Brenna Gilbert, the CEO of Festive & Co., Created a One-Stop Shop to Help Modern-Day Hosts Prepare Parties
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Hosting a meaningful event goes beyond a single evening—the memories created at that party can last a lifetime. For Brenna Gilbert, the CEO and founder of Festive & Co., her penchant for party planning started when she was a child; she often helped her family curate get-togethers, and she even drew some inspiration from our founder. "I was deeply inspired by Martha Stewart as a child," she says. "[Her work] was incredibly inspiring to me—I was probably the only 13-year-old kid with an annotated and highlighted version of her homekeeping handbook with all the things we're supposed to do every season, whether it was dusting your lightbulbs, ironing, or cleaning out your closets." She channeled this early enthusiasm for entertaining and curating spaces into her professional life down the road.
She got her feet wet in the events space while working for Anthropologie in Chicago; it was her first job right out of college. During this experience, she witnessed true entrepreneurship up close: "I would look around at me and there was this huge team of young women managing these huge businesses and making enormous decisions, and I would always feel in awe of the responsibility that we had," she recalls. She immersed herself in retail merchandising, event design, and experiential marketing, transforming environments and building retail displays along the way. One of her most formative tasks included planning in-store events. "The first event that I had planned officially was a big holiday fashion show," adds Gilbert. "And I just remember thinking this is for me, this is what I want to do."
Journey to Entrepreneurship
Festive & Co. is Gilbert's lifestyle brand parent company; its mission is to help everyone—from novices to seasoned experts—create fun, dynamic parties. The inspiration to start her own business came in 2019, during a getaway: "I was on vacation with my husband, and he asked, 'If you could do anything that you weren't doing in the world, what would you want to do?'" She knew in that moment that the answer was building a platform that "makes it easy for people to get together," she explains. There are three brands underneath the Festive & Co. family: Feste, an e-commerce site and retail store soon opening in New York City; Wild & Floral, a floral and installation business; and Champers Social Club, a Champagne bar and event space also based in Manhattan. "For me, all of these businesses are really inspired by the way that I've grown up in retail, which are these very omni-channel, big brands, coming up through URBN, Inc. and coming up through LVMH," she says.
Party Planning Innovation
Gilbert's company launched in March 2020, two weeks prior to the stay-at-home restrictions that gripped the world at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic. "I was very afraid that creating an event company was actually a really poor idea," she shares, adding that there was a silver lining to this timing. "What it really did was reaffirm for me that people actually want to get together. And it shows an enormous amount of innovation around the tools [to do so]—and the ways in which people get together at home." Everything from virtual cocktail hours to parties took center stage, and, during this period, she decided she wanted to focus Festive & Co.'s supply chain on more domestic suppliers, which could have been challenging had she opened her business earlier, the CEO notes. Gilbert learned how to create a target audience, too. "I would say that it's never been easier to open an online business, but as a result, the market is incredibly saturated with online businesses," she says. "The things that will set you apart and the things that will really let you stand out are how you can authentically connect with your customer and market [in a way] that's really true to your brand."
Streamlining the Event Space
Feste, Festive & Co.'s retail destination, plays a big part in the company's innovative mark in event space. Gilbert noticed that there were digital destinations, in addition to in-person stores, across most industries worldwide, whether it be wine and spirits or clothing and beauty. The same can't quite be said for party planning, however. "It really surprises me that there are not good online resources to help you get together offline," Gilbert says. "A big part of that is because 'eventing' feels like there's a there's a big barrier to entry. I think about how intimidating the event design world can feel—[consider] the kind of design intimidation people feel around planning weddings."
To help erase the pressure that comes with hosting an event, she designed Festive & Co. like a tech company that continues to innovate its offerings. Within this approach, she is "working to create not only a great online, transactional experience, but we also want to focus on building a vendor network and a great service experience online." By visiting Feste, customers are able to shop "Scenes" that, quite literally, set the scene for any gathering. These "ready-to-party kits," like the Scene: Give A Glam ($299, lovefeste.com), include reusable party materials, like a disco ball and confetti canon, which also helps limit waste that's often associated with throwing events. Plus, people preparing for a get-together can shop their "à la carte" offerings, which feature essentials for drinks, like glassware and cocktail trays; dining, such as serveware and linens; style, including candles and sparklers; play, (think a deck of cards); and gifts, which range from candles to books.
Setting Her Business Up for Success
As Gilbert reflects on building her business, there's one piece of advice she follows that could help fellow entrepreneurs: Be secure with the potential of failing. "Be comfortable owning that and knowing that there's an enormous risk involved," she says. "Going into it every day with a sense of the stakes is incredibly motivating. No one tells you in the beginning how absolutely scary it is, and that there will be days that you're very nervous. And there will be days that are incredibly exhilarating and fulfilling." Plus, don't forget to put your customers first, she says. This means getting up close and personal with the products you're selling, communicating with the sales team, and connecting with the customers.
While Gilbert is steadily expanding Festive & Co.'s brands, including a flagship store and restaurant set to debut this spring, staying self-reflective and true to her own origin story is helping her grow as an entrepreneur. "We look every day at the places that we can be better, and I learned this very early on in events and retail, which are very reactive. If something isn't working, we move it," she says. "If something isn't selling on the mannequin, change the mannequin. If something isn't selling on the product table, change the product table. That is something that I have carried with me into bigger roles. It doesn't take much to be reactive and to be able to make thoughtful assessments and say, 'This isn't working, let's shake things up.'"
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