HUNTER YOUNG PROFESSIONALS: ANDREA CIOTTI, BY KIAN WEST / by Kian West

ANDREA CIOTTI – HUNTER YOUNG PROFESSIONALS

PALM & PINE PARTY CO.

BY KIAN WEST

YOU’D THINK AN INTROVERT WOULD HIDE AWAY, NOT BECOME A DIRECTOR OF A HIGHLY INFLUENTIAL GROUP LIKE HUNTER YOUNG PROFESSIONALS (HYP) AND OPEN AN AMAZING PARTY SUPPLY SHOP, WOULDN’T YOU? WELL, ANDREA, SELF-DESCRIBED INTROVERT, DID JUST THAT. WE HAD A QUICK CHAT WITH HER ABOUT THE ADVENTURE TO NEWCASTLE FROM FLORIDA.

I sat down with Andrea Ciotti one morning at The Edwards to have a chat about her involvement with HYP, Pinterest and custom balloons, amongst other things…

PALM AND PINE PARTY CO

If you’re at a party, how do you introduce yourself?
Andrea: Oh, geez. I'm surprisingly introverted. Yes, I'm surprisingly introverted and I really would just say my name. I'm really boring that way as well.

But if you get cornered in the kitchen at a house party and someone is like, ‘Tell me a bit about yourself.’ What are your go-to answers? Would you mention the shop?
Yes, I probably would. I don't really know because I haven't been in this situation. Like, I don't even know what a party is, actually.

An informal gathering of sorts, then. Maybe you’re at a HYP event and someone, somehow, pulls you away from other HYP directors...
[Laughs] Gosh, I would probably say I own a little party shop on Parry Street. That's about it, really. I don't know. I'm really boring.

Can you explain a bit about the shop?
Sure. We’re a premium party shop and I import a lot of our products from overseas. There's a lot of other small business, like women-owned businesses as well, that I get our stuff from, and it ranges from tableware to balloons. Confetti balloons are the most popular thing that I do. It's everything to make your party kind of stand out. A lot of people compare it to, like, a Pinterest party so, yeah, something you would find on Pinterest and go, ‘That's what I want,’ and you don't know where to get it done – I’ll make it happen. I get a lot of that. People go, ‘This is my inspiration, can you do it?’ and I'll make it happen. So it's really a very creative space. It's a lot more than just the cups and plates and napkins. There's a lot of creativity that goes into it.

So are there a lot of made-to-order or specifically sourced elements to this?
Yes. So there's a lot of made-to-order. There's a lot of custom [orders]. All the confetti balloons for the most part are custom to match colours for corporate parties, weddings, engagements, birthdays – anything to match a theme. As well as custom banners and bunting – I either cut all of that or source that as well. So, yes, it's a lot of made-to-order in addition to what you might find on the shelves.
 

Do you troll Pinterest a lot yourself?
Yes. I would say before I ever had the shop – gosh, it was like 2012, I had a friend who just said to me one day, ‘If you could get paid to just sit on Pinterest all day, that would be the perfect job for you because your boards are just full of really cool stuff.’ And, yeah, I've always been a really creative person.

I guess the other reason we’re here today is because you’re a director on the Hunter Young Professionals board. So with that in mind, first of all, when did you join HYP?
I attended my first event two years ago in July and then I was on the board. I've been on the board now for a year and a half.

That's a pretty quick turnaround. Like, attend a couple of events and think, ‘I want to do more of this.’
Yeah, so it was a super quick turnaround. I felt like Newcastle was this place that I needed to break into. Being from another country and all of that, I wanted to make Newcastle more of a home and feel comfortable here. I'd always heard that, with Newcastle people, they grew up here and they stay here and all their friends are the same and I was like, ‘I want to shake things up a bit, I'm going to get into this group of people that are a bunch of accountants who went to Newcastle Uni’, and now I'm joining this group and following that path. I was like, I didn't grow up in Newcastle, I didn't go to Newcastle Uni, I don't know who any of you guys are and I'm going to kind of jump in the middle of this and introduce some stuff that I know about. I was in a similar group back in America, so it made that really easy for me to go, ‘I know this group of like-minded people that I'm not a part of’.
 

So where are you from originally?
I'm from Tampa, Florida.

You're introverted but you want to cut through in Newcastle. How have you found the experience of being on the HYP board? Is this the first board you've sat on?
Yes. Oh, I think it's awesome. I'm so glad I've done that and I've become a part of that, because I have seen that change from when I first joined that a lot of the accounting [people], a lot of the same professions, were going to the events.

Do you think the average Novocastrian is starting to open their eyes to the question of, ‘What does being a “professional” mean?’
Oh, I think so, and I think it has to do a lot with the changes that are happening around us. When I first moved to Newcastle three years ago, everything felt very… It did feel very closed off, and it really felt very much like you couldn't be a part of that and you couldn't get into that. Now, I think with the way the whole landscape of Newcastle has changed, it has made people broaden their horizons a bit, kind of open up more, and it's been a welcome change across the board. With the board, but also in our environment. I think everybody has become more receptive to change, and that's just in the three years that I've lived here that I've gone, ‘Wow’. When I first moved to Newcastle I didn't think I wanted to stay here, and now I don't want to be anywhere else.
 

Who is your biggest inspiration?
I don't think I have one. I look up to a few people for a multitude of reasons. They’re all people that are close to me, really. I have people I look up to in the shop world where I'm like, ‘Your store is really cool, I want to do something like that.’ And then I look at my mum, who is the most creative person I've ever met. She is really inspiring and she's going to come and work with me in a few weeks. I'm super excited to have her. And then one of my best friends, I look at like she is a big sister and I follow in her footsteps. She kind of guides me through the world and is just really cool. Yes, so I would say I look up to my family members for different reasons, but I don't look up to a celebrity or an influential person or anything like that.
 

Yes, I know what you mean. Brand names.
I've never been the type of person who does that kind of thing. It's always been people that I'm close to.
 

Are there shops that people would know that you’re like, ‘They’re crushing it’, or is it like, people doing a similar thing to you but somewhere else?
Yes, it's people doing a similar thing to me but somewhere else. In California there are quite a few shops like mine, which is really cool, so I get quite a bit of inspiration from them. There's not many in Australia. It’s not been a lifelong dream of mine to have a store – I have never wanted to be an entrepreneur. I don't even think of myself as one now. I think I'm having a lot of fun and trying to run a business with not a heap of experience doing that. I worked in retail for a week prior to owning my own store where I sold something. It's all new. But I would say, yes, I look up to those stores out there, and when I had the idea for the shop it was one of those stores that I had come across on Instagram and had gone, ‘Wait a minute, this is a brilliant idea – an amazing concept. I’ve been filling my suitcase with party supplies every time I go to visit my family, every year so I can have a party. Why isn't there a store? Why isn't there a place that I can just walk into and get really cool stuff?’ That was how that happened. That wasn't even a year ago that conversation happened – it was last September.
 

It was just meant to be.
Yes. You know when you have this idea and you can't shake it? Like, no matter what, it's all you think about.
 

Yeah, I started a magazine.
Yep, and that's what the store was for me. I couldn't think about anything else other than that. Ben and I had been talking about several other businesses, like, ‘Wouldn't this be cool...?’ Every time we were in America really – ‘This place is cool, this place is cool. Why isn't there somewhere like this?’ We actually always thought that whatever we did would revolve around food, and then it didn't.

We’re halfway through the year. Do you have any goals for 2017? Have you already reached some goals for this year and do you have any for the rest of this year?
Oh, yes, definitely. Financially we've smashed what our expectations were, so that's really good, and that's just been through word of mouth. We hadn't really done much with marketing so that's been amazing for us. Then I have this dream – and I've talked to the guys here at The Edwards, and I've got a few other places in mind – I just want to cover a building in balloons. There are just some amazingly creatively people across the world who are doing these massive balloon installations on the sides of buildings, and they’re just incredible. I have that goal. I have that dream to do the same thing as that.

So that is the big artistic goal.
That is my artistic goal.

When you’re not at the shop, where do you like to hang out in Newcastle?
I spend a lot of time in my backyard. It's my favourite place. I have – had – this little oasis in the heart of Newcastle with these big trees and couches and stuff, it's beautiful. But they chopped all my trees down recently. I'm super bitter about it. My favourite restaurant – I love Barcito. I've never had a bad meal there. The patio reminds me of home and I think that's why I like it so much. It's colourful and pink and with palm trees and all of those Florida vibes. I really like the Tea Project as well.
 

They are pretty great hangouts. So you mentioned that your mum is coming soon. So she will be in town. Where are the spots while she is around that you’re like, ‘Mum, I'm definitely taking you there’?
There's a lot. There are so many. We’re definitely going to Haywire on Darby Street because I know the owner. He's a good friend of mine, so that's my local good coffee spot. Definitely the Tea Project, obviously. Hunter Valley, go up to Port Stephens, Nelson Bay, and then do a tonne of coastal walks – so we’ll walk down Merewether to Glenrock. We’ll walk on Honeysuckle, probably go over to Stockton. Basically we’re just going to go everywhere.

What is your recommendation to people about joining HYP?
Oh, I would just encourage everyone to come to an event. Come to an event and meet people and see if it’s for you, because chances are it's going to be, and in some way, shape or form you’re going to relate to someone, on some topic – even if it's trivia. My very first event with HYP that I went to was a social event, not a professional event. I got to meet people. There was no speaker involved, there was just meeting people, and that was when I was just like, ‘Oh, I can relate to people, then let me go to a speaking event.’ So I would say, no matter what the event is, just go and meet people. You make friends, you make contacts. Whatever your industry, people are going to be there to help you, but then also you get that professional development out of it as well. So I always encourage people to just come to one thing and if you don't like it, you don't like it, but nine times out of ten you will like it.

And as an introvert, how do you suggest people make friends?
Oh my gosh. I think if you can meet even one person – I think the board does a good job at introducing people to other people, especially if it's someone who’s at their first event and they don't know anyone or they’re off on their own, like grabbing them and introducing them to someone else. I think it's been a good thing for me as an introvert, because people don't think that I am one and I am, totally. Like – I have my own closed-off-ness, and I'm very shy in a way until I get to know people – but being on the board has also helped me to step out of that and go, ‘Well, this person doesn't know anyone, let me talk to them,’ and become friends with them and go out for coffee, and now I've got a friend that way. But also now I can introduce you to someone else. So I think the board does a really good job when you don't know someone, helping to form those kinds of friendships.

How incredible is Andrea, right? Pop into her amazing shop on Parry Street opposite The Edwards – Palm & Pine Party Co. If you’re lucky, you might get to meet her gorgeous dog Palmer. Plus, come along to the next HYP event and introduce yourself!