'The Business News' Article
Article by: Al Smith
Abraham Lincoln said that all business is built on friendship, and that’s been the key to the success of Distinctive Celebrations LLC & Talent Agency, 115 W. Bridge Street, in Wausau. Born and raised in California, Janet Lawrence left a career in modeling and acting, and used her contacts in the entertainment world to start an event planning business. “Pretty soon the phone started ringing and I became so busy that I didn’t even have time to form an LLC,” said Lawrence. “Things just took off.”
When Lawrence moved to Las Vegas, she took her business with her and met long-time friend and future corporate partner Cheryl Brown. “She became my right arm, helping me with events in Vegas, and I couldn’t have succeeded without her.” According to Lawrence, “when my husband was transferred to Wausau in 2002, Cheryl flew out to help us unpack and very soon afterwards bought a home one house over from mine. We restarted the business here in early 2007.”
“Our vision for Distinctive Celebrations is to plan and coordinate weddings and theme parties for individuals and corporate events like conferences, meetings, holiday gatherings and conventions,” said Lawrence. “We can take a simple anniversary for two and turn it into an unforgettable memory or, on a grand scale, we’ve coordinated a three-day business seminar involving over fifteen hundred people. From birthday parties to company picnics, we’re prepared to do it all.”
Taking the extra step is what separates professional event planners from amateurs. “We want our clients to really enjoy themselves, but to be safe too. So, rather than take a taxi, we’ll have personnel available to drive home anyone who celebrates a bit too much,” she said. “We’ll even have someone deliver their vehicle to them, so that they don’t have to worry about that the next day.”
Fees vary according to the variety of services requested by the client, and represent a percentage of the money budgeted for the event. Lawrence and Brown draw on a network of local businesses to provide catering, flowers, music, banquet facilities, lighting and photographic services. “Ultimately, what we offer clients is a combination of convenience and real cost savings,” said Lawrence.
“Our corporate customers don’t have to pull employees from their regular duties to manage the event and, because we offer repeat business to our vendors, we’re usually able to negotiate lower rates from them,” she said.
This formula has produced stunning success. “Our client base has grown 100 fold, so much that we’ve taken on another partner to help us handle the work load.” That new partner is Marian Pranke-Kohl, a local resident and manager of Krueger Flower & Gifts. “I’ve come to rely on Marian’s knowledge and expertise for events requiring flowers. She’s energetic, an entrepreneur and a great fit for our business,” Lawrence said.
The partners took their company in a brand new direction after their successful participation in an event last year. “We were hired to put on a benefit fashion show last year held in the lobby of the historic Landmark building downtown. It was a big production involving organizing everything from local media publicity to renting a runway for the models. It turned out to be an “Ah-Ha” moment for me. I realized that we should open a talent agency to compliment our event planning business. This would allow us to go after a different, synergistic market, offering models for car shows and commercials, bands for civic events and even advertising services. Our goal is to perfectly match talent with clients” This expansion is already producing results and, in early December of last year, the talent agency part of Distinctive Celebrations signed its first local model, 21 year old Rachel Moen, a graduate of D.C. Everest High School.
Despite everything they’ve accomplished, the ladies have an aggressive growth plan. “We need to really boost our marketing strategy in 2008, including using our website (www.dceventandtalent.com), advertising and, most of all, networking more to broaden both our client and vendor base,” said Lawrence. “In five years, we’d like to be a regional event headquarters and talent agency leader, a one-stop shop, and we want enough trained staff on board so that every customer continues to feel special.”
Business is never static and recently Cheryl Brown left the partnership to pursue a different career opportunity. “We’re still great friends,” said Lawrence, “and I know Cheryl will succeed.” Meanwhile, the remaining partners are focused on what matters most. “As women business owners, we get real satisfaction in standing on our own two feet and giving back to the community. We believe that strong relationships that we make along the way will always pay off.” Given the abiding friendship that helped launch their successful company, that’s likely to be a safe bet.