When David Merrell came to Los Angeles 15 years ago, he was working in the insurance business. Soon, he switched careers and became vice president of marketing at a courier company. But when he started bartending for a catering firm on the side, the Ohio native knew he was meant for special events.
With time he moved up to the post of vice president with the caterer. "But I didn't want to work for other people," he notes. Instead, "I became a sponge-handling and observing as many events as possible." Only six months after his promotion, he quit to form his own business.
"The idea behind An Original Occasion was that every event would be different, an original," he says. "I started with $8,000-money I had saved from bartending. The first jobs I did out of my studio apartment."
Today, An Original Occasion boasts 40 full-time employees and about 70 on-call bartenders and servers, an in-house catering department, and its own decor warehouse. "My business more than doubled in size in 1999," Merrell says. "As a result, I'm becoming more of a human resources person, working with everyone from administration and sales to servers. The drawback is that it gets harder to concentrate on everything." To keep from being overwhelmed, he is considering using more staffing companies to train workers and handle benefits.
Merrell currently serves as president of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the International Special Events Society. "When I began going to ISES meetings five years ago, I thought the concept was to hand out a few cards and maybe get some business. But ISES is about building relationships, elevating the level of professionalism within the industry and to the public."
Acting as chapter president, Merrell says, is like having "another 9-to-5 job. But being on the board, planning protocols, I've learned how to manage my company better. I have meeting minutes and action items at my office now. I manage my staff better."
What's new at the ISES L.A. Chapter? "Our membership is the highest it's ever been; last time I checked, we had 134 members," says Merrell. "We also launched our own Web site-located at www.ises-la.com-last summer."
David Merrell will speak on "Satisfying All the Senses: Integrating Event Elements for Stunning Results" at The Special Event 2000, sponsored by Special Events Magazine, Jan. 12-15 in San Diego. For more information, call 800/288-8606 or 303/741-2901; or visit: www.specialevents.com/tse2000
An Original Occasion 5850 W. Third St., Suite 350, Los Angeles, CA 90036 323/467-2111; Web site: www.aooevents.com