Carolyn Dempsey-Arcuri fell into the event business, but she has risen as an event entrepreneur.
A dancer. Or a pilot for Pan Am. (She loves to travel.) Like so many others who wound up in the world of special events, Carolyn Dempsey-Arcuri never expected to pursue an event career.
And like so many others, it was planning her own wedding that gave her the event bug.
“Special events never crossed my mind as a young adult; my parents drilled ‘business’ into my head, and I worked in banking after college,” she recalls. “Not until I planned my own nuptials did I even give a thought to who plans and designs all these lavish affairs. Then I got hooked.”
Dempsey-Arcuri went back to her banking job after her honeymoon and “was miserable.” So she signed up for floral design classes at the New York Botanical Garden, quit her well-paying banking job and went to work at a local florist.
But the floral shop was not a bed of roses. “When I realized my newfound passion was not paying the bills or health insurance, I was headed back to obtain my masters in finance,” she says. But once again fate intervened in the form of celebrity event planner David Tutera, who hired her as a freelance floral designer. While there, “I worked under the direction of Gene Huddleson and that was it — my special events career began,” she says.
In 2000, she struck out on her own, launching Carolyn Dempsey Design with a 750-square-foot office in Greenwich, Conn., “albeit I was my only employee,” she says. Today, her company has blossomed to two offices-plus-warehouses — in Port Chester, N.Y., and Stamford, Conn. — five full-time employees and three part-timers; she plans to hire another full-timer by year-end. Her event roster lists mitzvahs, weddings, private parties, gala fundraisers and corporate events, about 65 total each year.
A key to her success has been the power of referrals. “We align ourselves with vendors who not only share our philosophy for doing business but care tremendously about the client and the success of their life event,” she explains. “Reputation, integrity and trust are everything in this business.”
Another key: Taking a business-like approach to the event business. Dempsey-Arcuri just participated in the Goldman Sachs “10,000 Small Businesses” initiative, designed to hone the skills of CEOs of smaller concerns. “It was the first time in 11 years that I spent so much time really delving into what my company was all about.” (Read more on page 25.)
Today, the event industry is glamorous, with event planners the stars of reality TV shows. But Dempsey-Arcuri cautions against buying all the hype.
“If you are good at what you do, stick with it,” she advises. “It doesn't matter what everyone else is doing — forge your own trend. When everyone was designing with Manzanita branches, I was designing with all types of Plexiglas before the trend hit. Own it and be confident about it, love what you do, and have fun.”
Carolyn Dempsey Design 189 1/2 N. Main St., Port Chester, N.Y. 10573; 914/937-7504; www.carolyndempseydesign.com
See the full story in the May-June issue of Special Events, available to subscribers only.Not a subscriber? We can fix that; renewing subscribers click here; first-time subscribers click here.