Feb. 26, 2007
Husband and wife build their own company
By Kelsey Linden
Usually, a client would hire separate organizations to arrange, plan, and create a specialized event, but Steve and Patty Fleming work side-by-side as husband and wife, doing all of this, and more, in their own business, Festivities.
When considering the decor and details of a wedding, a gala, or any type of dedicated event, does it seem possible that one business could undertake as many vocations as the caterer, the managing planner, the florist, and the production designer?
With a team of up to 16 employees, Steve and Patty have the capability to take on all these occupations.
Many mistake the Flemings’ job title to be the decorator, and “sometimes people think we’re party planners. It’s a lot more than that,” Patty said.
In defining their occupation, Patty said, “we create event environments for people.”
Steve and Patty founded this business December 2002, but their love for the profession began much earlier in life.
As a child, Patty can recall, many times visiting the Lebovsky’s fabric store (located where McDonald’s Photography Studio is now.)
“I remember sitting on the floor which seemed to be hours at a time when my mom would pick out fabric,” she said.
Patty believes that it was through her mother that she developed her creative talents and love for fabric and design.
“I remembered in high school that I always wanted to be an interior designer,” Patty recalled.
Yet, she gave thought in her college years towards studying education. “I thought I was going to be a teacher,” she said.
After graduation from Delano High School in 1980, her life took a new direction when she and Steve met at the University of Wisconsin River Falls.
Steve was in the process of studying physical therapy, and finished his degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State.
Thinking back to college, Patty said, “This business really didn’t have anything to do with what we went to school for. Festivities came about because we had started a tool and party rental business in Buffalo and we really fell in love with the party side of it, she said.
“We took what started out as party rental and took it a step up in creating event environments.”
Together, Patty and Steve share a passion for this type of work because they can both offer their own talent and expertise to a different aspect of the work.
Patty always desired a way to use her creative talents; and for Steve, it was the ability “to build relationships with clients.”
“So, it all just combined and it happened by accident; we didn’t intend for it to go this direction, but we’ve been very successful,” Patty said.
Working together also has its advantages.
“We can kind of work off each other, which I think really makes the relationship work well, not just personally, but professionally,” Patty added.
Steve added, “I can complement her weaknesses and she can complement mine.”
It is also a family commitment for the Flemings.
Festivities would not be what it is today without the help and dedication from Steve and Patty’s two children, Sarah (17) and Matt (14).
Whether it’s cleaning up, or taking down tents, “Sarah and Matt are both involved with the business,” Steve said.
“Once, they helped us take down a tent and it was midnight,” Patty remembered.
As a family, they have grown used to making sacrifices for Festivities.
When asked about her children, Patty said, “They’re used to this environment of high energy and a lot happening. Mom and dad don’t have normal nine to five jobs.”
In the summer, work picks up for the family, as their business could be running 20 events in one weekend.
“Our kids would walk into our home and there would be literally 800 chair covers that needed to be washed,” Patty said.
As a family, they would spend many nights washing chair covers or pressing napkins simply for the fact that “it needed to get done.”
“Sarah and Matt are really used to work spilling over into family life,” she said. “But our kids always had great themed birthday parties,” she added with a laugh.
Agreeing, Steve added, “Sarah’s going to have a knock-out grad party.”
Owning the business is also nice for Patty and Steve, because they are able to watch and support their kids at their functions. Rarely, will they ever miss one of Matt’s swim meets or one of Sarah’s play performances.
Faith also plays a huge role in their family life.
It was definitely “a leap of faith,” choosing to open up a business in itself. Steve and Patty both feel enormously blessed for this opportunity to do what they love and be successful.
A huge part of their success comes from weddings. “Weddings and receptions are kind of the core market for us,” Steve said.
If a bride-to-be were to walk into Festivities, she could have the option of renting items or asking them to run the program.
“Down to what the tables will look like, the flowers, and the reception, every last detail is considered,” Patty said.
“We can help her choose a caterer. We can help out with where she’s going to hold her receptions. We can be event managers, event designers, a rental company, or we can be a combination of all three,” Steve said.
Steve believes that the fondest aspect of the business is “getting to know these brides over a long period of time.”
Adding, he stated, “The event comes, and it’s over with, and it’s almost like letting a child go because we’ve gotten to know them over a long period of time.”
Patty smiled as she said, “A lot of times they will come in after the first baby, and a lot of them will keep in touch with us.”
Steve summed it up as he said, “We really become part of their family.”
It’s important for both Steve and Patty that they can develop a relationship where their clients feel able to call them because they know each other and are comfortable with each other.
When taking a glance at their work, it’s hard to imagine that every last detail was designed solely by one company.
Where do they come up with these ideas? Patty thought before she said, “We do a lot of trend watching. We don’t want to do the same old thing. There are very lavish events that help us keep bringing up fresh ideas.”
Steve added, “We will have big brainstorming sessions, where there are no bad ideas. We write everything down.”
The majority of their materials will get reused, either for other events, or put back into their inventory for clients to see.
Along with many other clients, they have had the privilege of working with Bear Path Golf and Country Club and the Minnesota Vikings.
On their most recent gala with the Minnesota Vikings this past December, Festivities worked well over 100 hours designing and managing a pirate-themed event for 200 guests, including Vikings players and coaching staff.
About the Vikings, Patty complimented, “They are a great company to work with. They are very well-run and well organized.”
“The challenge for us with the Vikings is that we have to come up with something new for each event using purple. To keep it fresh is a challenge,” Patty said.
Steve and Patty’s event with the Minnesota Vikings recently received a nomination for best use of florals with the International Special Event Society a prestigious organization of event professionals.
Their nomination one of three in the state of Minnesota will be presented at the ISES Minnesota Star Awards Friday, March 9.
Whether it’s purchasing imported fabrics for upscale table linens, or cutting the wood fence in their back yard to make aged prop signs, Patty and Steve go above and beyond to please their customers.
“We’ve been in the business long enough to know what works well and which businesses work well together. This business is really about trust. They’re placing a lot of trust in us because frankly, you don’t know what it’s going to turn out to be until the day of the event,” Steve said.
Patty added, “We know people rely on us and trust us and that’s what it’s about. It’s meeting and exceeding their expectations so that they’ll come back again and again. It’s an enjoyable experience.”
They currently have up to 16 employees including summer contract staff, and it amazes both Steve and Patty to think, “We grew from two people up to those 16.”
The business is far from easy. Patty said, “You need to have the balance between business and operation. A lot of things can go wrong. If you don’t have strong operations, your event won’t happen.”
You truly get the whole package at Festivities: an event planner, a florist, and an event company. “We are unique in the business in that way,” Steve said.
Patty concluded by saying, “We’re doing what people have always told us we’re good at.” As a family, they have made their business a success and continue to strive to please their clients because “that’s what it’s all about.”
For more information, visit www.festivitiesmn.com.