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Life & Work with Erica Simmons

Today we’d like to introduce you to Erica Simmons. 

Hi Erica, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I was always very creative but also had a knack for math and science. Growing up, I always thought that I would go into the medical field. After one day of pre-veterinary school, I dropped my major and really wanted to figure out a career that was equal parts creative as well as analytical. I decided that event planning may be a good fit and ended up transferring to Bowling Green State University to major in Tourism, Leisure, and Event Planning. 

At Bowling Green, I ended up being very involved in the major as well as other student organizations. I served as Director of Event Planning for Delta Sigma Pi and Vice President for Student Event Planners Association. My first internship was doing events in academia as the Event Planning Intern for the College of Business. I gained so much knowledge about corporate events, alumni engagement, and working with high-profile guests. I thoroughly enjoyed all of it, but when I found my second internship with Elite Events, I was head over heels in love with weddings and social events. 

I immediately took to getting to know the client and learning how to create an event that was reflective of them. I loved learning Nikki Wolfe’s (previous owner) creative process and gaining real-world experience by being involved with all facets of the planning from vendor appointments, client meetings, linen mockups, administrative work, and day-of on-site event experience. I really had a passion for the boutique creative approach to enter each meeting with an open mind and creative heart so that we could truly create the best version of their event possible. I also got to intern alongside my friend Shayna, which made it even better! After graduation, I ended up getting a full-time job in Wedding Catering Sales, and that taught me really how to scale and an entirely new perspective in the events Industry. In 2019, Nikki ended up wanting to sell Elite Events and reached out to me. I ended up buying the company out and have never looked back since! It was truly my college girl dream to own my own Event Design company, and all of that came to fruition. One of the best parts is that Shayna still works with me and now owns her own boutique and stationery design business. It has been beautiful to see both our friendship and businesses grow! 

After a successful first season as owner, COVID hit and that brought an entirely new set of challenges. There was no handbook on how to run a business through the pandemic. It really allowed me to grow and step into a higher version of myself. Our best approach to navigating that was being empathetic to our clients and navigating through something together, which was incredibly humbling. It really forced me to dive deeper into my relationship with my clients and help them work through such unprecedented times. Ultimately, we grew stronger and closer with all of our clients and vendors. We actually just finished out our last postponed wedding on July 9th and it was magical to see their dream 3 years in the making become a reality. Now that the industry is recalibrating, it is nice to focus more on the dream than pivoting! 

Through these few years, I have grown and learned so much. We’ve worked on incredible events for many couples as well as corporate events for Hollywood Casino, The University of Toledo, Wolverine Toyota, and Cabela’s. I still pinch myself that I started as an intern and now own the company that I dreamed about one day. 

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Since taking over the company in 2019, the biggest challenge I have been through was the Covid-19 pandemic. It basically impacted every facet of my business. I am more that grateful that we had a smooth and successful season under our belts my very first year as owner. Getting hit with a global pandemic my second year as owner was by far the greatest challenge I have been through. 

It was incredibly humbling because for the first time as owner, I was no longer the expert. I always had all of the answers and utmost confidence in the work I was putting out for my clients. With so much unknown and all of the constant changes being out of my hands, it was incredibly difficult to plan an event you felt you had zero control over. There were regulations from a national level, state level, and local level we had to constantly keep tabs on. Not only that but as the planner, our goal is to ensure every single vendor (average number of vendors per wedding is 10-15) has what they need to make the event a success. So, reaching out to 10+ vendors and keeping up with their regulations as well as the venues was very challenging to keep up with. With the constant changes, we weren’t sure what a wedding would look like on a basic level: when were weddings going to be allowed again, how many guests could attend, whether or not dancing was permitted, do guests have to wear masks. Then there were also the finer details to consider like whether or not the specialty flatware would be set or wrapped in a napkin, how food service would go, could we preset chargers on the table, what did cocktail hour look like. All of these questions had to be asked many times throughout planning because one week would look vastly different than the next. However, it made me learn to release control and that I could flourish and still give clients’ a great planning experience, even without all of the answers. After so many postponements, and pivots, I had to still show up in the best way that I could for our clients. 

Each wedding was unique, so we really had to sit down with each couple and evaluate their needs and desires to come up with a game plan. Soon it worked like clockwork. We ended up chatting with each vendor and came up with postponement dates with a date to make that call and asked for a soft hold on each one of them. This also allowed me to have deeper trust in my vendor colleagues, and we really all came together and showed up in the best way possible to try and make our client’s vision come to fruition. When all of the event regulations were in place, we would sit down and reimagine the entire day. If the couple didn’t like the result, we knew postponement would be the best decision for them. Even when we planned postponements, regulations were still in place, and we had to reevaluate again. Some couples ended up canceling, which was sad after working together, but it ended up being the best decision for them which I respect. 

It was also very emotionally challenging for me. I work very closely with my clients, so I naturally get very attached to the outcome of how their day will look and feel. I get to know them and pour so much of my heart into the designs that I create. I truly wanted to create everything we had planned, and it was heartbreaking for me to feel like I was being the bearer of bad news and breaking their heart along the way too. I really need to dive into who I was and remember my power and show up in an empathetic way to figure out what was best for my clients without allowing my own emotions to interfere in their decision process. I would get just as attached to the perfect menu cards, escort card display, etc. 

All in all, it impacted every facet of my business and turned everything upside down. However, it taught me so much how to show up for myself and my clients to still give them an incredible experience. 

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Elite Events is a boutique event planning and design company creating a luxury planning experience for our clients. The heart and soul of Elite is to approach every event with creative minds and open hearts. As modern romantics, we love to tell your joy-filled story with swoon-worthy details that are uniquely YOU, truly infusing your personality into your event. 

We love love and are LGBTQIA+ allies. At Elite, our couples are always our greatest inspiration, and love is the reason why we adore what we do. Here- we celebrate all couples and believe every couple should be met with the same level of integrity and surrounded by nothing but love, joy, and celebration on their day. 

We’re known for creating stylish, distinguishable, and inspired events that are reflective of our clients. What sets us apart is our relationship with our clients. We get to know them on a deep, personal level. This allows us to create bespoke details that are unique to the client and truly tell their story throughout the event. I love being inspired by our client’s story more than following trends or doing pieces for solely for the purpose of adding it to my portfolio. 

We have accomplished so much in the last 3 years! We have received The Knot’s “Best of Weddings” award for three consecutive years, have been a part of amazing podcasts, written as an etiquette contributor for BRIDES, had our work published internationally, and booked a dream bucket list client in the fashion industry that I had to sign an NDA about. I would say that I am most proud of how we show up for our clients. There truly is nothing better than someone happy at the end of the day and creating a memorable experience for them. That is my biggest honor and privilege. 

We’d love to hear about what you think about risk-taking.
I think that risk is important. I would say what is most risky for me is showing up as myself. It can feel scary to be vulnerable or transparent. We are in the business of people, and the last thing I want is to put someone off. However, I learned what is more risky than not putting yourself out there for who you are, is having someone book with you for what you are not. It can feel scary to hit “post” to share some work that may be different than others. The other day, I shared a reel of some tasteful yet a little risqué wedding portraits, and I thought, “Oh gosh, what if one of my clients’ mothers sees this, is this okay to share? Will this be too much for our couples to see? Will this add even more pressure to a day?”. It ended up being well received, and some of our couple moms even liked the reel, haha! 

There are also some design risks that we take that pay off big time! For example, suggesting that we do a giant “x” shaped table that made a major impact on the event layout and design. 

Business-wise, I think taking risks is what leads you to the next level. It felt like a huge risk to jump into entrepreneurship. I knew exactly what I was doing to execute my contracts and perform the duties to my clients; however, figuring out taxes, insurance, bookkeeping, marketing, does not come naturally to me. However, if I let all of my fear control my life decisions, I would not be where I am at now! Risk comes with reward, and any “failed” attempt at something is an opportunity for growth. 

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Image Credits

Emily Kyle Photography

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