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Rena Puebla, 44, knew she had a knack for event planning. As an employee for Rolm PBX in Irvine, California, she worked her way up from receptionist to the service department, where she planned company events ranging from small luncheons to parties and baby showers. Soon she began planning weddings, birthday parties and holiday events in her spare time, which garnered her so much praise and encouragement from colleagues and friends that she decided to start her own business.
First, there was a partnership that floundered after one year. Then, in 1989, Puebla started Coast Concierge Service, a full-service event planning and production company, from her home in Tustin, California. Unable to secure a bank loan, she used $5,000 of her own savings to finance start-up costs.
Coast Concierge Service, with a staff of four, coordinates corporate galas, holiday parties, tourist trips and individual events. The firm’s earnings for 1997 were over $400,000, and Puebla expects her company to top that figure this year. Since she’s been in business, her company has grown 10%-15%.
“I’m there from the time you [first] talk to me to the time you tell me to leave,” Puebla says. “If a client we’re planning for comes to us and says, ‘Gee, I’ve forgotten it’s my wife’s birthday; could you pick up something for me?,’ we provide those types of services as well.”
Going above and beyond the call of duty is how Puebla says she managed to secure such marquee clients. as Coca-Cola, Taco Bell, Fidelity National Title, CarrAmerica, Cushman & Wakefield and Xerox.
“My business has all been referral. Word of mouth is all the advertising I’ve needed,” Puebla says. “That’s it. I am out there shaking hands and talking to people and introducing myself.”
Puebla notes that the three tenets of her business are creativity, flexibility and accessibility. For example, her clients are given her home phone number and can reach her 24 hours a day. She feels this sets her apart from her competitors.
Despite the firm’s current success, it has not always been smooth sailing. In addition to problems early on with banks, Puebla found it difficult to secure insurance for her company and become bonded. And as with many other new businesses, maintaining sufficient cash flow was difficult at first. “Eventually you get over those challenges,” says Puebla, “and they make you stronger.”
Puebla was able to secure insurance after other catering companies gave her a starting point of where to go. To solve her cash flow problems, Puebla initially kept her overhead low, did everything herself and paid herself a small salary.
Puebla admits that despite her challenges, working for herself holds by far the greatest rewards. She advises would be entrepreneurs to pay off debts before going into business and avoid loans, so the energy of the business is spent on making profits, not repaying a lender.
Puebla is working with consultants to take her firm international by the end of the year. She has begun to seek clients in Germany and the United Kingdom-countries that own