Sherrill Kinsler Gilford and Rachel Wood bring over 30 years of experience to the event world. Sherrill and Rachel are both owners of RSVP Events of San Diego, a full-service event design company that specializes in weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, corporate and non-profit events. Their experience ranges from small intimate events for 10 people to large scale corporate events and expos for over 5,000 people with everything in between.
Rachel was a student at San Diego State University in 2004 when she began interning with Sherrill. While in college, Sherrill mentored Rachel and taught the business to her, inside and out. Rachel graduated from SDSU in 2008 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality & Tourism Management, and an emphasis in Special Event & Convention Management. Rachel worked at an upscale, boutique hotel in the seaside town of La Jolla and managed all of the hotel’s wedding and social events. Events are Rachel’s passion — but so is helping others — so she left the hotel world and entered into the non-profit world and planned major fundraising events. She now serves as a Gala Chair for Home of Guiding Hands, which raises money for infants, adolescents, and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. When Rachel isn’t planning events, you can find her hanging out with her two daughters (Madelyn & Emily) and husband (Jesse) at a local park or San Diego attraction.
Sherrill and Rachel stay quite active in the Special Events industry. Sherrill has taught Hospitality classes at a local community college and is an annual speaker at the Special Event Convention. Both frequently attend seminars and workshops to stay current in the industry and ahead of the trends, and belong to multiple special event associations. Sherrill and Rachel have been working together for over a decade so it was a natural transition to become partners and thus, RSVP Events was created.
What are 2 trends in the event planning industry that you’re excited about?
Charcuterie and Grazing Boards are everything!!!!! No need for a board or platter, just serve directly on the tabletop. Your guests will love the locally sourced honey, cheeses, meats, veggies, nuts, whatever! Keep it out all night long so guests can pop over whenever they want a quick bite.
Rustic vibes with burlap and mason jars are out! 2020 is here and we are all about the bold colors, jewel tones, and mixed metals. Neon has also made a big comeback and we couldn’t be more excited!
What are some tips for creating an elegant and memorable event on a tight budget?
Lighting is your biggest bang for your buck. A few uplights can turn any social hall or ballroom space from a blank room to a PARTY! It’s like paint, it will instantly transform your room.
I like to have multiple centerpieces in the room as well. Some with height, some lower, some more expensive than others. That way you can give the room a unique look with lots of visual interest, without having to do an expensive piece on every table.
Use what you have in terms of decorations. If the venue comes with linens, use them! Ask the venue if they have charger plates, votive candles, table number stands, etc. Use what they have and then enhance with a few pieces you have to rent or buy.
How important are your relationships with vendors and what are some ways that you successfully cultivate and ensure good rapport?
Relationships with vendors are key. I never try to undercut a vendor by asking them for a discount. We are all in this business to make a living. I always treat vendors with respect and let them lead the way since they are the true professional in their arena. I always make sure they have what they need at the events to make sure they have a successful showing. I try to make sure they get hot meals (when applicable). And most importantly, we have fun together. Having fun at work and creating memories for our clients is what we all strive to do. I genuinely feel that vendors enjoy working with me and that’s why we continue to be so successful.
What advice would you give someone who needs to plan a fundraiser but isn’t sure where to start?
Start with the inner circle. Who is closest to the organization? Who does the organization support? Those are the people who will donate first and will attend.
Then start with your friends and colleagues. They will support the cause because they support you. Sometimes you can’t personally give money or donations, but you know someone who can. Use who you know before you start making the ask to strangers.
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 wanted more time with my family. My husband is a paramedic firefighter and works for days at a time. We have two small kids and it was very challenging having both parents gone at work and juggling daycare, schedules, etc. Everyone always told me I should go off on my own and that I’d be successful, but I was always scared of failing. What if we couldn’t pay our bills because I wanted to plan parties from home? The timing never seemed right. Then, one day, my mentor came to me with an offer to go into the business together. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse and I have never looked back. Sometimes life is all about timing and taking risks.
What’s the first event you can ever remember planning and how did it go?
I was an Assistant Event Coordinator for years and then worked at a hotel for a few years. Those jobs allowed me to work at hundreds of events. However, I believe the first big event I ever planned on my own, from start to finish, was a Gala for a non-profit. We had 350+ attendees, big corporate sponsors, donors, volunteers, etc.
Overall, it was a beautiful event and we raised a ton of money. I quickly found out that I cannot be in a hundred places at once. You must have a team of people around you to help. Knowing when to ask for help and when to do it yourself is key.
What’s the most surprising or unusual request you have ever received from a client and were you able to fulfill it?
We get a lot of different requests so nothing is very surprising anymore! But, a few different situations come to mind.
For a Harry Potter-themed Bar Mitzvah, it was asked if we could get Dumbledore to lead the hora. Within 20 minutes, we had a Dumbledore on hold and ready to go.
It is also not uncommon for brides and grooms to want their favorite fast food snack at the end of their reception, so of course, we have been able to secure 200 Jack in the Box tacos within the hour. We felt like a superhero delivering those!