As a partner and COO of Sugar Plum Franchising, Ashley's primary responsibilities include overseeing franchise sales, global development, construction, and new venue design.
In addition to Sugar Plum Parties™, Ashley is the Co-Founder and Vice President of Sound Lion, an established retail concept with locations in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA, and Disney Springs in Orlando, FL. Sound Lion offers premium quality personal and home sound products to enhance the Personal Listening Experience.
Ashley was formerly a Franchise Support Manager at Flip Flop Shops®, the world’s first retail chain exclusive to the hottest brands and latest styles of flip flops and casual footwear. The recipient of the International Council of Shopping Centers’ prestigious “Hot Retailer Award,” Flip Flop Shops® was founded in 2004 and has been recognized in the Entrepreneur 500 list, as well as the INC 500.
A Southern California native, Ashley currently resides in Arlington, MA with her children, Faye and David. Ashley is an avid foodie. She loves exploring the exciting restaurant scene in Boston. And when at home she loves preparing delicious meals for her children who like to pretend they're Chopped judges from Food Network. Besides eating her way through Boston, Ashley loves running, writing, reading and could listen to music on her headphones all day. On the weekends she enjoys watching her children practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, gymnastics and most recently, American Ninja Warrior training.
Franchise Expo: What is Sugar Plum Parties™ franchise opportunity all about?
Ashley Shimabukuro: Sugar Plum Parties™ is a unique and fun children’s party venue catering to girls from ages 3 – 13 years old that offers many all-inclusive themed party packages hosted from beginning to end. We provide everything a parent would need to host an unforgettable event for their little girl from themed invitations to thank you notes and everything in between! Each party includes dancing; singing; nail painting; fun hair-do’s; refreshments and a themed birthday cake design; party activity; take home favors; and fun galore, all supervised by our enthusiastic Sugar Plum Fairies. While the birthday guests are enjoying their activities, parents can relax with cappuccino or tea and watch the magic unfold. Allowing parents to be present for the party, instead of busy managing the party, is one of our biggest advantages to booking a Sugar Plum Parties™ event! All Sugar Plum Parties™ are Simple.Sweet.Magical.™
FE: Who is your ideal candidate for a Sugar Plum Parties™ franchise?
AS: Our ideal candidate at Sugar Plum Parties™ is someone who loves bringing joy to children by providing a magical party experience. We envision this being the perfect business for stay-at-home parents looking to bring in some income for their family. Party bookings can be done from home or on your cell phone. Most parties take place on the weekends, but Party Directors can be hired to manage the experience if you wish to keep your weekends free for family time. The ideal Sugar Plum Parties™ franchisee will have a customer service oriented attitude, enthusiasm for providing a top-notch experience, and a desire to learn the ins-and-outs of a service business. We welcome any and all candidates that are excited to provide guests with the Simple.Sweet.Magical.™ experience they expect from Sugar Plum Parties.™
FE: What type of training and support do you offer Sugar Plum Parties™ franchisees?
AS: We provide our franchisees with dedicated and thorough initial and ongoing training at Sugar Plum Parties.™ Initial training is held at our corporate Sugar Plum Parties™ venue in Stoneham, MA. Franchisees spend a week with us both in the venue and in the classroom learning everything that goes into booking and running a party including. We cover the following topics: marketing, Point of Sale system instruction, employee management, inventory management, customer service, and basic business and financial principles. In addition, each franchisee is given a comprehensive Operations Manual at the end of each training class, which includes step-by-step instructions on Party Operations, as well as the details of each of the aforementioned topics. However, the support doesn’t stop there! Each franchisee will have a dedicated Franchise Support Manager to call with any and all questions that arise both in the process of opening their Sugar Plum Parties™ venue, and for support and guidance once the venue is up and running! Finally, we provide additional support, as well as employee training; during the first weekend of parties booked at the franchisee’s own venue. We come in for five days to ensure each franchisee is off to a great start!
FE: What are some of the advantages in being a Sugar Plum Parties™ franchisee?
AS: One of the biggest advantages to being a Sugar Plum Parties™ franchisee is being able to learn from a team with over 30 combined years of franchise experience. The Sugar Plum Parties™ team includes Todd Giatrelis and Sarah Towne, the founders of the internationally recognized franchise opportunity Flip Flop Shops®, with over 90 locations in the US, Canada, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and South Africa. Todd and Sarah both worked directly with the Flip Flop Shops franchisees in training and ongoing support. This franchisee-focused experience is especially relevant to our mission to provide an industry-leading level of support to our Sugar Plum Parties™ franchisees. We have worked with past franchisees who have had little to no experience with business ownership, including teachers, stay-at-home parents, financial services representatives, and those from many other walks of life. Therefore, we understand that not everyone will come to Sugar Plum Parties™ with a working knowledge of business. To that end we provide business plan assistance, checklists for starting a business, and comprehensive training on not just party operations, but all of the back-office tasks that are necessary to make Sugar Plum Parties™ run smoothly.
Additional benefits to Sugar Plum Parties™ franchisees include low start-up costs, the ability to work part-time and from home, high margins, the ability to take class-B location space (as most of our bookings are from online searches and word-of-mouth), and the fact that it is not necessary to staff a location during normal business hours, just for set-up, the party, and clean-up.
FE: Are you a member of any Associations?
AS: Sugar Plum Parties™ is a member of the following Associations:
The International Franchise Association (www.franchise.org). The IFA is the world’s oldest and largest organization representing franchising worldwide. Through education and advocacy, the IFA works to support franchisors and franchisees around the globe.
The National Association for Catering and Events (www.nace.net) The NACE is the first non-profit, national organization for caterers, event planners, and event professionals, that provides education, certification, and a network of resources for members in all segments of the hospitality industry.
The International Special Events Society (www.ises.com). The ISES is the principal association representing the creative events professional, globally. The ISES uses their core values of creativity, inspiration, teamwork, education, and relationships to ensure a thriving global creative events profession.
FE: Tell us a little about the Event Planning Market?
AS: The Event Planning industry is an over $5 billion industry in the United States alone, which has seen steady annual growth since 2007. Job growth is projected to continue through at least the next 10 years at a rate of approximately 10%, which is higher than the average growth, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). There are no companies with a dominant market share in this industry, which provides a great opportunity for our franchisees to dominate in their specific markets. While there are some local or regional businesses that provide birthday party services, there are no national competitors in this industry.
FE: How successful is Sugar Plum Parties™ today and what are your future growth plans?
AS: Today, we have had our corporate venue open for almost nine years, where we have had many very happy repeat customers. Some customers have hosted their child’s birthday party with us every year since we have been open! While we just launched franchise sales on February 1, 2016, we are very excited about the positive response we have received, both from our online advertising efforts, and from the Franchise Expo South in Houston, TX. We expect to have franchisees in several states, including Texas, Massachusetts, and Mississippi within the next 90 days. We project selling 12+ franchises this year, and having our first few open before the end of the year. We plan to make Sugar Plum Parties™ the premier birthday party and event destination across the country!
FE: What are your franchisees saying about Sugar Plum Parties™ business?
AS: While we do not yet have any franchisees, since we just launched franchising on February 1, 2016, our prospects all say that Sugar Plum Parties™ fills a need in the girl’s party and event space for an all-inclusive party venue, with hosted activities and exceptional service. Prospective franchisees like the low start-up costs, and low ongoing costs, since the venue is only open when a party is booked. In addition, our prospective franchisees like that the Sugar Plum Parties™ team has a proven track record of success in the franchise world, with their Flip Flop Shops® franchise, as well as the support that Sugar Plum Parties™ provides.
FE: What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?
AS: My best advice to someone looking to acquire a franchise would be to be honest with yourself about the work you are willing to put into your business. Don’t purchase a franchise that requires a full-time commitment, like a restaurant or retail store, if you are not planning to quit your day job. There are great part-time or home-based franchises, like Sugar Plum Parties, that could be a better fit. Business ownership takes work – and not just the fun work of planning parties or interacting with customers, but the back office work of bookkeeping, scheduling, accounts payable, inventory management, etc. Plan to run your franchise like a business, or plan on incurring the expense to hire someone to run the business side of your franchise.
FE: In your opinion, why do you think that Sugar Plum Parties™ would be a great opportunity for someone?
AS: Sugar Plum Parties™ is a great opportunity for the right franchisee for several reasons. First, there are no special skills needed to run a Sugar Plum Parties™ venue. We will teach and train you on everything you need to know! We will also continue to support you after you are open and operating. Second, the costs are low – both the start-up and ongoing costs, making Sugar Plum Parties™ a great second job, or part-time job for stay-at-home parents. Third, Sugar Plum Parties™ has a proven track record of success at their corporate venue that has been open for almost 9 years. This venue has mostly been run on a part-time basis and provides a great testing ground to bring new and innovative party themes, activities, and ideas to our franchisees. Finally, Sugar Plum Parties™ is fun to run! No one is in a bad mood at a party! There are no returns of merchandise to contend with. There are no complicated recipes or processes to learn. If you can throw a party, you can run a Sugar Plum Parties™ venue.
Sugar Plum Parties™ is Simple.Sweet.Magical.™