WARSAW—Starting with the dream she could do anything she wanted but with no idea how, Grace Whalen, Warsaw, began her entrepreneurial adventure into the world of wedding planning and business ownership.
Growing up in Marlette, Mich., Whalen got a scholarship to play basketball at Grace College. With the help of their mutual friends she met her husband, Lucas, and they decided to stay in the area. After they were both out of college, Whalen graduating with a degree in psychology and sociology, they got married and bought a house. After reading an article by an event planner who suggested a creative and organized mind is the best recipe for an event planner, Whalen began working toward her career.
There was no place in the area where she could simply get a job so she made the choice to begin volunteering her time working with the housing authority, chamber of commerce, Combined Community Services and Tri Kappa on their events. According to Whalen, “I wanted to earn my stripes and prove myself.” Working with Dana Huffer and other area businesses helped get her business name become well respected within the community.
Whalen Creative Group is currently in its ninth year of business. One of the first things she had to do was figure out how to get clients. The best way was through referrals and she discovered vendors are her greatest ally in referring clients to her. Originally Whalen wanted to be an all around event planner but she learned quickly, after only a couple years, weddings were her niche.
Her first bride she met through some mutual friends and things just seemed to fall into place as Whalen got her first client. After she planned her first wedding, Whalen said she “planned one wedding and then another wedding and then another” and things took off from there.
She considers each wedding a learning experience and she has worked with putting packages together for clients and meeting with them monthly so they are able to build a relationship and gain trust. While previously Whalen had limited herself to 12 weddings a year, she is now limiting herself to only five. She wants to take the time to refresh, spend time with her family and get creative again. That way she is able to “come up with new innovations and fresh ideas.”
Four years ago she also opened Tourmaline in downtown Warsaw. This is an event space she rents out for corporate events or social gatherings. She got the idea when she helped to throw a bridal shower and decided “there had to be a better way” with a place that was both more cost effective and more flexible. Since it is used for a variety of events, she learned from her wedding planning to keep the decor simple.
When it comes to becoming an event planner, opening a business or just following your dreams, Whalen suggests the three things that worked out for her — taking risks, volunteering time and being patient. She said a person has to be willing to donate time and energy to get where they want.
The hard work pays off, it just takes some time.