Rena Sweeney is the owner of Alchemy Events. An expert in multicultural and belief-specific weddings, Rena has served and built relationships with many clients from all types of backgrounds and faiths. Her experience working in the non-profit space and with corporate events allows her to plan events with an organizational quality that is unmatched.
What inspired you to enter the wedding industry?
When I started working in the event industry 20 years ago, I had some experience with private events. I worked for a company that did tradeshows and got my start on that side of the industry. However, I wasn't feeling creatively fulfilled and got many requests from people to help with their weddings. I soon decided that would be my primary focus, although I do still plan corporate and non-profit events as well. I love knowing that I'm making what could be a stressful time in people's lives a wonderful experience instead.
What inspired you to start Alchemy Events?
When I first started, I worked with another planner for a short period of time and quickly realized there were some practices that I felt could be changed. She ended up leaving the country and taking a bunch of clients' money with her, leaving me not having been paid as well as many vendors. I committed to helping each of those couples through their weddings without charging them anything since we had all been impacted by the situation. That’s when my own company was born and I made it a priority to have full transparency with all clients and vendors. Alchemy Events is built on trust. That's the most important part of my company because I want my clients to know that I’m on their side and working for their best interests. I also want my vendors to trust and know that I am going to help my clients understand the best solutions, manage expectations, etc. What drives me is giving couples a great experience and building up our industry. Alchemy Events accomplishes this by providing full transparency as well as educating clients and new vendors in our field.
If you could change one thing about the weddings and special events industry, what would it be?
The perception. People often think working in this industry must be easy—so they jump in without any knowledge, training, or help from others. It's also been a long-lasting perception that wedding vendors jack up their prices simply because it’s for a wedding as opposed to some other event. Neither of these things are true. We really make it a point to try and help educate others on what the industry is really like. Our Alchemy Event Academy doesn't just feature shoot-outs or a lunch & learn, but we provide a multi-day experience where all types of vendors can learn things such as styling, how to drill down to who their ideal client is, shooting different styles of photography and more. Also, using my expertise as Creative Director for NOW Weddings magazine, I make sure that we also talk about what publishers are really looking for in submissions since we hear a lot of misinformation going around on that...
Pro Tip: we do NOT want everything shot vertically!
When it comes to clients, we always try to help them understand the value of what they’re getting. For example, if we hire a candle company, it could be easy to think; “oh, I can just go get candles at a discount of $1 each and do it myself”. In reality, clients almost always underestimate the number of candles that will be needed, the time involved, making sure vases are wiped down and smudge-free, that candle wicks are trimmed and don’t have black smudges, etc. Add that all into the short setup window a venue gives, and you would need quite a lot of staff to quickly and efficiently set everything up. When we’re able to help them see the value of what they’re paying for versus just showing them an expensive quote from a vendor it helps everyone involved. Couples now spend over 500 hours planning their weddings, so we always want clients to understand the value in the services all of their vendors are providing them and how much we’re really taking off their plate.
How does using Aisle Planner help you deliver the client experience you want?
Whew! As someone who painfully remembers the days of dial-up, fax machines, and carrying around giant binders of paperwork, Aisle Planner is a game changer! It’s everything I could have hoped for in a tool, by elevating and simplifying the process for my clients. I tried some other platforms before finding AP and was never happy with the experience. Being able to brand things with my own logos, track leads all the way through to the contract and payment process, having contacts and all their paperwork in one location, floor plans, etc.—I just can’t say enough! What did I even do before Aisle Planner? My clients also really love it and the ease of use. It just brings my client experience to a whole new level.
What is your favorite Aisle Planner feature?
There are so many but my personal favorite is the Contact area. Being able to see each vendor, having their contract or other documents attached to them, payments set up, etc. is just incredible! Being able to see everything related to that one vendor all in one spot is fantastic! No more having to send attachments back and forth or having to tell a client you’ll have to pull the file when you get back to the office— the answers are always at my fingertips! I also don’t have to print out and keep a huge filing system in my office anymore since I can drop the document right there onto their contact card.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a wedding and event planner?
Don't be afraid to intern or shadow someone else, ask for help, educate yourself and network with other vendors. No one expects you to be perfect or have all of the answers. Even in my 20th year as a planner, I still sometimes work with a new venue and ask for their staff’s advice on what they think works best in their space—they know their venue better than I do, and I want it to be a success for all of us. Plus, they might be able to tell me that one area is better for the band than another and detail exactly why. It’s all about working hand-in-hand with one another to give our clients the best possible experience. We have to put any pride aside and work with others to make it happen. Also, before investing in any educational seminars, really do your research and ask long-time professionals in your area about it. One reason I started Alchemy Event Academy is because I heard a lot of misinformation going around from people teaching workshops who are new to the field themselves. The ones of us who have been around longer really needed to step up and help educate newer vendors to make sure the future of our industry is on the right track.
What do you think will change about the weddings and special events space over the next five years?
As far as trends go, not a whole lot. Trends are slow to change in our industry—eight years later we are still seeing naked cakes! Wedding trends tend to be a slow transformation rather than rapid jumps in style. However, I think for the next year or so we’re going to continue to see smaller guest counts (even once a COVID-19 vaccine is released) with plated meals. I do think though, that this is an opportunity for couples to have the wedding they didn’t think they could afford before. Instead of having to feed 400 guests, couples now can shift their budget into an incredible experience for their 50 closest people. Let’s make these events something to really remember! Once we start to fully come out of COVID-19 restrictions, though, I think we’re going to see weddings jump back in a major way. People are ready to get out and celebrate!
What’s your personal philosophy on becoming a great wedding and event planner?
My favorite quote ever is by Dolly Parton and it's so fitting when it comes to this, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” I believe being true to who you are is key. Embrace who you are whether that means you love bright colors or doing dark and moody event schemes. Really dig down into what makes you different as a planner and do what you love to do with purpose. For me, it’s all about making truly personalized, one-of-a-kind experiences. Whether you want an all-black tarot card wedding with no florals or a traditional southern blush and white wedding, let’s take it a step further to really personalize. Let's make your guests walk away from your wedding having seen and experienced new things that are the perfect embodiment of who you are as a couple.
What lights your creative fire?
It doesn’t take much! Ideas are always coming to me and I jot them down or take a picture, etc. It could be looking at the night sky through the branches of a tree, something I see at a drag show, architecture, a piece of artwork, or a plant—I never know when those inspirations will come and when the ideas might be used. I feel so blessed because between giving each of my clients their own unique event and creating monthly issues for NOW Weddings magazine, a lot of my ideas get to be used at some point, which is fun. I just try to stay in the moment and stay aware because you never know where that spark will come from.
Is there anything you are particularly excited about working on this year?
A venue that I helped open almost a decade ago is bringing me back in for a refresh to review procedures, how their staff operates, social media, and other things to just see if there is any fine-tuning that can be done. I’m really excited to be working with them in that aspect again and am also really excited about the new phone app that I’m releasing to help my clients during their planning process as well!
Just for fun
What’s the most used tool in your emergency kit?
Hands down the sewing kit. The thing we sew the most is bustles, I guess our brides really tear up the dance floor!
I’m dying to design a wedding or event in…
Czechia. I was supposed to do two weddings in Czechia but that didn’t happen because of COVID-19 and it was a huge disappointment but something I hope can still happen one day… držte mi prosím palce (please keep your fingers crossed for me).
If you could plan any celebrity’s wedding, who would it be?
Ashley Longshore. Imagine how much fun that wedding would be! If any client would let me go all out with creativity, it would be her, plus we could use fabrics in her prints for table linens, attendant’s clothing… the possibilities are endless!
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever created for a wedding or event?
Ahhh, so many to choose from! I think the ones that will always stick out to me, though, are the shoot in an ice cave inside a glacier in Alaska or the Jean-Charles Boisset wine event, “The Alchemy of the Senses”. For that event, we paired the music, lighting, and dinner courses to perfectly match each wine being served and gave a full sensory experience to the guests as they dined. Jean-Charles is also such a fantastic, fun person with a keen business sense so working with him was amazing!
If a client gave you an infinite budget, what would you do differently?
Production elements all day, every day! I love getting to be a bit extra… lighting plays a huge part in that, but I love to create installations that tell a client's unique story, have a fog machine, dancers, whatever it takes to really immerse your guests in the experience and transport them to another place. Lebanese weddings do this really well and I love it!
Hero photo courtesy of Jessica The Photographer
To find out more about Rena and Alchemy Events visit her website here: alchemyeventsnola.com