ABC Business of Brides 2013

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the Association of Bridal Consultants‘ annual conference, Business of Brides. It’s one of the highlights of my year to see friends from around the world, and learn and grow with them.

Association of Bridal Consultants Business of Brides Conference

I got to spend time with wedding planners from Latin America, Canada, Japan, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and the list goes on and on. But even better was getting to spend four days with my direct competition. You read right, there were four wedding planners from Jacksonville attending the conference. And not only did I share a hotel room with one, I spent a total of eight hours in the car round trip with them.

I’m very proud that our town has such a great wedding community. While we are competitors, I see these wonderful ladies as allies. In fact, one of them, Tanya Hendricks of Southern Charm Events, and I did a presentation together. It was called “Playing Nice: Cultivating Alliances Not Animosity,” and focused on building relationships while focusing on your own business instead of worrying what everyone else is doing. It was a huge hit, and I met some terrific ladies that came up to share stories after the session.

I also got to spend time with Monica Bernhardt of To-Doers Event Planning, and my fellow Master Bridal Consultant Lisa Burnett of Elegant Weddings By Lisa. While we see each other at local networking events, we don’t often get to spend that much time together, and it’s always great getting to know these ladies a little bit better.

The conference theme, Palm Beach Chic, was inspired by Lilly Pulitzer, so lots of bright colors greeted us at each breakfast, lunch, and break. With the exception of one – The White Party, a welcome reception where everyone donned their white resort casual wear for a great cocktail party. The bar from Just Bars was an amazing focal point – I can wait to use one of these at an upcoming event!

just bars

And the speakers – wow! Matthew Robbins of Matthew Robbins Design was our design speaker. As a contributing editor for Martha Stewart Weddings, he had lots of great insight on finding inspiration for an event theme. Plus he shared photos from his own wedding!

We also heard from Susan Southerland, who we are happy to have as a top-notch Florida wedding planner – she owns Just Marry! in Orlando. She is a phenomenal speaker, and all-around great person.

And lastly, we were reminded of our brilliance (his word, not mine) by Simon T. Bailey. If you haven’t read his books, go buy them now. I’ll wait. I think that all of us in that room have made changes (some significant) that will affect our lives forever. If you ever have the chance to hear Simon speak, don’t hesitate.

But in addition to these fabulous keynote addresses, there were over 25 amazing breakout sessions. I attended “Modern Jewish Weddings,” and “Are You Ready for the Storm? Disaster Preparedness for Wedding Professionals,” both of which gave me great information to bring back to our team.

I can’t say enough about how great it is to be in a room of 300+ wedding professionals from around the world. Every year, I come back energized and renewed, and ready to tackle the year ahead. If you are a wedding planner and aren’t an ABC member, or you are a member that doesn’t attend conference – call me! I’d love to share more about the experience.


The 10+ Year Club: A Fantasy In Flowers

Welcome to the next installment in our blog series, spotlighting local wedding companies that have been in business for 10 or more years! Today we feature florist Susan Kass of A Fantasy In Flowers:

Susan Kass A Fantasy In FlowersWhat year did you start your business?

I purchased a Fantasy in Flowers in 2003. It was an existing business with a storefront located in Mandarin. My previous experience had been in hotel sales and catering. I also managed a showroom for a clothing rep in the Miami merchandise mart for 6 years when my daughter was young. This gave me insight into the wholesale and buying end of business. It seemed like it would be a great match for buying a florist. I was naive…

What was your motivation? 

We had moved to Jacksonville in 2001 and my daughter was getting ready to start high school. I thought going back to work would be a good idea. I just had no idea how much work I would be getting myself into!!

How has your business changed over the years?

There have been so many changes to my business in 10 years it is difficult to count. I started out with one retail location and 2 years later bought a second location on Park Street ( Catanese Florist). When the economy was strong I employed 7 people full-time and we concentrated on corporate events and daily deliveries. The recession came and the corporate market went dormant so we moved our emphasis to the wedding world and never looked back. 2 1/2 years ago we moved to our wonderful new design studio on County Road 210. We now have 2 designers and a part time driver/set up guy and we are busy and happy but only occasionally stressed. Last year we provided flowers and décor for almost 90 weddings. We have 72 reviews on wedding wire and a 4.9 out of 5 rating, so I guess we are doing things right!!

A Fantasy In Flowers, Jacksonville FL

Looking back, what do you wish you had done differently? 

Looking back I would never have expanded as much as I did, however everything has been a learning process. I have made every mistake in the book. I just try to not make the same mistake twice. The one real change I would make is to have never gotten involved with any of the wire services ( FTD, TELEFLORA etc.). On-line ordering is a big scam and it costs reputable florists hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, as well as delivering an inferior product to the consumer.

What are you most proud of? 

I am proud of many things, but mostly of my loyal and talented staff. They are the heart of my business and have stayed with me through thick and thin. I couldn’t do it without them…literally!!

Why do you think your business has made it while so many other small businesses fail in the first five years? 

Our business has made it due to changing with the economy and the trends. We also have a core group of very loyal local clients who have stuck with us. The positive reviews and word of mouth from our brides has also been invaluable. We always try to go the extra mile and it seems that we are appreciated for that.

A Fantasy In Flowers St Augustine FLWhat advice do you have for a business just starting out in your industry?

Starting a business today in the wedding industry is incredibly tough. Do not sell yourself short and please charge the appropriate amount for your services. Do not undercut the existing companies in the industry. This will make other vendors unwilling to promote you. You must have a strong vendor network and you must be patient. It takes a long time to build a good reputation and good relationships. Attend networking events and get to know others in your industry. That will pay off big!!

Do you have a most memorable wedding or funny story you’d like to share?

Most memorable wedding story…Just when I think I’ve seen it all something new and amazing happens for the first time. That’s what keeps this business interesting!!!

Happy Birthday To Us!


On November 8, 2002, I filed the official paperwork creating First Coast Weddings and Events. Whew. I actually had to call the IRS and talk to a real person to get a taxpayer ID number, because they didn’t have a way to do it online back then. My, how things have changed!

And talk about changes… sometimes I look back at a file that has my original logo on it. What was I thinking?! And my first website – you don’t even want to know what that looked like! It had a marble background, very corporatey looking. Not me at all! I’m so thankful that I learned early on that I needed to be myself, and that I would attract clients that are like me. I am still amazed that I managed to book any clients with that original website – but I did.

As I was typing this, I decided to actually show you that hideous old logo. And it took quite a while to find!

original FCWE logo

It wasn’t on the two external hard drives I normally use for backup/old files. It wasn’t on any flash drives. Guess what I finally had to dig out to find it? Yep, one of these bad boys:


The Iomega Zip 100mb. The precursor to flash drives. Now 90% of my files live in the cloud, not even on a physical drive. Mind. Blown.

Well, enough of this stroll down memory lane. I’m happy to announce that our current logo got a little tweak. Not a huge change, but I hope you like it!

First Coast Weddings and Events logo

I changed the pineapple a little bit and updated the font on the bottom line. I’ve wrestled with this for a long time – I even hired a designer to create a completely new logo last year. But I could never bring myself to start using it, even though I loved it. So I’ve been playing around with it for about a year now, and I think I’m finally happy! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

And here’s some other cool stuff that’s happened this year – Lauren got married, moved back to Jacksonville, and rejoined our team! Emma give birth to her second child, a sweet little girl that we all adore! And just last weekend, Kari got engaged! So it’s been a pretty spectacular year for our team. We can’t wait to see what the next year holds.

First Coast Weddings 2013 Year In Review

The 10+ Year Club: Y? Entertainment

Welcome to the next installment in our blog series, spotlighting local wedding companies that have been in business for 10 or more years! Today we feature DJ David Hanscom, of Y? Entertainment Event Services.

David Hanscom, Y? Entertainment Event ServicesWhat year did you start your business?

We first started Y? Entertainment, Inc. in 1998 and then converted it over to First Coast Events, Inc. in 2008

What was your motivation? 

All throughout high school I played every sport I could.  Basically, if there was a uniform to be worn, I played the sport.  An unfortunate turn of events found me having reconstructive surgery on both of my ankles before I graduated.  This caused me to focus on the other things I enjoyed in life.  I was always the class clown and loved music so someone suggested me working at the local Radio & TV broadcasting station.  I immediately fell in love with the radio side of it!!! While there, I learned quickly about music programming and the art of DJing.  My first “DJ gig” was my high school Jr/Sr prom.  Yes I admit, instead of attending with a date I offered to DJ.  As a matter of fact, I liked it so much I did it again in my Senior year.  I continued working in radio fro several years after graduating high school but didn’t really get into “mobile DJing” until 1997.  It was that year I met a guy by the name of Geoff, who was a local DJ that frequented the CD Warehouse store I was working at and he introduced me to the world of mobile DJing.   I trained with several companies over the next year and then went out on my own in 1998 and have not looked back since.

Y EntertainmentHow has your business changed over the years?

One of the biggest changes, like in many wedding related segments, technology has evolved very quickly.  When I started it was just transitioning from using records and into cassettes,  Boy let me tell you how fun it was to DJ using 6 cassette decks at one time and keeping track of which one was your next song, etc. LOL  From there we transitioned into CDs and eventually into digital media.  Each advancement has provided us the ability to be more “in the moment” with our events.  What I mean by that is that we were able to cut down on the time spent sifting and sorting through music and have more time to focus on what is going on around us.  We are now able to catch those brief moments in time where something happens and it may be that one thing that shows the uniqueness of your client.  Along with those advancements also came a “size reduction”.  Manufacturers continue to find ways to make thing better AND smaller.  I personally like this for two reasons.  One, obviously the wear and tear on your body when you (personally) do over 100 events a year loves it anytime equipment is smaller and lighter.  Two, I don’t like for our equipment to be a distraction.  It is always nicer when our equipment  can be sleek, professionally presented and not something the photographer wants to Photoshop out of their client’s photos after the fact.  Some personal changes for our company have been actually a reduction in DJs working with us,  At first we wanted to have as many DJs as we could possibly have.  It became very evident, very quickly that quantity isn’t always better than quality.  We built our reputation on consistency.  Some might not call us “the best” or “the most/least expensive” but when can be said about our staff is consistency, each one is trained in the same fashion and have the same level of professionalism expected of them.  Of course each one has his/her own personality but the foundation is consistent among each staff member.

Looking back, what do you wish you had done differently? 

This is a tough one.  I thought a lot before answering and truthfully I am not sure I would want to do anything differently.  I have been very happy with what we have done each step of the way.  We have done our best to be on top of the trends in the industry, the best equipment and anything else that can help us provide a top of the line service to our clients.

What are you most proud of? 

I am most proud of the length of time we have been able to continue to provide a high level of service to our clients in the community. I am proud that the DJs on our staff have been willing to continue to grow in their craft and not remain stagnant and just treat it like a part time business.  I am proud that my hard work and dedication to being the best we can possibly be in the industry has been reflected in the numerous awards we win as a team annually and the many opportunities I have had to DJ for high profile events all over the country.

Why do you think your business has made it while so many other small businesses fail in the first five years? 

My guess would be our ability to evaluate the market and know where we wanted to be viewed in that market.  Sure our pricing, like for many others, has been adjusted through the down economy multiple times, we as a staff agreed that we would not compromise “quality of service” even though we were sometimes only able to charge half of what we did before the economy crash.  I also feel that the consistency I talked about above is a key component to our longevity.    The wedding industry is a small, tight knit community and it is important to other vendors to typically know what their client can expect when they refer our services.  It also provides them the confidence to know “what they will get” when they work with someone from our staff during an event.

What advice do you have for a business just starting out in your industry?Y Entertainment-4

I would first give advice to the individual about their “performance” and then advice about their “business”.  From the standpoint of performance, my number one piece of advice is that the service you provide is really just one more piece of the whole puzzle of vendors that make up an event.  Some say, “A DJ can make or break an event” and to some extent I would agree with that BUT it does not give you permission to think you are “more important” than the event.  A mentor of mine in this industry always reminds me, “Don’t believe your own press clippings” and I for sure echo his sentiments.  So many people see the glitz and glamour of being a DJ and in some cases allow it to consume them.  You can be the most talented person at your craft but if people can’t stand to be around you it is all for nothing.  Bottom line, be humble, be appreciative that you have an opportunity to work in such a “fun” industry and always strive to be a team player.

From the standpoint of business, my most important piece of advice is if you are going to call you a “Professional” DJ (or any other part of the event industry) understand that “Professional” is not defined by “what” or “how” you do things.  Professional is defined by “what one does as their MAIN source of income”.  The average national salary for a “professional” anything is around $40,000 a year.  A simple mathematical equation to understand this point is to take the average amount of money you charge per event and multiply it by the average number of events you can personally do (should not be any greater than 50 – 60 when you are first starting).  Where many people make the mistake is they say, “Well, I took your equation, plugged in my numbers and came up with $45,000.  I am $5,000 ahead of the game!”  While at initial observation this would “make sense” but what has been forgotten is all the expenses necessary to run your business (i.e., equipment, legal music, license, insurance, marketing, advertising, vehicle maintenance, gas to travel to and from events, computer & software to manage events, phone line for your company, website, etc.).  All of that BEFORE you can even consider paying yourself a salary.  You can easily see where your $45,000 (in the above example) can be depleted very quickly.  There is nothing wrong with working this industry “part time”, there are many great DJs who do, but if you are going to tout that you are a “professional” then NONE of the expenses mentioned above should be ignored because they “cost too much” nor should you be “making”, meaning bringing home personally not charging and bringing into your “business” any less than a respectable salary based on the national averages.  If you are not able to do this, it is usually based on what you are charging for your services.  The amount of events you can do is typically only affected by adding more DJs to your staff or as your reputation grows in a positive way which should lead to more opportunities.

Therefore, you must address this in your pricing.  You are not doing yourself or even worse the “industry” a favor by charging far less than other businesses in your area because you think it will get you more business.  Instead what you do is reduce the perceived value of DJs.  That affects everyone who is working hard to maintain a true “professional” status.  I understand, mainly because I was there myself once, that the common thought is that when you first start out you cannot charge as much as someone who has more experience in the industry or with a specific type of event.  This may be true BUT don’t then fall prey to using the “I can offer the same thing they do for a cheaper price” tactic because if you really believed you could, you would be charging the same rate.  Pay your dues, work hard, don’t try to be someone you are not yet and when you have the proper experience and confidence to “Go Pro” then do so. Continuing Education is the key.  I have been in the business myself well over 20 years and I never stop learning how to be better.  Never fool yourself into thinking you “know it all”.  When (if) you get to that point, it is probably a good time to either take a self re-evaluation or look for a new career.

Do you have a most memorable wedding or funny story you’d like to share?

As I am sitting here typing this there is a tornado and flash flood warning for our area and I couldn’t help but think about the wedding I titled “The couple that couldn’t wait…In the rainstorm”.  It was probably about 8 – 10 years ago and the wedding was at the library in Fernandina Beach, FL.  They have a room for functions in the top floor of the library.  Upon arrival it was already raining pretty steady and I remember being concerned because the parking lot actually slanted down from the main street to the entrance into the library.  At that point the water was draining pretty well.  So, the wedding reception started off like any other typically does with a cocktail hour.  I was setup next to a window so occasionally I’d peek outside to evaluate the weather.  The rain continued and at many times became much stronger.  Then the “untypical” began.  A cocktail hour usually lasts that long, an hour.  However, we were close to two hours into the event and still no site or word from the Bride and Groom.  The wedding party had already arrived, the parents were in the room and even the photographers had finished their photos.

The longer the time went on the more I ran out of “excuses” why they hadn’t arrived yet.  It actually got to the point 3 hours in that the caterers decided to let people start eating to prevent the food from going bad.   Finally about 3 1/2 hours into the event the Bride & Groom arrive, no dress, no tux…just regular clothes.  As you can imagine by the title, they decided to make a stop at their hotel to “consummate the marriage” before coming to reception.  I guess they figured the reception was for the guests anyway so no need to rush LOL   The icing on the cake was after the event as I went to load up my truck, as expected the water level rose to just below my bumper of my truck and I ended up having to roll up my suit pants to my waist basically (which still didn’t really keep them dry) and carry all of my equipment down and load it barefoot.  All and all it was a pretty interesting evening and more than a few laughs and memories still linger long after my suit dried.

Y Entertainment-29

The 10+ Year Club: Christy Whitehead Photography

Welcome to the next installment in our blog series, spotlighting local wedding companies that have been in business for 10 or more years! Today we feature photographer Christy Whitehead, of Christy Whitehead Photography.

Ortiz Eidson April 7 12 -453 LR CWWhat year did you start your business?

Around 2000.

What was your motivation?

I’ve always been a creative person. I LOVE doing crafts. I was working as a journalist and an editor told me to take some photography classes. I LOVED the dark room and the creative aspects of photography. People started asking me to do photography for their families and weddings and now I don’t do much of any news work.

How has your business changed over the years?

Everything is constantly changing. I’m always trying to learn and better my technique and learn new things. Equipment is always changing from film to digital, etc. I’ve learned how to be a better business person and am always trying to keep on top of everything. Right now, I’m moving my studio from a 750 SF building to 2400 SF with a huge shooting space, conference room, sales room and tons of kid friendly areas.

Looking back, what do you wish you had done differently?

Probably gotten more training sooner. Overall, I try not to dwell on the past and just try to look forward and set goals for myself.

Morris Wedding May 2013-128 LR CWWhat are you most proud of?

Most of my business comes from word of mouth, so that means a lot. I get a lot of people who email me wanting photography advice and such or send nice comments and that is very flattering.

Why do you think your business has made it while so many other small businesses fail in the first five years?

Being a business owner is hard. I’m married and have a child. I don’t know that I could do this without my husband working also. But that being said, I’ve also asked for help when I can’t do it all. I’m not playing mommy 24/7 and answering calls, I have people who help me with child care or running errands when I need it so I can focus on my business. But being a photographer, I also work a lot of weekends, so I do take off during the week to spend with my daughter. I love the flexibility. But I’ve set standards and expectations, because my business is important to me.

What advice do you have for a business just starting out in your industry?Boyd Wedding 11 13 11 173 LR CW

In this industry, there is a lot of negative talk about “momtographers” the moms who pick up the camera and start selling their service and they don’t know how to shoot manually. I was at a Professional Photographer Association get together and someone said that what separates a momtographer are the people who WANT to learn. If you want to be taken seriously, LEARN your craft. Ask for help. Pay for classes, pick up a book. I’d say, also, to value yourself. I had a photographer ask me to lunch the other day and she said they were working all the time and didn’t have time for their 3 kids. I told her to double her prices. She might lose half her clients, but she’d still bring in the same income. Two months later she told me that was the best advice she had ever gotten and they were now getting clients who actually valued their work and were still booking like crazy.

Do you have a most memorable wedding or funny story you’d like to share?

Not that I can think of off hand. I haven’t had any bridezillas, thankfully! I do a lot of ring photos on props and we once tried to photograph the rings on a chocolate mustache. It was the middle of the summer and the ring was melting into the chocolate, it was one huge mess, lol.

Alexander Zombie Engagement 2013-267 LR CW

Martin Wedding 6 15 5-187 LR CW