This transcript is from Episode 35 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/35
Interview only transcript
Tom: Folks, I'm on the line with Amil Mendez. Emil, thank you so very much for taking the time to join us today.
Amil: Oh, absolutely. Thank you for inviting me.
Tom: It's my pleasure. Now you're with Showtime Events Inc., and you're based in Maryland, is that correct?
Amil: Yes, that's correct.
Tom: And you basically serve Maryland, DC, and Virginia.
Amil: For the most part. But we go as far as Atlanta, Georgia. We actually have an event coming up next month in Philadelphia, we just did a wedding in New York. So we will travel, it just has to make sense and make sense for the client.
Tom: Understood. Now, I'd like you to start by telling us a little bit about your background and how you became involved in the event industry?
Amil: So probably over 20 years or more, my mom started a catering company. She's still doing it to this day, and so a lot of people knew me as someone around events, just from working with my mom. And then I kind of got out of business, got into real-estate, did that for a while, and then from real estate worked on Capitol Hill for a little bit. And a buddy of mine called me because he had an events venue because he knew I was always dealing with some events. He said hey, I could use some help over here. And so I'd help him out on the weekends. And I was kind of out of the business, but I still knew the basics from being around the industry and seeing what's kind of new in the event industry because I'd been out of it probably for about 10 years. I started developing a passion for it again, but just didn't know where I fit in.
And an event planner, or event designer, had talked to me about uplighting and doing lighting for events. So once I got a little bit more information about it, I went and bought me some uplights, and really that's how I got started. I started with four uplights and just started doing small events, kept adding to my inventory. And after the lights, I got into furniture. And after the furniture just started expanding, but what really helped was I didn't have to rely on the income, I could keep building the business because I had my other job. So once it started to become a conflict where hey, the demands for me is as high as my job, and the money was sufficient enough, I just made the switch.
Tom: How long would you say it was that you started this and then it actually started supporting itself?
Amil: I started about five or six years ago, and it probably started supporting itself after about a year and a half. It's when I could say it was producing the amount of income that I could provide for my family. Now my wife still worked, but at least, I could cover my half. And now my wife doesn't even work, so it covers the whole household right now.
Tom: Now, you started with four uplights. I assume they were the LED's at the time?
Amil: Yes. In fact, let me just kind of elaborate on that a little bit. When I stated looking for lighting, the cost was pretty high. An uplight would probably run, at least from my knowledge, I would say anywhere from $250 up. Which if you wanted to start with a good amount to do a ballroom, it was a pretty heavy investment for me. So what I did, and it's kind of like a light went off. I said well, all these lights are made in China, overseas, anywhere. Let me see if I could just get them directly from a manufacturer. So I started going online and I've found a company out of China. And what kind of got me to, let's say, trust them, was they were doing trade shows in the US. And to me I figured if they're spending all that money, bring the products over here, they do have some online presence, then they've got to be legitimate. So we started having conversations for me at midnight because that was kind of daytime for them. And once I'd built a level of comfort, I went ahead and sent the money over and got my first set of lights. And then I just kept adding to the inventory. And then I've finished with my first set I then upgraded my lights to just a better products, more functionality. And then it just kind of grew from there.
Tom: That's great. You started with the uplights. And then what was your next evolution? What did you add into your company beyond that?
Amil: It was the furniture. The uplights were great, but when I looked at how many jobs I would have to do to really produce a level of income that I wanted to produce, I said well I needed to add more service. So the next thing was furniture, but I didn't really didn't know how to get into it. I didn't know where to get it from. And so I started researching online. And really what I was looking for was somebody to manufacture my own furniture rather than going to a furniture store, because I just felt like the cost point of a furniture store was much higher. And so I started Googling online, and I found a gentleman online. And he just happened to live 10 minutes from me. And we sat down and we talks and he said, yeah, I can build you some furniture. So what he told me was just go ahead and start advertising, give two to three weeks, and I'll have it built for you. And that's what I did.
So I started advertising the furniture. I got a call for a holiday party for a company where they took their whole office, they moved out all the office furniture, and they wanted to turn the whole office into kind of like a cool lounge. And so that was the first job I actually got. Didn't make money on it because all the money went into producing the furniture. But then maybe about a week after that, I got a call for really big New Year's Eve party. And that's when I turned my first profit on the furniture, and I was like okay, this more in line with what I want to make per event. And then the evolution after that was to really to trade, because my concept is if we're doing a hundred events and 80 of them have the same thing, it probably makes sense for me to just add it to my inventory, as long as I don't have to manage somebody's else's skills. So when I say that, I'm not interesting in getting into flowers, and DJ's, and things like that. But anything I can pretty much have control over then I will add to our inventory, or to the products and services that we offer.
Tom: And you're now also offering everything from like the LED cocktail tables. I saw on your website you had the bars, platform stages. I mean you literally are providing everything decor.
Amil: Yes. There's a part of what we do is we like people to have fun. We like producing kind of the lounge club party atmosphere for people. So why we got into a lot of LED items. We didn't really make the decision to go into the vintage furniture, and like rustic because that's not really…I mean, it's okay, but it's not really our style and it's a very niche market. I think there are a lot more people that they just want to have a good time. They want to instead of going out to a club so to speak, they want to make their own club and have fun with their friends and loved ones, and they don't have to worry about all the risk factors of other people. That kind of thing. So that's kind of the way we went, but we do also a lot of, I'd just say items that are maybe traditional wedding items, things like that.
Tom: Okay. Looking at your website here, you have created some truly amazing transformations. And we'll include a link to this on the show notes, but I've got to ask when you start talking with the client, where do you start with them? How do you even start to figure out how do you want to transform that room for them?
Amil: Well the first thing, it's a collaboration. Because there are so many things that we can do, and the conversation I have with the client really talks about a few things. Budget, because there's a lot of different ways you can get to the same point. For instance, if somebody said okay, I'm having this birthday party, and we do a lot of 40th, 50th, 60th birthday parties, a lot mitzvahs, things like that. And I say okay, how many people are you having? And the next question is okay, there's couple ways we can get here. We can do more lounge furniture, which would be a little bit more expensive. Or we can do some lounge furniture, maybe add in a few traditional cocktail tables, and then some seated cocktail tables which still gives you the same look but not the same expense. And so that's kind of the first conversation we'll have.
Second I'll ask okay, what kind of crowd is it? Is this a party crowd, or is this a more of a social crowd? Are these folks going to be up dancing and having a good time, that kind of thing? Because the one thing I don't want is just a bunch of furniture sitting around and nobody's sitting on it because they'll all on the dance floor. If it's maybe a crowd that dances a lot and they just need a place to rest their feet for few minutes, then I'll try to tailor the event to that as well. And then probably the third thing is just going walking through the space and seeing how or what pieces we have that fit the space. So maybe they have a column and we have a piece that fits well around that column. Or maybe there's a corner. We have some sectionals that we can put together that fit nice in a corner. I try to bounce some ideas off the client and get their vision because it's a two-way collaboration. But ultimately, we have to make it work for the client.
Tom: Okay. If an event planner wanted to transform a room, where would you recommend they start? What would create the biggest impact on changing a standard venue room into something more amazing?
Amil: I used to say draping. And this kind of goes…draping to me is the biggest…draping and lighting. But I always say draping. Sometimes draping is needed. Maybe you just have a bad looking wall that you need to get rid of. But there's a lot you can do with lighting too. On top of uplighting, there's something called textured lighting which really is very impactful, especially when you have rooms with high ceilings, a lot of wall space. It can be to me as impactful as draping a room because it's just adding a visual effect to the space. So that's probably the first place I would start, either with probably lighting first, then draping. Because to me, lighting is the first thing that people see when they walk in a room. You can do a room with draping but it wouldn't look the same if you didn't have the lighting. You can do a room with lighting and no draping, and it's still going to be very impactful. So I'm thinking the first thing is definitely going to be lighting. And then from there, you could get into placement of furniture, candles. Candles kind of add that special touch. So the lighting is really focused around the room, and the candles add that special touch, that twinkling that people see when they start focusing in on the middle of the room, the tables and things like that.
Tom: Okay. Now do you use regular candles, or are you're using like an LED candle? I mean, is that a safety factor? Or…
Amil: We don't really do candles. I mean, it depends. So like if we're doing an event, and let's say we're doing, I don't know, 70-80% of the production of the event, or you know, like there are events where we just come in and they give us an empty room and we'll do everything. in a situation like that we may do candles, but for the most part the florist, or maybe the…if they have, we'll say an event designer or something like that, then they'll typically do their own candles. But candles do add a very nice soft touch to any environment. It's something you'll see on my website. We call it the wow factor and the sizzle. So to me, the candles are the sizzle of the event, so to speak.
Amil: Sizzle is like the little fine details.
Tom: Okay, excellent stuff. Now, question for you. What would you say was one of your most difficult jobs that you've had to accomplish doing what you do?
Amil: We had a wedding last year. Two hundred people. And the wedding was in the same room, well the reception was in the same room as the wedding. And we had to come up with, the space that we were using, we had to come up with a floor plan that would accommodate people comfortably, which we were able to do. But then after the ceremony we had to flip the room and basically set up tables and chairs and decor for two hundred people in less than an hour. And it took a lot planning, a lot of logistics, my mom came in and catered that job with us. It was basically like a production line. And we got it done, but it was very challenging. There were a lot of obstacles we had to overcome. But we were able to do it, and I got a lot gratification from that. The client was happy, we did a good job, and even the venue. They just basically said they had never seen anything put together so well. And they had their suspicions about if we were going to be able to get it done, and we did it. So that was definitely, probably our most challenging event that we've ever had to take on.
Tom: Now everybody who's in events has had a horror story. And I always like to ask my guests was there ever something that just went horribly wrong for you and that you were able to solve? How did you do it, and what did you learn from that experience?
Amil: Oh man! We had a wedding reception, and the client showed us a picture of something that she wanted. It was basically draping across, not attached to the ceiling, but across the room. And typically if somebody shows me something and I can visualize it, I can do it. But what I didn't account for was the weight of the fabrics. So what was happening was when we put the drape on one side, we used pipe and drape on each side, and then we kind of ran the fabric across from one side to the other. To get the drape tight enough so that it wasn't hanging too low, it was causing a certain amount of tension or a certain amount of pull on the poles. And basically, the whole wall of fabric was starting to tilt over. I don't know if you can kind of follow what I'm saying, but it was a mess. And it was a disaster.
And so it's just, sometimes you're dealing with a bride or a client that is a little bit more easygoing and understandable. And so they don't panic. My thing is if I can work with somebody and if there's an issue, whether it's an issue with us or an issue with them, if we both keep level heads we can get through it. So I took a video of what was happening. I sent it to the bride saying hey, this is what's going on. I'm trying to come up with another design or plan. You know, I just wanted to let you know. So I'm panicking, but the bride is pretty cool. She says look, I trust you. Just make it look nice.
And so now we're scrambling to take all that pipe and drape down, and we ended up building for her these beautiful pipe and drape canopies. It was a cocktail style reception. And then we ended up putting the furniture in there. We had some additional lights in the van, or in the truck, that we used to light up the canopies. And we just tried to add as much as we could. And once she came in she loved everything. We cut it a little bit closer than I typically would like to cut it, but we did finish on time. And even after that, I still offered the bride some money back, because I just didn't feel good about, for one, having to bother her and that we weren't able to do what she contracted us to do. And you know what? She still gave us five stars on top of that. She talked about the experience, but she also said hey, Amil was great. He was very fair. Even after the wedding, I contacted her and said hey, let's get together. I know you're getting ready to move out the country, but I want to make sure that you leave with a good taste in your mouth and a good experience from dealing with us. And she appreciated that.
So that was probably the worst experience that we've ever dealt with. And I'd say, for me I take events very hard. It's personal for me, so I want to make sure every client is happy, I want to make sure that every job goes as planned. Maybe there's some people, it may not of been their worst, but it was definitely the worst for me. Just the stress and not being able to provide the service that the client wanted, but there's some times where you just have to say okay, it's out of your control. Now, what you do? What can you do to make it better? Because if it's out of your control, there's no need to keep going back and forth trying to make it work. It's just not going to work. So that was our worst experience.
Tom: I appreciate you sharing that. The business itself is stressful when you're putting something together for a client. And you taking it to that extra level to provide the customer service and the follow-up just really speaks volumes for what you're doing. Now on the opposite end of that, is there an event that you've put together that you just felt was truly amazing and that just really stands out in your mind? And if so, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Amil: Oh, man. So many. We did at an event at the National Portrait Gallery. And what I always say is if I do an event, and it wows me because a lot of times what happens is while you're setting up, you don't get the full effect. It's almost like you're cooking, and you're smelling the food, and you're tasting the food. And then once it's all done and prepared, you taste it and it's not the same to you as it is to people maybe coming into house fresh that haven't smelled anything, that haven't tasted anything. So anyways, we're doing this event at the National Portrait gallery. The designer/trainer, he gives me the layout. We did a walk-through and he says okay, this is what I want. And we've done a few events there, we've done a lot of nice events. But this one really kind of challenged us. There were a lot of custom features in terms of like, we had to do custom bars, we had to build a room inside of the atrium of the gallery, which was kind of like a VIP section, it sponsored by McDonalds. So we had to do like McDonalds decals, we had to do McDonald's lightning, and those different things.
And we brought in planners. It was just so intense. In fact, the wedding that I was telling you about that went wrong with the drape, we had to pretty much do that same concept for this event. And when it was all said and done, I mean, we did a red carpet, we did a pipe and drape tunnel coming into the space. And when it was all done and I looked, I just stepped back and looked at everything. And I was just amazed. When you think about the kind of events that you actually want to do I said this is a staple for me. This is something that I'll always look back on. In fact, I always watch the video just to see that event, because I'm still amazed that we pulled it off.
I mean, the thing about the National Portrait Gallery is everything is under major time constraints. So it's not even so much…well it is, it was the final product. But it was also maturation of as a company in terms of meeting deadlines, and as anybody can tell you in this business, [inaudible 00:21:47] is always very important. So we were able to give the people, and everything was just planned to perfection, and our client was ecstatic about everything. He just gave us praises because he looked good to the people that hired him. So that was probably the event that I'm most proud that I kind of always look back on and say wow, that was a special night.
Tom: That's great. Hey, Amil, question for you, any final thoughts that you'd like to share with other events planners when it comes to decor or catering? Any aspect of what you do that you could share with them, just give them a little bit of advice?
Amil: For me I would say there are a lot of people in this business that use the name. And I say, I think you've got to get in this with two feet, or you've got to be working your way to that. There's so many relationships, there's so much satisfaction you get from this business. Everybody has to go with their own steps, but I just feel like this is a great business to be in. And it's a tough business, but very fulfilling, a lot self-gratification. The relationships you build last a lifetime. I feel like a lot of my clients are extended family. When you do a mitzvah for three or four children in one family, and then you're doing the weddings, they pretty much are friends. And that's the way I look at them. And I would just say keep pushing along. Join professional organizations. That's probably one the biggest things that I've done since I've been in the event industry. You have to join professional organizations because that's how you stay motivated. You hear people's stories that maybe have gone through the same things as…they've gone through the same things that you've gone through and they can offer advice.
Just real quick, I'll just give you this example. I went down to the special event, CFC down in Orlando this year. And I'm big on social media, but I got so tied up in just the day-to-day operations, I kind of let my social media slip. So I'm down there, and I go to this class. And it's a social media class. They're talking about Pinterest. We had a Pinterest account but we kind of let it go by the wayside. And when I went down there I just got reminded, hey, I've got to get back on this. So I got back, I updated on all my Pinterest boards, I've added more Pinterest boards, I went Pinterest crazy. Three weeks later I get a call for a baby shower. They wanted, they ended up spending $2,500 on furniture for the baby shower. I know what you're thinking. For a baby shower? Yes, baby showers are not like the way they've used to be. But the point is they found us on Pinterest because of all the action and all the updates. And so the moral of the story is professional organizations is not always about getting direct business. A lot of times you benefit indirectly through your growth, or through just being reminded of something that you used to do and you need to start doing again. So that would be my advice.
Tom: That is great advice. Amil, if people are interested learning more about Showtime Events, can you share how they can get in touch with you?
Amil: Yes, absolutely. You can reach us in the office. The number there is 240-339-6044. You can also find us online at www.showtimeeventsinc.com. We have a Youtube page at Showtime Events Inc. We have Instagram @showtimeeventsinc. Facebook, if you just put in Showtime Events Inc., you will be full of information. So we definitely look forward to hearing from any of the listeners today. If you have questions or interest, please just reach out to us. We'll be happy to work with you.
Tom: Fantastic. And once again, we will have all of those in the show notes. So if people didn't catch that, just head over to the show notes and it's all going to be there. Hey, Amil, I really do appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk with me and the listeners today.
Amil: Oh, thank you, Tom. I've really enjoyed it.
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