Event Planner Interview

From EventPlanner.com

“I tend to be on the eccentric side. I love to throw an event, whether corporate or social, that has elements of surprise every 20 minutes or so.”
– Stacey Moe

“Stacey throws the kind of parties you want to be invited to – engaging, personal, creative, and above all FUN.” – Susan Duffy.

This quote was by my first client (see mall scavenger hunt below). I think it sums up who we are and what we do. It used to be just me, but now we have a team of amazingly talented women who are dedicated to executing undeniably unforgettable events. Anything our clients can imagine, we will make happen!

We also are a team with extensive corporate backgrounds, that understand how critical employee and user experience are to companies today. We know how to revamp and refresh the next company picnic or holiday soiree that creates excitement and incentive to stay…so they can find out what is in store at next year’s event!

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced while planning an event and how did you overcome it?

I could write a book, and probably will one day. Event planning seems like a glamorous profession when you are dreaming of owning your own business, but there will be many times you need to set up in a rainstorm, climb 4 flights of stairs carrying an unruly mannequin, or throw on a swimsuit and jump in a pool on a 30 degree winter night.

There was an instance when a vendor was tasked with installing an acrylic dance floor over a 60-foot pool. They had left for the night and the guy who was supposed to put the plastic covers on the pool lights didn’t show. My clients were spending a LOT of money on this flooring, and I was not going to let it glow a flat white. I called everyone I knew and decided to buy some pieces of colored film to put over the lights…my boyfriend and I tried to attach them without getting in the freezing pool to no avail. I knew this might happen so I came with a bathing suit under my clothes. I tried everything to get them to adhere, but despite my daring efforts, they wouldn’t work.

It was getting late, but I had to find a solution. I had some submersible lights from a previous event in my garage, but when I put them in the water, they wouldn’t sink! Not to worry, as I was driving home, I noticed some rocks at a place of business and knew they wouldn’t miss them (smiling). I tied them to the lights and it worked…however, once they were at the bottom the remote wouldn’t work to turn them on.

I went home that night a little defeated but knew I had to find a solution. Finally, after calling about 20 places, I found a pool guy that had colored lights. I needed him there at 6 am the next morning, before the flooring guys arrived…It was nothing short of a miracle that we brought the pool to life and the rest is history.

What are 2 trends in the event planning industry that you’re excited about?

Catering that is entertainment. I do everything in my power to request that my clients DO NOT have a sit-down dinner.

What are some tips for creating an elegant and memorable event on a tight budget?

I am a single mom, with 3 girls of high school/college age, so I am very aware that everyone has a budget. Even the most elaborate and expensive party I have orchestrated ($250K) needed creative ways to not go overboard (I know…I know…how can a $250K party not be out of control). I came from a family with very little means, and I worked very hard to get where I am.

In the beginning, especially as I was learning about the Jewish culture and throwing mitzvahs, I worked with a lot of DIY moms that just needed a hand. I am currently planning a wedding with a $10K budget (after my fee). It is amazing what you can create with little money. I have searched the ends of the internet for the best deals…and this wedding will not look DIY!

I also look for activities and experiences that cost little or no money. Guests will remember the comedy roast of their husband-to-be more than they will expensive floral arrangements on the table. It also helps that I have very good relationships with my vendors. Several of them are substantially discounting their services to help me make my client’s wedding dreams come true.

If you had unlimited resources, what would your dream client and event look like?

I tend to be on the eccentric side. I love to throw an event, whether corporate or social, that has elements of surprise every 20 minutes or so. I’m definitely more innovative than elegant. I like to conceptualize events that are crazy fun! I used to be known as “The Queen of Halloween” and definitely threw some epic events for both myself and my clients, but I think I am a little over that now….hmmm…

My dream event…I’m envisioning a castle…everyone dressed in glamorous gowns and masks. The invitation is a box with a mask and a mysterious location…that is followed by intriguing emails that give hints of what is to come. There are people there from all walks of life…this is not a group of friends but there is something that ties all of the guests together.

The lighting in the castle is in deep reds and purples. There is a master of ceremonies that guides guests throughout the night. There are eccentric choreographed dancers in every room and amazing singers. The decor is full of whimsy and fantasy. Every bite is a culinary experience…there are no plates or flatware. Champagne is poured by an aerialist hanging from the ceiling and the DJ is on a retrofitted segway. There is an ornate wine bike that moves throughout the spaces. The bartenders are akin to Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Drinks are infused with cedar flavored smoke that rises as the coaster is removed from the top. There are unique conversation starters that are handed out throughout the night that ensure that guests interact with each other.

At some point, a second line brass band breaks through the crowd. There is fire…and in a good way! As the night winds down, guests are ushered to the pool. There is a high dive and someone kicks off their shoes (maybe was a diver in college) and, while still dressed in their ballgown, does this amazing plunge into the pool. Many, not so gracefully, follow her lead. There are huge flamingo inflatables and flowers, lots of flowers, floating in the pool. Oh, and there are waiters in the pool dressed in 1920’s swimsuits.

Then we have each guest light a biodegradable floating lantern, and hundreds of them rise into the night…people in a nearby city are in awe at the beauty. And then there are fireworks…lots of fireworks.

I told you I was a little eccentric…

How important are your relationships with vendors and what are some ways that you successfully cultivate and ensure good rapport?

My trusted vendors are my lifeline! Without them, there would be no party! I am always researching the newest and most unique experiences that come on the market, but I have many go-to’s that I can completely count on to make our vision execute flawlessly. In the industry, it is hard to just use one company over and over, as things start to look and feel the same. I try to be very responsive and very fair. I have a few go-to DJ companies that I rotate so everyone gets a turn. I have found exceptionally talented people and that’s who I want on our team. Sometimes changes happen at the last minute and I need vendors that have a can-do attitude and can turn on a dime.

People also often say I am very nice and low stress (sometimes in very stressful environments). I think vendors like to work with me because of these two characteristics. I have only “lost it” twice in my career…well, maybe three times. They were vendors that left me dealing with substantial mistakes that they made or someone who I felt was taking advantage and wasn’t fair to my client.

Mistakes happen, events have a lot of moving parts, but I need a team that can roll with the challenges and especially one that treats my clients with the fairness and respect they deserve.

What advice would you give someone who needs to plan a fundraiser but isn’t sure where to start?

Create a board. Your board is going to be the team that invites their friends and builds attendance. I like to call this a “friend-raiser”. Every event needs to start by gathering the people you know, and you can’t do it alone!

What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?

Well, I had been working out of my home for 5 years and one day my middle daughter came home and said: “Mom I don’t feel like I have a home, I feel like I walk into Stacey Moe Events every day”. I looked around and inside myself and realized the business was taking over. There were often times my kitchen table was taken over by sample candy bar displays and flowers, lots of flowers. The basement was taken over, the garage…you get the point. Many budding event planners start by working out of their home, but at some point, if you want to grow, you need an office.

After months of scouting the North Shore for something affordable, I found the perfect 1200 sq. ft. space SME now calls home! I have a cute little lobby, office with canvas photos of all of my clients on my wall, and a huge warehouse/workspace. It is so exciting! I also just hired a fabulous senior event planner who is going to take us to the next level.

I have a surprise 50th Gatsby theme party coming up. It is definitely going to be in my top five events I have curated. We will have everything from professional tap dancers in flapper costumes, security guards at the back door to the “speakeasy”, secret costumed guests that will randomly break out in amazing dances, a roaring 20’s band, champagne dress girls, and costumed live dessert tables…but then the mood changes around 10:30 when we shine the light on one of the hottest DJs from Brazil and we are even bringing in some BTS (Korean Pop Band…her favorite) backup dancers to perform!

It is going to be an unforgettable evening…oh and her kids are going to pop out of a custom made cake!! I already have the perfect dress.

What inspired you to launch your own company in the event industry? How long did it take from initially having the idea to setting up and starting to attract a client base?

My background is in enterprise sales and marketing. When I was 25 I was closing million-dollar deals with fortune 500 companies’ executives that were twice my age. It was a wild ride during the dot-com boom, but I was running 100 miles an hour and just had my second daughter.

I decided to quit and stay home with my children. However, my entrepreneurial spirit was welling up inside of me. I have always been ambitious and never shied away from hard work. I knew with 3 children that I couldn’t go back to work full time, so I decided to try my hand at several “part-time” startups. Everything from Southern Living, selling wellness products, and helping launch an app for new moms. Most notably, I launched a website that aggregated entrepreneurial news and advice from around the world that featured some of the most successful, young entrepreneurs. I wanted to be the next Ariana Huffington, but realized that sitting at my desk in front of the computer 8 hours a day wasn’t going to fly…and I also was having a hard time monetizing it. I scrapped this idea, and in desperation, wrote a post on FB asking my friends what they thought I would be successful at. Many said event planner…since I had posted many elaborate children’s birthday parties over the years. I still have a picture of the post. I commented, “I love throwing parties, however, there is no way I can work nights and weekends with 3 children”.

Well, here I am working nights and weekends (smiling). I had two friends contact me after that post that wanted to hire me and the rest is history. My background is in marketing and sales, so between referrals from friends and a good sense of how to use social media, I began to grow very quickly. My advice is that if you would like to become an event planner, you need to know how to connect and network with people. This business isn’t for the faint of heart, or for someone that has a difficult time “putting themself out there”.

What’s the first event you can ever remember planning and how did it go?

My first event was a mall scavenger hunt for a bunch of 10-year-old girls. Don’t tell anyone, but I didn’t ask permission to host this at my local mall. I created extensive lists and activities for the girls all over the mall. They were having such a great time…and then…mall security found me! They literally took me into their back office and were not very happy. They wanted me to shut the hunt down! I may or may not have given them puppy eyes and pleaded not to disappoint these sweet little girls. I got off with a slap on the wrist and saved the day!

What are some things you wished you knew before starting your businesses?

Finance and Accounting. There are a lot of costs associated with starting a business that need to be managed and assessed. In addition, there are so many expenses that go into each event that need to be organized and invoiced back to the client. Although I manage budgets with ease now after years of experience, there was a lot of trial and error in the initial years. I wish I would have started out hiring a business manager to put systems and accounting plans in place, but I got through it.

It’s hard when someone decides to become an event planner, to determine how much they should invest in experts that can help them build a foundation. I have a uniquely creative right brain, so finance doesn’t come easy to me. Hire a professional business manager!

What’s the most surprising or unusual request you have ever received from a client and were you able to fulfill it?

I was planning a Celebration of Life for a man who had recently passed away. He was Scandinavian and always said if he died, he wanted to have a traditional Viking Norse funeral. It is against maritime law to burn a body at sea, so I researched another option for weeks. I ultimately was given permission to burn a 5 ft replica Viking ship on Lake Forest Beach on Lake Michigan (without him in it).

It was a crazy night. It was very windy and drizzling, so there wasn’t a way to put the boat in the water without it capsizing. I decided to scale a small wall in my dress and anchor it to some large rocks on the shore. I came prepared with a large blowtorch and plenty of lighter fluid and while a character from Happy Days was officiating (yes, that happened!) and guests were drinking a toast out of horned glasses, I set the ship on fire! It is definitely the most unusual event request, but I was so happy to be a part of this final sendoff!