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Beth Helmstetter: The Life Of The Party
I’m here with Beth Helmstetter. Thank you so much for doing this.
Beth Helmstetter is a star wedding and event planner. I’ve known Beth for a long time because she was my wedding planner and my dad’s. When I met you, you were a tiny baby newbie wedding planner and now you are celebrity supernova event planner. Where did you grow up?
In a small town called Brookfield, Missouri.
Was it for your whole life?
Yes, until eighteen, I moved out a week after graduation. I knew I was leaving as quickly as possible and it was within a few days.
Was it right after high school?
Did you know that this was something that you wanted to get into?
No, this doesn’t exist where I’m from. Not only because I’m from a small town, but it probably does. The industry has evolved a lot, but even when I was in college, I lived in Kansas City and it was a pretty big city. There were some people with a little bit of wealth, but no one was hiring wedding planners. This is not something that was even on my radar as a possibility.
What was your first baby step onto this road?
I was in the nonprofit world for a minute and I was so terrible at it. It was a lot more intellectual than I am naturally, at least the role I was playing. I was doing a few events here and there for fundraising purposes and all of that good stuff. I was making $27,000 a year.
Did you go from high school to college or did you skip college?
I have a Master’s degree in Business Administration.
Was that also in Missouri?
Kansas City, UMKC.
You left your little town, went to college and got a Master’s. In the nonprofit world, you were making nonprofit for yourself.
I was doing small events making no money. I took a part-time job at a private estate. I was doing weddings on the weekends for extra money. I was a coordinator where I would get people down the aisle and replenish the buffets and I loved it. At the same time, I was watching The Bachelor. There was a wedding planning show called Whose Wedding Is It Anyway? I would see all these fabulous wedding planners out of New York and LA. I was like, “What a fun job,” but it wasn’t on my personal radar other than I was like, “That looks like an amazing job.”
That was when you first realized that there is an industry for this.
I definitely manifested this job. I was watching those shows and I remember wanting to be Mindy Weiss and what a cool job she has. I bid jobs against her. I don’t even know how you get from there to there, but that’s what happened.
I want to talk about how you got from there to there. You’re working for a nonprofit and when you were doing events for them for fundraising. Did you like that aspect of it? Was it fun?
Yes, that part was fun. The nonprofit was based on education and charter schools. Half of the job had to do with getting legislation passed in that area. I had an interest in but not interest in working in. The other half was bringing money in. It was a little bit better at the events side.
Your extra money job, was that fun for you?
Yeah. I remember the first day I was like, “This is so cool.” I had a little bit of design background. I had waited tables and bartended all through college, so I knew a lot about customer service, food and beverage. Of course, I loved to love. It was this job that I felt wrapped a lot of my interests into one.
It’s a ton of work, but at the time when you’re just starting out, it doesn’t feel like.
I was 23. I had all the energy in the world.
You weren’t thinking of it as, “This is my career, this is my side hustle and this is fun.” What was the next step?
They actually had a full-time position that I wanted. They didn’t offer it to me and I was pissed. Oddly, I was married at the time and my husband was like, “Let’s look at other jobs.” He was in a place in his career where he was like, “Maybe let’s look outside of the city if you want to consider this.” I applied for a job in Southern California. They called me back and they said, “That position’s no longer available, but our hotel in Maui is hiring a wedding planner. Would you be interested?” I was like, “Sure. I’d never been to Hawaii.” Within three weeks, I had been interviewed a couple of times and accepted an offer and we were in Maui.
You went from nonprofit and event planning on the weekend to be the wedding planner at a hotel resort in Maui.
I don’t know how I got that. They shouldn’t have given me that job. I didn’t have the experience at all but I was extremely passionate and I was very serious about it, so I’m sure they saw that in me. I didn’t have the know-how to be put in that position.
I love the part of this that you were turned down and rejected from a couple of the jobs. Those are my favorite parts of these stories where it’s like, “It didn’t work out, my first thing I applied for.” The place in Kansas City turned you down, Southern California said, “Not here but Maui.” You and your husband at the time went to Maui. For how long?
I signed a two-year contract. I was there for about two-and-a-half years. There was a reason they gave me the job. No one probably would have taken it if they would’ve had more experience. It was an 80-hour week. I had 80 to 90 clients at any given time. It was one of those properties where if you saw it from the outside you would think, “We’re going to get a luxury experience.” It was shiny and nice, but that wasn’t the philosophy they stood behind. It was very hard to meet people’s expectations because it looked so bright and shiny but in reality, we were overworked and had many clients. It was hard but a great experience. I got to make a ton of mistakes on someone else’s dime.
It’s a valuable experience because I feel that’s where you’re like a chef thrown into the fire right away and deal with this and make this happen, create my fantasy.
There were four planners. We did hundreds of weddings a year. At any given time, we’d be down two other planners. I would have my core clients, but then you’d get shoved someone else’s and they’re so angry because they’re on their third planner. It was challenging but good.
You were there for two-and-a-half years. At that point, is that when you came to Los Angeles?
At that point, my husband and I were both done with Hawaii. It wasn’t for us personally. I had started my business in Hawaii, not knowing we were going to move so quickly. I was getting work on all of the islands as a planner on my own.
You had already started your own Beth Helmstetter Events doing it on the side. When did you have time to do that?
My contract was up and I put my notice in and I was leaving. To be honest, I wung in a little bit. I throw a website up and I was like, “I’ll see if I’ll get some work.” Within a few months, I had lost a lot of clients. They came very quickly, at the same time, my husband was applying for work at other places. He got a job in Los Angeles. My business was about six months old, but it worked out because we moved to Los Angeles and I still had income coming from the Hawaii work for another year to year-and-a-half. Simultaneously, it was building up my name and reputation in Southern California as well.
At this time, did you grow up having birthday parties or graduation parties? I had little homespun ones, but I didn’t have anything. My parents weren’t that into it.
I’m from a poor background. I think I remember a birthday party once at Pizza Hut. This is not what we did.
You’re here. You have money from your private clients that you had in Hawaii. You had about a year’s worth of income. Did you like LA immediately?
I did. I remember my husband at the time made this decision for us. I came pretty frustrated. I didn’t want to be in LA at all. He came a few months before me. I was dragging my feet and trying to figure it out. When I got to LA, I was like, “Yes, this makes sense.” In Hawaii, weddings are very specific for the most part. You might get someone who’s going to do something a little different, but if you’re attracted to Hawaii as a bride, probably creating a similar experience like everyone else. LA opened that up for me. I got to be more creative.
My experience with you is you’re so creative. Now that I’ve seen what you’ve done since I’ve got married, which I feel like was a long time ago. I see pictures on Instagram, the weddings look unbelievable. Dreams come true. I want to be at all of your weddings. When I met you, it was 2009 and you were at the Adamson House, which was where I got married. You were there with another client. At the time, I was working that day. My dad and my husband stumbled upon you planning for someone else’s wedding. My dad talked to you, found out about you and that’s how you became our wedding planner.
Your dad interviewed me first.
Not even in a formal interview. It was at the Adamson House while you were trying to work for other people. At that point when you moved to LA after your Hawaii weddings were over, did you already have new clients?The engagement process should be as fun as the wedding. It should start and end with fun. Click To Tweet
Yeah. Some were still back in Hawaii. Some of those Hawaii clients would be like, “My sister is getting married in Mexico and somewhere in Southern California.” They were everywhere, but I said yes and worked.
You had steady work right away. You did our wedding. You were amazing, I loved it and I had such a fun wedding and thank you. As the years are passing, I saw you coming out of your chrysalis. That’s what I wrote to you before you came to do this. You were young, new, hardworking, creative and amazing, but all of a sudden I feel that your business went from one level to fully next level. It probably didn’t happen right away. When it happened, you dressed well, you got into fitness. Everything about you changed. Was that all at the same time that your career was taking off? Do you think that was separate?
I’m not sure. I know that there came a place where I felt I wasn’t taking care of myself. I had always been into fitness when I was younger, but I had this business that was coming first and all areas of my life. It came before my marriage, my health, everything. Obviously, it wasn’t working. I’m divorced. That happened and then simultaneously I was like, “This can’t be my everything.” I started trying to take little pieces of myself back a little bit.
I feel that what I would see because I was knee-deep and having my kids that I was looking on Instagram, living vicariously through people having fun. You were coming out of your shell. When your business started to take off, was that right about the time where you divorced?
No, my business was doing well. I went through the divorce and we actually went down. I remember I lost money for the first year. I had to let employees go. I had a tough year to a year-and-a-half.
You had this thriving business and then your divorce happens coincidentally or not. Who knows that your business also took a hit?
Some of it was probably intentional and some of it was the universe being like, “You can’t handle this.”
You needed to take a breather.
I remember being very scared, especially because I was going through a divorce. I always had his income to fall back on if we had those issues. All of a sudden, it started coming back.
Did you do anything? Did you make any conscious changes? Did it start to happen organically?
I started getting mentally healthier for sure. I started charging more oddly. That probably sounds counterproductive, but I started being like, “I can’t do it for this price anymore.” It means I have to do so many more weddings and I can’t give the service or be as creative as I want. I wanted it to look different. What that meant logistically was charging a little bit more.
Every person that I know in my life, I read about or listened to podcasts about who talk about pivotal changing moments is when they know their worth. Once they come to that place and fearlessly say, “This is what it costs for me to do this,” it becomes better.
Every time I’ve raised my prices, it’s been a place in my business where I’m like, “We’re either going to get more money or we might have to close up shop.” It’s always been in a place where I felt like something had to change. It’s never been too gradual, but I remember at that time I was like, “Something has to change.”
The year that you got divorced and your business took ahead of and that was scary. You did self-work, mentally healthy, physically healthy, your business starts to come back. Throughout this, you’ve created some phenomenal-looking weddings. Do you ever get creativity block?
I definitely do. It’s because potentially I overthink it because the thing is couples hire us based on the work that they’ve seen. They want something consistent with that. Sometimes they even want exactly what we’ve shown, but we don’t do it that way. I feel like it should be the newest, best thing that no one’s ever seen. They don’t usually like that. They want some version of something we’ve done before. They’re like, “We love the work you do. You don’t have to do anything crazy.” Sometimes I do get blocked because I’m like, “I don’t want to do that for you again. I feel like you’re paying me to do something creative and unique for you personally to be creatively fulfilled.” I run into that. Sometimes I do design and I’m like, “I don’t know if I hit it,” but they’re like, “It’s perfect.” I get in my head a lot more than the outsider.
I think any artist or performer, that’s normal. There must be times where you feel like, “I did an amazing job,” like patting yourself on the back and then other times where you must feel like, “I don’t know.”
Usually, in it I always feel we could have done better. It’s weird. It’s like when you’re close, you see all the flaws and the clients are always happy. It’s not coming from them. It’s coming from me of like, “I missed that thing or I wish I would have done that better or I wish I would have forced them to do this one thing that we talked about and I told them it was no big deal or whatever the case may be.” It’s a big deal in the end. In hindsight, when I get a little distance I’m like, “We did a good job.” We get the pictures back from the photography usually. If you are a guest at this wedding, you would be blown away. If you didn’t know the logistical challenges we went through.
I’m blown away as an Instagram viewer. There must be places where you’ve been probably a lot of times, a popular wedding destination place and you might know your footing, “Here’s where I can get beautiful textiles or this is a gorgeous place to take pictures.” If it’s somewhere that you’ve never been and a couple says, “I want to be here.” They send you there on a recognition presumably, what do you do? Let’s say you get there and you’ve never been there before.
It’s a small industry. People don’t realize that. I work any connection I might have to whatever that destination would be like, who do you know, where would you go? Typically, I find a person that will be my local expert. Sometimes that’s a catering manager, sometimes it’s a florist, sometimes it’s another wedding planner that wants experience working on a different level, who is happy to show me their knowledge of the area. Often, we are at a place where a lot of our couples want what they want. We fly in things a lot too. We can be spoiled in that regard where we always look at what’s in the area, but if we can’t find it, we know where to get it elsewhere. It’s a little bit of both there.
You recommended the photographer that we use and I was very happy with him. Do you have people, photographers, chefs, flower people? I also got my flower people through you. They were so gorgeous. I loved my flowers. If a couple is like, “I don’t know, who do you like?” Do you recommend people?
Whether we’re asked or not, we usually say these are the people that you see in our portfolio that deliver consistently based on the work I know you must like. A lot of people require you to use their specific team. We don’t necessarily have that, but we do make sure their name gets thrown in the hat.
When couples are religious, do you do research on what they want to make the ceremony religious yet also part of the aesthetic?
Yeah. I feel like I have a good knowledge base of most religions. I don’t have to do as much research as I used to. We did a Hindu Indian wedding. I feel like when someone’s coming from a specific religion that isn’t super mainstream, Christian, Jewish, they don’t expect you to know all the ins and outs. I have a baseline knowledge and then usually their priest or whoever is happy to say like, “We need X, Y, Z.” I can come back and be like, “If I present it like this, is this offensive? Can it be beautiful? Can it be presented in these ways?” We navigate what makes sense. Because you do have to be careful, especially when you’re working with religious leaders because they want it to be about what the moment’s about and not about all the nonsense.
Is that the wedding where the bride created an outfit for you?
Yes. She asked for measurements and I don’t know why.
Didn’t she tell you?
She told me she was going to get us outfits, but I thought it was going to be a costume. I was like, “Sure, whatever.”
You thought it was going to be like Etsy Hindu.
It was such a generous offer, but I must have mentioned that I secretly want to be a French girl because she had purposely picked this textile from France and had it made. She was very intentional. This was who she was as a human, not just with me. It was so stunning and special.
Do you remain friends with other brides besides me?Spend time thinking about how the guest is going to feel because that translates into very successful celebrations. Click To Tweet
I don’t have any.
Have you had very difficult people that you’ve had to work with? It’s like it’s navigating away to figure them out.
The longer I’m in this, I do a better job of filtering them out before it gets too far. Usually, in the first meeting, I can tell if there’s something that isn’t going to feel right. We do fire a client here and there. Not often, but I’d say every couple of years. We had a very difficult client that I did try to release from her contract when we began. It was a very challenging process. It’s not because it’s challenging for us, it should be fun for them too. If we’re in a situation where they don’t connect with us so they don’t trust us, it takes away from their experience as well. It’s not just, “I don’t want to deal with hard people.” The engagement process should be as fun as the wedding.
The order of the day should start with love and happiness, but it should be fun. I have two sons and I know that this is messed up and I probably should go to therapy, but I’m already upset about the day that they get married. I’m already mad and sad. It will be a day of deep mourning for me. Do you ever have that with the mothers of the grooms or for the most part very happy?
People are well-behaved. I have seen that. I don’t know I knew what was happening because it all manifests in weird emotions. You’re like, “What’s happening?” I’ve been told like, “She’s upset about X.” I can think of at least one mom that was very sad that she felt like she was losing her son.
What do you think makes the best weddings? Are there any secret ingredients?
Focusing on your guest’s comfort and their experience. We’re fortunate, we don’t work with a ton of couples that are all about being the princess bride and it’s, “Whatever I want.” I don’t have to think about our guests. I will say that if we have a couple like that, the guests can tell that you didn’t think about their needs. That could be as simple as not hiring enough bartenders to not serving enough food. A lot of things where guests can tell like, “They didn’t think about me.” If you go to a wedding and there are $500 centerpieces and you’re getting terrible food, as a guest, even if you can articulate it, you don’t understand what’s happening. You don’t feel like you were thought of. We spent a lot of time thinking about how the guest is going to feel. I think it translates into very successful celebrations because they’re able to be present and not sit there and think like, “Why is my car taking so long at valet? Why am I on a 45-minute shuttle ride?” Some things we can’t control but we can make them more enjoyable.
I’m a bridesmaid in a wedding and she was so thoughtful because we were texting about dresses and she has a bridesmaid palette and I am making a last-minute change myself. I said, “Are you okay with this?” She wrote back yes. She said, “It’s perfect because I think it gives you a lot of sun coverage because it has more sleeves.” I was like, “That’s so true.” I hadn’t thought of it. She said, “Don’t worry. I’ve ordered lots of parasols for everybody.”
People appreciate that. I don’t necessarily think they’re bitter when you don’t think about it. I think it feels good when they know you thought of them.
To make them comfortable because essentially after the ceremony what you want is the best party ever. You want people to want to stay at your best party and not be clock watching like, “How have I spent the requisite amount of time here? I’ve got to go.”
I think the elements are huge. I had a wedding where it was going to be late October in Santa Barbara and she didn’t want a tent. I was like, “Your guests are going to be cold and they’re going to leave the second they’re able to leave.” The second it’s socially acceptable for them to leave, they will leave. It’s all of those things because we want them to be as present as possible and celebrating the couple as much as possible. We try to get rid of all of those distractions if we can.
What’s been the most stressful or the worst unforeseen event, force majeure that you’ve had at a wedding? Is it rain, dress ripping?
It’s always elements. We did a huge production in Ohio and it downpoured and lightning to the point where it’s dangerous to be working. That affects everything.
What did you do?
The team had to work around the clock, so we had finite hours. The plan was to work from 9:00 to 6:00 or whatever the case may be. They were working 2:00 AM, 4:00 AM in the mud everywhere. It was pretty terrible. Because it rained so hard, it’s a lot of things that fall onto the family too. We’re building this beautiful structure at the ceremony, but it’s sitting in the mud because it’s been raining for ten days straight. We had to bring in flooring and I’m happy to do it. It’s very stressful and hard work.
What are you going to say to the bride, “You’ll have to wear some rain boots?”
It was so dangerous. The rental crew had unloaded a bunch of stuff onto the street and lightning came in and they had to leave it there. I’m like, “You can’t leave your stuff in the street.” We had neighbors that couldn’t get through. It was also one of those situations where they legally couldn’t be working. It was unsafe. It’s a lot of shenanigans that you can’t anticipate.
Mother Nature doesn’t pay attention to those dates, contracts. What about The Good Beginning? Because I think that is one of the coolest things. We had two guys on our show. We’ve had mostly women. A theme of activism has run throughout. I think it’s wonderful and important to talk about.
I love what I do, so I don’t want this to shadow it in any way. I see a lot of wealth spent often in impoverished countries. It’s challenging to watch sometimes. If I’m in Bali and my couple is spending $750,000 and the employee is getting paid $3 a day, it’s a hard thing to navigate. Even though $3 a day to them is perfectly lovely. It’s a hard thing internally for me to navigate. I always wanted to find a way to do something a little bit bigger in my personal life. I thought if there’s a way to connect it to the wedding industry, maybe that would work. I hadn’t given it a lot of thought. I did when I was going through all and I’m taking care of me. I traveled to Haiti.
I remember seeing those photos of you too.
I did some volunteer work down there and saw what was happening. I remember one of the communities that were being rebuilt. You could build a house for $6,000 for twelve people. I was like, “That’s a quarter of my normal floral budget. I feel like my clients knew about these things they would do them.” I still didn’t know how to connect it. I would get occasional requests. It’s a wedding registry where couples can donate to charity in addition to wedding gifts. I would get that request every now and then. It was always a challenging process with the nonprofits just because they weren’t set up to streamline smaller donations.
Nonprofit is where you started.
It all came full circle. We probably raised $500,000 for charities around the world and it’s a good thing.
There’s such beauty to me and of course you love what you do. The opulence and the over the top incredible, this is not real weddings that you produce. The people that can afford and usually want to do this because it’s easy for them to do. Maybe they still want gifts. What are you going to put on the registry? Four plates? No, thank you. They probably have the most stunning plates already. It seems like the perfect match, easy and it’s genius.
I do think it might have helped my core business grow. The couples that come in often, they might not even use The Good Beginning, but they like that we do it.
The website’s beautiful. Did you have a hand in designing that?
Yes, I worked with a designer. I guided her on what I thought I wanted. It already needed to be updated.
I took a look at it and it’s something else. Do they choose what charity they would like it to go to? Do they sometimes choose charities that are in the country where they are getting married?
Yes, they do. They can choose any nonprofits throughout the world as long as we can validate it and get all of the documentation.
Besides weddings, what other events have you produced?There are some things that we can't control, but we can make them more enjoyable. Click To Tweet
We do lots of birthday parties, some showers.
Milestone birthdays or 50th birthday?
It depends on the couple. There are definitely couples out there that have full moon parties and they hire us, but mostly milestone birthdays, 50s, 40s, but they’re almost always from past clients. We’d love to do more parties, but it’s usually someone who we planned their wedding a few years ago, “Can you help us with our 40th birthday?”
Have you ever done vow renewal?
I’ve done a vow renewal. Are you going to have one?
Keep me in mind. If we can afford it, that would be my dream. Have you ever done a divorce party?
I have several friends who are happily divorced. Some of them are amicable co-parenting. It’s all a very positive thing. We usually go away the girl’s weekend to celebrate the divorce. Maybe that should be in that card for somebody. You’re single, you’re dating. If you were to meet the right person, would you ever want to get married again?
Yeah. I would get married again.
Would you want to elope or have a small wedding or a big party?
It would be very small. I could elope. I think it would depend on who I marry. I would be fine with just the two of us going somewhere. More than likely if it were all up to me, it would probably be 20, 30 people that have well-done, beautiful and doing things that make my guests feel special. I wouldn’t do a big wedding.
How many people are on your team?
I have four full-time employees and a couple of part-time freelancers that are in the office but are part-time enough to where they’re on my payroll.
Do you have a right-hand person who travels with you on those wrecky missions?
Yeah, Madeline is my senior event producer and she does all the destination weddings with me. She goes everywhere with me.
Do hotels invite you to come and stay? Hopefully, they want you to promote them to your guests. Those trips must be fun.
It’s still a lot of work. You have to be on, but it’s very fun. I get to see places in the world I never even knew existed or thought I would ever see.
I’ve seen you post a couple of times when you’re hiring that people should not put that they throw a lot of parties at home as part of their experience. Do people do that?
Yes, I want to be clear, there’s no real judgment here, but we get a lot of brides who just did their wedding. They want to be planners. I think the experience will be a letdown. You do get to do the fun part, but at the end of the day, I’m not getting my hair and makeup done. I’m sweating and I’m working until 2:00 AM.
Are they prepared to be working until 2:00 AM in a lightning storm?
It’s a different thing. Some people coincidentally it does work out that way for them, but most of the time if you just came off of your wedding and that magical experience, you’re probably going to be let down with the reality of what planning is.
Where’s your next wedding?
The next wedding is in Napa.
Have you done a few there?
Yes, we’ve worked there every now and then.
Is there any country that you want to do a wedding in that you’ve never done one?
I think it would be cool to work in India. The fantasy sounds great. I feel logistically it would be hard. Those beautiful Indian weddings, colors and the textiles, I would be very inspired by that. I’m pretty good with the flow. I like working in all places.
You told me one time that you would love to do a kid party. Have you ever done a kid party?
We haven’t. I like the themed party. They’re very fun. We don’t get to do them very often. It’s fun to play up a theme.
Do you ever go with the brides to look at dresses?
Not too often. Every now and then someone will ask me, but most of the time they have their mom or their best friends or someone else.
If I win the mega millions, I want you to do my son’s milestones birthdays, when they get married, maybe to men. I’ve seen you do some gay weddings. How fun are they? They look so fun.
They’re so fun. Unfortunately, they haven’t had this lifelong thing in their mind of what their wedding has to look like because it’s so new that they weren’t even sure that they’d ever get to have that. Most of the gay couples that we’ve worked with have been so happy to be married and it gets to be fun and collaborative like we’re not the experts, whereas we love our brides, but they have been dreaming about their wedding their whole life and it’s a different expectation.
How about two brides?
I’ve only done that once. They were great, so happy to be getting married.
Thanks for having me.
- Beth Helmstetter
- @TheGoodBeginning on Instagram
- @BethHelmstetter on Instagram
About Beth Helmstetter
Creative Director Beth Helmstetter Events
- By Appointment Only 7958 Beverly Boulevard Los Angeles, California 90048
- Founder of The Good Beginning