Expert Insights from @theblogsmaid and @aabmayra

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Name: Xochitl Gonzalez and Mayra Castillo
Company Name: AaB Creates
Year Business was Founded: 2003
Location: New York and Everywhere
Twitter: @theblogsmaid @justabtmarried
Instagram: @theblogsmaid @aabmayra

How did you get started in the wedding industry?
We joke that it was all Mayra's doing (which it was), but we actually moved into weddings as a tactical decision. We had been working together producing events and award shows for Creative Directors in advertising. A lot of our job was recruiting brand sponsors and then developing events that communicated their brand to the event attendees. We were working with a cynical, jaded audience of well travelled, food knowledgable creative types. They had seen everything and done everything and our challenge was to keep it all fresh. After a while though, the work felt a bit empty. We loved events and we loved working together but knew that we didn't have the capital to start a corporate events business that could be competitive. At the time, you could only really take out print ads, which were expensive and many companies still had internal events departments, so gaining traction seemed rough. Mayra had always had a fascination with weddings and we realized that there was a niche out there for all of these Creative types in New York who had busy careers, and wanted weddings that were more "interesting" but didn't know where to begin. Ten years ago if you were getting married in New York, you were looking at The Plaza, The Pierre, or a lower-end catering facility. The idea of producing a quality event in an art gallery, a photo studio or a barn was really "out of the box". We decided to open a firm for that "out of the box" kind of client and applied the same approach -- understanding who the client was and communicating that to their attendees -- to weddings.

How has the industry changed since you started?
It's so different, it's nearly unrecognizable. It's gotten immensely more professional -- it's striking how much more loosey goosey and low tech it was when we entered the space. Then there is the obvious expansion of creativity in the industry -- something that is the result of a mix of a changing client, blogs and the industry itself. Of course with variety and creativity come vastly different budgets and that in turn has created a vastly diverse industry. Ten years ago there were planners and there were florists. Now, it's gotten so much more sophisticated and, in many ways, complicated for consumers and members of the industry themselves. The term "planner" means so many different things now. There are luxury planners -- who provide an entirely different service, catering to $250,000 and up budget weddings than does a planner who does $50,000 or $60,000 weddings. Then there are event designers and separately, there are designer/planners. And of course, there is an entire marketplace for day-of coordinators, whose clients shop in a totally different way than does the couple looking for a long-term relationship with a Creative Service provider. To the consumer though, these nuances aren't as important as they are within the industry itself . . . and that is funny and striking to us. We are continually amazed that couples who hire our day-of company, Just About Married, will speak as glowingly of their "planner" who they worked with for thirty days as our clients will of us, who will have designed and planned with them for nearly a year. Even though couples are shopping at many price points, a couple on a more modest budget doesn't think of themselves as a "budget client".

What was the biggest lesson you learned early on in your business?
To stick with being yourself. It's easy to get distracted -- especially in creative businesses -- by trying to emulate someone else who has been uber successful. Typically what happens is you end up being a "poor mans' version of ____" instead of a luxury version of yourself. Also, charge unapologetically.

What was the biggest lesson you've learned in the past few years?
That our lives and our jobs are separate. Our clients are important, but they are clients not friends or family. It's important to remember that not only for mental health, but for better client relationships, higher levels of professionalism and as an incentive to charge what you are worth. It seems counter intuitive, but having more emotional distance from our clients has made us much more effective at our jobs.

What one piece of advice would you give to another entrepreneur on sticking it out in a competitive industry?
Decide what your goal is and put your blinders on to the competition. Someone will always be checking off a box that you haven't checked yet, or that you maybe aren't interested in checking off . . . but you feel jealous about it anyway. That jealousy more often than not is a distraction instead of a motivation. Set your own bench markers for success on your terms and you will be amazed how much sweeter the ride is.

Photo by Heather Waraska
Expert Insights is a series of conversations with wedding and event professionals who have been in the industry for ten years or longer. 
Think Splendid will be offering insights and perspectives from Splendid Guests for the months of February and March while I am working in Africa

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