I’ve had a lot of unusual requests but the one that stands out is a couple who wanted a dinosaur at their reception.
Erica Thimsen

Erica Thimsen

Owner/Lead Planner

Location: Huntsville, Alabama

Helping Hand Parties & Weddings has been planning and coordinating weddings, parties, and events creating unique and memorable celebrations for all. With strong industry relationships and great attention to detail, they have the ability to put the fun in and take the stress out of any event. Owner and Lead Coordinator, Erica Thimsen, has been published in many magazines, featured on talk radio and been interviewed often on local news channels, and is the recipient of numerous awards for her expertise in the wedding and event planning world:

  • Alabama Wedding Planner of the Year in 2018 and 2019 by Lux Life Global Wedding Awards
  • Named one of the Top 50 Planners in the World by Weddings and Honeymoons Abroad
  • WeddingWire Couple’s Choice Award 2012- 2019
  • Featured in First For Women Magazine and on All Business FM Radio

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced while planning an event and how did you overcome it?

Natural disasters seem to present our biggest challenges with Covid-19 being the biggest. We have been busy rescheduling all our upcoming weddings and events amidst the unknown aspects and the constantly changing guidelines surrounding this virus. Brides are understandably upset, parents are worried, and there is no rule book to turn to for answers. Some of the things we have been working on is discussing postponements and deciding whether to go ahead and get married on their original dates with a small family ceremony and push the big wedding and/or reception onto a future date or hold out and do everything on the new date.

Once that decision is made, we then move to discussing what changes may need to be made to keep everyone safe and comfortable. We’ve had to consider live-streaming the ceremony to elderly guests and grandparents, placing ceremony chairs with spaces between and putting fewer chairs at the reception tables and more space between tables. We have talked about having masks and individual hand sanitizers available for guests. If they are having a buffet, having waiters serve the food so guests are not touching the serving utensils, calling up tables to eliminate lines, and removing common items such as bread baskets or salt and pepper are all being discussed. Tables of pre-poured drinks and more bartenders are also being brought in to spread guests out. We are considering eliminating the guestbook and photo booth props. We are rethinking offering wedding party limos or crowded buses for guest transportation. Even exits like blowing bubbles and having a crowded dance floor are having to be adjusted.

The second biggest challenge has been tornados. I had one take out my reception tents, but the worst was the April 27, 2011 tornados. I had a wedding planned for April 30. Northern Alabama was left with no power for the next 5+ days, limited cell service, the art museum venue shut down, and the city was under a curfew. I couldn’t get ahold of the bride so I drove the city with no traffic lights and went to the florist and asked them to bring any flowers they had, asked the cake person to bring the partial cake she had in her thawed freezer, the caterer drove to Tennessee to buy food, a generator to cook with, and they washed their tablecloths. With a waiver from the mayor, a cell phone for the first dance music, and candles for light, we had the whole wedding and a new reception re-planned at the caterer’s restaurant before I could get ahold of the sobbing bride to let her know. She was able to get ahold of most of her guests and she was one of the happiest brides I have ever had. She was thrilled and so was I. Whew!

What are 2 trends in the event planning industry that you’re excited about?

I love how there are no rules or norms for weddings and receptions. Wedding parties don’t have to be equal numbers or the same sex or even human. Brides can walk the aisle alone or with their parents or family members or a favorite pet with some even singing or dancing down the aisle. Receptions can run from the traditional dinner and dancing to a nightclub-style party, outdoor carnival, indoor gaming tables, or having special performers brought in. This makes weddings so personalized that no two are the same.

How important are your relationships with vendors and what are some ways that you successfully cultivate and ensure good rapport?

Vendor relationships can make or break a business. Keeping your client happy is number one but you also need to consider your vendors. Send them great timelines, keep them informed, and up to date with any changes. For venues, follow all their rules and get timelines to them early. For support vendors, see what you can do to make their day go more smoothly and always thank them and let them know how much you appreciated the job they did.

What inspired you to launch your own company in the event industry? How long did it take from initially having the idea to setting up and starting to attract a client base?

I had been planning events and parties for fun for years and finally decided that a career in event planning was what I wanted. I started by working at a catering company that did weddings and events. While working, I watched the other vendors and learned who were the great vendors and who wasn’t and how I would do things differently. This was an easy way to get experience at hundreds of events in a short period of time. During that time, I also took a small business class at the local chamber of commerce and studied every book I could find on event planning.

For my first event, my neighbor hired me to help day-of with her daughter’s celebrity wedding and from there it just continued to grow.

What’s the most surprising or unusual request you have ever received from a client and were you able to fulfill it?

I’ve had a lot of unusual requests but the one that stands out is a couple who wanted a dinosaur at their reception. I was able to hire from another state a life-sized tyrannosaurus rex with a person inside. He looked, acted, and sounded real, so much so that the bride’s mother was afraid to come into the reception with him in there. With his tail hitting the ceiling crystal chandeliers and guests both fascinated and frightened, it was an interesting night.

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