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走近凯特•米德尔顿:孕育了王妃的家族企业

Grace Wong 2011年04月20日

威廉王子与凯特•米德尔顿的童话罗曼史将在4月29日掀开新的篇章。同样将进入崭新发展阶段的还有这位未来王妃的家族企业。

    凯特的中产阶级父母迈克尔和卡罗尔拥有一家派对用品公司Party Pieces,出售产品从气球、彩旗彩带到蛋糕、五彩纸屑一应俱全。

    二十年来,这家公司凭借孜孜的进取精神已从一家初创小公司成长为如今号称“英国领先的派对用品网络/目录订购公司”的家族企业。

    现在随着皇室婚礼即将举行——凯特和威廉将于4月29日在威斯敏斯特教堂举行婚礼,这家公司的公众知名度急剧提升。

    与皇室建立关联,即刻为这家公司带来了公众信赖感,资深公关人士、Wasabi Publicity的联合创办人米歇尔•坦南特表示。

    “这创造了知名度,促进了销售并建立了信赖感,而小公司面临的最大挑战就是建立信赖感,”她说。

    皇室婚礼极大地增加了Party Pieces网站的浏览量。根据网络数据公司Experian Hitwise为CNNMoney提供的数据,威廉和凯特宣布结婚的当周,英国浏览量激增163%。

    Experian Hitwise的分析师詹姆斯•穆雷预计婚礼前浏览量将一直保持上升,但也许不会再现最初的高峰。

家族事业

    1987年卡罗尔•米德尔顿推出Party Pieces时是一个全职母亲,当时凯特只有5岁。她创办这家公司是因为苦恼于无法为孩子派对找到价格适中的派对礼品袋。

    后来业务发展到一定阶段,麦克也辞去了飞行调度员的工作,帮助打理。随后,Party Pieces从开在后院小屋里的夫妻店,搬到了离伦敦约1小时车程的伯克郡,开始在三栋由农场建筑物改建的空间里办公。

    Party Pieces的成功使得米德尔顿家有能力在富裕的巴柯尔伯里村庄买下了一栋房子,并为将凯特送到英国最昂贵的私人学校提供了可能。房地产网站Zoopla的数据显示,巴柯尔伯里的住宅平均售价为100万美元/套。

    公司规模现已扩大至约30名员工,但它“很大程度上仍是一个家族企业”,卡罗尔•米德尔顿2010年3月接受公司杂志采访时说,“我依然积极参与并乐于搜寻和发展新的派对用品。”

    凯特和她的妹妹皮帕、弟弟詹姆斯都是伴随着这个家族企业一起长大的。“皮帕和凯特都曾担任邮递目录的模特,穿着标注年龄的T恤衫,手拿纸杯蛋糕,”《凯特:平民王妃》(Kate: The Making of a Princess)的作者克劳迪亚•约瑟夫在一封电子邮件中写道。

    从这一点来看,Party Pieces同大多数家族企业相似。“家里的孩子在学生时代为家族企业工作的比例差不多是100%,”Family Business Institute的总裁韦恩•瑞福斯表示,“总有些事情要做的。”

    凯特已从昔日的邮递目录模特成长为公司业务拓展的重要力量。2008年,她带领设立了婴儿派对业务部First Birthdays。据约瑟夫称,她还负责Party Pieces和慈善机构Starlight Children's Foundation的合作工作。(该公司帮助为重症儿童在医院中举办派对,并提供礼品袋。)

    实际上,除了在英国时尚零售商Jigsaw担任过一段时间的兼职采购之外,现年29岁的凯特,其职业生涯完全是在Party Pieces度过的,她在Party Pieces的工作职责还包括设计和制作邮递目录、营销和拍照。

“一个绝好机会”

    随着围绕皇室婚礼的狂热日益高涨,Party Pieces一朝成名。从某种意义上,这是“这个家庭以及家族企业的意外之获,”CNN资深供稿人马克马克•桑德斯说。“现在他们可能是全球最出名的派对策划公司了。”

    目前尚不清楚企业知名度的上升是否提升了销售。由于Party Pieces在英国注册为合伙企业,无需披露财务数据,而且,他们家对媒体的嘴巴严也是出了名的。在本文寻求置评时,Party Pieces表示,公司没有雇员专门处理媒体垂询。

    但不可否认,皇室婚约已令他们获得了从未有过的高知名度,商誉研究公司Echo Research的集团首席执行官桑德拉•麦克劳德指出。“突然之间这家公司出了名,”她补充道,“未来将依赖口碑而生存。”

    但突然被置于聚光灯下也有不好的地方。自从订婚以来,已有英国小报报道称,米德尔顿家通过囤积旗帜、长条旗和其他节日装饰用品等英国主题的街道派对用品,借皇室婚礼发财。

    “媒体关注也可能有害,如果他们被视为是过度谋利或唯利是图,” 麦克劳德说,“他们必须小心,不能站到有品位的对立面。”

    还有一个问题是作为一家企业,如果人们对皇室婚礼的兴趣确实转化为订单增长,他们是否有能力满足市场需求,坦南特表示。

    距离婚礼庆典还有一周多一点时间,公众对它的兴趣——和探究——可能将达到顶峰。但坦南特指出,这种兴趣和探究不会消失,米德尔顿家必须决定如何处理这个她称之为公司的 “一个绝好机会”。

    “对于像他们这样的小企业,尊重皇室和凯特的意愿是第一要务。只有基于此,才能期待长远的妇孺皆知,”她说。

    虽然企业的知名度达到了新高度,但将损失一个关键的员工。Party Pieces一直是凯特生活中的重要部分,但作为一名皇室成员,她未来的关注力预计将主要放在慈善工作上。

    凯特早已离开Party Pieces原先的职位,但目前并非无事一身轻——毕竟,还有一个世纪派对要规划。

    Kate's middle-class parents, Michael and Carole, are the owners of Party Pieces, a party supplies business that sells everything from balloons and bunting to cakes and confetti.

    Thanks to their entrepreneurial spirit, over the last two decades the company has gone from a little start-up to a family firm that today claims to be "the UK's leading online and catalog party company."

    And now with the royal nuptials pending -- Kate and William will marry in Westminster Abbey on April 29 -- the public profile of the venture has surged.

    Having a link to the royal family establishes instant credibility for the firm, said veteran publicist Michelle Tennant, who is also co-founder of Wasabi Publicity.

    "It creates awareness, boosts sales and establishes credibility, and that's the biggest challenge for small businesses -- establishing credibility," she said.

    The royal engagement boosted traffic to the Party Pieces website tremendously, with U.K. visits surging 163% the week William and Kate made the announcement, according to data compiled for CNNMoney by Experian Hitwise.

    James Murray, an analyst at the web metrics firm, expects traffic to keep rising in the run-up to the wedding, although it might not achieve that initial peak again.

A family affair

    Carole Middleton was a stay-at-home-mom when she launched Party Pieces in 1987, when Kate was just 5. She started it out of frustration at not being able to easily find affordable party bag presents for her own children's parties.

    The business grew to the point where Michael quit his job as a flight dispatcher to help run it, and it's evolved from a mom-and-pop outfit run out of a shed in the family's back garden into a venture operated out of three converted farm buildings in Berkshire, about an hour's drive from London.

    The success of Party Pieces has afforded the Middletons a home in the affluent village of Bucklebury, where the average residence is valued at $1 million, according to property site Zoopla, as well as provided the means for them to send Kate to some of the priciest private schools in England.

    The business has grown to about 30 employees, but it's "still very much a family business," Carole Middleton said in an interview with the company magazine in March 2010. "I am still actively involved and love sourcing and developing new party products," she said.

    Kate and her younger siblings, Pippa and James, have grown up alongside the family business. "Both Pippa and Kate used to model for the catalogs, wearing t-shirts with their ages on them and holding cupcakes," Claudia Joseph, author of "Kate: The Making of a Princess," said in an e-mail.

    In that respect, Party Pieces is like most family ventures. "The rate of children working for the family business while students is virtually 100%," said Wayne Rivers, president of the Family Business Institute. "There's always something to do."

    Kate's gone from catalog model to playing a role in expanding the business. In 2008 she spearheaded the launch of First Birthdays, a division that focuses on babies' parties, and according to Joseph, she was also responsible for getting Party Pieces to support the charity Starlight Children's Foundation. (The company helps host parties and provides party bags for seriously ill children in hospitals.)

    In fact, aside from a stint as a part-time buyer at British fashion retailer Jigsaw, the 29-year-old's professional career has consisted solely of her experience at Party Pieces, where her duties have also included designing and producing catalogs, marketing and taking photos.

'A beautiful opportunity'

    With the growing frenzy surrounding the royal wedding, Party Pieces has benefited from instant fame. In some ways, it's been "a bonanza for the family and for the family business," said CNN royal contributor Mark Saunders. "They are probably the most famous party planners in the world."

    It's unclear whether the increased awareness of the firm has boosted sales. Since it's incorporated as a partnership in the U.K., Party Pieces isn't required to disclose its financials, and the family is famously tight-lipped when it comes to speaking to the press. When seeking comment for this article, Party Pieces said it did not employ anyone to handle media requests.

    However, the engagement has undoubtedly given them a huge profile they never would have had before, noted Sandra Macleod, group CEO of Echo Research, a firm that specializes in reputation research. "Suddenly the organization has been put on the map," she said, adding, "it will survive on the oxygen of word of mouth."

    But being thrust in the limelight can also have its drawbacks. Since the engagement, British tabloids have published reports claiming the Middletons are capitalizing on the royal wedding by stocking British-themed street party items, such as flags, streamers and other festive decorations.

    "The media profile can become toxic if they are seen to be overly profiteering or mercenary," Macleod said. "They just need to be careful that they don't step on the wrong side of tastefulness."

    There's also the question of whether, as a business, they'll have the capacity to meet demand if rising interest in the royal wedding does translate into more orders, said Tennant.

    With a little more than two weeks to go before the ceremony, interest -- and scrutiny -- is probably going to be at its highest. But Tennant noted, it isn't going away, and the Middletons will have to decide how to handle what she described as "a beautiful opportunity" for the business.

    "For a small business like theirs, the first priority is to respect the royal family and Kate's wishes. Once they get their wishes met, then they can look and see that in the long term everyone is going to know who they are," she said.

    While the business is gaining newfound recognition, it's also losing a key member of staff. Party Pieces has been a central theme for nearly all of Kate's life, but as a royal, she'll be expected to focus her attention on charity work.

    She's already stepped down from her post at the company but isn't kicking her feet up -- after all, there is a party of the century to plan.

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