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Three Wedding Planners Dish On Opening Their Own Businesses

Business

As a child, it’s easy to write “firefighter,” “astronaut,” or “wedding planner” in the blank space under, “What I want to be when I grow up.” However, once you start talking college majors, would-be firefighters turn to careers in finance, NASA-dreamers stick to Earth-based professions, and wedding planners exit dreamland and enter reality. The three women we interviewed for this story, however, have not only made careers out of planning weddings, but actually own their own companies. We talked about how they found themselves in the event planning field, and what kinds of challenges and joys they experience on the regular.


Amy Shey Jacobs, Chandelier Events

Eleven years ago, after serving as director of public relations and events for The Knot (now XO Group, Inc.), Amy Shey Jacobs launched Chandelier Events. The NYC-based boutique company specializes in luxury weddings and events, including charity events, milestone events, bar and bat mitzvahs, launches, and brand experiences. The amount charged per event or wedding depends on what’s requested from the client, and the company plans roughly 50 events a year.

How did you find yourself in this field?

While I was at The Knot, I planned and produced weddings and wedding trend segments of all shapes and sizes. That included live events and many notable nuptials, including NBCs TODAY Ties The Knot wedding series, ABC’s The View Fantasy Wedding Series (where we married off each of the hosts including Barbara Walters to Mayor Bloomberg), and yes, the holy grail, Oprah. When I had my first baby, who was born weighing three pounds, I was fortunate enough to work out a special consultancy with XO Group, Inc. to create my own schedule. When my media contacts found out I was free agent, the projects started to roll in. They knew I knew everyone in weddings, how to produce a live event, how to balance a budget, and how to work with celebrities. One wedding led to another wedding led to another. One day, I got the call to plan a celebrity wedding, which entailed a feature in People Magazine, and decided to call my business “Chandelier.”

What does your team look like?

Day to day, Chandelier Events varies in its scope and size. I am the CEO/Creative Director/CMO/Lead Planner and Designer. My husband, Andrew, joined us full-time two years ago as COO/Chief of Getting Shit Done. I say that jokingly, but his legal and business background has become an incredible asset to our firm. We also have assistant planners and production freelancers who work with us depending on our events’ demands. Typically, our team rolls with four to 10 people for a wedding or private event. I consider every wedding a ‘Pop up’ company, and the professionals we tap to produce the elements of the event become extensions of our company during that time. For instance, at a wedding we planned last year at The New York Public Library where we had 184 guests in attendance, my staff list inclusive of everyone working at that wedding was 122 people long!

What is it about wedding and event planning you find so rewarding?

‘Creating something from nothing’ is what fuels me. Planning, designing, and producing weddings gives me a creative outlet for my artistic passions, and the idea that anything is possible with the right talented pros to make it happen. I look at the Super Bowl halftime show and say, ‘I can do that!’ So personally, the work is very rewarding. I also love working with people. With weddings, you are meeting a couple in the most joyous time of their life, and coming into a couple and a family’s life during the window of optimism and joy is truly special.

What are some challenges you experience that outsiders may not fully appreciate?

Events have a life of their own. You can plan, plan, plan, and check off every box, and inevitably there is always something that we either didn’t expect, didn’t show up, came in wrong, or life just happens. Yes, Grandmas do pass out at cocktail hour, tents do leak water, and snow falls. So if you go in with that knowledge and you prepare as much as possible, you get through it. You also need to deal with difficult conversations and decisions with clients (often where budgets or logistics or family drama are concerned) and as a professional, it’s important to learn where and when you are emotionally involved because it can take a toll on a person. Additionally, this is definitely not a nine to five job. It’s often a seven-days-a-week, wake-up-’til-you go-to-bed kind of job, so you need the stamina and energy to maintain your attention to detail even when you’re exhausted.

Amy Shea, CEO Chandelier Events

What does your ideal future look like, career-wise?

I look at the second decade of Chandelier, and third decade of my career life, as the legacy stage. We’ve learned, we’ve built, and now what are we doing with this thing we’ve created? I’d really love to grow Chandelier as a brand and as an expert and as a designer. I love the idea of becoming a household name that lives outside of weddings. Is it a book? Yes! I’ve got one I want to write. Is it a product line? Yes! I keep thinking that we’d make a great champagne for all of life’s celebrations. Is it more TV? Yes! TV is my first love. And where we’re going to produce events, too? Chandelier has produced events all over, but we are ready to expand. In 10 years, I’d love to be producing events all over the world!

Brett Galley, Hollywood Pop Gallery

Hollywood Pop Gallery was founded 20 years ago by Brett Galley’s mother, who happens to be acclaimed artist Joyce Galley. It’s since expanded to a six-person team the serves New York City, Greenwich, Conn., and London. Their clientele roster is expansive and impressive, and includes the likes of Diana Ross, Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert DeNiro, the New York Yankees, and MoMA. They charge on a percentage basis based on an event’s overall scope and budget, which ranges from 12% to 20%.

How did you find yourself in this field?

My Mother, who is an artist, decided to open an art gallery that featured 3D art. People thought it was clever and unique, and I helped her on the side while I was in art school studying to become an art dealer. People were begging to rent this unique space for their parties, so we eventually allowed them to do that. The clientele used to bring in their own decor, designers, and entertainment, and I said, "We can do that!" It snow-balled from there. After putting the most talented people in place, including an art director who started out as the lead window designer at Bergdorf Goodman and a British wedding planner who had moved to the states after she married an American.

What is it about wedding and event planning you find so rewarding?

Well it certainly carries a lot of stress and responsibility, but for a client to put their trust in you and your team – and trust that you will help to facilitate and enhance one of the most important days of their lives – makes it all worthwhile. Personally, I love new beginnings, and to me a wedding is all about moving forward in a positive, exciting way.

What are some challenges you experience that outsiders may not fully appreciate?

I could write a book filled with chapter after chapter of challenges. The bride and groom and their families are understandably nervous, but it is the client that communicates their style and expectations and then lets go, that typically enjoys the experience more.

Kim Sayatovic, Belladeux Event Design

New Orleans-based Kim Sayatovic began planning weddings and events on a professional level five years ago when she founded Belladeux Event Design. Belladeux is a three-person team that consists of herself, a full-time event director, and a secondary designer that’s contracted for special projects. Sayatovic plans between four and six weddings so that each client gets her undivided attention, and prices vary depending on scope and size.

How did you find yourself in this field?

Before I was a professional planner, I was always the go-to friend to throw parties and events, and I volunteered with large events often and really loved the planning process. After spending a decade working as an industrial property manager, I went back to college in my 30’s to study public relations. While there, I discovered that the part of PR I liked the most was the actual events. I eventually went into business with a partner and fell absolutely in love with weddings, so when we split and I re-launched on my own, I chose to focus more on weddings.

What is it about wedding and event planning you find so rewarding?

I am an artist at heart. I love creating things from nothing, and I absolutely live to see crazy dreams turn into realty. I have a minor in photography and another in geology, and being able to utilize my love of the natural world in visual form makes me extremely happy.

What are some challenges you experience that outsiders may not fully appreciate?

Kim Sayatovic, Belladeux

Exhaustion. Many times, a client doesn’t realize how many hours we put in to the planning even before the actual event day. Also, on the day of, we are on site for up to 15 hours doing set-up, managing the actual event, and doing break down. Recently, in fact, I was on site with an event for 18 hours. The client was so happy at the end of the night that she just wanted to keep chatting while I stood there smiling and trying not to fall over. It’s worth it in the end, but it can get physically and mentally tiring.

What does your ideal future look like, career-wise?

My long-term plan is to open an event venue, which will allow me to focus on just a few weddings a year while still being involved with celebrations. I also love the design aspect of my job the most, and I would like to be able to focus on bigger projects.

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.