We're excited today to continue our new "Side Hustle Series" here on the blog, in which we share our interviews with innovative wedding pros who've created a viable second business. Amy Green and Melanie Marconi are two of the founders of BDI Events, a full-service event planning company based in Los Angeles, California and Portland, Oregon. They coordinate all elements of corporate and social events, serving a diverse clientele of nonprofit organizations, corporations and individuals.
In addition to their event planning, Amy and Melanie recently launched Where Will They Stay?,a free service which offers custom room block procurement for wedding couples, event planners and event venues. We spoke with Amy and Melanie to get a "behind the scenes" look at this venture, and to find out more about their experience running more than one company.
Read on to learn about the evolution of Where Will They Stay?, and Amy and Melanie's journey into multiple-business ownership.
How did you get your start in the wedding/event industry?
We both started in the events industry almost immediately after graduating from college. In 2002, we began working together at an event planning firm in Los Angeles and two years later, we launched BDI Events.
Please share a little bit about your primary business – what you do, who you serve, and what sets your business apart from others:
BDI Events is a very niche events company: we work primarily with non-profit organizations to plan their annual conferences, fundraising galas and other special events. We are unique in that we are able to seamlessly integrate into our clients' internal teams, and we provide comprehensive services for them. In fact, most of our clients have been with us for many years, and we truly feel like we are part of their teams, even though we may be an external firm. We respect the work our clients are doing in communities across the country and we are honored that we can help them fulfill their important missions.
Did you decide that you wanted to pursue a side business before you came up with the specific idea, or did you form the side business after you conceptualized the service you’d offer?
The decision to launch a spin-off business grew from an idea that was inspired by a current service of ours: booking large blocks of hotel rooms for events and conferences. We've been accredited agents to do this for many years, but on the side, we started helping a few of our friends, many who are in the wedding industry, negotiate room blocks.
Once we realized that no one was offering a custom level of service for securing room blocks for wedding and social events, we developed the plan to launch Where Will They Stay? We moved pretty quickly, just a few months after we realized the business potential. It was clear that we could leverage our already existing hotel contacts and buying power, and then it was a matter of starting our outreach efforts to spread the word.
Can you tell us about your side business, and what need it fulfills for your customers?
Where Will They Stay? secures discounted hotel room blocks for weddings and other special events. We primarily work on behalf of the wedding planner to find hotels that fit their needs, secure pricing and help with contract negotiation and execution. We also recently began offering this service to engaged couples and families after many requests to expand to this market. And, because of hotel industry incentives, we are able to provide this as a free service—saving time and money for our clients.
In addition, our market research showed that securing room blocks ranks at the bottom of the list of things that couples or planners want to do. Yet it’s something we have been doing day to day for years and love!
What have been some of the challenges of managing both your primary business and your side business?
Not enough time in the day! Running one business and starting up another is challenging, and definitely adds more pieces into the “puzzle” of each week. But the response to the service has been amazing, and we are deeply committed to bringing a personal touch to our Where Will They Stay? clients. We try to divide and conquer, streamline decision-making and also hire employees when needed to manage and encourage growth.
What have been some of the benefits you’ve seen of running two businesses?
For us, it has been a great way to combine several aspects of what we love doing - providing exceptional customer service and securing room blocks - while also diversifying our business offerings. On the BDI Events side, we have a cultivated selection of long–term, retainer clients and on the Where Will They Stay? side, we get to work with lots of different clients, for shorter periods of time. It's nice to have the variety of work, and so great to work with our wedding planner colleagues!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Starting a spinoff business can be overwhelming and will most certainly cost time and money. But if it makes sense for the long-term growth and health of your company, and if it's something that you have a unique skill set for and enjoy doing, it's almost always worth pursuing.