The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has proved a blessing in disguise for Samantha O’Donnell.
She lost her job as an interior designer in October 2020, but took advantage of the opportunity to start a new business doing something about which she has always been passionate.
O’Donnell founded Lavish Haus, a Center Valley wedding planning company, back in January, and the business has been booming due to wedding cancellations from a year ago. Lavish Haus also serves people in Bucks County, Philadelphia and the Lancaster area.
She said event planning was her major at college before she switched to interior design, and acknowledged always wanting to start her own business.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s also a great thing as well,” she said. “I have to be able to make decisions based on what I think is best versus working for somebody and going off of what they think. I now have to make those calls.”
O’Donnell worked with SCORE Bucks County certified mentors Steve Scialabba and Steve Morello on developing the company.
SCORE is a national network of small business mentors who provide free support to budding entrepreneurs like O’Donnell, with county-level mentors offering guidance to meet the unique needs of local clients.
O’Donnell said the knowledge SCORE mentors have shared and their prior experience has been essential for her and her business’s success.
Morello said O’Donnell is very disciplined, brings a lot of passion to her business and shows great initiative. He said he brainstormed with her about a marketing and pricing strategy, and guided her as she put together the business plan.
Scialabba said O’Donnell always had the entrepreneurial spirit required to launch the business, but needed the most help with organizing her time and efforts.
She really goes the extra mile to ensure the wedding day is special for the couple by offering a variety of services and charging an appropriate price for them, he added.
“I think she seems able to find out what the customer needs and goes that extra mile,” Scialabba said. “She’ll offer services that might not be common in that industry, but they definitely add value.”
Scialabba said his main role at SCORE is to help up-and-coming entrepreneurs figure out the next steps to growing their business, and what their needs are.
He said the diversity of career paths is the most unique part of mentoring all these new entrepreneurs.
“I just really like that people are at different places and just tapping into that energy and feeling that enthusiasm they have about this kind of new venture that they’re going into,” Scialabba said.
Morello said SCORE is a tremendous resource that entrepreneurs should take advantage of, especially since aspiring business owners can engage with a mentor for free.
“I’ve mentioned SCORE to some aspiring entrepreneurs who have never heard of it and they have all benefited from it,” he said. “I’m sure that there are businesses out there who have never heard of SCORE that could really benefit from it.”
Morello said the demand for SCORE mentorship should only increase with more businesses reopening and others opening for the first time.
O’Donnell said her primary role is to assist her clients and figure out timing with brides, since it’s typically their first time planning a wedding and they need someone to lean on.
She said weddings being rescheduled due to the pandemic has helped her business grow, but there are also very few planners in the Lehigh Valley and Bucks County areas.
“People may not necessarily know this, that it’s something that should be provided,” O’Donnell said, adding that she is working to help raise awareness of her industry by “just really educating (potential clients) that it’s a benefit to have a (wedding) planner.”
She said most of her work has been from home, but she has done site visits and met with clients in person on occasion.
O’Donnell said personalizing the wedding to the couple is important to her, and she really tries to incorporate details from their personal lives into their special day.
One example of that, she said, is creating a napkin design or sign with a pet’s photo on it for couples whose pet can’t be there with them.
“I think that’s one thing that’s really big for me, is to make sure that there’s aspects throughout the wedding that really touch on the couples and who they are,” she said. “So that really plays into the design and creativeness of myself.”
O’Donnell said she hopes to bring in more staff after the wedding season to help continue growing the business.
For more information about O’Donnell and Lavish Haus, visit LavishHausCo.com.