They’ve been to Mexico, Hawaii and New York City.
This year, Julie Hale is taking her employees to Morocco. They’ll be gone for nine days.
Hale founded her company, Vangard Events, 12 years ago after she figured she was too successful to remain a freelance event designer. She realized she needed an attorney, a CPA and all the usual business accoutrements.
Hale and her staff design, construct, and coordinate the details required to produce parties, balls, galas, fundraisers and other such gatherings in Pierce and King counties, mostly in Seattle and Bellevue’s East Side.
She was raised in Tacoma, loves Tacoma and lives in Tacoma with her toddler son.
Her story starts – where? Perhaps at Stadium High School.
“I was attracted to art and design,” she said. “There was no outlet. It was like you had to get into computers. I was miserable. People say that if you have a passion in life, and you follow it, you’ll experience joy or success or both.”
She waited tables at Stanley & Seafort’s and designed their booth one year at Zoobilee. She drew the daily chalkboard menu at The Spar. “I struggled a lot in my 20s, finding my place and not having access to a wider scope of what could be,” she said. “Now, your ability to be who you are is greater than ever before.”
She was known to her friends, back then, as someone who organized fun gatherings. It came as something as a surprise, she said, “that you could make money throwing parties.”
That’s when the sun came up.
“I worked for another company in Tacoma that exposed me to the event industry,” she said. “It was that click. It showed me that there was an avenue to express the things I love – entertaining, design, art, music, celebration.”
By the time she turned 27 – she’s 43 today – she said, “I was on my own and being approached by people who did private events. I was working for several nonprofits.” She succeeded initially, she said, “because I can use a jigsaw, a table saw, and I can paint. I sewed my own 20-foot drapes. I dyed fabric in buckets. I started getting bigger and bigger events. I was still waiting tables and working for caterers at night to support myself.”
She drove to her events in an ancient Econoline van she called the “Rainbow Maker,” chiefly because it spilled fluids that spread whorls of color onto wet pavement.
As an event designer, she coordinates all phases of an event. That means floral displays, lighting, entertainment, catering, everything down to making sure that a large event is ready to handle medical care if required.
“It’s all about taking a space and creating a fantasy, or a dream, or whatever people are looking for. It’s another form of art. This is an incubator of passion.”
Then there’s the business side.
“It was not easy,” she said. “I didn’t have a degree in business. I wasn’t exposed to business when I was growing up. I thought there was a book, a great big book that said ‘Business!”
There was no such book.
“I feel like I straddle two areas, as a business owner, with a very linear way of thinking, and as a creative person with a curious, open, global way of thinking.”
She has so far learned one major lesson: “Hire good people. Find good people who are good at what they do and let them do that. It’s surrounding yourself with people who are doing what’s natural for them.”
She has four full-time employees and three part-time. Titles range from production coordinator to carpenter/welder. She pays full medical and dental benefits and offers a paid vacation. And that doesn’t count the events and vacations she provides – trips to see theatrical performances in Seattle, afternoons at the movies, “and sometimes we just go to a museum and walk around.”
And the trip to Morocco next month. “I think they (her employees) work really hard. They give a lot of themselves,” she said. “For us, as a group, it’s a bonding experience. It’s exposure to other people and the chance to become more rounded and more global. It comes down to ‘what can we celebrate together and what can we see, feel or taste together?’ I’ve experienced a lot of people giving to me. It’s paying it forward.”
“It’s always something new every day,” said Sherri Brady, a Vangard designer. “It challenges your mind. We may not change the world, but we’ll have some fun along the way. We laugh quite a lot. I would say (Julie) is the most demanding boss I’ve ever had, but she expects quality.”
“I feed off the stress,” said event coordinator Katelind Donahue. “You’ve got to be artistic and professional. I think Julie is a great role model.”
Production coordinator Steven Anderson said, “It’s always a challenge. The motivation to succeed is always there. Julie’s vision makes the client happy and makes us happy. Morocco? Who does that? Who goes to Morocco? We are.”
At the reception desk, several awards – including one from the International Special Events Society – tell part of the story of Hale’s success.
So does Kara Hefley, director of development at Tacoma Art Museum. Hefley has hired Vangard to design several museum events.
“When you talk about local event planners, I think Julie’s name is on the top of everyone’s list,” she said. “What make Julie special is her vision and her creativity and her work ethic in making her vision a reality.
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535