Thursday, February 7, 2008

I’ve been a member of the Association of Bridal Consultants for over thirteen years. I attended my first Annual Conference in San Antonio in 1995. I had been “doing weddings” as we sometimes say, for over 30 years as a volunteer. After our daughter, Saundra, was married in 1993 (gosh, I think that’s right, eeks!) I told Jim that I wanted to start a consulting business and make weddings my profession. He was still working full time at Bethlehem, and was worried that we would never see each other since weddings require so much weekend work. So I shelved the idea and continued to hang wallpaper for another two years (for a total of 16 years! I know where a bunch of extra house keys are hidden all over Northwest Indiana!) Then in September of 1995, Jim’s brother and his long time fiance moved to our area from Pennsylvania, and decided to get married. They knew nothing about the area, what was available, or where to go, so they asked me to help them put their wedding together. I had SO much fun! I was so excited about seeing all my hard work come together! I think I was as charged up about the wedding as they were! After it was over, and we were driving home, I told Jim again that this was what my passion was, this was what I REALLY wanted to do, and he finally said, “If that’s what you really want to do, then do it”.
This brings me back to ABC (the Association of Bridal Consultants). I started doing research on where to find out about how to be a good bridal consultant, how to start a business, all the nuts and bolts stuff. This was before the days of Google, and it involved a lot of hours at the library chasing down a lot of dead ends. Somehow, and I don’t even remember how, I fell upon the name of Teddy Lenderman, a consultant in Terre Haute and the State Coordinator for ABC at the time, and I called her. (Teddy is also the author of a wonderful book on wedding planning, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Wedding” available from ) She talked with me about the association and mentioned that their annual conference was coming up in mid-November (this was the end of September!) and that if I was really serious about it, I should try to attend. She didn’t have to tell me twice! I was on the phone to the travel agent booking my flight that same day.

So off I went to San Antonio, all by myself. I think it was the first time in my life that I went anywhere by myself like that! I really splurged and payed for a half hour "session with the experts" to meet with Renee Grannis. Renee helped me with some major business decisions:company name, logo, stationery, business cards, just general thoughts on how I would do things. I think of anyone I have met through the Association, Renee has been my biggest supporter and dearest friend. We have had many wonderful dinners together over the years and great talks.

So, you ask, how did you go from being an independent wedding consultant to Aberdeen Manor? Well, it really wasn't a very big jump actually. Between 1995 and 1998 I had a number of weddings at locations all over the area, from South Chicago to Southeastern Michigan. It just seemed like nobody was very interested in being "wedding friendly". Cakes were stuck off at the side of the room where the guests never saw them, the walls and decor were busy and didn't work well as backgrounds for wedding photos, or there was NO decor and it required thousands of dollars worth of decorating to make it look like anything, but most of all, the staffs seemed to have little or no interest in doing anything to insure that this "once in a lifetime day" was as perfect as possible. They were inflexible, and unwilling to change the way they did anything. It just didn't seem like they really cared very much. Even at the places that had a "banquet manager", she usually left after the dinner was served. There was nobody to help the couple or the parents with anything later on or at the end of the evening! It just seemed wrong. There had to be a better way to do it.

We could also see that there was a need for more banquet space in Valparaiso, and particularly "wedding friendly" banquet space. So we started talking to builders and architects and bankers, and we made it happen. We opened Aberdeen Manor in January of 1999. Before the building was even finished we had booked 45 weddings and a prom. Jim and I would go out and clean up every weekend from July to December, sweeping, throwing away garbage, straightening up for the next week. It seemed like every weekend one of our couples would stop and visit. Their excitement and anticipation were what kept us going over those long months of construction.
After we opened in January of 1999 we found out that the hard work was just beginning. Jim and I both put in 80 to 90 hours a week for the first couple of years. For the first several months we set all the tables, cleaned the bathrooms, and everything in between. It was, to put it mildly, a tough couple of years. We had to send Ozzie to doggie daycare because he was home alone so much! We had two employees, Jim and Denna. For events we had bartenders but that was pretty much it. I don't think I have worked that hard since my kids were babies! But it was SO much fun. We finally hired a bookkeeper in the fall of 1999, and as we have moved along we have added others. It's been a wonderful nine years, and as we go into our tenth year of business, it astounds both of us how far we have come and how much we have changed over the years. One thing that has never changed though, is our love of weddings, our deep commitment to making every event the best that it can be, and the incredible sense of satisfaction that we all have knowing that we have made that "once in a lifetime day" special, memorable, and the most perfect that it can be.

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