LANSING, MI -- Giving thanks during the holiday season used to be relatively easy. With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah fast approaching businesses are innovating the ways in which they are celebrating the holidays.
Event planners who were hired for in-person or hybrid events during the holidays have adjusted their expectations — again — as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) numbers continue to rise.
Phebeit Ingram, President and Senior Designer of Eleven 11 Events, said, “COVID-19 has truly done a number on the event industry. From completely shutting us down in the beginning with all events canceling or postponing through September, to limiting our events to a 10 person capacity. I was so excited when it went up to 50 people but then it went back down to 10 people again.”
Eleven 11 Events’ website, www.eleven11eventsgroup.com, states it is a full-service event design firm specializing in creating unforgettable experiences. As unique as each fingerprint is, so should any special day be. They design events exclusively for corporations, individuals, families, and couples from beginning to end assisting with design and decor. They also boast having the largest in-stock inventory of Chiavari Chairs, table linens, and event accessories. They are also one of few event companies offering in-house graphic design and marketing services.
Ingram said that the company realized the importance of keeping everyone safe and knew they were going to have to think outside the box if they were going to recoup their loss of income.
She lamented, “2020 was supposed to be a breakout year for Eleven 11 Events. We acquired the business in 2018, got our feet wet in 2019, and marketed our brand for a successful 2020 wedding and event season. Then COVID-19 hit us hard.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been very clear about the considerations for enhancing the protection of individuals and communities and preventing spread at gatherings. From weddings to baby showers, Easter to Thanksgiving, and every Sunday lunches with friends to long drives to see family, COVID-19 has changed the landscape of celebrating life.
The CDC advises event planners to promote healthy behaviors, such as the number of attendees, educating staff regarding when they should stay home, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, wearing masks, supplies and posting signs in highly visible locations.
Ingram has been making adjustments to meet the unique needs and circumstances during the pandemic. She realizes the toll that it is taking on our community even though she knows it is important to stay vigilant during the most festive time of the year.
Ingram said, “I love to say 'COVID-19 can’t stop this', but I personally know 5 people who have died from COVID-19 and many more who have contracted the illness and survived. I do not wish to experience it, pass it on, or see more deaths. But there is one thing that I will not allow COVID-19 to steal and that is the celebration of people. People need to be celebrated. I know it can be done safely and contactless. We have to be concerned about all individuals at all times but for our mental health we need to be celebrated and not just tolerated.”
Ingram said that her heart ached for 2020 graduates and she wondered how Eleven 11 Events could celebrate this right of passage amidst the pandemic.
“I have seen parades, drive through graduations, and some drive-by events. I saw restaurants pivoting with curbside pickups. I thought let us package a curbside event and literally take it to the curb of the client. Since you have to be at home, I’ll bring the setup to you and make it maintenance-free, contactless, and safe with Eleven 11 Event’s spin of upscale elegance in a spirit of excellence,” said Ingram.
The socially distanced drive-by celebrations were a huge success and Eleven 11 Events was able to pay their bills through the summer. The shift was moving to tents instead of indoor venues. After graduation season, Ingram had so much time on her hands that she began doing the thing that she loves the most about the business, which is designing.
Ingram said, “I started 'WOW YOU WEDNESDAYS.'" Every Wednesday I would post a new design to social media that I had created in my warehouse. I had no clients, no appointments but I still had my gift and that was designing. I love to create unique experiences with out-of-the-box designs. I would walk through my warehouse and pull fabrics and linens from shelves and get my sewing machine and just make beauty."
Why create a design that no one could use because all events have been halted? Why pull out tables and chairs and make 2 and 3 layered backdrops that take so much time and effort to just pull down and put away?
Ingram said that she kept hearing something say create so she did and people began to look forward to seeing what was next. She truly believes that God wants her to use her gift even if it was a dry season and blessings began coming from it.
Ingram said excitedly, “Yes, I love the holidays and especially Christmas! The holidays bring the family together and that has always been important to me. I love to celebrate. I used to work for United Parcel Service as a delivery driver. I had many commercial stops at corporate offices that had beautifully decorated trees. Some were so glamorous that I could hardly get to my next stop because I would just stand there in awe. I would make mental notes of the different trees I saw and added some elements to my designs. The collaboration of “looks” would always come together somehow and just work. I don’t know if it’s the sparkle and shine, my belief in the birth of Christ, giving because he gave, or my father as Santa Claus that has me bubbly over Christmas but I love, love, love all things Christmas.”
Spreading Christmas Joy
Since Eleven 11 Events specializes in indoor décor and they have a warehouse full of inventory of items that promote the Christmas spirit. There was a lot of thought and teamwork regarding how to keep positive nostalgic holiday vibes percolating.
Ingram was excited when talking about Christmas decorating and said, “Be it my favorite, glitz, and glam, eclectic, rustic, or shabby chic designs, we can and will bring your vision of Christmas to life. This is the third year we have decorated for Granger Waste Services (Granger) and are truly grateful that they included us in their Granger family Christmas celebration this year. While other businesses were canceling their holiday events Granger stayed loyal to our minority-owned small business even though there was no indoor venue to dress.”
Granger lit up their entire campus on Wood Street with amazing Christmas lights for their families to have a drive-through holiday experience. They usually have a large indoor event for their employees and their families. Eleven 11 Events took a maintenance bay and transformed it into a Christmas wonderland.
Charles Hauser, Granger’s Community Relations Coordinator, said, “Phebeit called me and asked if I would come to the maintenance area to view the finished product for our event (Santa’s Wonderland). I am not exaggerating when I say, I was blown away! I gave her the space and gave her general guidelines of what we were looking for, as usual, Phebeit and her team knocked it out of the park. As my fellow team members saw the space, WOW! would be the first thing out of their mouths."
Hauser added, "Following the event as Phebeit and her team broke down the display I was able to thank them. I let her know, while it may not have been as large as what we normally have them do, we were so happy to be able to work with them in some form and fashion. They came through and made our event that much more special for our associates, who were also blown away."
One of Ingram's most heartwarming experiences was when an Eleven 11 worker arrived early to teardown the setup and peeked inside to see what was going on. The worker saw a car coming through the Christmas decorated maintenance bay and a little boy sitting in his father's lap on the passenger side. Smiling the worker recounted how the little boy was leaning forward wide-eyed with excitement taking it all in as if he couldn’t get enough. She said his look was one delight in anxious anticipation of the next “WOW’ he would see.
Ingram said, "Making people happy during this particular Christmas is going to take extra effort. But it is the stories of glee and excitement that makes it all worthwhile!!!"
Contact Eleven 11 Events from their website at eleven11eventsgroup.com or call 517-886-0601 to talk to them about making your next socially distanced event one to remember.