By Nina Polien Light | Photo by John Goldy
“My biggest challenge was being non-Jewish and African-American and trying to break into this market,” she says. “I had to work twice as hard to prove myself and gain the trust of families, so I could execute their vision. Over the course of many years, my work has proven that I guess I’m worthy. I’ve gained trust and respect in this market.”
Kendall’s interest in the so-called mitzvah market began a year earlier when, while working at a balloon store, she was tasked with setting up the decorations for a bat mitzvah party.
“I had never seen one,” she says. “My husband is Jewish, but none of the nieces and nephews had had one yet. I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is so cool.’ That led me to look into it.”
Following extensive discussions with her husband and his family about bar and bat mitzvah celebrations and gaining their encouragement, Kendall turned a spare bedroom into a workroom, where she represented the entire workforce. As business picked up, her custom-made centerpieces and decorations began migrating to her two-car garage. When she and her husband could no longer park their cars, Kendall moved Whimzey to office space in Beachwood. Today the company is based in a 1,700-square-foot place in Warrensville Heights, where four people work with Kendall on an as-needed basis.
“I opened a credit card with a $1,500 limit,” she says of financing the company. “As we grew, my family gave me money to expand. Ten years later I run a debt-free business, and I’m really proud of that. I don’t want to take out loans.”
Kendall, whose creative background includes studying interior design and cosmetology, chose the name Whimzey because most bar and bat mitzvah parties are planned around a whimsical theme. She tweaked the spelling to reflect the whimsical touches she puts on every centerpiece and decoration she conceptualizes and crafts in-house. She dubbed an offshoot of the business, It’s Whimzeycal. The online store is geared to children’s birthday celebrations and features custom-designed favors, centerpieces, and invitations that cannot be found in big-box stores. Kendall says Ohioans do not typically throw big bashes for children, but folks in places like Texas and Florida do. The ecommerce part of her business allows her to tap into that market without relocating.
Although most of the 36 to 40 events for which Kendall decorates each year are bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, she has worked with corporate clients. Over the last decade, she has designed a custom red-and-gold centerpiece for a Go Red for Women event, provided balloon décor for a charity run, fashioned globe-themed centerpieces for Cuyahoga Community College’s Earth Day celebration, and created balloon décor for the Cleveland Indians on Opening Day.
Still, building the business has not always been easy, Kendall says. In the early days, the design process included much trial and error because, although Kendall has always been creative and had learned a great deal working in the balloon store, she is largely self-taught. She turned to party designers in Michigan and Georgia to mentor her on selecting materials and tools as well as other aspects of design.
Along the way, she forged relationships with other vendors in the special events industry. Impressed with Kendall’s creative designs, they began recommending her to their clients and she returned the favor.
Being a woman and a mother working in the mitzvah market has served her well.
“I’m dealing with mostly moms on a regular basis, and we can pretty much relate,” Kendall, who often brings her young son on jobs, says. “I give them a sense of comfort.”
If she could point to one mistake, it would be not actively marketing Whimzey. Although she has built a successful business relying on referrals, she says with marketing, “we could probably be doing much more than what we’re doing.”
Still, Kendall does not want the business to grow so large that it takes her away from spending time with her husband and son.
“My biggest goal is to continue to build a business that exemplifies quality and professionalism, while remaining appreciative and humble,” she says. “I never want to become so big that I’m not enjoying my craft. Selfishly, I want to be able to continue to build my business to a certain level for the benefit of myself and my family.”
For more info: whimzeyllc.com