There’s a certain glamour associated with event planning, and for good reason. The soirées produced by these entertainment architects are, by design, the dictionary definition of extraordinary. No humdrum occurrence, they are carefully orchestrated affairs arranged to take guests out of the everyday and usher them somewhere special.
For Soha Lavin of CountDown Events, the appearance of perfection is the end goal, but only a single part of the job she describes as, “a Rubik’s Cube.” The gleaming polish belies an undercurrent of grit, of hours spent meticulously planning for every contingency. Where guests see perfection, Lavin sees Plans A, B and C rolling out as she navigates the constantly shifting tempo of an event.
As a young woman, Lavin saw an opportunity to not only break into event planning, but to upend an industry that in her eyes had grown a little stagnant. Since then, she’s carved out a major piece of the Vancouver event planning landscape and created a soaring business catering to clients looking for creative escapes. We sat down with Lavin to talk about the industry, her passion for creativity and production, and the struggles of making a name for yourself in event planning.
Kit and Ace: Your clients are essential to your business. How do you deal with the different personalities?
Soha Lavin: I have built a great network and most of our business is from referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations. Our clients who have worked with us know our style, and chances are they are referring CountDown Events to someone who will appreciate the same efforts. We only take on a select number of clients each year, so it is important to coordinate initial consults to ensure it is the right fit before we take on a project.
I also pride myself on giving the same attention to detail for every event, whether we are working on an event for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or on an intimate wedding for one of our brides. Each and every client receives the same elevated level of service.
Event planning is known as a high stress profession. How do you flourish in such an environment?
SL: I think every individual experiences some kind of stress in his or her daily job, but it’s important to have the right foundation and outlook on life. At the end of the day, I love what I do. This is my passion, so the ups and downs are part of the journey. I welcome the opportunity to push myself and grow with every challenge.
What’s the most overrated part of the job? Underrated?
SL: I have never considered my job as something that’s overrated or underrated. However, many people who enter my industry are sometimes fixated on the visual aspects of the job, such as décor. However, to be good at this job, you have to be well-rounded. You have to be a maestro – see and foresee all of the pieces in motion, consider the audience and ensure everything plays like a symphony.
What’s the biggest misconception about what you do?
SL: That we are mainly decorators. My company is synonymous with lavish designs and luxurious productions, but that is only one piece of the puzzle – a piece that brings instant gratification and helps us showcase visually what spectacular settings we can create. But, at the same time, for me, producing perfect synchronization is just as gratifying, even if it’s not as easily displayed in a portfolio.
Where do you find new inspiration? Is it hard to not always use the tried and true?
SL: I find inspiration everywhere. In Vancouver, it’s in nature, where I am truly amazed and moved by our surroundings – the colour of leaves, blossoming trees, the ocean. I take into account how something affects all my senses and my emotional reaction to it. I’ll take away a tiny piece of that and recreate it in a moment at one of our events.
I also absolutely adore travelling. It has always been my source of discovery and an instrument to continuously being inspired. I love discovering new places, eating exotic cuisine and just experiencing what the rest of the world finds fascinating. Often I return with new music, new recipes, and a new way of enjoying life.
What was your biggest struggle breaking into the industry? What was your mindset when you were attempting to gain a foothold?
SL: I started the business with just a concept and I was willing to do anything to see it through. I feel like this has been my guiding mindset in life, to accomplish my goals with determination, grit and fortitude. The industry was rigid when first I entered it, and felt somewhat stale. Like in many other professions, being a young woman and being recognized as a leader took some extra steps and certainly some tenacity. Right away I started questioning why things were done the way they were and why we couldn't try new things. I feel like I’ve played a small part in showing the industry how to push the envelope, certainly in the advancement of Canada's event production field.
What type of person do you have to be to find success in your business?
SL: I am extremely fortunate to wake up every day excited to do my job. But that is a minimum requirement. If you want to dive into this field of creativity and production, then you have to love it. You must have passion because it naturally provides a willingness to work hard and push through when, for example, you hit the 16th hour of your work day and are trying to raise a 6,000 square-foot structure above a pool.
If you could tell your 17-year-old self what skills you wished you started developing earlier, what would they be and why?
SL: Nothing! I would not tell her to develop any other skills at all. Instead, I would advise her to keep doing what she is doing. When I was 17 I was working three jobs. I would snowboard every day possible, drive down to Oregon with my friends. I would tell her to surf and travel. Back then I would stay up till wee hours reading, reciting poetry and dreaming. Everything I was curious about I explored.
I know for certain those experiences have been a huge part of my life’s success. Each of those steps brought me closer to finding out who I am and what makes me happy and that's how I paved the way.