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Jeannie Uyanik On Modern Wedding Planning And Catering To Ambitious Brides

People

Weddings require enough organizing to daunt even the most competent of planners, and many modern day women just don’t have the time to put their everything into wedding prep. With full-time jobs, classes, and other commitments to manage, they’ve got more than a venue, dream dress, and floral arrangement to worry about. This is where professional planners come in, Founder of C&G Weddings, Jeannie Uyanik, being the best of the best.


An elaborate reception at Cipriani 42nd Street by Jeannie Uyanik

Before founding her firm, Uyanik founded true love with her own sweetheart, Alpert Uyanik. She recalls meeting him in Turkey, though a bit of memory mix-up is involved as he thinks they met in Turkey three months earlier than she does. Regardless of when the couple actually first met, their blossoming romance led them to an engagement and the need to plan one of the biggest days of their lives. “I was supposed to be planning my wedding while getting my MBA [in finance], and I didn’t want to do anything,” she admits. “I hadn’t dreamt about my dress or my wedding. I wanted something fun and beautiful and breathtaking, but I didn’t care about anything else.” Uyanik decided to get in touch with three major wedding planners at that time and was left sorely disappointed. Rather than speaking directly to Uyanik about the financial side of wedding planning, they skirted around that topic, saving it for her mother. “What I wanted to say to this women in 1999 when I was sitting in her office was ‘I am here, I have a right to be here, and I have a right to be spoken to’—this isn’t the ‘let the parents plan your wedding’ generation anymore.”

Uyanik’s firm’s name originally was Cap and Gown Weddings, to “reflect women getting graduate degrees,” since Uyanik herself was in the thick of that arduous process when she tied the knot. It has since been shortened to C&G Weddings, but carries the same meaning.

I would say the key to our success is referral. We don’t advertise, we don’t do marketing—it’s all word of mouth, both from vendors and venues to clients.”

The wedding guru, Jeannie Uyanik

Although referral is now C&G’s recipe for success, when they first got off the ground, they had no one to refer them, leaving them with planning pro bono as their sole option. “Starting a wedding business doesn’t require capital,” she explains. “It started out in my apartment, we were all willing to not get paid—I was in finance doing well for a pretty young kid and I had a great job. The opportunity cost was fun for a month or two.” The fun wore off and difficulties emerged, Uyanik turning to Google Adwords to obtain clients for a while. When the client pool was shallow, she did not sit around and wait for opportunities to come knocking on her door, she put in the work. “I went everywhere, I met everyone, I saw every venue there was,” she says. “I spent a year—when bridal magazines like New York Wedding were critical—going through every page, pulling the ads, reading the backs...it was gorilla bridal warfare 101.” Now her company can do 35-85 weddings in a mere year—an extraordinary leap, made possible because of Uyanik’s unyielding determination.

When it comes to acquiring clientele, Uyanik does not take the modern approach of promoting via the social media platforms that have saturated our society. “I don’t have any social media presence,” she reveals. “This morning before 9am I talked to seven clients. I don’t have time to take pictures, but poll any of my forty clients and they’ll tell you I’m always five minutes away.” Uyanik believes a larger firm could effectively utilize social media because they’d have the ability to hire people for that purpose alone, but much of the wedding content posted online seems “superfluous” and “vapid,” which Uyanik does not wish to contribute to.

“A lot of my company and the trajectories we’ve made as a firm are based on how I wanted to be a mom. I don’t know how I did it, I think part of it is that, I can only speak as an entrepreneur in a sense, and when I started out I never really thought of myself as one, the one commonality is that you will not accept failure. You will not accept giving up and there’s always a way to make something work. And also, get over it. People have done harder things.”

As far as the evolution of the wedding industry itself, Uyanik recognizes a few notable changes that occurred over her 20 years in the business, one being financial. In this day and age, weddings are often extravaganzas marked by dollar signs and fancy destinations. “I'm fascinated by the fact that if you look back in the 1950s, 95% of people did not hire a florist,” she says. “The idea of hiring a florist was ridiculous. Most people were putting together weddings that were small and intimate. So this whole wedding industry really didn't get its game on until the 80s and I mean, we're not talking about $100,000 anymore we're talking about hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Uyanik has also noticed a shift back to moms being engaged in the process of wedding planning. “When I was getting married, women were starting to really be busy, and a lot of them had moms who worked,” she says. “20 years later, what I'm seeing is a little bit different. A lot of moms aren't working and their daughters are insanely busy in a very different way. So you're seeing a return to parents being super super involved and I think that's generational. Doing everything and wanting the kids to be happy.”

So how does Uyanik feel about working with not only brides, but with their mothers? She loves it, describing it as a “joy” and a “pleasure.” If they are reasonable and genuinely want her advice, she is happy as a clam to help out.

What gives her an edge is her honesty when it comes to planning the wedding that will be uniquely perfect for a particular bride. She speaks to her clients as she’d want to be spoken to, raising red flags when she sees them instead of turning a blind eye and hoping they don’t regret their decisions the day of. “Sometimes I say things that throw people off,” she admits. “‘I'm not sure this makes sense for you, but…’” With honesty comes trust, Uyanik of the belief that chemistry with her clients is paramount—nearly 20 years of experience has taught her that.

“I had a conversation with the mother of the bride this morning. Who, when she first hired me she said, ‘I've thrown all three of my kids Bar Mitzvahs, I throw parties all the time. I really don't need this, but I have a busy year coming up.’ I love this woman because she trusts me. So even though she has all her own ideas, when I say stop you need to listen to me for a second, she not only listens, she thinks about it. I love her because she's someone who is willing to release control.”

A typical week for Uyanik doesn’t exist, her schedule ever-changing due to her inability to control how many new clients will show interest in her firm. When a sea of prospective clients rushes in to inundate Uyanik, her day(s) get a little more hectic. “[Prospective clients] want to move fast,” she explains. “They want information fast—either they have been just engaged and they're really excited, or they're terrified that they've been engaged for a month and it's too late now.” Uyanik has to move swiftly, as her firm’s policy promises a proposal sent out to prospective clients within 24 business hours of the request. “I started [the policy] when I had zero children and no clients, and that seemed like a great idea...people loved it,” she says. “Now I wish I could take that back, but I'm not going to. It's great because usually if someone's going hire us, they hire us pretty quickly.”

Not everything can be picture perfect. Uyanik remembers when things went sideways because of a catering company hiring a new chef, but luckily crisis was averted thanks to Uyanik. “Frankly, I think that that is a testament to my involvement because I'm playing a very big role in making sure that the expectations are managed,” she notes. “I know exactly what I’m dealing with within 20 minutes of talking to someone. If someone tells me they want it to be really elegant and simple, that tells me 5,000 things.”

Bringing brides the memorable weddings they deserve is not all Uyanik does, she supports her husband in his spontaneous food ventures as well. “My husband was on a walkabout—he’s literally obsessed with the neighborhood—I have never walked about in my life, I don’t have time. I'm hosting Labor Day Monday and he comes in and says, ‘Hey guys, there's a wood-burning oven that's beautiful in a store for rent on 116th.’” Upon first opening the businesses in Harlem, about four years ago, Uyanik and her husband had found themselves in a neighborhood devoid of great pizza—a NY staple. The oven that caught Uyanik’s husband’s eye was like golden treasure, spurring him into suggesting they open up their own pizza place with the help of an experienced executive chef who previously worked at esteemed restaurants such as Nobu. And that’s how Harlem Pizza Co. was born, to be followed by a burger joint called Harlem Burger Co, both satiating customers’ comfort-food cravings.

From planning weddings and running restaurants to raising kids and doling out wedding-planning wisdom with her radio show “The Event Jeannie,” Uyanik has proven herself to be an inimitable woman with a work ethic that should be emulated. If you have a wedding to plan, who you gonna call? C&G Weddings!

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Business

How Postpartum Mesh Underwear Started My Entrepreneurial Journey

"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.


It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.

My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.

Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.

I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.

My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.

Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).

They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).

Fast forward to 2018...

While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.

In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.

As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.

Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.