Forté Events strategically planning its business

Filed under: Print,Small Business | Tags:,

Forté Events Inc. owner Tami Forero meets with her team at her kitchen table. From left, Paul Anderson, head of market sales for Forté Celebration of Life division; Kathy Henry, bookkeeper and owner of Kat’s Consulting; owner Forero; Amanda Lindgren, executive assistant; Kristi Torregrossa, logistics coordinator; and Kevin Kowalczyk, Forté social media marketing and owner of Giant Steps Consulting and Event Planning.

Forté Events Inc.

Owner, Tami Forero

Team, a mix of six employees and contractors

www.forteevents.com

From around Tami Forero’s kitchen table, Forté Events employees dream big — an Alice in Wonderland-themed wedding; a corporate event featuring a world-famous conductor and full orchestra; dinner in a European monastery; or lunch on location where scenes from the Harry Potter movie were shot.

They dream it, then they plan it.

Forero’s Forté Events specializes in corporate and nonprofit event planning, from logistics to site selection. Forero also believes there is psychology in events and whether flashy and flamboyant, or simple and elegant, every event must be meaningful and make the client walk away thinking they’ve learned something. Forero, owner and CEO of Forté Events, calls it experiential event planning.

“Unless we can create an atmosphere that changes people, I’m not interested,” Forero said.

Forero’s Colorado Springs-based company takes in about $1 million in annual revenue. About 70 percent of the business is corporate events, and most of those are overseas in Europe and Asia. Forté Events also plans weddings and memorials and recently launched a small-business boot camp to share advice with other small-business owners.

Forero turns down clients. She recently fired an unruly client, even though it was a multi-million contract. And she runs her business from her home, saying the new business model doesn’t require expensive office space. Most importantly, she said, she’s choosy about her clients — she won’t grow her business just to grow and she won’t work with bridezillas, she said.

“We turn down more work than we take,” Forero said. “Because we are only interested in projects that are unique and fun.”

Cash out the 401-K

Forero has an infectious laugh, like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. She also has a calm delivery — nobody will ever see her sweat. For 13 years, she was an event planner in Florida, which she calls the events capital of the country.

“You would not have your kid’s fifth birthday party without a planner,” she said.

She worked with big companies planning big events that had big business goals. She once worked with a large corporation to change its internal image, planning events that reversed the company’s high employee turnover rate from 72 percent to 18 percent in a little over a year.

That’s how she discovered that people want more than a gathering. They want to learn something. They want to walk away with a change of heart or an idea.

“It was very stressful and very demanding,” Forero said. “I was very successful, was in the press all the time working for famous clients, but had no life.”

In 2004, Forero and her husband visited Colorado on vacation and fell in love.

“We went home, packed our house and came here,” she said. “We didn’t know anybody. We had no jobs, no money, nothing. I cashed out my 401-K.”

She looked for a job in the events-planning industry. But her husband warned that she would end up in the same rat race, just in a different location.

“The only way to be an event planner and still have control is to do it yourself,” he told her.

In 2006, she found a partner and opened an event-planning business. Shortly into the venture, her partner wanted out. Forero switched gears and went out on her own with a new name, Forté Events Inc.

After six months of cold calling, she won a contract. It was large and intricate, and she went to her neighbors for help with setup and logistics. She got involved with a Colorado Springs instructional design firm, which plans training events for Fortune 500 companies. They wanted to add pizzazz to their events, so they hired Forté Events.

One company’s conference theme was focused on communication. Forté hired a New York conductor and the local symphony to illustrate how they communicated, though they had never met. The CEOs sat among the orchestra as the musicians took instruction from the maestro.

“These are high-end, C-level folks,” Forero said. “They’ve seen everything and done everything. You can’t bring your B game — it has to be something fresh.”

Since then, Forté Events has grown. Forero works with a team of six, some who are directly employed by her and some who also are small-business owners including Kat’s Consulting in Denver, Giant Steps Consulting and Event Planning in Denver and Engaging Weddings and Events in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Forero has plans to hire two sales associates this fall.

The team meets at Forero’s house or by conference call. They plan two to four international corporate events a month for clients including FedEx, Red Carpet Cruises, GE and Kraft Foods in locations such as Paris, Frankfurt, Shanghai and Brussels. They look for unique locations including abbeys, monasteries or castles to complement the corporation’s convention theme.

“We are trying to make it exciting, but they are going to be in an environment to learn, which is a return on investment for using us,” Forero said. “We never do the same event twice. It has to be targeted to reach a goal. It has to have a strategy.”

A few years ago, Forté Events was hired to plan an event for the mothers of children with cancer. From the group, 19 children had died in 18 months. Some parents wanted to plan thematic memorial celebrations that represented their child’s interests, like Sponge Bob or Little Princess.

“If you can imagine, they are in the worst moment of their lives and they don’t know where to start,” Forero said. “I thought, this is crazy, our industry should be in the scenario. We could in two hours have the whole thing organized.”

Forté Events opened a new division, Celebrations of Life. Retired Air Force chaplain Paul Anderson heads it up. He’ll find out what was special to the deceased and their family — opera or gardening — and plan the event to fit.

“I like the uniqueness of it in that it was outside of the chapel walls,” he said. “We want something to be accomplished a little bit deeper.”

Wonderland in the Springs

Forté Events was hired in 2011 to plan an Alice in Wonderland-themed wedding reception for a Colorado Springs couple. Their budget was more than $200,000 and they had four months.

The bride had an emotional tie to the story — her mother used to read it to her and she collected special editions of the book.

Forté Event planners designed a rabbit-hole entrance, had actors dressed in Alice and Wonderland characters, a tea-cup wedding cake and mad hatter groom’s cake, a life-size chess game and a banquet table that movie director Tim Burton could not have set better.

The wedding and reception were planned for 130 guests at the bride’s high school alma mater, Fountain Valley School — a private college-prep boarding school.

“What was great about this client is they relinquished most of the control to us, which is rare for a bride,” Forero said.

No one, not even the bride, saw the final setup until wedding day.

“They were blown away,” Forero said. “I think in their minds they were saying there is never going to be a wedding to top this.”

Judges from the International Special Events Society agreed. This summer, the organization, with about 7,200 members worldwide, awarded Forté Events with the “Best Wedding over $200,000” — beating out planners from around the world, including high-end companies in Los Angeles and New York.

“How can we do better than beat out the world for an event that was done in Colorado Springs, for a Colorado Springs family by a Colorado Springs based company — it’s a big deal,” Forero said.

Lately, Forero has been asked to speak at event-planning conferences. It seems, she said, small-business owners are starved for information about how to survive and grow. This year, Forté Events launched intensive boot camps for small-business owners, with experts brought in to go over every aspect of running a business.

Forero said she doesn’t know everything about small business. But she does know how to succeed in a down economy. She knows that she won’t work for a bully. She knows that a well-planned event can rock a CEO’s world. And she knows how to grow a business that creates the life she wants, she said.

“It’s not about the budget,” Forero said. “The client has to be willing to let us do our job. We can’t guarantee an outcome unless we have control of the process.”