Posted 8/30/2017 08:51 am
Updated 9 months ago
The process of planning her own wedding led Centrina Washington somewhat unwittingly into the business that would come to be her passion.
“We were badly ripped off, like a $10,000 ripoff,” she said. “We paid a vendor that was not licensed, experienced or anything and we thought they were a legit company.
“I just knew, from that point on, I never wanted another bride to be taken advantage of and go through that same experience.”
The El Dorado-born entrepreneur launched Eminent Planning in her hometown and brought it with her as a sideline gig when she took a job in Conway. It wasn’t long before her company became a full-time enterprise.
“The first year  we did maybe five or so events, birthday parties, baby showers,” she said. “We just built up the momentum to start taking on brides. In 2015, we actually had our first bride and we ended up doing 10 weddings.”
The number of events tripled in 2016 and this year Eminent Planning is on pace to do 40 events, more than 80 percent of which are weddings. Washington credits word of mouth for the rapid growth as each successful event is its own form of advertising. She’s quickly become known for her skill in translating a couple’s story into the decor and theme of the wedding event.
“People always bring in pictures of what they want for their wedding,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but the way that you’re able to create a wedding based off a bride is off of their personality.”
In one particular case, the groom was a pilot and the couple’s first date included his flying them to a secret location. Washington created a world travel theme, with touches such as labeling tables with destinations the couple had seen or were planning to visit and having attendees sign a globe instead of a guest book.
“I base it off of people’s personalities to go along with what they see in a picture,” she said. “You can’t tell me, ‘I’m a this vibrant, bubbly person, I love to travel, I like to be hospitable,’ but then have a wedding that doesn’t match that.”
Washington’s overnight success has come with challenges in terms of financing, time management and especially staffing.
“Labor is definitely a growing pain,” she said. “No one wants to work every weekend. Thirty events and there’s only 52 weeks in a year, I mean, it’s beyond the point of having just family or friends help out.”
Weddings are big business but also carry big overhead and are time-intensive, Washington said, so she’d like to diversify into more corporate events. She said while many clients seek out small and minority-owned businesses, it’s her expertise that truly sets her apart.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me they want their wedding designed by a black business and to support black businesses in other ways, [such as] a black photographer, a black DJ,” she said. “People may initially look at us because I’m a woman of color, but most of our growth stems from the fact that I’m providing good work.”