Woo-hoo! Party in a box!

Heike Boehnke-Sharp

photo by Larry Dalton

Heike Boehnke-Sharp gets paid to party. No, she’s not a high-class call girl or one of those strippers who jump out of cakes. The German-born Sharp (whose first name is pronounced Hi-Ka) moved to Sacramento with her future husband five years ago to be close to her father and to attend Lincoln Law School. The latter plan was abandoned, however, after her marriage unexpectedly produced the couple’s first child. At first, she and her husband, John, juggled two jobs, coordinating schedules so Justina would not have to be at a babysitter’s house for more than four hours per day. And they were fairly successful, since both jobs allowed flexible hours. But something happened one morning that made Sharp think seriously about pursuing an at-home career. Now, with a successful business of her own, she has opened a local chapter of BizyMoms—a nation-wide organization dedicated to bringing home-based businesswomen together for networking, business planning and companionship.

Describe what made you decide to open a home-based business.

Actually, it was two things. My last job was for a resort and, while I had a flexible schedule, I’d also have to fly to places like Jamaica and, you know, the phone lines would be down and I couldn’t call home to my daughter. That became unacceptable. But then, one day, I was home with Justina and she went to the phone. I asked her what she was doing and she said, “I’m calling my mama.” I said, “I’m right here.” And she said, “No, you’re my mom; I’m calling my mama.” She had two different people in her mind—me, at home, and then this other person on the phone. That was what broke the camel’s back. I called my boss and said [they] had two weeks to find someone to replace me.

Your business, Fantastic Fests!, offers pre-packaged designer theme parties for all occasions. But it’s also part of a direct sales parent company. Is this like Tupperware for the 21st century?

[Laughing] Yeah, I guess it is. Direct sales has gotten a bad rap, because people think, “Oh, God, my friend’s going to corner me.” But unlike other multi-level marketing programs, I don’t have to do demos, I don’t have to recruit people in any way. I’m a manager and have about 45 people under me, but none of us get money for recruiting.

In fact, your business is more about selling a service than it is a product, correct?

Exactly. And that’s why I started the local chapter of BizyMoms—I missed the interaction I used to get from working in an office with others. And I had met so many women online who are Web designers, tax preparers, people who do Web hosting, others who do desktop publishing—but there was no central place we could meet and talk about our businesses. We’re serious businesswomen; this is our livelihood, not some side project, and we need to support each other.

So give us an idea of how much it would cost to throw a party for 20 adults, using this party-in-a-box system?

The theme parties themselves are designed to serve eight—you get cups, plates, utensils, decorations, etc. But then you can add on to that for additional people. You can also add theme-specific games. On average, you’d spend about $30-$60, depending on what you wanted. And, unless you want a customized theme, you can get it delivered within two days.

What’s the most unusual request for a theme party you’ve ever received—and were you able to deliver?

I had a guy from L.A. call for a Medieval beach party so he could propose to his girlfriend. I didn’t have everything he needed, but I was able to hook him up with people down there who did. Because it’s my business, I’d rather help someone by pointing them in the right direction than just tell them “no.”

Say I wanted a Prince-theme party … could you put one together for me? How long would it take?

Yeah, I could do that. It would probably take me up to two weeks, just because I’d have to research what images I could reproduce without getting into copyrighted issues. And I’d come up with things you could do at the party that were related.

What’s the biggest seller right now for kids’ parties?

Definitely Harry Potter.

Finally, what party theme would you just as soon never see again?

[Laughing] Definitely Barbie. Definitely. Unfortunately, I can’t really afford not to offer it.