Whenever we attend an event, we always look forward to a well-organized and beautifully decorated occasion, be it a wedding, a family gathering, a dinner or just a normal party. Planning events require lots of energy, hard work and patience.
In years past, event planning in St. Lucia basically centered on the same theme — tropical flowers, bamboo, you know … the island setting. You saw it everywhere, and it never occurred to most of us how basic it all was; that is, until we finally got a more professional handle on things.
Even then, for many it was — and still is — just another way of making money. However, with ‘By Charlie’ it’s different. They take the ordinary and turn their clients’ events into beautiful, artistic settings.
Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Cooper is the brains behind By Charlie. Born in London, she established the business after moving to St. Lucia almost five years ago. Although she only acquired permanent residency recently as she married her St. Lucian born husband, St. Lucia has become her home.
We got a chance to chat with Charlie, during which she shared with us her successes and the challenges she’s had to face, including what it’s like being a mother and managing a business.
Dazzle: What do our readers need to know about By Charlie?
Charlie: I’m not just a wedding planner. I do full planning, design and everything pertaining to the logistics of an event, anything from a dinner party of ten to a wedding with 400 to 500 people. I have worked as a planner on some of Europe’s largest exhibitions and conferences including London fashion week and the launch and management of my own features at Grand Designs Live and the London Wine and Spirits Fair. I also do product launches, conferences and events for incentive groups who come in for one to two week periods and want a full program of tours. Although I come from a very academic family, I’m not very academic. When I got to that point in school of having to decide what to do with my life, I genuinely had no idea what I wanted to do. A family friend invited me to come work for her events company. I’ve always been a logical and organized person, and that’s what events management needs. From then on all my work experience revolved around events. I went to Leeds Metropolitan University where I got my degree in event management and public relations.
Dazzle: How does your company stand out from the competition?
Charlie: I don’t want to do what they’re seeing. You come to an island wedding and you’re going to see a bamboo canopy with some tropical flowers on it. I don’t want to do that. If that’s what you want, then I’ll say to you, ‘How can we put you in there?’ I want your event to be you. If you have a technology company, why are people filling out forms by hand? Why aren’t they getting electronic tickets and why are they not scanning things? I want to do things that haven’t been done before, so that people who come to my events will be like, ‘Is this St. Lucia?’ People have a misconception that St. Lucia is so behind. There’s no reason for it to be this way. Generally, people become comfortable with their clients and they always say, ‘ Next time we’ll do this,’ and when that time comes around, time is limited and they end up doing the same thing. That’s why I never take on more than two jobs a month.
Dazzle: Has your experience here changed you in any way?
Charlie: I’m very used to things happening here and now. If I need something done, I do it right away. People expect me to be a party girl but I’m really not anymore. They see the kind of job I do and the kind of person I was in London and they automatically think I’m the same person. We’re polar opposites now.
Dazzle: How do you like living and working in St. Lucia?
Charlie: Honestly, it’s not been a walk in the park for me because I was used to living a very city lifestyle. Now, I prefer to stay home and my life has changed, but if I didn’t have this business it would be very difficult. I always have something doing to keep me distracted. The main thing with business is physical items, and that’s what frustrates me. Everyone seems to have the same stock. In England, I could literally say I’ve got a wedding with a hundred people and every chair needs to be a different colour and within a day I could source that. That’s what I’m used to. My vision, I think, is bigger than what the country has right now. It’s like when your eyes are bigger than your belly. You just want to keep going but there’s a limit to what you can do.
Dazzle: How do you balance business and motherhood?
Charlie: Starting a business was definitely not the plan at the time [I had my son] and at first it was a little overwhelming. I had to figure out how to fit my business around him, and not fit him into my business.
Dazzle: What’s the most fulfilling aspect of your job?
Charlie: Seeing the clients’ first look at events. I bring them in for a first look — however many there may be, and I say, ‘This is your event.’ When I see their first reaction that, for me, makes everything worth it.
Dazzle: How are you able to keep up with the demands of the job?
Charlie: Patience. Being able to not panic under stress; time management. I have to be very careful with myself. I do too much for people, so I have to find a balance. I also need to find a balance between motherhood and work. I think you just need to find that balance and manage your time effectively.
Dazzle: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Charlie: Pinterest is my best friend and my worst enemy. People see stuff and they’re like, ‘Look at this wedding.’ It’s a six million dollar wedding and we don’t have six million dollars. People have to be realistic, so I try to limit replicating things. I don’t just want to throw some napkins on a table, I want to know about you. The client is my inspiration.
Dazzle: How do you plan to go about improving yourself and your craft in the future?
Charlie: You have to be honest with yourself after every event, even the small ones. You have to consider what could have been done better. I’ve heard people say, ‘It was fine, the client was fine. They’re happy enough.’ I don’t want them to be happy enough, you know? I want them to be ecstatic. If I know something was meant to happen and it didn’t happen, I look at why. Who was meant to be doing that? Was it me? You have to be brutally honest and always try to better yourself. If you’re not doing that, then why are you doing this?