March 16, 2022

Event planner interview special: Zoe Shields, Canopies and Canapes

hire furniture at 40th birthday party

In the events business, establishing strong working relationships with suppliers and customers is so important.  Rio Lounge have been fortunate enough to supply hire furniture for many years to some of the best event planners in the business.  In this feature, we caught up with busy event planner Zoe Shields, who has been running her company ‘Canopies and Canapes’ since 2013. Zoe is a regular hirer of Rio Lounge furniture for her events. 

How long have you worked in the events industry? What made you want to get into event planning?

white furniture for hire - garden partyWorking in nightclubs from 18 years old, I was involved in the planning and promotion of large events. I was also a broker in the city for 13 years, where I got involved with corporate and team building events. So its fair to say… it’s been a while! Over 25 years! Canopies & Canapes Ltd was established in 2013.

I have a real passion for interior design. I have quite a creative side, so organising and styling events seemed like the ideal job; putting both my organisational and styling skills together.

How do you juggle working in events with a busy family life?

It can be tough in the Summer months when the children are off of school, so I do have a strict ‘No Jobs In August’ rule. I have four children and live on a smallholding so it’s important to take this month off to appreciate what I have and spend time with the family.

There are a lot of events around Christmas, Easter etc but if I plan well, I still get to spend quality time with my family.

So much of my job is the preparation. I can send emails in the evenings or when the children are at school and clubs. I am lucky that I also have a very supportive husband that takes care of everything when I’m on-site at an event.

Last but not least, I have amazing suppliers that I can rely on. We all work well together and support each other wherever we can.

Do you have a conscious signature style for your events, or do you find they all look completely different depending on customer preferences?

Furniture hire for a pool party I try to make each event as personal to the customer as I possibly can. I really don’t want to be seen as a ‘one trick pony’ There may be a few similarities with some events but they are usually pretty unique. Due to the fact I dress so many venues and a lot of them are people’s gardens, the layouts are always different. The running order of the events may be similar e.g. singer, DJ, band etc….but only because I know it works well. I have a rule of trying to work with the venue I’m given: for example, if a venue has a red carpet, try and work with it rather than trying to go against it. The carpet can’t be changed, the decorations can.

Consultation

I have a long initial consultation with my clients which usually lasts one to two hours. This really gives me a good insight on what they want or definitely ‘don’t want’. I find out a little about their hobbies, food, drink, music preferences. If possible I meet at the venue for the initial consultation to see how they envisage the event running. We then brainstorm a few ideas. Writing down every tiny little detail down is really important. I turn up at every meeting with my large notepad and a tape-measure. There’s no such thing as too much information!

Pinterest

I also set up a Pinterest board for every client so they can see if we are on the same wavelength. It really helps us move in the same direction.

Budgets

I have to be conscious of people’s budgets too. I want to know their budget as soon as possible. It’s not always easy telling a client that everything they’ve seen on Pinterest, Instagram etc is just not possible on their budget!  So we spend a little time prioritising where their money is best spent to make the most of it.

What’s your favourite type of event to plan, and why? Do you prefer planning kids’ or adults’ events?

Oh… I really do love them all!  Here are a few thoughts on the kind of events I plan:

Children’s parties

The small children’s parties are fun. It’s a chance to get creative and doesn’t take too much time. I have package prices and I actually enjoy working to a strict budget. It is easy to get carried away though; I often have to tell myself to shelve ideas for the next party!

Weddings

Weddings are amazing and the end result is so rewarding. They are a lot of pressure and I feel most of my wrinkles have appeared from them! To keep stress to a minimum, I don’t accept more than one wedding a month. It’s important to me that I don’t spread myself too thinly and jeopardise the quality of service I give. Some of these weddings are like mini festivals. Usually taking 4 days: 2 to set-up, the actual wedding day itself, and another day to clear down. They are exhausting!

Corporate events

Corporates are good fun and it’s great to work with suppliers I may not have worked with before. The budgets are usually larger and the communication is prompt and professional.

Milestone birthday parties

Milestone birthdays and anniversaries are probably what I do most of – e.g. 40th, 50th  birthdays. Usually in people’s homes. These are particularly special as they are really personal to the host.

What are your top 3 reasons a customer should consider hiring Canopies and Canapes to plan their event, rather than trying to plan an event themselves?

  1. Daybed hire for pool party1. I can take care of everything from invitations to clear-down. All I need is their initial ideas and budget. Leave the rest to me
  2. 2. I have a long long list of tried and tested suppliers: lots of florists, lots of cakemakers etc; I then choose the ones I feel best suit the job;
  3. 3. Customers obviously do pay a fee for the planning service, but many suppliers offer me trade discounts. I do not ‘load’ my suppliers quotes: all discounts are passed on to my clients. Therefore, they have the comfort of knowing they have a good deal and someone to liaise with everybody. My quotations are fully itemised so the client can see where every penny is going from day one.

How important are your suppliers to you and how do you go about sourcing them?

Over the years you get to know most of the people in this industry by bumping into them at various events. Each recommend others if they aren’t available. From my experience its actually a really supportive industry. We don’t hesitate to ask each other for contacts if we need them.Also, social media is great for finding anything out of the ordinary. This job would have been a whole different ball game without social media and websites. It’s a lifesaver!

The Covid pandemic had a devastating effect on the events industry. How did the pandemic affect you and your business?  What particular challenges did you overcome, and how? 

I’m not going to lie. I actually enjoyed the first 6 months off. It was devastating to tell people that their event was not possible and the ‘will it, won’t it’ time was awful. So many uncertainties. However it gave me a chance to work out what I really wanted from the business. I had a business partner who joined me a couple of years into the business and the working relationship seemed to have more cons than pros. I decided I wanted to go solo again and I haven’t looked back. I now feel much more in control and I’m busier than ever.

What plans do you have for your event business over the next few years? Any exciting developments in the pipeline ?

I honestly love my job and making people’s dreams become a reality. Working with likeminded people who are so passionate about what they do. I will always keep my finger on the pulse of new trends and love working on a theme/design I’ve never tried before.

No major plans but if I keep on doing what I do and producing good results, I’m sure my business will grow.

Finally, what do you like most about working with Rio Lounge, and why do you like Rio Lounge hire furniture 

I love working with Jo & Natalie at Rio. Their hire furniture is beautiful and so different to the standard furniture hire companies you get everywhere else. The communication is second to none from their easy -to-use website to invoicing. I’m always confident that their products will be exactly what I expect and more.

Everything arrives spotless and the delivery guys are very helpful. I really can’t fault them!

We would like to thank Zoe for taking the time to chat to us for this feature – and for the amazing feedback!  Canopies and Canapes can be found on Instagram @canopiesandcanapes – go check out their grid!