If you are planning a birthday party for your child and you decide to book with a character or entertainment company, please do your research. I know that booking a company can be overwhelming for many people, especially if you’re in a region like Los Angeles which is fully saturated with businesses, but it is really important to choose wisely. Our time with our children is fleeting, meaning that this time in their lives of believing in fairytale is quite short, so the last thing you want to do is to plan a party for them and to have a company flake out or not deliver for you. A few weeks back I posted that just because a company comes up first in the search engine and has a cool looking website, doesn’t mean they are the company for you. When booking with a company, you want to find someone that will be the right fit for you and your needs.

Below are some tips I recommend:

1. Do your due diligence.

You want to be sure to get recommendations from friends and acquaintance first. Next, you can start searching the internet for Yelp and Google reviews. Word of advice though, when dealing with social media reviews please take them with a grain of salt. (Please read my entry on How Yelp Really Works). Just remember that Yelp has its faults. Due to the way Yelp filters out client reviews, many newer companies are becoming quite savvy in going after positive reviews and will go to great lengths to have close friends and business acquaintances leave comments for them on Yelp and Facebook just to get a review. When going through someone’s Yelp reviews, it’s really important that the reviews are local and have no affiliation with the company. I always have to laugh when I see numerous reviews posted from the company’s staff members or business associates or from friends of theirs elsewhere in the country. For ex. I think I will have my Yelping friend in NJ leave me a review because she’s a Yelper and I know it will stick. That may work for a different industry such as a hotel or restaurant, but really not for the character industry. Granted, that’s not to say that one or two non local reviews may not be legitimate, but when you start seeing more than that, I would be skeptical. As for Facebook, any Tom, Dick & Harry can leave a review.

2. Who owns the company?

I am always a bit leery of companies that have an ambiguous About Us paige. As a consumer, you have every right to know who you are booking with and what is the company’s track record. Find out how long they have been in business. What do you know about the owners? Jennifer and I love what we do, and put our heart and soul into everything we touch whether it’s through blogging, Facebooking, updating our website. We have built a relationship with our clientele so we have developed a loyal following over the past 7 years.

3. Who are the performers?

This is where Jennifer and I are sticklers. Prior to starting The Cinderella Company, we both owned and operated our own children’s event planning companies. It was during this time, that we personally dealt with a number of local character companies that used “smoke and mirror” tactics. I can vividly remember hiring a Sleeping Beauty performer from a company for a party that I was hosting, and the performer was anything but Aurora. She may have showed up wearing a platinum blonde wig and a pink gown, but that was the extent of it. I took one look at her and the idea of a magical princess was lost for me in a split second . It was that experience long ago, that led to the creation of The Cinderella Co. A lot of companies will not post their performers bios or photos on the site nor will they promise you a performer. As a client, you therefore have no idea of who will show up to your event the day of the party–not cool in my opinion. I just took a booking from a client the other day and she flat out asked if my performer had braces or any visible tattoos and body piercings. She was very nervous about booking because she too had experienced some interesting characters at parties her daughter had been invited to.

4. What are your expectations and that of the company?

As consumers, we all have our own expectations. What are they? Are they reasonable? Are they the same as the company’s? You need to find out and be very clear with the company about what you are looking for and the company needs to be clear in what they are providing.   Not every business is going to be able to accommodate specific requests. Jennifer and I put as much information about who we are and what we practice out there to prevent confusion and client dissatisfaction; this is one of the reasons that our website is as extensive as it is. We also believe in remaining true to the Disney philosophy and that of their characters.  As a company, we may or may not be what some people are looking for and that’s okay.  Jennifer and I and our entire cast do what we do out of love and are committed to providing the best possible experience.

5. How is their pricing?

Do a comparative market analysis. Is the company’s pricing competitive with the others? Is it more expensive or less? Start comparing. I get calls all the time asking about our pricing. When comparing pricing though, you have to make sure the companies are similar. We often get calls about a local non Disney character company that deals in fantasy characters. When someone mentions them, I always inform the clients they are comparing apples and oranges. You cannot compare the pricing on two very different companies because one is dealing with complex Disney style costumes and wigs vs fantasy characters that have no wigs or specific costumes to match. When comparing two similar companies, begin to analyze the quality of the costumes and the wigs. I will be as upfront and as honest as I can be, the costumes and wigs do not come cheap. Yes, there are companies out there that purchase their things ready made off the internet at a fraction of the prices, versus a costume that is more elaborately designed and has petti/hoopskirts and accessories. What is their attention to detail like?

6. Is the company easy to work with?

How long does it take the company to respond? Do they answer your questions fully? Are they informative? Do you feel they are being thorough with you or they simply want your money? Do you feel that they are listening to what you are saying?  Is this a serious, reputable company or someone just dressing up on the side hoping to make some money? How do they handle challenges? Ex. performer illnesses, reschedules, unexpected situations? Again, what is their attention to detail like?

7. Do not assume anything.

Please be sure to get everything in writing. It’s important that you don’t assume anything.   Just because you fill out a inquiry page and say you want to book, doesn’t mean that you’re booked or that the character is reserved for you.   No booking is taken with us until a deposit has been taken from the client.  Due to our high volume of business, we unfortunately cannot reserve a performer’s time until then.  Also, be sure to read information that they send to you.  As in any businesses, you need to make sure that you read and understand the the contract.

8.  Does the company have a contract?

It behooves everyone for a company to have a contract.  Contracts are established to protect both parties.  Be sure to read and understand everything that is in it.  Please make sure that all of the information is correct.  With technology, one wrong click and you can have the wrong character showing up at your house on the wrong date.  Submit changes in writing!!!  Please don’t call the information in.  You want to be able to hold someone accountable and you can’t necessarily do that when you say that you called the office.  Jennifer and I keep track of everything.

9. Be Hesitant with online booking and payment:

Sorry, I just don’t believe in this because there is too much left to chance. I cannot begin to tell you how many calls I get from people who say a company had to cancel unexpectedly because of over booking. Don’t do it. You are not buying a dress, but booking your child’s party. Be sure to speak with them directly before putting down a credit card payment.

10.  Does the company uphold the Disney standard?

Here at The Cinderella Company, we love all things Disney and are completely committed to staying true to their philosophy and characters, as such, we will alway do our best to bring the princess characters to life.

11.  Is the company award winning?

Has the company that you are booking won any awards within their industry?  If so, is there consistency with that?  Often times new companies will promote that they’ve won an award for something when they’ve hardly been in a business for a long enough amount of time.  Having your friends and family vote for you does not justify becoming the best of the best. Don’t be fooled by companies that are trying to work the system.

12.  When to book a party: 

Please don’t allow a company to convince you to book a performer 6 months out.  The earliest you should book is about 3 months.  The reason being is that life happens.   Cast members will come and go, and for some companies they may not even be in business in 6 months.  The character industry is not the restaurant industry, meaning we are not a famous 3 Michelin star restaurant that you are wanting to get into.  The only exception to early booking is finding a company that is hosted by one performer, but even then I still don’t feel comfortable putting money out.

13.  How does the company handle emergencies?

Each company is different.  You want to feel secure in booking a company in that they will not leave you high and dry.  I absolutely detest when I hear from people that a company has cancelled on them and has not offered any  help other than a alternative phone number to call.  Please keep in mind that performers do and will fall ill as they are around children often.  If a performer falls ill, the company that you have booked with needs to offer some assistance in finding a replacement and I don’t mean by giving you phone numbers to call.  There have been times that Jennifer and I have been up to the wee hours speaking with local companies on the behalf of our clients.  I also encourage every parent to have an “Emergency Back up Plan”.  If a company cancels and there is no one other company to help out, you will still have a party to get through.

14.  How does the company bill for travel?

Some companies out there are charging hefty travel fees.  How are they calculating costs?    Are they charging for time and mileage?  If so, that can be very expensive.  Also, I would question a company that insists on charging a travel but will not guarantee a performer.  How do you really know where that performer is traveling from.  The character company is a mobile business and we are not booking performers out of a central location, but have performers all throughout the regions.  If a company is going to bill a travel, it’s a fair question to ask what region the performer is traveling from.    Don’t allow a company to bill you for something extra. The Cinderella Company does not bill for time but for mileage and tolls.