“And suddenly you know: It's time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”
― Meister Eckhart
On a boiling hot day in June, Kate and I sat down with our dear friend Caitlin Waugh for a round table discussion made complete with cocktails at the Ace Hotel in Downtown New Orleans. We answered a few questions about the formation of Clark & Kelly, our New Orleans-based design and coordination business, and the experiences that brought us to co-owning a company. We share the conversation here in hopes that you will get to know us, and our partnership, better.
Caitlin: Becca, what’s your history in the wedding planning business? Why did you want to work in this industry?
Becca: I’d had jobs in management, hosting, serving and bartending, and I was starting to feel burnt out. I wanted to make a change, but it was important to me to still be honing and using the skills I had spent so much time acquiring. When the time came to plan my own wedding, I noticed many parallels between restaurant work and event planning. As my wedding day neared, I caught myself wishing it could be my job, then I thought, why not? It would be easy to translate my restaurant industry experience into planning and design. I was also lucky to have an older sister in event production in NYC, leading the way and giving me an example of what is possible in the industry.
C: So how did you get into wedding planning, what was that transition like?
B: Right after I finished planning my wedding, I started doing research about how one becomes a wedding planner. I read that you need to start by working for a planner, which was obvious. As it turned out, a coworker of mine was engaged to an established planner. She agreed to hire me as a “Day of” assistant. It’s a job in the industry that doesn’t require a lot of experience; you’re basically trained for the job on the job. I felt very lucky and grateful to just have it fall into place, and it also made me feel I was on the right path.
I worked for her in that capacity for 6 months and then took a role in her office as her lead assistant. I did that job for a year. I ended up leaving that job because I was pregnant and wanted to spend a good chunk of time at home and I wasn’t sure how long it would be. After I had my baby I had been thinking about whether or not to return to work for that planner, or to work for someone else, or to try to get a job at a venue. It wasn’t clear what to do.
The question was more or less answered for me when I got some inquiries from friends of friends about helping out with their upcoming boutique weddings in New Orleans. I was starting to get the itch to return to work, but still wanted the flexibility of being with my daughter, Jojo, as much as possible, and on my own terms.
As I approached saying yes to these brides, I saw a need for more than one mind. I work best in a pair. When I have an idea, I like to bounce it off someone else. I’m more conversational in the way I develop ideas so working alone wasn’t an option for me. I started thinking about who would be the ideal partner and that lead me to Kate.
Q: Kate, what’s your experience with weddings? Are you married?
Kate: (laughs) Nope! I’ve certainly been to my fair share of weddings, and I’ve been honored to stand as a bridesmaid in a quite a few, which has shown me how stressful, but more importantly how meaningful weddings are. After Katrina, I worked briefly at an established bridal shop in Uptown New Orleans. I’m totally one of those girls, very girly girl, so I was initially excited to spend my days amid racks of lace and tulle. As much fun as it was to be around the beautiful dresses, I saw so many women crumbling under the stress of simply choosing a dress. I saw a lot of lovely moments, too, but what made an impression on me is the side of the business that is just about selling stuff and that hard-sell mentality really doesn't fit with my personality. Especially for such a special day. I came away from that experience, seeing the more commercial side of the business and wanting to move away from that.
Q: After that experience, did you still imagine yourself working in the industry, perhaps as a planner?
K: Yes, definitely. The bridal shop introduced me to Martha Stewart Weddings [magazine] and I continued to pick them up from time to time after I left the shop because I really loved the content. Every issue is dedicated to creativity and the photographs are amazing—on the whole it’s really dreamy.
I’m a creative person so the idea of decorating spaces appeals to me. I have always been into interiors, even as a child. I used to sketch out my dream homes blue print style. I have always been mindful of spaces, making them look beautiful and I think wedding planning has a lot of those elements. I also own my own graphic design company, The Smaller Orchid. I’ve always loved the idea of using my skills in this arena to create custom wedding suites.
Q: What was your reaction when Becca approached you to start this business?
K: I was super excited because I remember when Becca had started planning her wedding and then especially when she started working in the wedding industry I was envious, and I realized I had always seen myself in that role, but didn’t necessarily know how to break into the business. It seemed beyond my grasp.
B: I shared that same feeling initially. I thought to myself that I wanted to become an event planner but felt that I needed to have SO much experience to become relevant in the field. As I started working I quickly realized that much of the experience I needed was similar to what I already knew, a lot of it is intuition.
Q: Can you list, Katie, the parts of your personality that make you suited for this type of work?
K: I’m totally type-A. Totally. I’m an insane perfectionist; it’s actually a bad quality of mine, to some degree. I’ve recently spent a lot of effort learning to manage it, but…
B: I’m helping her manage it, that’s how good of a manager I am!
K: …yeah! (laughs) That’s a great point. I’ve worked in high-end retail and the service industry for a long time and you have to be a great listener to succeed in those fields. When we meet with clients I’m the type of person who is less likely to chime in until we get to the end. I like to know the full story, I like to get a full picture, download and then assess it.
B: Unlike me who just can’t help blurting out my ideas sometimes. You’re romantic.
K: Romantic and a dreamer.
B: And you’re touched. I see you as a sentimental person.
K: I am.
B: I can see when people tell us their stories or how they met you are touched in a visceral way, which is really nice and honest.
K: We both at our core have a real appreciation of the human story and how it is impacted by love.
B: Hopefully that’s something we can always hold on to.
K: We both have talked about wanting to help people. From working as a server with Becca, I know that it’s true for both of us: we are committed to giving a full experience.
B: Absolutely! We’re both committed to a high level of experience. We see ourselves more as a concierge or guide, learning about people and then pairing them with an experience that is most appropriate for them. Whether it is the perfect entree and glass of wine, or the perfect venue and band. Our desire to facilitate that exact pairing all comes from the same place.
Q: What are some other things you’ve learned from the service industry that helps when working weddings?
K: One thing that I can think of are these moments of stress that pop up in both fields. Sometimes, things go wrong or get out of hand and in moments of stress we are both poised. We’re able to put our heads down, figure out a solution and remain calm while doing so. If there are emotions to be felt, we let it out way after the problem is resolved!
B: With a glass of wine! (laughs) In some ways, both fields set you up to constantly put out fires.
B: Of course.
C: Becca, why did you ask Katie over anyone else?
B: I was extremely intentional. I wanted to pick a person that was very different from me but that had qualities that I admired and respected. To be honest, I don’t have a strong design background, it’s not my thing. I am a good decision maker and I have a good sense of aesthetics but I’m not strong in the creation of visual arts. I wanted to partner with a designer because that is the ideal partnership; they would dream up the options and I would be there to help narrow them down, but also to shine in my areas: organization and problem solving.
K: You’re really good at efficiency, also. You’re always thinking about how to best use time.
B: That’s a big thing for me, finding systems that work and operating in the most efficient way, which I think is necessary for planning a wedding.
K: For me, that’s also what I love about working as a waiter. I’ve always seen it as a game to figure out ways to cut out useless or inefficient steps in order to be more effective.
B: Me too. Working with Kate for several years allowed me to hear how she speaks to people, see how she moves through spaces and to watch her be graceful in her approach. I knew she was a good partner for me because I knew she would have the utmost respect for our clients, that she gives a shit about her work and I knew that she’s a sentimental person and a romantic. I also knew that she has the design experience that I’m lacking. While I have the more concrete experience in weddings, though I don’t discount how well versed Kate is, she has the background and interest in design that makes us the perfect match.
C: Taking a step back, how do you know one another?
K: We met working at Lilette, a fine dining restaurant in Uptown, New Orleans.
B: We worked together for a couple of years, and we have a really great mutual friend (wink) who is very close with both of us. I think meeting through a mutual friend is an excellent way to build trust. It was another factor in my choice. I didn’t know Kate as well, but that makes an ideal business partner, right? Because at the onset I wasn’t worried about hurting her feelings.
K: Business first.
B: Business first makes it easier to have some of those awkward conversations where we don’t agree. We have no problem being blunt about what we both envision for this business and we are able to compromise with out being overly emotional.
K: But now the friendship is catching up, and I love that we have our foundation and shared interest in the business.
B: Getting something off the ground is a lot of work. From the very beginning since we are both super deliberate and intentional people who know what we want and what we like, finding the common ground between us took a lot of discussion and honestly, a lot of rejection. It’s something that sets us apart from our competition; because we’ve had to compromise with each other and that has led us to be very intentional in all aspects of what we do. We’ve combed through every option, weighed them and then decided as a unit how to move forward.
K: That speaks to what we're trying to accomplish with our clients as well. Every decision has to fit for both people in the couple, and their families. We don’t want to overlook any part of that planning and the way we want to live our lives fits the business in that way too. No time wasted, everything taken care of.
Q: What do you envision for this union, ultimately?
B: I hope we can make a lot of people happy.
K: I hope we will continue to grow, always becoming better at what we do.
B: Learning more about our city…
K: …and having fun along the way.