Brittany Pigorini, the founder of Birch & Brass, a speciality event styling and boutique rental company in Austin, TX, interned in the event department at a magazine during college and "never looked back."
At 20 she went on to manage an events marketing team for Coke. From there, her experience with the soft drink company lead to a career in her hometown of Los Angeles with experiential event production with brands like Nike, Pabst, and Columbia Sportswear. But it was when she relocated to Austin in the midst of planning her own wedding did she notice a hole, and a way to combine her event know-how with her love of vintage.
We caught up with Brittany to learn more about Birch & Brass, thriving on new experiences, and the responsibility of helping someone with their "big day."
Can you tell us a little about your background and the idea for Birch & Brass?
When I relocated to Austin, I was in the process of planning my own wedding. When I wasn't finding the unique pieces I was hoping to integrate into my special day, I decided to source everything myself. I've been an avid vintage hoarder since I was practically in diapers. I'm pretty sure I was the only 5-year-old buying crochet doilies at the flea market with my weekly allowance.
I sourced everything from my brass floral vessels to vintage china and mismatched silverware. I brought in my own lounge furniture, tabletop elements, and everything in-between, but it was more work than I ever imagined, even with an events background. I figured that I couldn't be alone in my desire for eclectic event and wedding rentals, so I decided to open up shop. Birch & Brass truly blends my passion for event production with my vintage obsession.
Were you nervous about starting your own business?
Oddly enough, I wasn't initially nervous to start my own business. I thought I knew what I was doing - even though I absolutely didn't - and ran with it. That's always been my personality type though, as I thrive off of new experiences and changes.
As I realized that there were many aspects of a rental company that I hadn't taken into consideration--- like the fact that I essentially started a glorified moving company, I did grow a bit worrisome. There are many logistics involved that I hadn't taken into consideration, and my Mini Cooper wasn't exactly conducive for delivering sofas.
I knew that I could either reach out to people who had been in my same position, or allow my pride to destroy what I had worked so hard to create. So, I reached out to anyone and everyone with a business that I admired, whether or not it correlated to my own industry directly. I've learned that you can't be afraid to ask for help, and I still reach out to a few mentor types in my industry on a regular basis when I'm not sure of how to proceed.
You’re in many ways responsible someone’s big day. But taking on the challenge of starting your own business is a big, huge decision. Which do you think is scarier? Planning a wedding or starting your own business?
Hands down, the responsibility of executing a flawless wedding is more scary to me than starting my own business. I don't take it lightly that brides trust me with the most memorable day of their lives, so I do my absolute best to make sure that the product I'm providing them with is exactly what they're envisioning. I believe it's my personal responsibility to ensure anything Birch & Brass creates is unique for each client, and also aesthetically pleasing.
The worst feeling in the world is when I have to reach out to a client and let them know that their favorite white sofa had wine spilled on it a few days before their wedding and it's no longer available. I dread those phone calls, because even though it may not be my personal fault, I never want to disappoint a client. While in the grand scheme of things I do realize that a sofa won't make or break someone's wedding day, I'm a detail-oriented person and I completely understand how a piece of furniture can deeply impact their vision.
Starting my business was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, but I wouldn't say it was the scariest. I think the dictionary definition of scary should be "an unhappy bride."
When planning a wedding most people overlook:
The importance of a seating chart. Assigning guests to particular seats will spark good conversation at your tables and enable guests who may not know one another to avoid that awkward feeling of inviting themselves to join a stranger's table - and who doesn't love a beautiful place card?
What has been your proudest moment with the business?
While it may not seem like a large feat to some, the first month that we broke a small monthly profit was a few months after we had opened our doors. For some companies, this can take well into their first few years. All of my long workweeks felt validated, and it was a wonderful feeling to know that we were helping clients bring their wedding and events to life through our rentals.
When you get overwhelmed you:
Head to my favorite tea house in town. I work from there often, as a change of scenery can do wonders for my imagination... and my anxiety.
What’s the one question a bride always asks?
I suppose it's not a question per se, but we often encourage our clients to stick to their instincts. Many times they're afraid to stray from the norm, and I always tell them stories about how many aspects of my own wedding weren't traditional, but were certainly the most memorable for me.
For example, one of our coordination clients is having someone dress up in a bear suit as a "ring bearer" at her wedding. I didn't even blink an eye when she told me her idea, because knowing her fun-loving personality type, it would almost be more strange if she didn't incorporate such an unexpected element into her wedding day!
When someone asks us if it would be "weird" to do something, I'm the first person to say absolutely not; I encourage this behavior wholeheartedly.
What’s one question you wish more couples would ask?
I know it may sound silly, but I wish more couples were interested in the origins of our pieces, because that's truly what sets us apart from an ordinary rental house.
Some of the best conversations I have are with clients that truly appreciate furniture with a past. I love nothing more than geeking out over a brass Milo Baughman bar cart or Victorian era sofa. I realize that's never going to happen with every client, but a girl can dream, right?
Do you have any advice for new business owners/those looking to go at it on their own this year?
You can take all of the appropriate steps in the world and wait for an ideal time to launch your business, or you can simply take the leap and realize that an "ideal" time is never going to come along. We all lead busy lives and can make excuse after excuse as to why it's impossible to start a business, but you'll always be wondering what would have happened if you'd just taken a chance on yourself.
Is being your own boss challenging? Yes. Is being responsible for another person's income intimidating? Yes. But, when you're truly doing something that you love, everything seems to fall into place even if it may not seem that way initially. You'll have to work harder than you've ever imagined, but you'll take such pride in everything that you do, because you realize it's a personal reflection of yourself. This will be your drive and motivation, even on those seemingly unbearable days.
I always provide the same advice, because it's truly what I believe: don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle. Learn to be content with being a beginner, learn from any criticism, and set goals for the future. One day, you'll be the company that other's are comparing themselves to, but you certainly can't expect to be what they are from the beginning or you're only setting yourself up for a letdown.