Taking Talent to Market: Party Planning is Former Teacher

When Carolyn Hefner decided to move on from mom-who-does-everything to detail-driven business owner, she found a niche, set some goals, faced reality and made her business pay.

Carolyn Hefner was one of those mothers. She could handle raising two young boys and still manage to make the coolest treats and trimmings for any school occasion. While others shopped for store-bought cookies, Hefner was making personalized May Day baskets for each child in the class.

The Montana native was a former English teacher, so the foundation of creativity was already there and school events gave her an outlet. But when her sons got a bit older and she relocated to the tony city of Birmingham, Mich., Hefner decided it was time to get back into the workforce.

Goal 1: Accept Personal Sacrifices

She took a job at a gift boutique that happened to be located in the lobby of one of Michigan’s finest hotels. It gave her a backstage view of all the sumptuous parties and weddings staged there, and she took note when some went smoother than others.

With a discerning eye, a good memory and a desire to start her own business, Hefner launched a career as a wedding consultant and party planner. That was in the early 1990s, and she’s continually grown her business since.

Four years ago Hefner opened The China Closet, where she brings everything together for her clients – photographers, linens and crystal, invitations – whatever’s needed for a special event. Opening the store as an enhancement to her service not only offered customers one-stop shopping – it captured more of their business.

“I think it is very common to get comfortable and remain in the same pattern,” says Hefner, who prides herself on never planning the same party twice. “I tend to get bored easily and need change. I look for ways to be more inventive in what I do, and streamline the tedious parts of my work so I can concentrate on new ideas and better methods of operating.”

But, she says, that doesn’t come without sacrifice. On any given weekend, Hefner is likely the first at a wedding and the last to leave the reception. She considers herself an event director, and has committed to personally ensuring that each affair meets her standards – whatever that takes.

Goal 2: Learn Your Business, Bottom to Top

Hefner set out to learn every detail of her business, which fuels her personalized service – and has made her well-known with the well-heeled in suburban Detroit, where the affluent population is among the wealthiest in the country. Even during the current automotive slump, Hefner says her business is doing well, with destination weddings, retirement parties, anniversaries and other events always on her schedule.

Though she has several well-trained assistants available during events, Hefner says being able to execute every detail of the business helps her teach employees and gives her an appreciation of even their smallest duties.

Goal 3: Set Goal 4, 5 and Beyond

With time and success, Carolyn Hefner’s goals have changed. Where she once just wanted to cover expenses, she now puts earnings back into the business to continue to build her brand, and the image it presents.

“That image brought more business,” Hefner says, referring to The China Closet. “My goal was to create a reliable service business, and after years of working I find that now I want to be able to offer an exceptional, unmatched service business.

“As my business grows, so do my expectations of what I can accomplish.”

Alice Rhein is a frequent contributor to StartupNation.

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