An event venue will open in Butler

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For as long as she can remember, Menomonee Falls-based event planner and creative designer Ebony Whitson has been planning things out.

When she worked in her company, she planned business lunches and baby showers. With her six children, from the blended family of her and her husband Alan, some of whom are now adults, she organized birthday parties, outings and special events.

“It’s something I’ve always done,” Whitson said. So, it should be easy to leave your corporate career to open an event planning business, right?

Not enough. In fact, she said it’s been “very difficult.”

She opened her full-service event design, management and production company Whitson Wonder Productions in 2018.

She went from meeting customers in cafes while renting a heated storage unit for her supplies, to operating out of an office at N48 W14170 Hampton Road, Menomonee Falls, and then expanding that office to include meeting space. , a showroom and a storage area. .

Whitson Wonder Productions will open a location for weddings and events in August at 12601 W. Hampton Ave., Butler.

On August 2, Whitson plans to take the next step: to open a 6,000 square foot event venue, Elegante Luxury Event Venue, at 12601 W. Hampton Ave., Butler.

The space can hold 100 people, Whitson said. It has a cozy kitchen, suites for the bride and groom, and access for the disabled. She will celebrate with an open house from 6 to 8 p.m. on August 2; the event will include facility tours, light snacks and a non-alcoholic bar.

“It’s kind of an upscale hotel,” she said.

She credits the guidance she received from her SCORE volunteer mentors, training scholarship opportunities, and online training options for helping her business thrive and grow.

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“How far you can go with the right people leading you”

When Whitson started her business four years ago, it operated at minimal cost for customers to gain experience. But people loved what she was doing and her business grew.

But she wanted to make sure he would develop in the right way, and she wondered if what she was doing was right. She turned to SCORE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping small businesses. The organization achieves this in particular through mentors.

Whitson caught up with Jim Injeski, who was recently named 2022 SBA Wisconsin SCORE Mentor of the Year.

“He did an assessment of our business. He walked around and immediately mentioned different things and upgrades,” Whitson said. She said he was able to help her qualify for new business financing, suggested a different accounting system and attended her occupancy license hearing.

“It’s been a blessing,” Whitson said. “If he doesn’t know the answer, he finds someone who does.”

“Part of SCORE is trying to understand people, listen to their story and put them at ease,” Injeski said. “If you’re considering starting a business, ask lots of questions to determine if it’s right for you. SCORE Mentors share steps to understand if there’s an audience, if the business is a differentiator, and why it’s going to be successful If you don’t have a target market or you don’t understand how to get there, how are you going to make money as a business?”

As a result of the mentorship, Whitson’s business was nominated for a Wisconsin SBA National Small Business Week award in May. Whitson Wonder Productions was also nominated for a “Rising Star” award at the 2021 Governor’s Market Conference.

She said she learned “how far you can go with the right people leading you.”

Invest time and money in training

In some states, specific certification or skills are required to be a wedding or event planner, but in Wisconsin, this is not the case.

But Whitson said: “We make it a requirement.”

She is working to become a certified wedding planner and also makes training a priority. “We’ve invested thousands and thousands in training. We want to do research to bring people the best design,” she said.

When COVID-19 hit, Whitson said she had been running her event management business for two years. “We were going to take off,” she said. “COVID has taken a real hit.”

But COVID has also brought some benefits, she said. For example, many conferences and trainings have become virtual and available on Zoom. “I didn’t have to travel,” she said. Attending industry conferences, she says, is an important way for her to learn all she can.

She was the first person from Wisconsin selected to participate in the Wedding Pro Fellowship for Change mentorship program. She also trained in North Carolina with Lance Devereux of VH1’s “My Celebrity Dream Wedding,” where she can learn from the best, she said.

“You will not see the same event twice”

Through the professional development and training she has received, Whitson is able to incorporate the best design ideas and features into her business model.

“You won’t see the same event twice,” she said.

“We want to create this unique experience,” she said. “We want to put your stamp on your event. We have the skills to deliver an amazing experience – and not break the bank. We want people to see that.”

Her goal is for Whitson Wonder Productions to become the primary breadwinner for her blended family. She and her husband, Alan, have six children, aged 19, 19, 18, 16, 11 and 8. During COVID-19, Whitson said her husband, who has made a career of selling automobiles, has faced declining sales during COVID-19 and is looking to work full-time at Whitson Wonder Productions.

“We needed to maintain and ensure that our event planning business could produce what my husband’s job was missing. With the changes in the car buying process, we might see that the future of car sales is unclear. While this transition is happening, we can bring my husband in full time and run a successful business together. It is not only our passion, but it can also become our livelihood.

Cathy Kozlowicz can be reached at 262-361-9132 or cathy.kozlowicz@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @kozlowicz_cathy.

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