because of Drew Brees because I went to Purdue and Drew Brees, so these are my affiliations. But they have hudat. And so between the two they always claim that one stole from the other. I don't know that there's anybody for sure who knows where it came from, but the HuDey, it was like Hudepohl, HuDey beer. And then it was the who day, who day, who day, think they're going to beat them Bengals when they play in the jungle. They say nobody.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That's it?
Julie Roehm: So anyway, it was a big deal, an icky woods and the icky shuffle.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Shuffle. Yeah.
Julie Roehm: For me it felt as close to the 1985 bears as you were going to get where, everybody was, there was the dance and it was all theatrics and this was the next closest thing. And it was really fun to be a part of, it was a very sad last minute loss. The 49ers and Jerry Rice catching that ball in the very last minute, it was a heartbreaker. And so here we are 34, 33 long, long, long, long years later.
Vincent Pietrafesa: It has been some long years for the Cincinnati Bengals. It has. But the New York Giants are experiencing that now.
Julie Roehm: Yeah. All right. But whatever, it's crosstalk.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah. I know. We have four championships. I shouldn't complain. I know.
Julie Roehm: Yeah. Yeah. Eli took the place. I mean, come on. Yeah. Yeah. There's many people listening to this who won't even know, like weren't alive when the Bengals went to the Super Bowl.
Vincent Pietrafesa: They were alive when the Giants were.
Julie Roehm: Yes.
Vincent Pietrafesa: But I'm kidding. But you have such an amazing future ahead of you as far as the Cincinnati Bengals. So whatever happens when this episode airs, regardless, those Bengals have a great future. But Julie, I want to get right into it because we're talking about Super Bowl, but there's so many questions I have about Party City and especially these last few years. But before we get into that, I love your title of chief experience officer because heard it at other companies. But I think it means a lot more at a company like Party City. So can you talk about your role at Party City as chief marketing officer and chief experience officer some of your day to day responsibilities, what you're doing there? And then my second question is how did you get into marketing?
Julie Roehm: Yes. Okay. So look, being the chief marketing and experience officer at Party City is a bit of a dream job because I always say to people, I've worked in the marketing digital industry for a few decades now. And it's the first company I've gone to where I like the mission, the purpose of the company actually, is something that is really profound and important for people's lives. I've worked from auto, cars are important to people. There's an emotional attachment. But I've worked in all kinds of companies. I've worked in technology companies, but there's a difference here because our mission for those of who are visually watching this is to, as my corner here says, make joy easy. That is our mission as a company and we take that really seriously and people might say, okay, it's a party good store, making joy easy, whatever. They talk about a marketing spin or a marketing store. But the truth is, if you think about why people come to us, they're celebrating something that's really important to them very likely. Whether it's a birthday, an anniversary, a baby shower, whatever it might be. It could even be just having people over. It's still something that they're looking to mark or to signify in some sort of special way to lift it up beyond an everyday activity. And there's only one chance to do that right. And if we mess that up, if we don't deliver, if the birthday party is kind of ruined, if we deliver the balloons a day late. If you get your sweater delivered a day late, yeah, unless you had the party that day, it's probably not the end of the world. If your four year old doesn't have balloons on the day of her birthday, that's a problem. And so that's a memory that is one that stays in a really bad way. And so we do take this notion of making joy easy very seriously, because it is something that we are there. We take a responsibility for these people who come to us. So being the experience officer as you've said, takes on a whole new for me, level of significance in terms of the responsibility we have, because we, as a company are here to help bring joy, but making the joy easier to obtain. That's the role of the experience officer and to making sure that it's a positive experience. And all that is to say it is not on... Look, everybody in the company's job is to be part of the experience, every single person. So it is my job to help to set the strategy, to help to provide insights, to help to provide guidance. But at the end of the day, it is a team wide effort to actually help to deliver this joy in the easiest way possible, because, let's face it. When you think about what most people have to do when you get ready to throw a party, it's a long list of things and it can be stressful. It's like, am I forgetting something? What if I didn't invite somebody? What if I forgot the cupcakes or there's the favor bag? There's so many things that could go wrong and it can be very stressful. Our job is to try to figure out, get ahead of it and make quick tools to make it really easy for people to not have to stress so that it isn't only the celebration that is joyous, it's the whole process is joyous. And that's not an easy thing to do because we historically it's not been. And so that's the goal and that's what I'm here to do.
Vincent Pietrafesa: I love it. And talk to us about, after Purdue go boiler makers, what got you in into marketing? People love hearing this story because sometimes more on the rare side it's, I studied marketing and here I am, but other times, most of the time it's like I was a philosophy or I was an engineer and here I am. So I would love to hear your story.
Julie Roehm: Yeah. I studied civil engineering, environmental engineering in here I am.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Nice. That's it. I love it.
Julie Roehm: Yeah. That's that was me. I have the path less taken for sure. Look, I went to high school in Cincinnati, as we've established. I went to high school in Cincinnati. I went to an all girls, private Catholic high school. So it was very college preppy, all those kinds of things. And by the time you get to your senior, I was really good student. By the time I got to high school, your senior year in high school, you've got to start to apply. Obviously, actually at your junior you're applying, but you're actually like who knows? Now I have two kids, one's out of college, one's in college. But I was like, it's crazy to think that you should know what you're going to do with the rest of your life. That's my guidance to my kids. Just go and take anything that sounds or looks interesting, do not worry. It will work out. I use my example all the time. So for me, I went into the guidance counselor and the guidance counselor said, well, you're really good in math and science, Julie, you should be an engineer. I was like, okay, what do they do? Well, they can do all kinds of things. I was like, well, do they make a lot of money? Because really I was a child of the 80s. So of the child of the 80s, it was all reaganism and materialism.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah. The wall street movie. Yeah.
Julie Roehm: The wall street, yeah, there it was. That was the world we lived, big hair. That access was in. And so I was like, well I got to make money. So I went, I applied to the top five engineering programs in the country and I got into Purdue. I got there and then they said, okay, freshman year, everybody kind of takes the same weed out courses. One of those where you sit in an auditory a thousand people, look right and look left and at the end of the year, only one of you is going to be here. Okay, it was one of those, it was a traditional kind of engineering program. But by the end of your freshman year, you have to choose a discipline. You have to choose a major of engineering. And I still had no idea. It was like, I don't think I want to be an electrical engineer. I don't know if I want to be mechanical or industrial or chemical or aeronautical. There were all these to choose from. I was like, I don't know. And so I found that civil engineering had eight disciplines within it. And so I could choose civil engineering and still have a broad choice to not have to really have it all figured out right away. So I chose it and I ended up with a major in structural and environmental engineering, both. Actually I majored in environmental engineering and a minor in structural engineering. My dad always said, honey, if you build a bridge, let me know I'm going to take the boat. It's really inaudible a lot of encouragement. But actually I did really well in school there as well. And I was a co- op every other semester. I was part of the co- op program working for of Bristol Myers Squibb, and had multiple different engineering departments there. And I was good at it, but I was really not... I was kind of bored with it and not because it was easy by any measure, but I just wasn't into it. Like when you love something and it gets you going and sometimes it feels like a job. And it was that led me to know that I needed to think about something else, but it was also the experience there where I was able to be part of broader meetings, business meetings. And I thought I really like being part of those meetings. I liked hearing about the strategy behind why we were changing the packaging on the baby formula bottles. And I like to hear about, what was the customer saying? And so I thought, you know what, I'm going to go to business school instead of trying to be an engineer. So I applied to three of the top five business schools and I got into the University of Chicago right out of undergrad. And my two years of... Well, it was like an equivalent of like two years of work experience when I was co- oping. So that was my parlay to get me in right out of undergrad. And I went to Chicago, which for those people who know about the booth school of management, A, it's a really hard school, B, they're super quant jocks. Big finance guys, all those investment bankers, they all own their own private islands and I was super excited about that. So I was like going to go and be a finance major and I'm going to own my own private island by the time I'm 32. So it took me my first quarter where I was taking my first finance class because I'm good at math of course. So that made perfect sense, where we were talking about the stock market and stock market theory and I thought, this is crazy. Theory? I'm used to formulas. Your formula is off the bridge falls. What are you talking about? You're like, everybody's money is based on this theory. This is insane. So I immediately wanted out of that and started to take strategy classes and negotiations classes and a few more marketing classes. And I ended up graduating with a three emphasis, three majors, if you will. And it was in strategy negotiations and marketing, and spent my whole second year, as most people do interviewing for a full- time job and had a few offers. I was really lucky to have a few offers and I end up choosing Ford Motor Company because it leaned into the things that I knew I was good at, which were engineering based analytical. I wasn't afraid of those kinds of conversations and having to talk to other engineers, but it was also a big global company with lots to offer from all kinds of" marketing" from product plan to setting up markets, to selling cars, to brand management, the whole thing. And so I was really excited about it because I thought I could spend a career. And so that's how it began. That was my first endeavor. When I was in grad school, I actually worked for American Airlines, both in a class for six the months, but then also as an intern down in Dallas for a summer as well. And that sealed the deal for me. I was like, this is it. It's a nice combination of customer insight, marketing, solving problems to try to make a better product or a better customer experience. And that kind of set the tone from there on out.
AJ Gupta: I can relate, Julie. I think if I had stayed in college one more year, I would've had four majors. But yeah, I guess I never quite figured out what I was going to do. So I became a CEO.
Julie Roehm: Well, that's not too bad. What was your major?
AJ Gupta: So I ended up majoring in Finance, English, and I had a minor in math.
Julie Roehm: So, so those are really good for a CEO. It's important to understand business and math if you're going to run a company.
AJ Gupta: Right. Yeah. So I guess it's all come together.
Julie Roehm: Yeah. It has come together.
AJ Gupta: But at the time my parents were very concerned that I'll be unemployed.
Julie Roehm: Yeah. Yeah. My parents were never afraid because clearly I was very motivated to make money. So I was going to find a way, some way. Obviously it was such a big deal then. Now you talk about what is success and I give presentations on it all the time. Success used to be so clearly defined by title and monetary gain, and I'm really grateful that the world has evolved and matured because it's a bad message to give. And I think it really takes people down. I think it can be a very unhappy misguided path, and just having two young men now who are my children, it's something that I'm very cognizant of. Money is money but money doesn't buy happiness. It does make things easier sometimes, but you got to love what you do every day. And if it's not the highest paying job, that's okay, believe me, you're going to live a healthier wealthier life in terms of who you are.
AJ Gupta: Right. Completely agree. So Julie, to turn the focus on Party City and the marketing that you're doing right now, what are some of the channels that are effective today? What's working for you?
Julie Roehm: So a little bit of a history on Party City, just to set the tone for some of your listeners who may not know. So Party City actually started off... Well, look, Party City started as people think about it as a retail outlet, but a couple decades before that, a company called Amscan who manufactures party goods decided that what they needed to do was buy their biggest customer. And so Amscan about 30 years ago bought Party City. And so it was this vertically integrated entity, and as a result, that is how we have grown so quickly. Also, as a result, it's why the format that you probably have most gotten to know Party City for over the years, which I call it the stack at high and watch it fly methodology, the big racks, sort of the Costco kind of theme, which is a warehouse big, but of party goods. We was created that way because we obviously had a big manufacturing arm. So we manufactured everything so we could put a lot of stuff. And I think the thinking for a lot of retailers by the way is more is more, you wanted it to be a one- stop shop. So the more you had, the more likely it was that people could come and get everything they needed in one stop. I think as we all know, the experience of retail, of being in a store has shifted dramatically as well. And sometimes more is not more, it's just overwhelming. I liken it to the cheesecake factory. It's a rare company that can have that many pages of choices and still be successful. It can be overwhelming at times. And I think for us in particular and what we do and our customer and what we're trying to get done, it's a bit overwhelming. And so knowing that we manufacture 80% of what we sell and 40 to 50% of what you might buy in other party aisles and other retail stores, is probably made or sourced by us in some way. It gave us an opportunity to really think differently about who we wanted to be go forward. So the board brought in a new CEO in August of'19, so Brad Weston, who's our CEO. And he had a new vision and one that was very much aligned with what I just said, which is to really vertically integrate the company in practice and not just on paper. So it's one thing to say, we manufacture everything and we're just going to ship everything to the store and then the retail store is responsible for just stocking it and selling it. It's something else to say, how do we think about this holistically? How do we really think about this practical integration in a way that's going to unlock all the potential that exists? That was his number one vision. His number two vision is a bit more of where I come in and that is, he saw us as having the opportunity to not just be the seller of party products, but the provider of the entire party experience. And so what that means is, when you think about coming in the old format two years ago, by the way, the entire executive team is largely brand new because we all came in with a whole, again, it's a different vision, so a different skillset needed. The opportunity for us is to think end to end. So when you start to think that conversation, we were having about the importance of the birthday party and the stressful process that it can be, where do you start? Sometimes, look, if it's a birthday on the calendar, you're probably starting at some point because you know the dates on a calendar. In other cases, it could be that you get inspired to have a backyard barbecue for the summer because you've been on Pinterest and you saw some picture that you pinned. Okay, great. That's your inspiration set. Then you go all the way through to like, what do I wanted to look like? What would I to be? When would I want it to be? What do I all need there? And that includes not just the things that you traditionally think about with party, city selling. So balloons and tableware and favors and backdrops and candy and that kind of thing. But it's also things like what about the invitation? What about food? What about, maybe a bartender? What about music? What if its kids and we need a bouncy castle? Maybe I don't want to clean up at the end. Maybe I need somebody to help clean up. Because that's the sign of a good party to me is when I don't actually have to clean up after my own party. What about the posting afterwards? How am I going to share my experience with everybody to show what a great time we all had in the comradery we share? That is the entire, when we think about the experience, that's the experience. And obviously within there, you can hear that we, traditionally as Party City, have only delivered part of that. What our goal is, is to try to really deliver it in total or connect dots to deliver it in total. So there's then opportunity for a market place in there. We have built new tools in there. So how do you make a balloon builder? How do you think about building a celebration in a way that you can visualize it so that I could show you an outdoor scene, an indoor scene, and I could show you all the goods and you could go in and say, click that one. I don't want that thing. And I want that thing in there, and you can visualize the whole thing and then click to put it in your cart. And then at the same time, potentially link into a marketplace to say, I also need a caterer. I need a bouncy castle. And what about then potentially a partnership with a company like Pinterest, by the way. We have that, and where we can, you can pin your photo and it connects back over to your experience at Party City, where now your image and all of your content is saved so that if you want to go back in and replicate that exact party, maybe with a few differences for some other occasion, it's there and saved for you. What if you want to be able to share that with other people who really liked what you posted or pin, and they want to be able to replicate what you did, now, could we make that easier for them? So you can see from an end to end experience, especially from a digital transformation experience, what the opportunity is. So we've embarked upon that path. And so we are walking down that path today. We're not fully delivered upon it yet. It's been two years. And of course I started in December of 19th. So 30, 60 days before the pandemic hit. But we continue down the path regardless and we've made great progress. Our stores are also changed over, we've got our next generation stores. So there's about 100 of our stores now out of our 750, 800 stores that we have out there that are what we call our next gen on store, where you come down and the sight lines are at five feet. There's a round balloon counter immediately when you walk in versus the traditional black wall that has all the pin flat balloons on it. Now it's a very dynamic entrance. And on the left inside, you've got all the birthday goods all together. So you don't have to criss cross the store to put your entire birthday solution together. It's these kinds of things that we liken to easy. And then you layer on services. So the things that I just talked about from a digital transformation component are one big component of the service, but we also are offering party planning for people. So free part. Most people like party planning. I can't afford party planning. Are you kidding? Well, no, we're offering it for free. So we've got consultations on chat in person. You can schedule with a party planner and they can help hear what your vision is and help you put it together. And then yeah, you can hire our party planners if you want them actually to come to your residents or your location and actually set it up in a traditional party planning format. But most people don't need that. They just need some help because they don't have what I like to call the Martha Stewart brain. They can't see it. They need somebody to help them visualize it. So in addition to our visualization tools, we actually have human beings there to help you out. So that is really the journey that we are on as a company and what we're trying to accomplish to actually, again, make joy easy for people, but to take on this evolution of where we've been from back when we were just a few decades ago merging to now today, what do we think the future holds?
AJ Gupta: Julie, so in terms of the outbound marketing, obviously you guys have such a great brand name that it probably lends itself to people coming in when a store opens, but outside of that, our producers noted that you're moving away from traditional media more into the digital world. So would love to hear more about that.
Julie Roehm: Yeah. Yes, no, AJ, right, I didn't answer that when you asked that earlier. Yes. I get very excited about our story, as you can tell. So we historically had a very traditional mix of media. So yes, there was TV, there was radio. Part of what the customer experience officer and our team does is to use customer journey mapping as a way to try to decipher how best to again, make the customer experience as easy as possible. So that was one of the very first things we did within 60 days of me getting here. We mapped out a couple of customer journeys. We mapped out a birthday journey, we mapped out a Halloween journey, we saw where all the friction points were out. This is what led us down the path to a new website and all the digital tools I talked about. It also led us into the mindset of how she shops, how she gets inspired, how she then acts upon that inspiration. And all through that, the digital was the thread. And so when you think about... Unfortunately we don't have unlimited dollars. So you've got a finite set of dollars that we need to use most efficiently. We have some of the highest aided and unaided awareness of any company in the celebrations category. Amazon, I think is we're neck and neck with them. So we're up there with some really good company in the celebrations category. So when you have a high aided and unaided awareness, my goal isn't to necessarily drive that. My goal is to drive consideration. I need to get more people to get from that, knowing what we do or having think that they know what we do and bring them in a little bit closer to get them into that consideration phase. And then hopefully into actually that looking and that buying and that conversion phase. The best way that we know how to do that from all the data we've looked at from that customer journey mapping from looking at how she shops, is to move fully to a digital media model. So we've taken out all the traditional mediums, because again, where we sit in terms of what we need to do to move customers into our ecosystem is not a big bang awareness campaign, which TV is very good for. Instead, it is much more specific and because celebrations are personal, it's not a one size fits all. It is a very personal experience. Digital offers us that opportunity to create that personalized experience, to really leverage first party data, to really use these digital tools, to allow people to create their own very bespoke experiences for something that is meaningful to them and their particular situation and making it local. Again, when you think about these experiences we're trying to offer there, we've got pockets of various people with different diversity backgrounds, experiences. And we want to lean into that in their low local community to be able to allow them to leverage the flavor of their local community into their own personal experience. That again, would be very, very expensive to do in some of the more traditional mediums and it is much more cost effective and actually straight up effective, not even just from a cost perspective when you use a digital medium. So we have moved fully 100% to digital media.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Nice. And Julie, first I want to shout out my Party City stores that I go to. I grew up, Port Chester, New York. It was my main store. And now 14th street. So I want to give some love to those stores because they always take care of me. So also, Julie, let's talk about something that I'm sure a lot of people want to know about. Celebrations during the pandemic, especially in the beginning, those graduations, all those kids who didn't really get to experience their senior year, that was my favorite year of high school. I loved my senior year and all those times, how did Party City have to adapt? I mean, and you were there right before. It's like, welcome aboard Julie. Oh, now here's the pandemic. How did you adapt?
Julie Roehm: As I have often said, party and pandemic, not synonymous. So yes, and it's true to your point. What we learned quickly, the pandemic was a learning curve for the entire planet, as we know, and we have a brand new team. More than half of us had been recruited by the time the pandemic started. Really within 90 days of the pandemic starting. And so I think many companies had the option in some cases to just try to hunker down and ride the storm not knowing how long the storm would last. Nobody knew it would last this long. But we were a little bit in a different situation. We came in to really turn this company around and to ignite this vision that Brad had laid out so clearly, and we were really motivated to do that. And I think we had the option of maybe holding on because party and pandemic, it was like too big, too hard of a lift. Like how could you do that? And we just doubled down. And so the first thing we did was to understand that the only way we were going to survive was to offer delivery. We had to respect the fact that you have the social distancing and needed to have people be safe and we didn't have delivery. We didn't even have curbside delivery. And so we did that. I reached out to some of my old auto friends from all my auto days, working at Ford and Chrysler and then in Auto Services. So I had a lot of auto years. Called some friends at Hertz and said, hey, I bet you guys aren't selling or renting many cars. And probably a lot of people sitting idle, how would you like to work with us and help us stand up same day delivery. So we used their minivans, we used their people and it was down and dirty, it was scrappy. It didn't have the beautiful communications. It wasn't the amazing digital experience. It was down and dirty, but it got the job done. And so from eight days from the phone call that I first made to our first delivery, we were off to the races. So it was a very quick turnaround. That was step one. Step two was understanding that, okay, the pandemic's going to be around a little while. We didn't know how long, but the fact is that people have birthdays, they have anniversaries, they have special events that are happening, even during a pandemic and those people deserve joy, probably need joy more than at any time before, because it could be pretty darn depressing as we know. And so we really had to think through, all right, now we know how to get stuff, write the party goods to people, how do we think differently about how to help get them things in a different way so that they can still have a great party. So we created birthday kits where basically we could send the birthday kit for six people or eight people to your house. You could put your favorite bag together. You could personalize it. Then you could drop it off in the driveways of all of your guests. They could come get it. We created birthday itineraries, free downloadable itineraries, free virtual games that you could play with people like in a zoom setting like this, so that when they picked up their bag, everybody got on, they could have all their wearables on, they could have their bag of candy and their treats and their favors and they could interact with one another in a virtual party format. And so we really reinvented those kinds of things. We did the same thing for summer camps. Remember nobody had summer camps, mom and dad had the kids at home. They were losing their minds. And now they can't send their kids to camp and there's no school. What do you do? So we had our influencers create summer camps, itineraries, full itineraries. Some of it required some product that we sold, some of it didn't, but it was a full day's activities, whether it was warm or rainy. We had it all. And then we made it easy for people to shop for the items to send to their house. So leaning into that. And then your point graduation, my son, my youngest, my baby was a 2020 grad, poor thing, but we leaned into all the personalization signs. We sold so many lawn signs and banner signs. We built car kits, parade kits, so that people could decorate their car with balloons, with streamers, with signs and do grad parades. We did grad parades here. It was amazing. And now what's beautiful about that and several of these innovations that we created over the pandemic, is that people still want to add them even in a non pandemic setting, because it's another layer of innovation and fun and joy that has been added to what had been a traditional experience. And so they always say necessity is the mother of invention. It definitely was in our case, but some of these inventions aren't throwaway. They're definitely here to stay.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Well, yeah. No. And I remember that. The first thought was like, where are they getting all these things from? Because I remember the car parades, people coming around. Well, that's helpful. And all that stuff that you did, it's helpful, those little reminders of we're still here, we're still celebrating you. So we appreciate that. I want to mention your podcast, The Conversation. I want to talk about that. I would be remiss if I didn't bring that up because it's such a great podcast. Tell the people what it's about, where they can hear it.
Julie Roehm: So thank you. I appreciate that Vincent. So The Conversational Podcast is a pure passion project for me. It's not associated with Party City. It was me. It was actually before I started at Party City. I had decided that I wanted to do something that I'd always want to do to give back and I have had the pleasure of. I've been around this industry a long time, so I have a good network. But the network I have of these really successful people, some in marketing and some are not by the way. I'm always really blessed because I get to know these people personally and I hear their back stories and their back stories are so motivating and inspiring. I also speak to a lot of young people. I speak to colleges, I speak to students and I always see in their eyes, the interest and the passion, but I also see the fear. That they're worried that the plan that they make, if it doesn't work, that things are going to fall apart for them. And what I wanted to do with this podcast was to bring some of these very successful people that I've gotten to know over the years and have them come on and tell their personal story. Not the story that they tell on stage about the company and the things they've done, but their story from childhood all the way through. And I dedicated to the, I don't know if you're going to bleep me out, but the holy shit moments, I call the hashtag hoshimo. Because we all have had them and it is those moments that actually make us who we are. And it is those moments that define how we pivot and how we turn. And I don't know a single successful person that hasn't had a minimum of one on average, probably four or five that have actually gotten them to where they are. And without them, that plan that they had made, they would never be nearly as successful. And so I'd put this out there so that others can hear these really inspirational stories and know that these obstacles, the hoshimos that show up in life, are actually there to drive you on and maybe twist you in a different direction to open doors that you didn't even know were there in front of you. So that's my goal with it. And that's what it's dedicated to and what's about. It's on every podcast platform, Spotify, Apple Podcast. I've got it on my website, julieroehm. com. They're all there as well. So again, it's free. I don't make money. This is just a pure passion project.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Awesome.
AJ Gupta: Julie, I have heard through one of our listeners that you like pink lattes. Is that true?
Julie Roehm: Pink lattes. You mean like the pink drink from... I assume they're talking about the pink from Starbucks?
AJ Gupta: Yes. That's the one.
Vincent Pietrafesa: You got some crazy listeners out there.
Julie Roehm: I do like the pink drink from Starbucks. I do. I do. It's one of those, especially in the summertime, it's like joy in a little clean clear cup. I love it. Yes.
AJ Gupta: Got you. Great. I was going to throw it out there and hoping that it was actually real. So I didn't look like an idiot, but I'm glad it's real.
Julie Roehm: It's real. I feel like I know who sent it in, but we'll see.
AJ Gupta: So we have about five minutes left, Julie. So one of the things we like to do is this is like if we had met at a bar and we would've got you that pink drink, hopefully, or I guess it's Starbucks, but tell us a little bit about your personal life and what do you like to do in your free time? I would love to get to know. Our viewers would love to get to know you better on a personal level as well.
Julie Roehm: I'm pretty much an open book. This year, I will have been married to my husband for 27 years. I was clearly a child bride. So Mike and I have been married a long time. We have two great kids, Nick and Luke, and they're, like I said, one's in DC working. The other is up in Boston going to college. So we love spending time with them and our youngest plays volleyball. In fact, we were up there last weekend watching a volleyball tournament, which is great. After two years, he's the one with the 2020 grad, his senior year was canceled and his freshman year playing was canceled. So it's been joyous to do that. So we do love that. We love sports. And you know what, I am kind of a fitness freak. I don't know if it's a freak. I am sort of dedicated to fitness. I'm the very tied in with our fitness center here. I'm going to be a part investor to support them as well because obviously the fitness centers had a real... the boutique ones had a real struggle over the pandemic. So I'm very invested in that and trying to think about mental health for people as well through the use of fitness. And then, you know what, it's a weird thing because now we're really empty nested. My youngest is a sophomore, so we've been empty nested for two years. But as we know, the empty nest got full real quick during the pandemic. They all came back. And so now we're actually kind of experiencing the empty nest a little bit. So we haven't fully taken advantage, but we love to travel and with a hybrid work experience, to be able to go and to travel some and maybe work remotely from some much warmer place than what the Northeast is in the winter is an interesting idea too close to family. So it's not any crazy exotic lifestyle, but it's fun right now because it's very much a transitional time in our lives.
Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah. That's awesome. Shout out to Mike. 27 years, that's awesome. Julie, one last question. One last question because we've asked every single one of our guests this question. LinkedIn, someone with your title, people are hitting you up all the time. What's a message that resonates with you and what are those messages that you just hate? It's our LinkedIn question.
Julie Roehm: Oh, gosh. Yeah.
Vincent Pietrafesa: It's like how much time do you have about the things I hate?
Julie Roehm: Yeah.
AJ Gupta: Thirty seconds or less.
Julie Roehm: Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Got it. Okay. So I hate the ones that are clearly form letters where they've just stuck my name in there and you can even see the font type change. I hate that. That's the laziest thing ever. I take notice. I doesn't always necessarily work out for the person, but I always respond. I always take notice when it's clear that the individual has taken time to either understand the company or me, where they're obviously they've read something, they've listened to something, it's clear they've done some research because there's something very specific. They know somebody, they've been to a party. There's a story in there. It's the personal story that the person includes that it gets my attention and will always get a response again. It doesn't always mean that the business is there, but they will always get a response. And I try to respond the most. I do the best I can. There's a lot of them to your point, but those are the ones that get my attention in a good way.
Vincent Pietrafesa: That's awesome. Julie, this has been amazing. Keep up the great work at Party City. I think people need Party City more than ever during the pandemic and then and now after. It's party time, partycity. com, ladies and gentlemen, that is Julie Roehm. She's the chief marketing officer, chief experience officer of Party City. I am Vincent Pietrafesa. That's AJ Gupta. This has been another episode of The Marketing Stir. Thank you so much for listening. We'll talk to you soon.
Vin: Thanks for listening to The Marketing Stir Podcast by Stirista. Please like, create, and subscribe. If you're interested in being a guest on the podcast, please email us at themarketingstir @stirista.com. And thanks for listening.
Vincent and Ajay chat with Julie Roehm, the CMO at Party City. She expains how customer journey mapping helps determine the customer experience from start to finish. Ajay can't spell Vincent's name, and Vincent suggests a game of beer pong.