Lilly Perez: We’ll bring the tea party to you!
Five years ago, Lilliana “Lilly” Perez wanted to create a truly special event, and she imagined a tea party. “I didn’t want a traditional tea party, where you have to sit up prim and proper, and you have to keep your back arched,” Perez explains. “I wanted a fun and flowing tea party – a coming together and reconnecting – just enjoying each other’s company with some snacks and a drink.” She was determined to make her vision a reality.
Perez asked all of her friends and scanned the internet, searching for a business or a host who could help her stage the party. “I couldn’t find anything,” she recalls. “The closest person that I could find was in California; I’m in Randolph, Massachusetts, and I couldn’t afford to fly someone across the country.” That became the original spark for The Tea Party Lady. “The light bulb flicked in my head, and I said, ‘I think I might have something here for a business,’ because if I’m thinking about it, there must be other people thinking about it.” When the pandemic hit, she took the leap, launching a tea party service for the Greater Boston community and beyond.
A Tea Party Entertainer
Perez’s description of her company’s service is simple enough: “I go to your home, and I host a tea party.” However, her vision is highly imaginative: “In addition to a beverage – usually pink lemonade or caffeine-free, kids-friendly tea – I provide a themed activity with goodie boxes filled with party favors.” She will cater pastries and other food, as well.
The activities are highly creative. For example, the “Glitz & Glamour” package includes dress-up accessories, light makeup, arts and crafts, a fashion show, and even theme-appropriate music. The “Pamper Me Pretty” is a spa theme that includes a cucumber foot soak, spa music, fluffy white robes, and a special silky robe for the birthday child. Of course, the “Princess” package is popular, in which participants can don princess dresses, wear light makeup, complete art and crafts, play games, and bedazzle their own tiaras to take home. “Overall,” Perez smiles, “I am a party entertainer. More specifically, I’m a tea party entertainer.”
In today’s fast-paced environment, The Tea Party Lady provides more than just entertainment. Perez explains that the participants at a tea party get an opportunity to be truly present, to put down their electronic devices and take a break from their busy lives to enjoy one another in the moment. Cognitive science research supports that people (and especially children) have better autobiographical memory for positive events (Bahrick, 1998; Holland, 2010) with such memories including more sensory detail (Berliner et al., 2003). In addition, memories of unique events are more vivid than memories of the routine events of daily life (Peterson et al., 2015). This research implies that taking some time to share a special, positive event like a tea party can create unique, lasting memories.
It’s Not Just for Children
Perez explains that whimsy isn’t just for the young, but also for the young at heart: “What makes my business unique is that we cater to all ages.” And she does mean all ages: “If there’s a three-year-old, we have little sippy cups – teacups that are plastic – and we also do parties for adults.” The Tea Party Lady travels to the client’s location, handles all of the setup and breakdown, and strives to be flexible. Many party providers will not travel, have strict starting and ending times, and will not accommodate late arrivals or early departures. “I try my best to be as flexible as possible for everyone,” Perez explains. “The best thing a client can say after a party is that everyone had a lot of fun, and it was so easy that they would do it again.”
A Business of Her Own
What inspired Perez to launch her own business was a desire for a more flexible career. “I was working in healthcare, but I always wanted to have a business of my own,” she says. “I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.” When she went on maternity leave with her first child, she realized that she was dreading going back to work and not being able to care for her daughter herself. She would watch entrepreneurs in television interviews or check out their branded cars as she sat in traffic and think about whether she could take that risk: “I saw an interview about someone making thousands of dollars selling air in a can. And I’m worrying about missing my baby, and I thought, ‘I need to do something’.” She wanted to make her own schedule, so she could raise her children herself.
“What if I Succeed?”
Optimism drives Perez’s approach to entrepreneurship.” She relates, “The first thing people ask is always, ‘What if I fail?’ They never really ask themselves, ‘What if I succeed?’ And that is, I think, the scarier question. Because then you’ve got to keep it going!” She makes it a habit to talk to as many people as possible about entrepreneurship, asking them questions even when she thinks they may not be the right person or know the exact answer. “They could surprise you and have that answer, or they could direct you to a person who does.” She believes that talking about your business always helps.
Wearing Many Hats
As the driving force behind The Tea Party Lady, Perez performs many roles: “I am the administrator of the Tea Party Lady. I am the inventory intake person, the secretary, and the janitor. I host the parties; I book the appointments; I contact the clients; I set up the tea party table itself. I put all my hats on.” But, she does not do it alone. She explains that she has a tremendous support network: a wonderful family and assistants who have supported her “from day one.”
“I Love to Shop”
Asked what the challenges are in owning a business, Perez reflects on wrangling with the finances and having to discipline herself every day. But, she also finds joy in the work: “The most fun about being the Tea Party lady is the shopping. I love to shop for all the fun accessories, the little makeups, the goody bags.” She describes herself as a “shopaholic,” but she also loves creating happiness. “It’s amazing watching the kids being themselves and having pure, unadulterated fun. You get into it yourself,” she laughs. “And, even the parents start trying on the boas and the fascinators themselves.” Perez travels with trunks full of costumes and accessories, so there is something for everyone.
Don’t Be Afraid
The advice Perez offers to would-be entrepreneurs is not to overanalyze. “You have a 100% chance of failing if you don’t try. But, you can absolutely succeed, and that feeling of success of creating something from nothing is euphoric.” She is proud of what she has created in The Tea Party Lady: “I look at my inventory, and I look at my emails, and I see the people reaching out, and I read the reviews on my website. I’m so proud that I can create a memorable experience for an affordable price.”
Perez finds the unlimited creativity of running her own show absorbing. She often stays up at night, thinking of ideas for the future. She compares the experience to childbirth: “It’s something that you can’t explain. Your business is your baby; go for it, and don’t be afraid.”
The Tea Party Lady Brand: Reconnect
Perez explains that in building her brand, she wants to focus on helping people to really engage with one another. “To sum it up in one word, I would say ‘reconnect’ – either with your child or your inner self.” She hopes that people experience The Tea Party Lady as a happy and positive business: “When people think about the Tea Party Lady, I want them to think of endless possibilities. I want them to be as creative as they want to be – not only for their kids, but for themselves – to reconnect and creatively spend time with one another.” And, that starts at home: “What inspires me to keep going when things get tough with my business is my two little girls. My oldest is at that point where she understands what mommy does, and sometimes she tells me, ‘I want to be a Tea Party Lady, just like you’.”
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Berliner, L., Hyman, I., Thomas, A., & Fitzgerald, M. (2003). Children’s memory for trauma and positive experiences. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 16, 229-236.
Peterson, C., Baker-Ward, L., & Grovenstein, T. N. (2016). Childhood remembered: Reports of both unique and repeated events. Memory, 24(2), 240-256. DOI: 10.1080/09658211.2014.1001991
Holland, A. C., & Kensinger, E. A. (2010). Emotion and autobiographical memory. Physics of Life Reviews, 7(1), 88-131.