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.
What 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.
How 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?
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.