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News - On My Own- Events Unusual
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Labour News.

On My Own- Events Unusual

In this feature of On My Own, we will look at Craig Corie, a successful entrepreneur who went from his parent’s toy store to running a series of businesses involved in event planning, party decorum and entertainment productions.

Initially, I went to interview the owner of Balloonatics, a company that had made its mark and made an impression on me with some of their beautiful displays of balloons at a number of special events. However, as I entered the company’s warehouse in Ellco Complex, Ellerton, St. George, I soon realized that this business was about more than just balloons.

Balloonatics is just one of the many businesses established by Mr. Corie under his company, Mosaic Investments. Besides Balloonatics, Mosaic Investments also include the companies, Events Unusual and the recently established Weddings by Events Unusual.

Mr. Corie started to work in his parents’ toy store after he had finished school. In 1985, he started a party business called Funtastic Party Planners which provided clowns and balloons for events. However, he had recognized a growing demand for balloon décor, which was an economical way of decorating events. Therefore, Balloonatics was conceptualized and was made into a successful business.

However, Mr. Corie soon realized that to reach the high end market, which would involve corporate functions and large private events, he would need to develop a business that could specialize in all types of décor. Hence Events Unusual was born.

Events Unusual coordinates all the different elements of putting together an event such as flowers, other décor, lighting and music. With the creative talent of Mr. Corie’s wife and partner Emma Corie, who is the head of the design team, Events Unusual produces events which reflect only the highest quality and which would satisfy the clients’ needs and exceed their expectations

Weddings are a major market with significant potential. Therefore, the Cories also established Weddings by Events Unusual, which focused on planning and producing spectacular weddings, especially for overseas brides.
Having developed a strong presence in all the markets of special event planning, design and production, Mr. Corie has now decided to take on a new challenge with his newest company, Illusions Entertainment. The focus of this company is on producing high quality entertainment for the local public including shows and concerts. One of the first shows that this company brought to Barbados was the internationally renowned Cirque Du Soleil, a modern circus which is a large-scale production of spectacular sets and talented performances in ballet, contortionism, acrobatics and much more.

With Mr.Corie’s obvious eye for opportunity, keen sense of business and passion for entrepreneurship, he was an ideal candidate for this interview.

MLC: How did you get your first business started?

Mr. Corie: Actually the first loan I ever had was from B.N.B. (Barbados National Bank) and I used the Central Bank credit guarantee scheme and I think they had recently launched the scheme. I think I was possibly one of the first people to use it. So that was important because at age seventeen (17) I had no assets, nothing tangible that the bank could hold on to and say fine. I met with most of the commercial banks and they really weren’t interested, interested in what I was looking to do and the fact that I was young and really didn’t have the security that they wanted. Central Bank told me to meet with BNB and I did and right away they said yes and they approved the loan and that really was the start. That was like twenty (20) years ago. And then the business progressed. We started with the clowns and selling balloons at fairs and then people started to ask if we could come and decorate for them with balloons and gradually the decorating grew and we phased out the whole clown thing and focused on the decorating and just grew the business steadily from there.
MLC: After getting started, what was the process like to get the business going?

Mr. Corie: Building your market and getting your name out there. When we first started with Balloonatics, the market was very different. When people thought of decorating, special event decorating, people thought of flowers. Event décor was flowers and we really had to work really hard to change the mindset and get people thinking that there were other things that they could do. Getting people to take us seriously and to realize that we were serious about creating something new, something that didn’t exist, that took a long time. And then there was building a really good team, having good people.

MLC: Do you want to keep your businesses relatively small? Is that the desired structure? Or are you looking at expanding into a large corporation?

Mr. Corie: Well certainly a large corporation appeals to me but I certainly would like to see the business grow to its fullest potential. Basically, we are trying to focus on working outside of Barbados, developing a market outside of Barbados. We have specific clients that we are targeting right now to get ourselves out into the Caribbean market.

MLC: What are the challenges you face to keep this business growing?

Mr. Corie: Finances are always the biggest challenge, finding the capital. Most small businesses are undercapitalized and there’s a constant struggle with cash flow. It’s an ongoing battle unless you have a daddy or mummy who has lots of money to bankroll you. For most entrepreneurs starting out, because they don’t want to over-extend themselves, they will often borrow just enough or a little less than what they will actually really need because they will not have the cash flow and the momentum to justify something bigger (i.e. a larger loan).

And then there is just going day to day. The business is growing and you are constantly putting all the profits back into the company and then there is trying to service the debt. I think that my biggest challenge is cash flow management, which is basically keeping the wheels turning everyday, juggling the payments and determining how best to spend the money, looking at opportunities that come up and then what costs as opposed to the benefits.

Phillip’s (one of the staff) biggest challenge is getting the guys (the support staff) to understand the importance of getting the job done on time and keeping the warehouse clean. Emma’s biggest challenge as head of the design team is accessing resources because if you lived in Miami, you could go to Home Depot or Pier 1 and find everything you need at a good price. In Barbados, you can’t. All the nice stuff is expensive. So, each of us have different challenges because of the different spheres of the company that we work in. But I think that size of the market is also another challenge because you can only go so far. Our fear has always been someone coming in from overseas and maybe setting up a division in Barbados because they know that they could ship stuff in because they have it. Our focus over the years has been to become a world class design company so that people do not need to look overseas for their business.

MLC: Did you receive any training that you had found useful?

Mr. Corie: Yeah I did a course in Small Business Management at BIMAP. I did two business management courses at BIMAP actually and yes I do believe that they were a very good foundation for me.

Running your own business without understanding the dynamics of having your own business, there are so many pitfalls and so many mistakes that you can avoid if you had some basic skills, a basic understanding of what it is that you are doing. I remember at age seventeen or eighteen thinking that I really understood my business and then making some really pretty stupid mistakes that cost me. But at the end of the day, I learnt so much from those mistakes that I don’t look back and say, “that was such a stupid thing you did.” Every mistake I made taught me something that helped me along the way. But I found that those two courses that I did at BIMAP were useful, they laid the foundation for me.

MLC: Looking back, you said that there were some mistakes that cost you. Is there anything that you wish had known before you had made these decisions?

Mr. Corie: Every experience that I have had, whether good or bad, has been important in shaping me. I guess a better understanding of accounts probably would have been useful. A lot of the other stuff you have to learn it for yourself. It is one thing to have someone tell you something or teach you something, it is completely different to experience it for yourself. A lot of things that people tell you, you tend to forget. But when something happens to you, it stays with you. You know even though I’ve had businesses that didn’t succeed, I’ve never had a business that failed. I say that because I have had several businesses and everyone has prepared me along the way and it has been an important part of my growth as an entrepreneur. So even though they may have been some of them which may have not been successful financially, I think that they were an important part of the process. But I wish I had a better understanding of accounting.

MLC: What kind of characteristics do you possess that you think has helped you as an entrepreneur?

Mr. Corie: I think that I am very customer oriented. We would try to bend over backwards for our clients. We try to flexible and I am a very diplomatic person so I can handle difficult clients better than most. Also, my passion is business; it has been for twenty years. That is what I live for. I live for business. So I think that you have to be passionate about what you do. What I am doing right now is what I will like to be doing in twenty years time. I honestly love the special events industry. Also what I think has been important to me is that I’ve learnt to deal with stress. I don’t let things really really get to me. I also like to upfront and honest with people. People can see through lies and Barbados is a small place. Word will get around really quickly and my reputation is the most important thing I have. So honesty and integrity and having an ethical focus in terms of how you run the business and how I treat the staff is important.

MLC: Do you see CSME opening any particular opportunities for you?

Mr. Corie: Yes CSME would open our market to competitors but for me it is competition and if I cannot raise to meet the competition, then I should not be in business. So CSME I think would work well for us because it would break down some of the barriers that we would face in working outside of Barbados. Also if the company does grow and we need to grow our team, then I’m not restricted to the immediate labour market. If I know of a really fantastic designer in Jamaica, who is looking for work outside of Jamaica, well that person is available to me now. And it is a good motivator for our staff because now they know that they are competing with other people from all over the place. It’s an incentive for them to keep their standards high and to be consistent with what they are doing, and to be honest, the level that our guys are at, our guys are really good, producing some amazing work.

By the end of the interview, I was very impressed with Mr. Corie’s passion for business. I was also impressed by how Events Unusual and all of Mr. Corie’s companies were truly a part of a family business, not just because his wife was his partner, but because it was apparent that Mr. Corie saw his staff as a family.

Published: Sunday, 14th May, 2006


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