Eclipse Event Co. (Kristi DePew)
Kristi DePew and Lauren Chumbley are award-winning wedding and event planners in Austin and Central Texas who built their dream business out of hard work, determination and enthusiasm for creating a stellar experience for their clients. Both Kristi and Lauren started what would become Eclipse Event Co. as a side hustle, but now manage their thriving business full-time--in addition to being amazing, full-time moms! We were able to catch up with Kristi, who told us more about how wedding planning went from a job to a passion to a career.
LH: Tell me a little about Eclipse.
KD: Eclipse officially launched in April 2015 as a passion project for Lauren and me. We were both new moms and found ourselves missing the hustle and excitement of the events industry. We originally thought we would do weddings and alternate who would lead and who would assist, but the demand of the Austin event's industry quickly proved to have more of a need than we thought. With our initial investment we determined that we would have to book three weddings to break even in our first year—and we booked seven! From there we decided we needed more help and it was a whirlwind after that!
LH: How did you decide on your name?
KD: We emailed each other 200 or more names before deciding on Eclipse. We literally sat there on Thesaurus.com until we landed on a name that encompassed everything we wanted from our events: To outshine, to never be overlooked, to be unique, to be the star...it was a perfect match!
LH: How did you and Lauren become partners?
KD: Lauren and I have known each other for years from being involved in the events industry; she came from a venue, and I was in event rental and support. We both did weddings on the side, so we chatted often for business and at networking events. We also enjoyed the occasional happy hour--not going to lie!
At one point, Lauren had a wedding to coordinate and was eight months pregnant with twins. She needed to bring someone on in case she went into labor and couldn't do the wedding, so she asked me to fill in for her. The wedding went off perfectly, and she safely delivered those babies two weeks later, to the day. When the twins were a few weeks old, I brought the new mama some lunch and she brought up the idea of going out on our own. To be honest, I sort of thought she was kidding, since she was gainfully employed at the venue. Fast forward two weeks later and she had actually quit. She called me to tell me and I said, "Let's do this!"
LH: What made you want to get into event planning?
KD: It's hard to put my finger on an initial "ah-ha" moment, but entertaining has always been a part of my life. When I was growing up my mom liked to cook and entertain a lot, so BBQ's, Thanksgivings, and Fourth of July parties were always at our house. In college I was a part of a Sorority, which essentially runs on the members volunteering to plan mixers and parties, so I emerged as a leader there.
When I graduated from college I literally called and emailed as many event planning companies as I could find, and I didn't stop until I had an internship. I guess it just came naturally for me since I had never known any different, and found it very strange when people would tell me that they never had people over or didn't know how to throw a party.
LH: How do you find your vendors?
KD: Most of our vendors are people we have known through networking, either in NACE (The National Association for Catering and Events) or ILEA (The International Live Events Association). A good mix of the rest we met initially because a bride or groom hired them directly and then we enjoyed working with them, or they were referred from another trusted partner. We get a fair amount of cold-calls from vendors and if those people want to meet us at an industry event I always encourage them to do so, because you never know who will be the next big thing. I never turn down a meeting if I can help it.
LH: What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened at one of your events, and what did you do to handle it?
KD: We had a groom go missing for 45 minutes during his New Year’s Eve reception! I was so worried that we wouldn't find him before midnight—I mean, how do you push back the timeline when the whole room is awaiting the new year? Luckily the bride was very understanding and went upstairs to get him from the honeymoon suite. He was taking a nap and rallied like a champion for the New Year’s kiss!
LH: Favorite venue in Austin area?
KD: That question is going to get me in trouble! Austin is such a fun and unique town, and we have a lot of history. I love historical venues like the Driskill Hotel (I'm partial because that's where I was married), The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, The Blanton Museum of Art, The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center to name a few, but I also love the funky local industrial venues like 800 Congress, Brazos Hall, and The Union on Eighth. I think people are drawn to the Texas Hill Country, and we have SO many fabulous venues here that embrace that, such as Horseshoe Bay Resort, Camp Lucy, Antebellum Oaks, Ma Maison, Canyonwood Ridge, Pecan Springs Ranch. We have so many!
LH: Why did you decide to expand to multiple locations?
KD: Simply put, necessity! Lauren is originally from San Antonio, so she has quite a few contacts and friends who were getting married in the area; it was easy for her to work down there since she has built-in babysitting. As business picked up, we found she was turning down Austin business because she was booking in SA, so we brought on our two San Antonio coordinators and haven't looked back! Our California coordinator, Roxanne, was established here in Austin but had the opportunity to move to California. Rather than lose her, we decided to take a leap of faith and invest in her by taking things out West! It is definitely a learning opportunity, since it’s a totally new market, but I am proud to say she is booking weddings and rocking and rolling!
LH: Can you describe what it’s like to manage your other sites?
KD: San Antonio is a bit easier since Lauren is familiar with the city and the market, and given it's an hour from Austin it makes the commute pretty easy. California is a totally different ballgame, but with the contacts we know through NACE and ILEA we’ve been able to utilize our colleagues and find a good place for us out there. We are still learning for sure, since the laws and economy are so different, but everyone we know in California is helping us tackle the task at hand. We have to fly out to California a few times a year to check in, but it seems to be working out all right!
LH: How do you find your clients?
KD: About 75% of our clients are referrals, either from colleagues, venues, or other industry professionals, but we’re seeing a shift since we’ve spent so much time investing in ourselves and identifying our "ideal" clients. We’ve made lists and talked through who we want to work with—their professions, budgets, personalities, age range, where they shop and so forth—and tweaked our online voice and branding in hopes of attracting those clients. Lately, it seems that hard work is paying off, because the clients who are finding us on their own through our online and social media channels are THE BEST! It makes our jobs fun and easy, and we make a lot of new friends in the process.
LH: What’s the biggest challenge of being a ‘mom-preneur’?
KD: Finding the balance. I'm not sure we have one! It's hard to have a regimented schedule because the little ones change so much every day, but somehow we make it work. Loving and supportive families have been hugely important, not only from a childcare perspective, but also as a support system on those days when you’re exhausted and don't have a timeclock to end your day.
When Lauren and I started this business, we were new moms. We decided early on that if people wanted to work with us, they’d need to understand we were balancing kids, work, business ownership, home, family and friends, and respect our commitment to getting it all done. So, for as long as we could, we brought the kids with us. It's totally unorthodox, maybe, but I remember my late-aunt telling me that babies are super-portable. Boy was she right! It turns out most of our vendors and clients really like babies, so I don't know if we lucked out, or if they were all just really supportive. We've never made it a secret that we have these little kiddos, and instead of shielding it away like some secret part of our lives that doesn't interfere with work, we just embraced it.
LH: If you could change one thing about your business, what would it be?
KD: That's really hard to say, because the forward trajectory of our business has been so great! I would never have used our first-run website (seriously, it was a bad glitter mess). I wish the term "day of" wedding planner would go away and we would all move towards calling it "event management," but that's more of an industry-wide request. I would set some time aside to refine our brand image a little further and incorporate that into our branded merchandise, and things like that.
LH: Tell me about a favorite wedding you’ve planned.
KD: How am I supposed to pick a favorite?! We have some really amazing weddings in the pipeline. One of my favorite weddings was a gal from Chicago who wanted to give everyone a fun, cheeky taste of Texas. We decorated bare wooden tables with deer antlers, candles, Texas wildflowers and leather runners, customized with a "brand" her father had registered for the couple. The ceremony altar had cowhide rugs that they stood on while guests kept warm with Mexican sarapes. The couple entered cocktail hour to live mariachi, leading "beer burros" and handing out tequila shots. Dinner was traditional tex-mex, the cake was the beloved armadillo red velvet cake from Steel Magnolias, and dancing took place underneath a "disco saddle" that the bride had hand-bejeweled. It was a fantastic party!
LH: What’s the best thing about your hustle?
KD: The reputation we are building for ourselves. We have hand-selected planners that we’ve personally vetted and worked with so that everyone, from the bride and groom to the catering staff to the cleaning crew, all feel respected. I know that sounds funny, but we are intentionally nice! It's easy to get bogged down with the stress of a wedding, so being nice is such a simple way to convey respect to everyone involved, and part of the hustle is to make sure we keep that in mind always.
LH: What’s next for Eclipse?
KD: That's hard to say without giving anything away! I don't think another big expansion is happening anytime soon, but I suspect in the coming year or so we will grow our team, maybe open a new office space, or solidify ourselves on some new preferred vendor lists. We definitely have plans to roll out some fun and unique "quirks" of the company, both in our voice and our image. We’ll see!
Interview By Bonnie Rubrecht
Bonnie is a freelance writer and illustrator from California who enjoys writing about health and wellness, women’s issues, design, social justice and sustainable agriculture. She used to live with her family in a historic home in rural Massachusetts where she binge-listened to podcasts, chased chickens and indulged in Japanese candy. Recently, she moved back to the west coast where she still binge-listens to podcasts and indulges in Japanese candy...no word on whether she’s found new chickens to chase yet. You can find her on twitter and Instagram.