Issue 1, 2014. February-March



DJs, catering, and cartoon characters are giving private children's party centers an edge on traditional birthday supras for families in Tbilisi.

Maia Edilashvili

There is scant information on how they started, but the success of privately run birthday and celebration centers for children is easy to spot in Tbilisi.

There are no public reports on the Georgian birthday party center industry to track its success over the past several years. Anecdotal data, however, indicates business is booming.

Take, for example, Zaliko's Center, the birthday center created by Tbilisi's beloved cartoonist Zaal Sulakauri and hosts an average of 10 parties a day on average since the center opened two years ago. "We've had a day off only on January 1," Sulakauri said.

Eugenia Kutateladze, a grandmother of two, founded Disney Party in 2007 on Saburtalo district after she realized that she was not happy with her experiences with various birthday party services in Tbilisi. "I did not like the way they treated my kids, did not like the food and entertainment options, so I came up with an idea to open my own place," she said.

The first two years were hard but she noted that, "this business has been always stable," although she declined to specify any figures.

Catering to children is nothing new in Georgia, but focusing on birthdays - which traditionally have fallen squarely in the family supra category of festivities - is an innovation for the local market.

Nelly Guniava, the owner of Madagaskari center in Dighomi, said the birthday centers allow busy parents the chance to celebrate their children's birthday without all the fuss. The business model, she noted, is very similar to the restaurant industry - which Georgians have embraced over the past decade.

"We cover the same segment. So if parents come to us, they will no longer need to bother themselves with thinking what to cook," she said.

Nino, a mother of two, agrees. Noting her job leaves little free time to organize a birthday, she said opting for a birthday center makes the day "memorable" without spending two days cooking and cleaning the house.

While the business is relatively new in Georgia, its growth in other countries could indicate the potential for growth is high.

From the Canada to the United Kingdom and the United States, birthday party centers are booming despite weak economies - in large part because parents feel the need to splurge when celebrating their children's big day: A 2010 Daily Mail's 2010 article found that "Parents under pressure to splash out at least £500 on children's birthday parties" researched the same challenge facing the parents, while Canada's The Globe and Mail in the 2011 reported "Birthday party market is a recipe for success", concentrated on the business angle. The author argued that while figures on the birthday party industry in Canada were hard to come by, Statistics Canada said there are 5.5 million children 13 and under - "a huge market for special events companies." The article also cited a research released by Lumos, a U.K. children's charity, which "found 40 per cent of the 500 parents interviewed admitted to feeling pressure to organize more extravagant birthday parties."

The Florida Times Union reported about the same trend in the 2011 article "Childrens' birthday parties are big business on the First Coast". Based on the U.S. Security & Exchange Commission report, the story said that Amscan Holdings, which operates the Party City franchise with locations in Jacksonville, reported a net income increase of 32 percent from 2008 to 2009.

Birthdays on a budget - or not

In Georgia, however, prices are significantly lower and most centers provide a menu of options to give parents some discretion on how much they spend per guest. Local prices range from 9 lari to 22 lari for snacks and cake; entertainment programs can set parents back as much as 350 lari depending on the center and if they want actors dressed up as cartoon characters to play with the children during the party, the price goes up.

While birthday center bashes are still a bit of a luxury for the average family, Zaliko's Sulakauri noted "every single mom and dad tries to make their kids as happy as they can because birthdays are celebrated just once a year."

The secret of success he stressed is just like in any other business: you have to keep your customers happy - and every single detail counts with the children and their parents.

"The birthday kids have parents, have guests and if they dislike anything, the news will get spread and destroy your image," he said. "You see children's centers in every street already but only few are truly popular."