Betsy Jenkins has been partying for 30 years. Actually, Jenkins helps to create memorable parties through her business, It’s Your Party.
The business offers special event services for corporate, social and private events including music and entertainment. Jenkins and her staff also provide room and table décor from props to centerpieces; indoor and outdoor games and inflatable attractions; team-building programs; tent, table and chair rentals; and custom work. They can create full productions or provide a la carte items such as spinning wheels, money booths, red carpets and photo booths.
Jenkins started the business in January 1986 in a small home office. As her need for more space grew, she relocated to a basement office on Madison’s South Side and worked there for several years. “It was dark and uninviting, but the rent was right,” Jenkins recalled.
The staff consisted of Jenkins and her boyfriend. “We would set up the event, deal the casino, tear down the event and load it back into the basement using an old-fashioned conveyor belt.”
She bought a used van from her uncle, and when they needed more help, Jenkins’ son and several of his high school friends started working for her. Many worked for her until they graduated from college.
The name of the company was inspired by the message of a McDonald’s ad with the tag line “You, you’re the one.” “It seemed important to me to focus on you — the client, hence the name, It’s Your Party. I can’t begin to tell you how many people respond ‘and I’ll cry if I want to,’” in reference to the 1963 Lesley Gore hit “It’s My Party.”
Jenkins, 62, has entertainment in her blood. She earned a communication arts degree from UW-Madison. She was a DJ for WTSO radio, had a show on WORT and was a writer and producer at WMTV (Ch. 15). She was also a publications coordinator for the Wisconsin Division of Tourism. During all of these stints, she sang in bands.
“I decided to merge my talents and started It’s Your Party as an entertainment booking agency including bands and a variety of acts such as caricature artists and magic shows. I expanded from there into more interactive entertainment including game shows and casino nights.”
The business keeps expanding as theme props, décor and rentals have been added. “Rentals have proven to be a very successful addition and include tables, chairs, tents, linens, games and inflatables.
“It’s a good steady revenue source that fills in the gaps,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins added that the day her first Yellow Pages ad came out, she booked her first band. She hung up the phone with her client, called one of her friends who was in a country/western band and they contracted the gig. The rest, as they say, is history.
The first large event Jenkins produced was a company picnic at an Edgerton park. She hired her first caterer and tent company to partner with her. She looks back on the memory as nerve-wracking, but it was a success.
Jenkins built her first props, but now has a variety of in-house creative people who design and produce the murals, props and sets used for theme parties. Replica buildings of New Orleans’ French Quarter, a full Western town, a 15-foot-tall Eiffel Tower and many others are used to set the scene at the theme parties.
“Theme parties are a way for people to get away from their daily lives and enjoy a different experience. It’s fun, it’s creative and it is a wonderful bonding experience that creates lasting memories. We still hear from our clients about how great their past events were. Their guests remember them in a positive way. These kinds of experiences can enhance employee morale and retention, which are great byproducts.”
Tropical, Hollywood/red carpet, sports concepts and holiday themes are among the most popular theme parties. The nautical theme was expanded last year to include a yacht club theme. The superhero theme is very popular and is a great way to honor employees as the superheroes they are, Jenkins said.
The company starts with the basics and adds a twist to make each event special to the client.
The perpetual favorite theme is casino night, as it can be purely entertainment or amped up as part of a greater theme.
The company averages about 200 to 250 events a year, not including rentals. Late November through February is especially busy.
Jenkins shared the company’s schedule for the next 10 days. “We have five theme events — Evening in Paris, Mardi Gras, Night Circus, Hawaiian and Pirate. These are in addition to six casino events, a couple of game shows, a rental of our nine-hole mini-golf course, and assorted linen, table and chair rentals,” she said.
Clients include Fortune 500 companies, associations, private individuals, universities, hospitals, non-profit organizations and many others. Events are held predominantly in the Midwest, but Jenkins says the crew has traveled as far as Idaho, California, Virginia and Texas.
Jenkins acknowledged her dedicated team and how much pride members take in their work.
“Our success is predicated on a long list of hard-working full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, from office staff to set-up and take-down crews to on-site event staff, who have put their time and effort into making our company a success. Their commitment and loyalty is truly the heart and soul of our existence.”
Jenkins offered advice from what she’s learned from 30 years in business.
“Be flexible and keep trying different things. Learn to go with change and be open-minded. If something isn’t working, try something else. The marketplace is in constant flux, you are bombarded by unexpected situations and if you cannot continue to work with it, change with it, you will not survive.”
She also recommends surrounding yourself with as many qualified and interesting people as you can. They become your powerhouse and together you make things happen, she said.
Lastly, “profitability is a challenge but it’s a fun (and sometimes exhausting) challenge. Do your homework. Do your best work. Learn what your clients like. But also, be willing to walk away from something if it does not feel right with your personal integrity or vision.
“Be respectful but be confident in what you know and honestly share your insight and experience. Hopefully, your clients trust you and it becomes a mutual relationship.”