Women Following their Dreams: # 7 Catherine Harris, wife, mother, entrepreneur, founder of Party Pax
Today I’m interviewing Catherine Harris as part of my Women: Following their Dreams series. My aim in doing this series is to, once a month, introduce you to women who all have one thing in common, they have been brave enough to follow their dreams. Maybe you might be inspired by one of their stories, maybe their story will strike a chord with you, maybe what they are doing is something that you would like to do too, maybe you will find a new interest, talent, idea or realise that these woman are just like you and me. So grab a cuppa and take a seat and see where this series might take you.
I was introduced to Catherine through a mutual friend and was inspired by her transition from the corporate world to founding her own business which, btw, I love, I think you will too! Read on…
Tell us a bit about yourself
I live in North Curl Curl in the northern beaches of Sydney with my husband and two young sons – Jackson (4 years old) and Lachlan (2 years old). My hubbie and I moved here 5 years ago from Bondi Beach when I fell pregnant. My husband grew up on a dairy farm and wanted our kids to have more space. We also wanted to live closer to my parents. We love living here and love dreaming up plans for building our own home one day.
I met my husband studying my MBA at university. We sat next to each other in a lecture and we just hit it off. Funnily, we met at uni in North Ryde and realised we lived on the other side of the city in the same suburb on the same street 50 metres from each other! It was meant to be, I guess. We started going out and then 6 months later we moved in together, 6 months later we were engaged and 12 months later we were married. It all happened really quickly.
My previous career was in Human Resources for large corporates, specifically in talent acquisition. My last HR job was Head of Talent Acquisition at Optus. I really loved that job. I love helping people and found assisting people find the right role and giving career guidance and feedback was a great way to help others.
Now I run Party Pax which is a one stop shop for themed kids parties. I launched the business in November last year. I love my new job because I get to mix being creative with still helping people, only now it is taking the stress out of hosting amazing parties.
What made you decide to leave the corporate world and start out on your own?
My husband and I had demanding jobs and we realized one of us was going to need to take a different direction to get more flexibility in their job so we could balance having young children. I had wanted to have my own business and had an idea to help mums take the stress out of organising their kids parties. Being on maternity was a really good opportunity for me to give it a go. I am really thankful my husband is so supportive, because he has needed to financially support us whilst I got the business up and running. I am really grateful I took the plunge, because it has worked out really well for my family – having the flexibility to be able to work the hours that suits the needs of my young family, whilst still being challenged every day at work. It has worked out really well for everyone actually.
Where did your business idea come from? Did you have any previous experience in the field?
I love throwing parties for my kids. I love the feeling of achieving something amazing for them that makes them feel really special and loved. Whenever one of my boys had a party people would say “you should be a party planner”. The issue I had was I was not a professional cake maker and had no formal experience in event party management. I also spent so much time trawling websites and going to shops that I found the whole process really cumbersome, as much as I loved it!
So the idea swirled in my head for a while and then I did a big brainstorming session on how I could help to reduce stress for people who are hosting a party combined with empowering them to feel all of those wonderful feelings from putting it on themselves. And that is where the idea came from…giving mum’s and dad’s the tools to be able to host a fabulous party for their loved one at an affordable price, and taking all the hassle and stress out of the process.
What is your product?
The product is really taking the stress out of hosting their kid’s parties for busy parents. How I do that is by offering everything required to put on an amazing party in one pack. I feel that I am helping them to do something to show their little ones how much they love them by being able to do the party themselves for their loved one. I offer the complete party pack in one which includes DIY cakes, baking packs, DIY cupcakes, decorations, tableware, lollies, invitations, cake toppers, and a little inspiration. There are easy to follow step-by-step instructions and checklists offering tips and tricks to hosting a stress-free and successful party. People can buy as little or as many elements as they want to put on the party they want to create. The best thing is no baking experience, or even party experience, is required!
How did you go about sourcing materials and establishing your brand?
I source my materials from so many different suppliers. I have a very long list! I have local designers and printers, so all of my decorations are Australian designed and printed. I have created all of the DIY cake packs myself and have had them tested locally. I have spent hours sourcing the best quality products I could find to support the overall packs I offer. It sounds a bit crazy but, for example, I would have tested over a dozen paper plates. Obviously the plate has to match the theme of the party but I’ve gone to these lengths because as a mum and party host myself I don’t want a plate that flops and all the kid’s cake fall on the floor.
My brand is about getting everything you need to host an amazing party in one box delivered to your door. The premise is by using Party Pax you save time and stress because you don’t have to trawl websites or physical shops. I get so much feedback from customers that they are amazed at how much is in a pack and the quality of the products. They like the fact the products are reasonably priced too. That was something that was really important to me…I want to provide quality products at an affordable price whilst providing lots of fun tips and tricks to make the party preparation (and running of the party) easier.
I have found that word of mouth has been a fantastic way to get my product out there. I also use social media and have just started a blog. I also go to a lot of networking groups, both face-to-face and via social media. I have also just announced the launch of Lah-Lah party products – Party Pax is the first licensed party provider for them, so that is super exciting and that relationship is helping to get exposure to so many more people.
How do you manage the juggle with family and a start up small business?
It still astounds me how much energy my two sons have! So when I am with them I really try to be present and active and create as much fun as possible. They go to daycare 3 days a week, so I work on my business during those days. Both of my boys are in bed at 7 o’clock in the evening, so most evenings I get stuck back into work then. On the days the boys are home (including weekends), I tend to grab work-time as I can – like during sleep/rest time, when my husband is playing with the kids, and so on. My husband is super-supportive and we have consciously worked hard at finding a balance of work time and kid time and couple time. My husband and I also do “date night” once a month, where we cook a course each as a surprise (entre and dessert or main meal) and then, once the kids are in bed, we dress up like we are going on a date and have an amazing meal together at home!
What’s your families favourite meal?
My dad makes amazing rissoles and my sons love them. They call my dad, Daw-Daw, so his rissoles are affectionately known as Daw-Daw rissoles. I love the family eating them because they are jammed packed full of goodness – loads of veges – and they do taste really delicious. We usually have them with steamed or baked veges (like carrots and broccoli (my oldest son calls them trees)), cheese and tomatoes. It’s such a simple meal but so full of goodness. I’m actually really lucky because my boys are really great eaters. We have a family rule that we eat dinner at the table together as a family, which I really love too.
Are you currently reading anything?
Haha…not at the moment. I laugh because I just don’t find time to read at the moment. Life is very busy. But in saying that, I do read a lot of cake books and blogs and am a member of some amazing entrepreneur groups and I love reading their posts online – it gives me so much inspiration and motivation. But, no novels unfortunately!
What are the next steps for you?
I have just launched the Lah-Lah party products which is really exciting. I am also working on some new products that will launch over the next couple of months. I really want to work more on my blog and newsletter to make them interesting and a go-to place for DIY party planners and hosts.
Thank you so much to Catherine for sharing her entrepreneurial journey with us. I’m full of admiration for having such a career change and for following a passion plus look how successful she’s been in less than a year! The parties look fantastic too. Onwards and upwards Catherine, you are really inspiring!
If you would like to read about other women in this series you may like to check out; Johanna May – Pilates business owner & instructor, Flavia Julius – Artist & Author, Katja Gaskell – Travel Writer & Website founder, Kim Spiteri – Designer & Blogger, Kate Reed – Sister Circles Facilitator, Coach & Author, Lauren Brown – Founder of Lollaby & professional nanny
Have you made a career change? Do you like Catherine’s new business idea? Are you following your dream?