Mary-Jean Harris is the owner of Fairytale Princess Parties, a character entertainment company in Ottawa, Ontario with princesses, superheroes, and more for children’s birthday parties and special events. At Fairytale Princess Parties, they always strive to make dreams come true! Mary-Jean is also a teacher and tutor for mathematics and science and has a BSc and MSc in physics, focusing on particle physics. She is a published author of the historical fantasy novels Aizai the Forgotten, Shadows of Aizai, and her most recent novel published in 2021, Night of the Immortals. She is passionate about creative writing and has also published short stories in various anthologies and online, as well as a novella entitled Perilous. In her free time, Mary-Jean loves to spend time with her cockapoo dog and read books in fantasy as well as philosophy.
How did you get started in this business?
I started working for Fairytale Princess Parties as a princess performer in 2018 and took over the company later that year when the previous owner was looking to sell it. It was one of the best things that could have happened to me career-wise, because I was passionate about performing as a princess and wanted to use my creativity to expand the company and take things into my own hands as the CEO. The timing was perfect! As a child, I have always loved princesses and fairy tales, and when I started performing as a princess, I was able to bring so much joy to others and live out my own dreams, and so I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to make even more of this experience by running the company myself. This is the first time I have been a business owner for a prominent company, and I’ve learned a lot through dedication and devotion to the business. I’ve also been able to use my skills learned in my smaller tutoring business over the past years and a pet-sitting business I ran as a teen.
How do you make money?
We host character parties and special events, and so are paid directly from the customers. We also have many fun party add-ons such as crowns, dresses, and loot bags that are available for purchase. Although most of our parties take place locally, we also offer virtual parties for people anywhere in the world! Our virtual parties are a special opportunity for children to interact with their favourite character one-on-one or with a group of their friends from the comfort of their own home.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
I was fortunate to be able to take over a company that was already fairly well-known in the community, and so after a month of transition between owners, we got back to our weekend parties and special events quite quickly! I have also expanded the company to have more special events in partnership with businesses and introduce new characters such as superheroes to cater to the interests of both boys and girls. Children are always having birthday parties, and so for those looking to give their children an extra special experience, we’re here to make that happen!
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I still do have doubts sometimes, but I know that I have been successful and if you persevere and do something you love, results will come! I did wonder if I could pull it off at the start, but soon saw that I was able to confidently manage a business and overcome obstacles throughout the years. Even with the covid pandemic, we have been able to continue to safely offer parties when restrictions permitted, and introduce new virtual party packages when they weren’t. Flexibility is important to deal with ever-changing situations, and so even when the world is turning upside down, we’ll still be here to offer joy and hope to children.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Hosting special events in the community is great for marketing and providing entertainment for children and families! If people attend one of our special events, they can get a taste of what our services are like without committing to hiring us for their children’s birthday party: a low cost alternative before making a larger investment for a birthday party. Although we haven’t been able to host many of our special events in the last years due to the covid situation, we are returning to them now and will be planning new and exciting events in the coming year! Special events are important because children’s birthdays only happen once a year: in the meantime, they can attend our princess sleepovers, tea parties, holiday parties, and other fun events to keep the magic alive throughout the year.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
The quality of our parties and our reliability helps us stand out from others. Our performers are skilled at creating magical experiences and have a passion for their work: we are all lovers of princesses, superheroes, and working with children! It takes someone who is not just skilled in acting but also passionate about what they do to make an excellent performer. They are also great at connecting with children. Acting on a stage doesn’t involve interactions, whereas our parties are dynamic and involve tailoring all the activities to the children we’re working with. Sometimes I say that even if I weren’t paid, I would still be out attending parties every weekend, which is as true now as it was when I started four years ago.
I am also meticulous when it comes to reliability: when parents book their parties, I ensure to always be in touch to confirm all the details about their parties when they book and work out any last minute changes that might come up.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
There have been many satisfying moments in my business over the years, but when we hosted a meet-and-greet event for the release of Frozen 2 in 2019, it was definitely one of the most memorable. On the opening weekend, we had two events (one on Saturday and one on Sunday) with hundreds of guests who came to meet our characters before watching the movie. It was a large organizational feat (to say the least!) with everything from arranging tickets and movie theater seats to laying out the stations where the characters would be during the event and arranging extra performers to get a total of 18 characters. It went smoothly and I’d love to do it again in the future. We had a great photographer at the event who captured these memories, and it’s wonderful to see the joy and excitement on the children’s (and parents’!) faces as they meet our characters.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I’ve been expanding our business over the past years and will continue to do so: adding more characters and package offers and hosting special events for children in the community. I’m also looking to partner with businesses for corporate events and am excited about setting up regular events with schools and community groups with our characters! One thing that I love about this business is that there is almost no limit: creativity and imagination are what we strive to bring to children, and it’s also something that I use to plan new and unique events and packages for our clients.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself that YOU are the boss. You make the decisions and should not be limited by what has been done before and what seems like a tried and true path. I’ve had success with getting creative, everything from driveway visits and princess baking classes on Zoom when in-person parties were not possible, to movie release events with hundreds of guests and princess painting parties. Fortunately, I’m a big dreamer, but I would remind my younger self to not put a limit on those dreams!
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
Yes, I would be happy to be a business mentor to anyone interested in starting up a company or taking over one. I’m still learning every day but am happy to share my experiences over the past four years. They can reach me at email@example.com.