Floating a New Business Idea – a Local COVID Success Story January 1, 2021How Melissa Pia Bossola Beese pivoted her business Melissa Pia Bossola BeeseWe all have a COVID pivot story. Waking up one morning in March and suddenly our world changing. But local mompreneur Melissa Pia Bossola Beese will take your pivot story and raise you one. Married to Stefan and mom of Tristan (13) and Finn (9), Melissa is known as the creative force behind Little PNuts Toy Shoppe & Party Boutique in Lakeview. What you may not know is that she is the dynamo behind the phenomenal custom balloon installations decorating houses and businesses across metro-New Orleans. Pivot numbers one and two Business pivoting isn’t new to Melissa. When started in 2012, Little Pnuts was a subscription toy company that shipped eco-friendly, age-specific, developmental toys to a child’s front door on a quarterly basis. Parents marveled at the intuitive choices that arrived in each box, and in 2015 Melissa expanded into a retail shop on Harrison Avenue. That store in turn became a striking custom-built store with unique toys and gifts that moms had come to count on. Too, there was a big party room thoughtfully stocked so that parents could effortlessly host themed parties. The business plan also called for a new use of the party room as an equipped creative arts studio available for daily drop-ins and group reservations...slated to open on March 17, 2020.“Y'all do balloons right?” As a sideline, Melissa was designing balloon baskets at the new shop and also making small decorative garlands for birthday parties. The garlands took on a life of their own when a December 2019 call came from the manager at Justine, looking for festive New Year’s decorations at the restaurant. As a result, more party garland orders followed. When business shutdowns were mandated and the Beeses were shuttering the store (and Stefan’s event planning business), “That day,” says Melissa, tearing up, “we got four installation orders. Someone had seen us doing a porch install and all of a sudden, what had been a small side hustle, the porch garlands took off!” With the creative arts studio scrapped, parties disallowed, and the store closed, the Beeses suddenly found themselves relying on online sales (particularly puzzles and games that families could do together at home) and crazy new line extensions.Thanks to social media and the photos that Melissa and happy clients were posting, starting in March, housebound locals were enthusiastically ordering porch garlands for birthday, anniversary, and graduation celebrations.“And people just wanted bigger and bigger! The first major one was April 27. That one put us on the map, people were driving by and coming over to us, asking for a business card,” laughs Melissa Beese.And don’t forget the baskets! The duo created and delivered baskets for Easter and Halloween, filled with candy and toys geared to a child’s age. Melissa shrieks when asked about the Easter baskets. “They were insanity! That was when we knew we wouldn’t have to shut the doors - they saved us - the balloons and the baskets. We’d had a big dream (the store) and had worked hard to make it flourish, and then POOF! This was a big unknown for us.” “It’s been a blessing in disguise and a struggle...But it’s a struggle for our future.” With the city in Phase Two, the store is open, and hosting up to two birthday parties per day for up to 25 attendees, seated two per 6-foot table; the room sanitized between groups. And the Beeses anticipate the balloon business growing and doing it on a bigger scale, the arches and larger 15-foot garlands more the norm, and installations now on the North Shore. Notes Melissa about the present, “We have no idea where this can go or what it can be. We've been fortunate to have an amazing client base with the community rallying around us, and such great loyalty. I can’t wait to see what’s next!” Little Pnuts Toy Shoppe & Party Boutique| 400 Harrison Ave., New Orleans | 504.267.5083| [email protected]Trevor Wisdom is managing editor of nola family.