Someone once told me that you can’t scale luxury. Actually, I’ve heard it from a lot of different people in the wedding industry.
I don’t believe it to be true.
I think it’s hard. But not impossible.
Look at Thomas Keller. He doesn’t spend every night in the kitchen in every one of his restaurants. It’s physically impossible. But his restaurants currently hold 8 Michelin stars total, including two with the coveted three-star distinction.
Ferraris are a well-known symbol of luxury. It takes about three weeks to build one. One Ferrari, from beginning to end. But 8400 of them are produced each year. Lots of workers putting together beautiful machines that meet the mark of Ferrari.
Last week, I was talking with a client of mine about how impressed we were with Aman resorts. She told me about her first visit to one when the GM came out to greet her in the lobby. I said, “No way! I had the same experience in the Morocco Aman!!”
The two Aman properties were 3,000 miles away from each other, but they created an experience that could be executed by different GMs for the same effect.
(By the way, that client will do 40+ events this year at an average of $50,000 for her services. Luxury AND volume.)
And the list goes on and on and on.
Who can scale their (luxury) business
I know luxury can be scaled in the wedding industry, because I’ve seen it happen dozens of times, including with many of my own clients. I have planner, designer, photographer, stationer, floral, rental, and caterer clients in luxury who’ve scaled their businesses beyond themselves – and bring in $1,000,000+ in annual revenues.
I know luxury can be scaled in the wedding industry because I was the Director of Operations at a very big floral, décor and production company (Todd Events) for two years. We did more than a handful of events each year, and Todd wasn’t the only one designing parties. I remember one weekend Todd had 20 team members in Wyoming for a big install, and I was in Florida with over 60 people producing another massive celebration.
Even in our own company, Ideaction, which I’m confident provides a high-end copywriting service for our clients, we’ve scaled successfully. Right now we have 4 full-time copywriters in addition to Katy, and we receive excellent feedback on the experience and results from our clients. (We’re hiring our fifth right now, so if you’re interested let me know…)
Is it hard to scale and still keep high standards? Yes. But it’s not impossible.
Scaling = exit strategy
So why do I bring it up? Because wedding pros are always looking for ways to grow.
Many want to be more creative, and working on bigger, better projects is the goal.
Some want to add associates or build an agency or studio. Others want to move up in the market, from mid- to premium to luxury.
And a few find a way to do all three (better projects, bigger team, more money).
At some point, we all want an exit strategy from our own business. One way is to quit, but that’s not something I’d recommend. Another is to sell, which is a great option – but you have to find a way to get others to do what you do now (ie. scale beyond yourself). A third is to continue owning your business but have others do the work (again, scale beyond yourself).
As you can see, if you want to stop trading time for money and start earning income as an owner, you have to find a way to scale.
Yes, even in the luxury space. Especially in the luxury space, for two reasons:
Demand is low. By definition, you’re working with a limited number of buyers when you’re in the top echelon.
Supply is ever-increasing. You aren’t the only one who wants to work with big budgets and get paid for it. Most wedding pros I know are driving their rates up in the hopes of booking luxury business.
So while it’s nice to think there’s enough luxury business for everyone who wants it, that’s usually something said by people who already have what they want. Sad, but true.
For every one luxury pro I know there might be 10 who aspire – and search for ways – to get those very same clients.
What are the keys to scaling – luxury or not – and still maintaining high-quality client experience and deliverables?
How to scale: #1 Create SOPs
I have more experience leading operations than I do selling weddings, and I can tell you one of the most important parts of getting others to do the work well is to clearly define what needs to be done.
But it’s often skipped over by owners looking to grow their businesses. If you’re like most wedding pros I know, you start out as a team of one. You do most of the work yourself, and what you don’t do you hire experts to do for you.
And then when you bring in someone to take over your simpler tasks, you expect them to do it just as well and just as quickly.
Most people are average at what they do. That’s why it’s an average. You, however, are not average, which is why you are so successful. That means if you want to replace yourself with someone else, chances are you’re going to have to tell them how you do it so well.
Hope is not a successful strategy when it comes to hiring. Hedge your bets by buildings a strong foundation for your business BEFORE you scale by making it easy for others to know what needs to be done.
Standard Operating Procedures are essential to ensure the work you’re doing now meets the highest standards when it’s done by someone else.
I’ve found step-by-step directions that TELL how to do things down to the last little detail work well. And if it’s possible, use screen records or videos to SHOW what you want to be done. Many people are visual learners and this helps tremendously, especially when they can go back and watch over and over and over till they learn completely.
How to scale: #2 Find great people
From 2003 to 2006 I w
as promoted five times at the resort I worked at. From server to bar supervisor to bar manager to restaurants manager to events manager to lodging director. Yes, I was ambitious in my 20s, and I was pretty good at the job I was doing at the time.
But I knew that the only way to get a promotion was to find a way to replace myself. How could they move me out of my current job if they had no one to replace me (which was particularly hard because we lived on an island with low unemployment)?
The first step was to create operation manuals to open up the breadth of candidates who could apply.
The second was to find amazing talent to recruit for the position. I was constantly on the search for my next replacement. One way that worked out well was to hire two or three people for a role just below mine on the org chart, and then pick the best one to mentor as my replacement.
I recommend doing this with your own team. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket by hiring one full-time associate or admin support or studio manager. Hire two, or three if possible – and see which one performs the best. Then go all in on that person with a FT job offer.
How to scale: #3 Provide exceptional training
When you do pick someone to bring into the fold, spend an extraordinary amount of time training them to fulfill the role. DO NOT EXPECT THEM TO DO THE WORK WELL WITHOUT HELP. Lots of help from you.
Most rookie supervisors (and that’s what you are, a supervisor) think the work is over when you hire the person and you get them through the first few days or events. Nope. You have to spend more time than you think – and they tell you they need – before they’ll be any good at what you want them to do.
I like a 4 step training process: Tell, Show, Do, Review. Easy-peasy.
Tell them what you want done
Show them how YOU do it
Let THEM do it
Review how they did
Run through the do-review cycle till you’re satisfied with their performance in that one area.
Rinse and repeat with each of their major areas of responsibility.
How to scale: #4 Shift your mindset
I tell clients who want to scale their businesses to stop thinking like an employee of your company and start thinking like the owner.
Most of you (readers) are the owner of your business. But if you’re like most solopreneurs and small business owners, you spend too little time working ON your business because you’re caught up IN your daily work.
Take a break. Look up from the hamster wheel you’re on. Imagine a company where you don’t plan/photograph/design/cook/etc. How does the work get done? Who can do the work? What is the best use of your time and talent and creativity?
When you stop thinking about how YOU can get the work done and shift instead to how the WORK will get done, that’s when the magic starts happening with your finances.
I hope this primer on how to scale your business was helpful. It’s a path for an exit strategy.
As another busy wedding season flies by, now’s the time to start thinking about how you can make more money short-term and long term.
A case study in how to scale luxury
If you want to hear from one of my clients and a wildly successful business owner who happens to be a photographer for her company, check out this week’s podcast with Abby Jiu.
This interview with Abby is the second in my series of deep dives with wedding pros who sit at the top of their fields – and offer a fresh perspective on what it means to find success in the business.
I chose Abby because she doesn’t just offer one of the best portfolios in the luxury space.
Or an unparalleled client experience.
Or a team of associates who are nearly as talented as her.
She does all three – and more.
The conversation ranges from lessons Abby learned selling pharmaceuticals early in her professional career to how she focused on designing a business around luxury mindsets.
You’ll hear not just how she implemented strategies, but also WHY they worked for her.
And you’ll walk away knowing it’s possible not to sacrifice client experience when you scale.