10+ Year Club

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!!!

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.

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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

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The 10+ Year Club: Wehner Weddings

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 ceremony musician Kyle Wehner, of Wehner Weddings.

Kyle Wehner, Wehner Weddings Ceremony MusiciansWhat year did you start your business?
2000

What was your motivation? 

I have a degree in viola performance and wanted to supplement my income while doing something that I love.

How has your business changed over the years? 

My business has gone from just being me performing solo at a few weddings each month to having over 50 musicians and numerous ensembles working within Wehner Weddings, LLC and providing music to over 250 weddings per year.

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

I did not use a formal contract system in the first few years of business when I was playing solo. After getting burned on a non payment, I created a formal contract and have not had any problems since. My clients feel more secure with a formal contract on hand as well.

wehner3What are you most proud of? 

I most proud of all of my musicians being experienced, full time professionals with degrees in their instrument. I do not use students or hobbyists in my company.

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

I think that your product is what sells your business along with the way you communicate to and with your clients. Simply stated, if you provide  a consistent, quality product and communicate with your costumers, they will spread the word to others and that is better than any print advertising you could buy. I maintain a quality product by using only professional musicians. I also never turn down an opportunity to work. If I am not personally available, I always have a professional within my company who is available and I still oversee all of the details. My website sound samples have also proven to be a great tool, as many of my wedding clients do not live locally and can still sample my music online before signing a contract with my company. As we all know, having a network of other professionals you trust is also key. That being said, a huge part of my business comes to me in thanks to the coordinators and venues who have worked with me and know my product.

wehner4

What advice do you have for a business just starting out in your industry? 

Really get to know your market and client base before starting your business. How many businesses like yours already exist in the area and how many potential customers are in need of the service that you provide? What makes you different than your competitors?

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

My most memorable wedding happened on April 9, 2002. I was hired to play solo violin for a beach wedding in St. Augustine. The ceremony was set to start at 2:30AM…Yes in the middle of the night, because 2:30AM on the beach was the first time he ever said “I love you” to her. I arrived 30 minutes early, ready to provide prelude music for guests, but there were no guests at this wedding. Only me on the violin, the officiant, photographer and bride and groom. Instead, the bride handed me a bag of tea candles and asked me to arrange them in the shape of a heart on the beach. Keep in mind, it was not a full moon and there was no other light source anywhere near this part of the beach. Also, it was so windy that the tiny candles were covered by sand before they could even be arranged properly or have a chance to be lit. After that, the bride asked if she could borrow my gold pocket watch, as she did not have “something borrowed” for her wedding yet. I gave it to her and she promply dropped it down the front of her dress for safe storage. She also asked me to escort her down the aisle (a long boardwalk with stairs up and down leading to the beach) while playing the theme from Titanic as her processional…I relunctlantly agreed. When 2:30AM rolled around, the groom appeared out of the B&B, handed a 35 page prenuptual agreement to the bride and said we can get on with the ceremony as soon as she reads over the agreement and signs. This process took 30 minutes, so the wedding did not start until after 3AM. I did walk the bride down the aisle without issue (thank goodness I had all of my music memorized because it was too dark to see!). You could not see anything on the beach during the ceremony. You could just hear the officiant speaking and every 10 seconds or so, you would see a bright flash from the camera and your eyes would go numb. The wedding itself only took about 10 minutes, but it was very interesting. The bride retrieved and returned my pocket watch after the ceremony 🙂

wehner2

The 10+ Year Club: First Coast Weddings and Events

We’re excited to be starting a new blog series! Over the next several weeks, we’ll be spotlighting local wedding companies that have been in business for 10 or more years. And naturally, we’ll start with ourselves! Here are the questions we’ll be asking other wedding professionals, and our answers as given by our owner, Heather Canada.

What year did you start your business? 2002

What was your motivation? I had worked in theme parks, country clubs, and hotels for several years after college. I knew in college I wanted to be an event planner, but I saw myself working for a corporation planning their shareholder events, training seminars, and trade shows. Working in catering, I began doing weddings and eventually fell in love with the variety and personalization that weddings offered. I wanted a chance to work more closely with my brides and grooms than I was able to in a club or hotel setting, so First Coast Weddings was born!

How has your business changed over the years? My initial vision was to do a mix of corporate events and weddings – but over the years, I have focused our marketing and attention solely on weddings. We’ll do the occasional corporate dinner or social event, but it’s usually a spin-off from someone who knows us from the wedding world! We have also grown in size – I started with one assistant coordinator, and now our team includes six planners/coordinators.

Looking back, what do you wish you had done differently? Of course, there are always decisions that you’d like to change – but overall, I’m very happy with where we are today!

What are you most proud of? I’m most proud of earning my Master Bridal Consultant designation in 2012, and I’m also proud to provide educational opportunities and apprenticeships to members of the Association of Bridal Consultants.

Why do you think your business has made it while so many other small businesses fail in the first five years? For wedding planners, there are really no barriers to entry to this industry. It’s easy for someone to have fun planning their own wedding, and think they can do it as a career. It’s much harder to take someone else’s vision and make it a reality – and then multiply that by 15 or 20 brides at once! I think that we provide excellent service to our clients, and we maintain close relationships with other wedding professionals. Referrals are always our number one source of new business! I also attend at least one continuing education conference each year to stay up on the latest trends and products.

What advice do you have for a business just starting out in your industry? Join ABC! I have created amazing friendships, opportunities, and connections over my 11 years as an ABC member. And I know that I have a network of other incredible planners around the world that I can count on when I need something. I also suggest interning or apprenticing with a seasoned planner before  jumping in. And be sure all of your financial and legal ducks are in a row before you hang out your shingle.

Do you have a most memorable wedding or funny story you’d like to share? I have so many wonderful memories! I think one of my favorites was from the photo below. It was after Kimberly and Victor’s wedding in 2008; I had spent over a year getting to know Kimberly and her family – both of her parents attended almost every meeting, and were part of every decision! They are a wonderful family full of love and caring. Usually at the end of the reception, we send the bride and groom off in a limo or Rolls Royce or horse and carriage… but Victor and Kimberly and her parents were there in the ballroom long after all the guests had left. Part of it was exhaustion, part of it was just enjoying reveling in the beauty and love of the day. I loved that they took a few minutes to relax and talk on the fuzzy pink lounge furniture before Kimberly and Victor went off to begin their life as husband and wife. So sweet!

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