February Issue 2011
Celebrating in Style
Pakistan’s economy may have gone bust, but there is one industry that is boom boom booming — the event management industry. And understandably so.
With such few avenues for entertainment in Pakistan, we largely depend on food and glamour to delight ourselves. From fashion shows to product launches to corporate dinners to weddings to birthday parties, no effort nor expense is spared when it comes to hosting a perfect-down-to-the-last-detail event for guests. Aside from all the new entrepreneurs whose businesses aim to plan/design/manage events of any and every scale, even age-old caterers and equipment rental services that have been in the hospitality industry for many years have begun to offer such services in order to capitalise on the growing trend.
One such case is that of H. Nizam Din & Sons — a company that has been around for over 150 years and despite its 35-year hiatus when they were concentrating on manufacturing tents and exporting them, the name remained synonymous with quality. Seven years ago, when Ali and Usman Ahmed (heirs to the company) returned from university, they thought of shutting down Nizam Din catering and instead focusing on their own careers. But a talk from their father convinced them otherwise. The company regrouped to bring back catering and event management in a bigger and better way — a way that was relatively new to Pakistanis at the time.
Ali hired his friend Mushfiq-uz-Zaman as the general manager of Nizam Event Solutions due to his background and experience with interior designing. “Since childhood, I was used to seeing typical settings at weddings, with theatrical chairs and standard tents,” says Mushfiq. “Everybody was doing such great things at their events abroad and, ultimately, I felt it was time to bring a change in the way we did things. I knew that if I didn’t do it, somebody else would,” he says. So by taking the initiative, Nizam Din introduced modern tents, unique structures, wall panelling and they even take the credit for introducing the “lounge” structures commonly seen at events nowadays. “Suddenly people started talking about Nizam Din again, and the best thing was that even after 35 years of absence, we had to do very little to market ourselves because there was already so much respect for the name!” says Mushfiq.
When asked about the philosophy that drives their events, Mushfiq says “The idea is not just to use beautiful pieces. The way everything is laid out is our focus. I have a background in interior decoration so I know that the layout of a place is the most important thing for any event. As for the fine details, they come second. An event is like a painting,” explains Mushfiq. “It is never complete. After you lay it out, then you add the details and keep adding as much as you want. However,” he is quick to add, “some people start focusing too much on the nitty-gritty of their event. What they don’t realise is that half the beauty of the event comes from the people who fill up the room and hence the tiny details end up unnoticed and are a waste of money, especially for those who think hiring event planners is expensive. But it’s really not — if you do it wisely, you don’t have to spend much for a decent affair.”
Unlike Mushfiq, there are those event managers who specialise in not just planning events, but “designing” them. Pomme Amina Afzal, a veteran model known to be the first Pakistani woman to walk a Paris runway (for Pierre Cardin), recently launched her own event management company by the name of Phenomena. She concedes that there are a lot of other event managers in Pakistan, “but I feel there is a vacuum for stylishly done events in Pakistan — they lack sophistication and finesse.” She plans to steer a slightly different course: “My preference is to concentrate on small signature events in which the theme and details are very important. Everybody concentrates too much on the general ambiance, but I feel not enough thought is given to the setting, the floral arrangements, how the hors d’oeuvres are served, etc. As a result, everyone ends up doing a run-of-the-mill type event where everything is pretty standard,” she says. In Pomme’s view, her concept of literally “designing” each event down to its last detail sets her in a league apart from the rest who manage large-scale events with little or no thematic coordination. “Signature events are more about working with a theme to create a certain mood, so I try to give a unique and fresh take to my events rather than producing something standard and commercial,” explains Pomme. “Even for my company launch, I had a ‘taste’ theme in which designers presented their collections with accents of salt, pepper, sugar and spice. Even the lighting was specially designed to suit the art design atmosphere of the evening.”
But hiring such a swanky event designer would obviously come with a hefty price tag, wouldn’t it? “Not necessarily,” says Pomme. “The first thing I do is ask a client their budget and then work backwards. I am all for it even though it requires more work and creativity on my part, but you can still do a lot even with small budgets. Not everyone has open budgets but they still want classy events, so I think it’s important to cater to everyone,” she says. Surprisingly, this was a view shared by the majority of the event planners who were interviewed; all of them were willing to work with almost any reasonable budget.
Zoreed Raza is another woman in the event management game; she started her business nearly 12 years ago, after moving back from Europe. Initially just a “wedding planner,” she saw a niche for a one-stop wedding facility like in western countries. “I thought it was a good idea because of the convenience it offered to people. I noticed that there were many florists, but no set designers and nobody to help coordinate the event or pull it together,” says Zoreed. Hence she launched La Celebrators, a well-known company that has earned its reputation over the years. “People don’t have ample time to organise their events anymore like they used to, so they’ve started relying more on us,” says Zoreed. “With time and exposure, lifestyles have changed and so have our expectations. But sometimes people come up with their own fantasies that they expect us to recreate and it’s our job to give them good advice, meaning sometimes we have to advise them against their own ideas,” she says. To stay fresh in the market, Zoreed ensures that most of her decorative pieces and furnishings are made in-house by her own workers and carpenters, unlike most of the other event managers interviewed by Newsline who claimed to buy their decorative items mostly from China. “This is something that sets me apart from a lot of other event managers and also ensures that everything is original and unlike the work that other people are doing,” she says. “It’s a great business to be in, but a very tough one as it requires a lot of passion and dedication. When I started out, I did a lot of research and made phone calls to gather data from my target market to ensure I could provide what people wanted.”
With such a strong focus on clients’ needs, it is no wonder that event managers are gaining more and more popularity by the day. But contrary to popular assumption, event managers do not confine themselves to planning just large-scale events, they are willing to cater for small occasions as well, including marriage proposals! Mushfiq relates an incident where a man needed help proposing to his girlfriend. “He wanted it to be special and spectacular, so I made him a gazebo and gave him the works. It ended up costing quite a bit, but I helped another client with a similar request and with a much smaller budget, and it was also effective,” he says. In the same way, birthday parties, baby showers, themed parties are all within the scope of these event managers and they do create something unique and memorable for these occasions.
One company that specifically specialises in children’s birthday parties and other similar occasions, is Confetti — a small venture started by Hina Azfar and Amina Ali nearly five years ago when they discovered a lack of clean and hygienic caterers for children’s birthday parties. “We have done weddings and dinner parties as well, but those have been few and far between,” says Hina. “We’re pretty hands-on with everything, and small-scale events with personalised dÃ©cor is our niche market,” she says. Generally catering to a younger set of guests, Confetti places a lot of importance on using clean and hygienic props for their parties. While most of the parties they cater to are in Lahore, they get many requests from clients in other cities to help them with their parties. “We have a fairly large clientele in Karachi as well but in that case we send stuff to them which can travel well like goody bags, piÃ±atas and invites,” says Hina. “Aside from the fact that we use perfectly safe and hygienic play things for children, we really pride ourselves on our supplies and dÃ©cor — everything, from our painted cut-outs to our cake-table backdrops etc., is all handmade,” she says.
Gauging from the manner in which the event management business is booming presently, event managers will never go out of fashion. Infact, their clientele is likely to grow in the years to come. “I think this business will always fly,” says Pomme. “As long as we continue to have parties and weddings, there will be a growing market for well-organised events. Pakistanis love to do everything in an elaborate manner and are quite willing to spend,” she says. Hina concurs: “I think people look for quality now and since many more people are career-oriented, they don’t have the time to plan events themselves. It’s great because we have specialised service areas now, and by hiring these services, you end up getting better quality in everything. These things have been established abroad for a long time now, so it’s great that more people are getting used to the idea here.”