In this series, I feature expats who started their own business abroad. From food to fashion, art to tourism — these women had the guts and confidence to pursue their passions and turn it into something bigger. Check out previous interviews here.
Today I’m featuring Kim Petyt, founder of parisian events. As someone currently attempting to plan a destination wedding (and finding it endlessly frustrating), I’m in awe of Kim and her ability to pull of countless dream weddings in Paris for her clients. Read on to find out how and why she does it.
1. Hi Kim, first off — Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself and your life before Paris.
I’m originally from Chicago, and my background was in corporate and social event planning. I met my husband while I was on vacation in Paris, we moved to San Francisco together, got married, and then decided to move back to France to raise our family.
2. Why did you move to Paris?
My husband and I were in San Francisco during the height of the dot-com frenzy. It was an amazing, idyllic time, but right after we were married (in 2000), the bubble burst. He was on a project in France, was offered an opportunity to be relocated to Paris (on an American contract!) and as things seemed to be fizzling in San Francisco, we decided to take the plunge.
3. What was the hardest part about moving to Paris?
I’m a pretty social person, and when we moved to Paris, I didn’t speak any French AND I was 6 months pregnant. Not having a support system or being able to communicate with anyone was really hard on me. I had already started learning how to maneuver through the French system after having planned my wedding in France from overseas, so I wasn’t surprised by the challenge, it was just a bit overwhelming trying to do it under those conditions.
4. Tell us a little bit about parisian events. Why weddings?
My husband is French, and when we decided to get married I thought it would be great to get married in France. His family is larger, he had elderly grandparents who couldn’t travel, and my friends and family jumped at the opportunity to come together in Paris. In the past ten years, “destination weddings” have become almost the norm, but 12 or 13 years ago, the idea was really novel. My husband’s family was able to help us, of course. But I didn’t speak French and they didn’t speak English, and neither did any of our vendors. I clocked countless hours sending emails and faxing (!!) images that I scanned from magazines (can you imagine life before Pinterest??).
In the end, our wedding was absolutely lovely — but I realized that if I had had a “man on the ground”, it could have gone a lot smoother. I was working in corporate and non-profit event planning in San Francisco, so when we moved here, I decided that becoming a wedding and events planner for English-speakers who wanted to get married in Paris could be a natural transition for me. Et voila: parisian events was born!
5. What was your biggest fear in starting parisian events, and how did you overcome that?
When I started, wedding planners didn’t really have a presence in France. There were a handful, but no one was catering specifically to the Anglophone bride. When I started talking about what I wanted to do, a lot of the French people that I spoke to told me that it was “trop kitsch”, no one would want that service. It would be too expensive so no one would buy my services, etc.
Luckily my husband was NOT one of those people — and he really gave me the push in the right direction. I’m also one of those people that gets pissed off and motivated when someone tells me that I can’t do something. The moment someone starts nay-saying, I put my blinders on and push through. I also knew that this was a good idea, I did my research, I kept studying and learning while the children were babies so that I could have the knowledge when I was ready to start the company.
6. What surprises have you encountered in running parisian events?
One of the biggest surprises that I had to overcome was how to get through the average work day with French vendors. Now, I’ve only worked for myself in France, so this is just my experience, but it seems that, in France, people may arrive at work at around 9:00, but don’t really start working until 10:00. They then stop taking all calls or emails at 11:30 in preparation for lunch at 12. Lunch lasts until 2:00, apparently, then all work stops again at 4:30 in preparation for the end of the work day which is at 5:00. This is so hard to explain to clients in the US, UK or Australia when they ask why it takes SO LONG to get responses to their questions.
In our initial client consultations I do explain this cultural “quirk”, and try to set their expectations very, very low (explaining that it can take up to a week to get answers sometimes) so that when it comes five days later — it appears to be early!
7. What’s the best part about the business?
For me, one of the best moments is when the guests arrive and see the venue completely set up: candles lit, flowers placed, champagne flutes sparkling. After designing an event and then working with a client for 6 – 8 months, you know how much that “wow” factor means to them. Usually the couple aren’t there when the guests first arrive, so they don’t get to see it — so if one of the photographers is around, I try to make sure that they get some images of the guests’ faces. Stepping into a wedding in Paris (when you haven’t had the background stress of trying to organize it!) is absolutely magical. That’s the payoff for me.
8. What’s the worst/hardest part about the business?
Theoretically, you’ve got one shot to get a wedding right. The stress and pressure that that evokes is mind-boggling. In 2012, Event (including wedding!) Planner was voted the 6th most stressful job in America — right between Police Officer and PR Executive. People see “The Pretty” and really don’t realize what has gone into making that happen. Thats part of being good at what I do — making it SEEM effortless and magical. But finding the perfect peony in the summer or mini-cheeseburgers in Paris is no easy feat! And working with an international clientele that expects pretty much everything yesterday adds an extra layer of stress to boot.
9. How has parisian events improved or impacted your expat experience?
I think it’s improved my expat experience in that it’s forced me to expand my reach in order to find interesting, creative or unexpected resources for my clients. I’ve met artists and artisans and had access to different places that many other Paris expats don’t know exist. Having this pressure to go further, offer more, etc. for my clients has basically opened me up to a part of France that I wouldn’t have known had I not been in the wedding and events industry in Paris.
10. What advice would you give for future entrepreneurs in Paris or abroad?
My advice is if you really feel strongly about an idea, do your research, get the support (financial, moral and physical) and go for it. I think there is nothing worse than a life of “coulda/shoulda/woulda”. If you try an idea, and it doesn’t work out — at least you tried! Try something else. There will be haters and naysayers at every turn, but you HAVE to follow your passion.
To learn more about Kim or wedding planning in Paris, check out the parisian events website, blog (recommended reading for wedding inspiration! Or in my case, tips on eloping…), facebook, and twitter.
Photo of Kim courtesy of Keith Pitts Photography.