An Interview With Orlando Voyager Magazine: Meet Elissa Fallo
Today we’d like to introduce you to Elissa Fallo.
Elissa, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
Well, where I started and where I am are so far from each other. I grew up as the daughter of an event and travel planner, so I think that the eye for design has always been within me, but it took a really long time to embrace it. I went to Northeastern University in Boston for college, as a criminal justice/law and legal studies major. I believed I would go to law school, but in my senior year, I did the Disney College Program as a lifeguard, and that is what brought me to the area the first time. After that I spent a lot of time in recreation management, returning to the Northeast in 2000 for what was supposed to be a short-term position – as it turned out the events of September 11th made it difficult at Disney and I ended up staying and going to work for my mother. I can say that she didn’t make that decision easy – she made me start at the very bottom answering the phones as a receptionist for the travel planner and learning how to plan vacations from the very first phone call. I never wanted to travel, but it was such a big part of events that she knew I needed to learn.
I worked with her for years in different positions and on different projects. Eventually, I met a lady who would actually turn out to be what I call my first client. She wanted me to design and plan every aspect of her husbands 21st Birthday party for her. Held in the Swiss hotel in Manhattan, that birthday party ended up being my first award-winning event. It also is what made me fall in love with both live events and event design. From then on, I have designed and managed projects that range in scope from a 5-person wine dinner, to a Gala Fundraising auction for 2500 and everything in between. I have won countless tabletop competitions and several Big Apple Awards for the planning and production of events in all budget categories, as well as for best wedding production, and I have even been nominated by Event Solutions for Event Planner of the year several times.
In 2009 I took over the business from my mother, although she is still involved and works on many events and group travel experiences. I moved back to Orlando in 2013, and I briefly went back to work for Disney and learned so many valuable lessons from the experience – all the while still designing and traveling to do events worldwide. Over the years, I have maintained one thing – this is a family business, and someone from the “family” will touch every event that we do. We have never wavered from this, and as we grow, it is something I never want to lose sight of – our events and our products are only as good as we make them – I have a drive for perfection, and anything less than that disappoints me – so do I still measure every plate on a table to make sure it is exactly 1 inch from the edge? Absolutely. It is that kind of detail that makes you award-winning.
With all industries, you have to pivot sometimes though, and COVID dealt a huge blow to both the travel and live events industries. When we went into covid lockdown, we had over $300,000 in live events and travel cancel in 24 hours. It was honestly depressing, and the result had me in a tailspin for a while – I wondered how I could maintain the business and keep it open, and I wondered what I was going to do with all of my time. I was bored, and there was only so much TV I could watch.
I decided that I would do something constructive with my time – and so I started taking classes and adding things that I wanted to try to a list. I conquered yeast – because although I could bake, bread was illusive to me – so I made everything from French bread and croissants to cinnamon rolls and pizza dough – anything that required me to use yeast and let things rise. I took master classes from adobe and started doing graphic design for invitations and journals, and then I expanded those designs to other party favors and signs. I was talking to a friend one night, and he suggested that I start to sell my journals on Amazon, and I ran with that getting them published on Amazon KDP, opening an Amazon storefront, and applying to be an Amazon and Etsy influencer. I took classes on SEO and how to build a website with a store. I started an Instagram that literally had 5 followers. Everything I did, every step I made was just because I had nothing better to do, so I learned, and in the process, I grew. People loved the party favors, and the Etsy store started to do more and more, so I added designs, products, and wholesale lines, all with the idea that they would help to make it easier for the person planning their event – even if it was a virtual party held on zoom. Suddenly Elissa Evergreen was born (although the name is another story – my dad came up with it – for a long time, it was a family joke, and it just sort of stuck)
I started sending goodie boxes to people and attendees of zoom parties so that they could have the same decor, cupcakes, and Lolly pops that the host had. They no longer had to just watch the party; they were back to participating in it. As the covid restrictions started lifting the shop was in full swing – I continued to add both things and services to what we offer, I started doing charcuterie and desert boards and boxes and delivering them in the Orlando area, and we added more party favor options (I think I am upwards of 300 items right now – not all of which are on the website or the Etsy store yet – so I definitely encourage people to call me because custom designs and theming are what we do best). We had always done corporate gift baskets for people who wanted multiple of the same thing to give to their clients or Team Members, but I added gift baskets and personal shopping and wrapping to the mix so that no one had to struggle when they didn’t know what to get as a wedding gift or for the birthday girl.
As a company, we grew from just doing and planning events and built ourselves into a lifestyle brand that caters to what I call Entertaining Life… meaning-making all the little details of your life exceptional, every day is an event and every event is a memory you can’t live without. We have always said we make the ordinary Extraordinary, and that is still the truth – now, not only can we do it with live events and trips, but we also do it for your DIY projects. We have so many things coming soon too – we are currently working on our Elissa Evergreen Entertaining Life-themed roadmaps, which will help the DIY planner create a flawless themed event and help so much with the planning process. We have new journals and notebooks and even a membership for the DIY Bride or Planner coming in the second half of this year.
It has been a long journey to get here – it’s hard every day, and there are things I don’t like to do but have to; I have learned lessons, and I have grown from them- Overall, the journey has been a good one, and I am excited with the people I have in my circle right now, that cheer me on and support me to move forward – they have helped me to get here and will no doubt – push me to grow further. It’s hard to build a business in a pandemic… but Martha Stewart – built her whole empire in her basement, and if she can do it, so can I! We have grown so much, and we still have so much further to go!
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Nothing is obstacle free – its how you get though the obstacles that matters – We have had struggles – awful clients, recessions, the pandemic to deal with along the way – but the truth is you find a way to get by –and make it yours. I have 100% struggled, and at times and sometimes the product that came out of those struggles was not what I would call my best work, but nothing is ever perfect and the clients saw the things I did– although we strive for perfection sometimes out of struggle a Pheonix rises and what you were doing is morphed and reborn into something better.
Live events and travel are always the first industry to be affected and the last to come back – we still, as an industry has not recovered from COVID Restrictions, and even with the addition of the online stores, we have a whole new set of struggles to deal with. Not only can we not travel or meet freely, but we also have inflation, gas surcharges, and supply chain issues to deal with on a daily basis. Nothing is without struggle – but commitment and the drive to succeed will bring new ideas and innovative solutions that have help us to grow into a more inclusive lifestyle brand for our fans, followers, and customers.
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
We have some many different facets of the business it is hard to tell you everything – I have always wanted to be a one stop shop for our clients – so they didn’t have to search around for the different facets of their event. As a corporation; we are a full-service Event and Travel stying firm and lifestyle brand. We specialize in everything “Entertaining,” From live events to family reunions, 2-person proposals, and picnics to fundraising galas and corporate events. From the save the date to what you pack for your honeymoon we help with any or all of it.
We take the ordinary and make it extraordinary – as I said earlier – It’s important for us to help you create moments not only for the guests but for the client themselves– regardless of if it’s a child’s birthday, a wedding, or a corporate function, we want you and your guests to say wow and have something to remember.
For me, the attention to detail is the biggest difference – as a company we are all about the little things – and it shows in our tabletop, room designs, invitations and favors. I am a stickler for quality and so anything we sell that we don’t make – we have sampled, used, and tried to destroy – I know that sounds funny but if I can break it or ruin it – I am not selling it.
It doesn’t matter if we do it from beginning to end, if we run your event as part of a day of or month of the package – or if we guide you on how to do it yourself – the result should be something spectacular, it should be that moment that will take your breath away. That wow moment is when I say it was a success.
Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
I have had countless people in my life who have mentored me on one stage or another – It has always been my way to learn from an expert on the topic at hand. I have also taught countless interns that have gone on to make me proud and do amazing things in the industry. Mentoring and learning is what makes our industry move forward, you can never learn it all from a book.
I tell the story all the time that I got lucky. I was born into the industry, and I grew up watching it and learning from it – In a sense I had one of the best mentors in the industry my whole life, because my mother was an award-winning planner and designer as well, so it was natural that I picked up a lot from her, but what I couldn’t learn from her – I went out to find someone I could learn from. She also worked with and knew some of the best in the industry and so I definitely got my quest for perfection from that – I had to make myself stand out from her – and the only way to do that was to learn more.
As far as finding a mentor – I have found a lot of success in industry groups the International Live Events Association (ILEA) is a good example; just networking with the people that attend those monthly meetings have provided me with some of the best contacts to go to when I need something I can’t do. I strongly suggest involvement in whatever group is specific to your niche.
I also think it is important to tell your story along the way – no matter where you go, it is a networking opportunity. You never know who you are talking to.