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Spokane event planner grows, evolves with business

Sun., May 20, 2012, midnight

Spokane event planner Jamie Johnson admits she still gets nervous at weddings, but channels nerves into energy. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Spokane event planner Jamie Johnson admits she still gets nervous at weddings, but channels nerves into energy. (Tyler Tjomsland)

By her own admission, Jaime Johnson was a bossy kid.

“I was always organizing something,” said the former Post Falls Junior Miss. “A neighborhood parade or backyard concert.”

She also has a nurturing side.

“I enjoy taking care of other people. But I’m too squeamish to work in a hospital.”

Which explains how Johnson gravitated to a career planning gatherings – everything from corporate wingdings to wakes.

After working for the Coeur d’Alene Resort and Davenport Hotel, she started her own company.

She discussed her business – Jaime Johnson Events – and its niche of the hospitality industry during a recent interview.

S-R: In a nutshell, what do you do?

Johnson: I plan everything from baby showers to sweet 16s and graduation parties, nonprofit events and even memorial services. But I’m best known for weddings.

S-R: How did you break into this career?

Johnson: I was modeling for the Bridal Festival, and one day the owner looked stressed out, so I asked what I could do to help. She said I could go around and collect all the bills. Bill collector didn’t sound very fun, so I named myself the vendor relations director.

S-R: What’s the peak wedding season here?

Johnson: July through October.

S-R: How early do couples start planning their wedding?

Johnson: Some start two years in advance to work around graduations and internships. But we’ve put together weddings with 150 guests in as little as 30 days.

S-R: What’s your schedule look like this summer?

Johnson: We’re booked solid with weddings – sometimes two every weekend – from July 14 through Oct. 7.

S-R: What’s a typical wedding budget?

Johnson: The national average is around $23,000, but most of our clients spend more. I’ve done weddings for 350 people that cost $100,000, and weddings for 50 people that cost upward of $150,000.

S-R: How can clients get the most for their money?

Johnson: If your priority is that guests be happy, spend it on food and beverages. And your dress – you should feel elegant. The other place I’d recommend spending money is on something that makes you feel pampered, like having your makeup done. It doesn’t really matter if guests sit on beautiful Chiavari chairs or old metal folding ones, as long as everyone has a seat that’s comfortable.

S-R: Do parents usually pay for the wedding?

Johnson: Yes, but some split the bill 50-50 with the couple. And over 30 percent of couples pay on their own.

S-R: How is the planner compensated?

Johnson: It’s different for everyone. Typically, nationwide, planners get 15 or 20 percent of the overall bill. But when choosing, it’s important to know your planner’s strengths.

S-R: What is your strength?

Johnson: Mine is being the conductor. I’m not the DJ, but I make sure the DJ knows his cues. I work with lighting, and understand how much space is needed to accommodate 15 tables, 150 chairs and a dance floor – all of the different pieces that make up an event.

S-R: How do you handle the diplomatic challenges, such as where to seat relatives – or former relatives – who don’t get along?

Johnson: I remind everyone we’re all family on wedding day, and that everyone has to put on their big-boy pants. And they usually do. I’ve seen brides crying tears of joy at the end of the night because her parents who haven’t spoken in years are sharing a dance.

S-R: What’s your business philosophy?

Johnson: I just like to see people smile, so as long as everyone’s happy and comfortable, I put the stamp of approval on that event.

S-R: How many people work for you?

Johnson: I have one assistant on a day-to-day basis, and as many as 20 on site at an event.

S-R: Do you get odd requests?

Johnson: One prominent couple planning an otherwise very formal wedding wanted to shock their guests by having a dog bring down the ring to the song “Who Let the Dogs Out?” And they didn’t have a dog, so I had to hire a trainer and a dog. I even ordered a little doggy tuxedo. Everything went well during the ceremony until after the dog delivered the ring. He was trained to return to me when I put my hand down with a treat, but everyone seated along the aisle put their hands out to pet the dog, and he darted back and forth, confused.

S-R: Have you had any disasters?

Johnson: Yes. June of 2006. The Coeur d’Alene Resort golf course. It was about 100 degrees – I remember having to go get water and sunscreen for the guys setting up tents. Then, 30 minutes before the ceremony, the wind came up and destroyed everything. We lost tables, flowers – the harp ended up about 100 yards away. Fifty guests were coming by boat, and the water was so choppy they had to pull into a random bay. And the poor bride got out of the car right when the wind picked up, and her hair and makeup were ruined. But golfers and resort employee started picking everything up. And a convention going on at the resort moved vendors to make room so the wedding could take place indoors. The ceremony was two hours late, but there was the most beautiful feeling in the room.

S-R: Do you still get nervous at weddings?

Johnson: I do, but my nervous energy comes out in action, so I’m constantly making sure everything is perfect from the moment I arrive.

S-R: What would surprise people about this profession?

Johnson: That it takes a lot of work to make everything look effortless. I ruined so many designer suits in the early years, thinking I should dress a certain way. But when you help cut the cake or move flowers, you get messy. Those who don’t make it in this industry are the ones who think they don’t have to lift a finger.

S-R: What advice would you offer someone who aspires to this career?

Johnson: Get involved, and don’t focus on just one skill. Volunteer to work for a cake decorator. Maybe work at a tuxedo shop or a dress boutique. It’s best to know a little about a lot of things. I don’t have to be an expert photographer, but I do need to make my clients understand why they’re paying one $3,000.

S-R: When the time comes, will you oversee your own wedding?

Johnson: I won’t, which always shocks people. But I really believe in giving yourself that day off. And I don’t want my sweet mom working that day, either. A couple of years ago, she threw a surprise 30th birthday party for me, and she was so stressed about everything going great that by the end of it she was exhausted. I want everyone I love to enjoy my wedding, so I’ll hire professionals and let them do all the work.

Spokane freelance writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached at

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