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Maui’d Forever is one of Hawaii’s few full service, all-Hawaiian Islands wedding planner and coordinator.
Founded in 2003 by entrepreneur Mark Steffan, the company operates on the Hawaiian Islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii. They use over 150 different wedding vendors and still find the need to add additional members to their team.
MO: Can you talk about creating the company on a whim without any knowledge of the industry? What did your “aha moment” look like?
Mark: After retiring from a 19 year career as a stockbroker I got a little bored and started a life and business coaching service. It was when I was marketing a “Newlywed “ life planning program and offering it to wedding planners which I thought was a natural choice that I found a sincere lack of interest and my discovery that these planners were lacking business experience. That is when a thought and name for my business came to me. I thought I could do such a better job than these planners. It was at that moment that the name “Maui’d Forever” came to me and I decided to see if the domain name was available. Happy that it was I purchased the name and a week later created the first incantation of my website. A few weeks later I booked my first wedding.
MO: How has your background and experience contributed to the development and success of the company so far?
Mark: My background as a stockbroker and my start in that industry is what gave me the initiative to do what I have done. I was hired as a stockbroker trainee on the early 1980’s and was given a mutual fund brochure, an office, a phone and a reverse phone directory. I created success from this humble beginning but one other career occurrence helped with my perseverance in business. After a few months in the business I sold an investment that gave me a $12,000 commission. A month later after already receiving the money the investor was rejected by a surety bonding company and I was $12,000 in the hole. My manager was somewhat understanding and let me write off the advance in commission $2,000 per month for the following 6 months. So as a rookie in a field that invites failure I was face with a big deficit. That deficit gave me the impetus to try harder and eventually succeed beyond my wildest dreams. I was able to retire early, moved to Hawaii and eventually created Maui’d Forever with the knowledge I could make a success even without industry knowledge.
MO: What’s been the most challenging aspect of your entrepreneurial journey and how did you overcome it?
Mark: The most challenging aspect of the business has been to self learn how to do it all. I created my website myself. I acquired all my vendors myself. I learned how to market my product online with pay per click advertising. I learned SEO and now I am trying to learn the intricacies of social media and marketing. As for how I learned this on my own I went online and researched it all myself making many mistakes along the way but learning form it. At this point with the knowledge I have acquired I know I could create just about any service business and be successful at it.
MO: Can you talk about the process of creating a network of over 150 different wedding vendors?
Mark: This is what sets us apart from the competition! We give our clients choices on their minister, photographer and other important wedding vendors. We started first on the Island of Maui where I live. I knew several wedding photographers and ministers through friends and acquaintances. The Island is small and good people survive and thrive. I started with only a few of these people to begin with. Any time I needed a specific service I would go to one if these familiar people. When I had a need for something else or another vendor that might already be booked I asked for referrals. This was the way most of my vendors were acquired. Other times I placed advertisements in “Craigs List” and interviewed the responders. After getting resumes and following up on references I might hire one of these unknowns.
The best sources of contacts were the local and native Hawaiians that had family and friends living on the other Islands. So with them I networked and eventually created a network of hundreds. That is how I still go about things. Busy wedding dates necessitated the acquisition of more vendors. The first busy date we had was 7-7-2007. We had 34 weddings that day. The next busy day will be 12-12-2012. The great added benefit with these vendor acquisitions is that a relationship was established and future clients had even more choices on their service providers.
I still occasionally need someone else. This is especially true with special requests. It is not too often I need a flutist to play at a wedding but a past request that was fulfilled now has me having that person in my database. With so many vendors now available I can answer the question: are you available for my specific wedding day? With an unequivocal yes!
MO: What advice would you give to a couple considering planning a wedding in Hawaii?
Mark: My advice is to use a professional planning service like ours versus the client doing it themselves. First off individuals will have a difficult time procuring a permit. We do this and have very reasonably priced packages that are quite turnkey and very fairly priced. Our packages start at $299. Compare this to what the hotels and resorts offer and you will see that our packages using the same locations and vendors will save the client an astonishing amount.
There are dozens of wedding planners like us on each Hawaiian Island but none offer the options we do at the prices we can.
MO: Can you talk about your plans for franchising and growing to become the dominant player in a crowded field?
Mark: I have already tried franchising. I created Maui’d Forever first on the Island of Maui. So many potential clients were not sure which Island they should go to do their wedding and decided on another that I created relationships on the other Hawaiian Islands and expanded my website to reflect our offerings on these other Islands. I gained a tremendous amount of experience in getting vendors, locations and all the other details with setting up business in these other locations.
I spent a lot of money setting up all the legal aspects of franchising my system but unfortunately began offering the opportunity at the beginning of the greatest recession since the 1930’s and did not succeed. I am sure it was due to the economy rather than my offering. Nobody has a national wedding planning company yet and this is a great business that someone will eventually succeed at creating a national business. I just hope that will be me someday.
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