Is it Time for Change (in Your Business): Our Engage!15 Talk Recap

Posted by on Jun 16, 2015 in Business Advice | No Comments

Hola !  We are freshly back from Engage!15 Nizuc *which was stunning*  and where Mayra and I were delightfully given the opportunity to lead a break out session that despite the lure of the beach and giant infinity pool, somehow was still totally FULL!  Throughout Engage! the topics of surviving in an increasingly competitive landscape and moving away from being “generic” or in the “middle” kept emerging from speaker to speaker, so it was fun and fitting that we were speaking about how to move past the fear of change and identify and find a niche.     We got a lot of amazing feedback, but realized that the first part- how to identify that it’s time to change AND how to figure out what direction to change towards was the part that we could see was most resonating with people.

A full recap is coming soon, but I thought, in an effort to be helpful to those of you who weren’t able to come this time, I’d post up this concept from our talk about Personal Values Circles that we discussed for you to ponder at home while you are doing your mid-summer career introspection that you probably have so much time for (kidding… but maybe  you can ponder it when hustling to and fro weddings…).

The first question is What did you value/prioritize when you first started your business?

Draw it out in a circle… like a pie.

Screenshot 2015-06-16 17.02.01How did the way you ran your business then feed the biggest pie pieces?

The next question is what do you value/prioritize NOW, today?

What pie pieces are being fed by the way you run your business now? Which ones are being neglected?  What can you do to feed your bigger pie pieces?

If there were NO rules or pre-conceived ideas about WHAT your business or job is meant to be, which things would you stop doing and which aspects of your job/services would you keep providing?

For us, as you can see with Mayra’s Value Circles above, we were interested in a job where we worked together, had a lot of fun, became known within our industry and were minimally interested in business.  Over time however, Mayra’s personal life changed (marriage, etc), we got older and started to really see ourselves more as business people and not just wedding professionals (and thus became more interested in profit and revenue) and being “acknowledged” felt less urgent to her.  SO it made sense that for us, developing a new business model (Just About Married) that allowed us more free weekends for personal time and family, while taking less volume of our high end design/planning company (AaB Creates) was a way to change the old way of business into a new way of running the business that fed her current circles.

Obviously Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we didn’t arrive at these two solutions overnight, but over several years…. but the point is, we stopped for a bit and recognized that like a shirt that your kid might grow out of, it not only seemed silly to not change, it was increasingly uncomfortable for us to stay the same.

Have you been considering making changes in the way you do business? If so, let us know how and what motivated you to change !

Also, don’t forget you can still register for Baha Mar in November…. a different roster of speakers, an amazing educational, networking opportunity (and yes, the parties are also pretty awesome).

Engage15! Nizuc breakout session with Besties in Business image by C10 Studios

Image from Engage!15 Nizuc by C10 Studios



Remember: It Isn’t About You

Posted by on May 29, 2015 in Business Advice | One Comment

Ah, this strange world that we work in, where the creation of our “art” is done in the name (and fueled by the dollar) of someone else’s life event.    As creators (and marketers of our own work) we are all inclined to want what we offer/do/produce/create to shine as brightly as possible.  We want our lighting to look amazing, we want our band to sound fantastic, our photos to be published, our flowers to be remarked on.  However, where some of us go awry is that we aren’t content with just shining, we start to try and be the star.

Years and years ago,  I remember working with a photographer who was (and still is) sort of a “big deal”. We had found  dealings before hand to be challenging, but tried to walk into the day with an open mind.  It soon became clear that this Photog was very aware that he was a “big deal” and the day was arranged as such.  He bullied vendors, and eventually bullied the bride into tears trying to get the “shot” he wanted.

This is an extreme case, of course, but it’s something to keep in mind as we make our way through wedding season and head on out there this weekend: humility is a requirement in wedding work.  Sometimes we have a “big” new job that will expose us to new clients, or give us the opportunity to boost our portfolio or get published somewhere, and our excitement/anxiety can lead us to forget that we are just one part of a bigger vision.  Sometimes, when we are more established and are tired and into the thick of the season, our inner Kanye Wests can start to come out and we might act like your other vendors should be honored you showed up.  Quit it.

The best way to success in this business- true, long lasting success- is to remember that you’re first order of business is to collaborate your way into an amazing event for your client.  Your cake is no longer your cake once you head out the door to drop it off to the person who paid you for it.  Your flowers aren’t about you once they get set on this couple’s dining tables.  Your food is only being prepared because this couple’s friends and family gathered around to eat it.  So try and remember, no one of us is greater than the sum of our collective work.   The only diva at a wedding should be standing at the altar (and not the officiant!).

When our work shines brightly, the accolades and attention inevitably come- they just needn’t come in that moment.

Just a coda to our photographer story:  as he left that event he told us we were the “worst planners ever” and predicted that we’d be out of business within a year.  For all he knows we did, for we certainly never worked together again.


Trendsetter: Julie Sabatino, Founder of The Stylish Bride

Posted by on May 8, 2015 in Trendsetters | No Comments

Today, the idea of having a stylist for even your every day life isn’t such a crazy concept, so of course enlisting one to assist with creating “the most important” look of a ladies’ life seems like a no-brainer. A dozen years ago, however, nothing like a Bridal Stylist existed… the closest you would get would probably be your Kleinfeld sales associate. Julie Sabatino, however, saw a need in the marketplace particularly on the luxury side of the marketplace and The Stylish Bride was born. Of course creating a Blue Ocean doesn’t mean that you’ll stay in the water alone forever- there are Bridal Stylists in many of the bigger markets- but Julie’s managed to evolve by moving further and further into couture creations and serving the tippity top of the market.
With Bridal Market having just wrapped up, we thought it would be great to sit down and chat with Julie.

What inspired you to start this business when nothing like it existed?

I was inspired to start my business because I had an awful time finding my own wedding dress. In 2000, I was surprised to find myself engaged at 24 years old. I had fallen in love with a great guy, but had no idea how to begin putting a wedding together. To make matters worse, I worked in Finance and traveled a lot for my job.

Julie Sabatino of The Stylish Dresser

Julie Sabatino of The Stylish Dresser, photo by Carla Ten Eyck

The dress was the most important part to me. I wanted to look and feel amazing, and thought that would be easy to do. How fun it would be to try on wedding dresses, right!?!??! Wrong! My excitement quickly turned into frustration and anxiety. I couldn’t find the right dress, and I looked for someone to help me. I thought that there had to be a resource who would analyze my personal style, body type andwedding venue and guide me in the right direction. But there wasn’t. After trying on hundreds of dresses, I finally found “the one”. Because of that difficult and stressful experience, I founded a business that I absolutely love!!!

How has bridal fashion changed?

Oh my gosh, it has changed so much!!! Part of the problem I had back then was that the dresses were predominantly ball gowns with box pleats. I wanted something more chic and slim and that was VERY hard to find!!!

Since then the industry has really evolved. I think that today’s bride has much more to choose from stylistically. One case in point is the influence of the Israeli designers on wedding dresses right now. These designers (Inbal Droor, Mira Zwellinger, Galia Lahav, Pinina Tornai) have a much sexier aesthetic than most American or European brands. Things like see-through bodices and low cut backs have really become popular since they came on the scene.

Also, there is a lot more information out there today. Brides not only have magazines, but they have blogs, TV shows, Pinterest and social media to look for inspiration. In the past you would know the dresses that your friends wore, but today through Instigram and Facebookyou also know what your friend’s, friend and their friends wore to their wedding. Some of my clients feel that all the information makes it harder to find a look that is uniquely theirs.

How has shopping for bridal gowns changed?

Well first of all, now most salons will let you take photos. When I started, there was a no-photo policy almost everywhere. But since all cell phones have cameras most salons have embraced it. Plus, it’s really great for the client because after trying on lots of dresses they forget what they look like. This way they can compare and contrast with their photos and also see how it photographs. I’ve even had brides Photoshop the changes they want to make into the photo to see how it will look.
The Stylish Bride
How has marketing yourself changed?

Social media didn’t even exist when I started by business, and as you know it does not come naturally to me. I struggled with it for a long time because it goes against everything I was raised to believe: don’t talk about yourself too much; don’t brag about what you do; don’t advertise your successes; privacy is important. So over the last several years I’ve tried to find my voice and stay current within parameters that I’m comfortable with. My goal is to highlight my work and make people aware that my service exists. I talk about things I love, places I go, and people I see. But for me, I draw the line with my kids. I never post photos of them because I want to keep that part of my life separate from work.

Are bridal parties as important now as ever, or are they changing?
The weddings I work on tend to be large, formal affairs that include lots of bridesmaids. Last year I did one with 15! But I also have clients that are getting married older, perhaps for a second time, who just have children in the wedding. So I think it has a lot to do with age.

Do you remember your first wedding? How did they find you?
I do remember my first wedding!!! She was so lovely!!! She found me through a friend who heard of my service.

What did you wear when you got married?

I wore a slim a-line duchesse satin gown that had a curved bodice and a cathedral length train. The fabric was really important to me and I feel in love with the crisp luxurious sheen of the duchess. Happily I can say that I still love it to this day!

What advice can we pass along to our clients about crafting their looks?
I think the most important part of creating a bridal look is to understand what makes someone feel good. Of course everyone wants to look thin and pretty, but if you dig down and really consider what types of looks make them feel that way, then it becomes easier to put it together. For example, when my clients are trying on dresses, I pay a lot of attention to body language and learn from their reaction. This helps me understand her and guide her to find something that makes her feel amazing.

When should we be referring someone to a stylist?

I think everyone should have one!!!! But in all seriousness, there are a few situations that it makes a lot of sense. The first is a client who wants a highly customized look. I often work with brides who want something really unique and a step above what most people are doing. This includes everything from a custom designed wedding dress to bridesmaid dresses, Mothers of the Bride, groomsmen attire etc. A lot of these brides say to me that they don’t want a “typical” wedding dress and that they are fashion forward.

Another is a client that wants to make sure they have a fantastic, efficient and luxurious shopping experience that is designed specifically for them. I work with the best consultants at each store, have accesses to resources that regular brides do not, and will make sure they are seeing exactly what works for their style. I guarantee that the time they have to dress shop will be highly productive and fun.

And lastly, it’s great for a client who may not fit into a typical wedding dress sample size 10, which is really a ready-to-wear 8. These brides often find the experience frustrating and embarrassing and I can make sure they do not experience that.

Contract Negotiations and Client Insights: Let the Seller Beware

Posted by on May 5, 2015 in Business Advice | One Comment

The famous quote is of course, Let the Buyer Beware, but in the wedding business, oftentimes many of us feel the opposite- Let the Seller Beware. As most of us own and operate small businesses vs. large companies or corporations, the relationship we have with our clients can have huge impacts on not only our company’s mental health but also on our bottom lines… time suck clients for instance, can completely ruin your profit margins if they take up a disproportionate amount of time.

If only you could know going in that a couple was going to emerge as a “problem” and either schedule accordingly or at least mentally prepare yourself and your team? Well, here is a hint- You Can! Because everything that you need to know about working with your clients can be learned during their contract negotiation process with you.

Time and time again, it’s proven to be true. No one has ever gotten really beaten up during negotiations and then had a dreamboat ride to the altar with their client (if you have, please leave your story in the comments section and I’ll be happy to share). Similarly, no one has ever gotten pen to paper really quickly and then bean a total pain in the butt (personal craziness not withstanding… just meaning that their madness tends to be less focused on you and your team).

This is probably most applicable for planners/designers, but can be helpful to keep in mind across the board. Some tips:

1. Don’t attach to the project until the contract is back in hand. This is hard, because many of us in this business emotionally connect to people, so when the call or email is received after you’ve met with a couple saying that they’ve chosen YOU to work with them, our tendency is to consider the job ours. But the couple who sends that email and the people you are going to negotiate your contract with don’t always behave the same way or value you quite as much. A job is only yours once you’ve mutually agreed upon terms that work for both parties.
2. Send contracts out with Sign By Dates and Make Note of “Draggers”. Make it very clear that you can hold a date/guarantee your terms only until a certain date and put that in your contract. There are lots of “draggers” out there and if you notice that someone is dragging out the process, make note of it and build it into your timetable. They won’t just drag with you, they will drag the entire process.
3.Iterate WHY You are Being Negotiable. It’s always ideal to do any negotiation before going to contract, but should this become a “thing” and you WANT to secure the job, you should clearly indicate WHY reducing your price is of value to YOU. For instance, if you haven’t done much destination and would like this for your portfolio, indicate (and put in writing if you can) that you are reducing your fee to diversify your portfolio and would like their permission to use their images on your site in advance. Negotiating and discounting aren’t the same thing, so it’s important for you to assign a value to your business for any reduction in fee.
4. Identify Over-Negotiators. In this day and age, most of us are pretty straight forward about our pricing on the outset I think, mainly because who wants to spend time courting a client who is out of our price point…. Still, no matter how straight forward you can be about pricing, some clients still seem to have sticker shock when the price is put into contract form. Some couples just enjoy negotiating, and it’s important for you to know that, especially going into the rest of the process- because you might work with vendors who automatically give you “the best price” but that won’t satiate the negotiator living inside your client.
5. Don’t be Afraid to Walk Away if the Negotiation Makes you Feel Badly. To loop back to point one, this isn’t your job… yet. So if you start to feel that the negotiation is either de-valuing you and your talents, or compromising your ability to do your job (and make a profit while doing so) you should get comfortable with offering to step away. When we need money, this can be a hard thing to do, but if a client doesn’t care where you are sleeping or if you and your team are eating while working their destination wedding, they might not be a good client for you. If you feel undervalued now, you likely will spend the rest of the engagement period feeling more of the same. What’s that worth to avoid?

Trendsetters: Meredith Waga Perez of Belle Fleur New York

Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Florists, Trendsetters | No Comments

Nearly twenty years ago, Meredith Waga Perez and her mother Marilyn Waga set out to launch a boutique floral and event business. More than just setting up a shop though, Meredith knew that she wanted to create a brand- more specifically the kind of understated luxury that brands like her formal employer, Calvin Klein embodied. No on in the floral and event space was really communicating that message and Meredith saw the chance for their brand, Belle Fleur New York, to fill that space.

Trendsetter: Meredith Waga Perez of Belle FleurFrom a “technically” speaking standpoint in floral terms, Belle Fleur developed a signature style for flower arrangements that eliminated “filler” floral completely, and celebrated the beauty of the flowers themselves. But beyond that, the Belle Fleur brand was infused with the touchpoint of understated luxury at every step along the way.

The full interview is totally engrossing, and filled with knowledge, but one of the most important takeaways is how, at the end of the day, how in touch with the the REAL brand essence of Belle Fleur Meredith is- and how that trickled down to everyone involved- and that is she isn’t selling flowers, or even luxury, she’s selling LOVE, love in the form of flowers and fragrance that is packaged and delivered luxuriously… It’s a fine and subtle difference, but it’s super important to note and it’s what makes her such a trendsetter.
Belle Fleur expanded from luxury floral to home fragrance.
It was this deep infusion of their brand “feeling” that enabled Belle Fleur to successfully extend their brand into product by way of a fragrance collection, which is now retailed in luxury department stores, boutiques and hotels around the world. Often we might brainstorm about “launching a product”, but the difference between a simple investment and roll out and success with this kind of endeavor is it’s relationship to and the strength of your own brand- something which Belle Fleur is an amazing case study for.

One final story that Meredith told us that DID NOT make the edit, but that I want to pass along is this- when her designers are building gift arrangements at the design table in their studio, Meredith’s instructions to them is to read the message on the gift card before they start. She elaborates on this around 14:00 in, but the reason is so that they understand the spirit of love that was intended behind the present– it’s more than just a Belle Fleur signature arrangement, it’s intended for a specific person with a specific message of love. She has so much more wisdom to share, I hope you’ll take a little time to watch, listen and learn from this wonderful business woman!