By Lauren Sable Freiman | Photo by John Goldy
Getting vendors to return her phone calls or emails in a reasonable time frame or to follow up on inquiries or to-do lists was challenging for Gragg, whose background in banking had armed her with top-notch customer service skills.
“I was disappointed with the level of service I received, and I felt like the level of customer service was really lacking,” Gragg says. “Then, I thought there was a huge opportunity for someone like me who is very service oriented.”
In 2008 Gragg officially launched Covesa Kelly Events as she began her transition out of the world of banking and into the world of weddings, parties, showers, and corporate events. In her first year she planned a couple events. Today the company averages 33 events each year, and business continues to grow.
“It took me a long time to learn that success doesn’t equate to quantity of events,” Gragg says. “There are years we’ve had more events with less money. The caliber of our events is growing and our clientele has more capacity to spend on their events, which helps to drive our bottom line. As the business continues to grow, the opportunities are growing as well.”
Gragg advertises her event planning and coordination services in Today’s Bride and Google Ad Words, but she devotes the majority of her attention to social media, where she writes a blog detailing her current views on the industry, pitfalls of the events world, and the newest trends.
Because the events industry is changing so rapidly, and because the barrier to entry is fairly low, Gragg works to set herself and her company apart from the competition by continuously seeking out professional development opportunities. She aims to attend a professional conference at least once each year and participates in additional professional development activities with Cleveland’s chapter of the International Live Events Association.
“What continuously separates the professionals from the hobbyists is the level of experience and education you and your company have,” Gragg says. “You want to make sure you have the right tools in your tool box in order to service the clients who generate business for you, and you do that through education. That’s why people want to work with you, because they take you seriously.”
Gragg has also had the opportunity to participate in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, developed to help entrepreneurs grow a sustainable business.
“I’m trying to be aggressive about keeping up-to-date on education,” Gragg says. “Those things are very important to the success of a small business.”
Cleveland’s chapter of ILEA has also allowed Gragg to expand her network and meet other small business owners as well as potential clients. Covesa Kelly Events produces an event called Brides in the City, where a limo bus takes a crowd of 40 brides to potential wedding venues, where they can tour the venue and meet vendors who set up information tables to greet potential clients.
“The idea came from thinking about what we as small business owners can do to help each other,” Gragg says. “Part of being top notch is being really engaged with the city and what other businesses are doing.”
It was at a networking event that Gragg experienced another boost for her business – the chance to meet Katherine Miracle, the president of Miracle Resources, a public relations, marketing, and training firm. It was mentorship at first sight.
“I met her at a networking event where she was speaking,” Gragg says. “While she was speaking, we just caught each other’s eye, because when you’re speaking you can tell who is listening, and I was just so engaged with what she was saying that I had to meet her. We chatted, which turned into lunch, which turned into me needing a mentor.”
From Miracle, Gragg says she’s learned balance, perspective, and how to navigate the ups and downs of the market. The guidance her mentor has provided has proven invaluable, because, as a small business owner, Gragg has learned that the journey, while rewarding, can be overwhelming. She says there have been several moments where she is keenly aware that her success or failure falls on her plate alone. While marketing has been focused on the Cleveland area, Gragg is looking at growth opportunities in southern Ohio to help support the vision and growth of the company. In the next three to five years she plans to grow into Columbus and Cincinnati, where she can continue to be a leader in the industry.
“My service is considered a luxury item when it comes to wedding budgets, and sometimes that is a hard sell in Cleveland,” Gragg says. “Can you plan a wedding without a wedding planner? Probably. Will you get the most out of your budget? Probably not. In larger markets, that luxury item is more necessary for whatever reason.”
Becoming a travel agent for Sandals Resorts has also helped Gragg diversify her business. As an agent, she is able to help clients book corporate retreats, honeymoons, destination weddings, and other special events in the Caribbean.
For more info: covesakellyevents.com