Entrepreneur Finds Pittsburgh Perfect Place To Collaborate

By Kim Lyons Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Susie Perelman had about 20 years of experience in the event planning industry. She took a couple of years off when her children were small, but in 2001 she was looking for a way to get back into it and still have nights and weekends with her family.

So she started Mosaic Inc., a linen rental company in the Strip District. She said she has grown the company twelvefold since then, with 10 employees, despite the ups and downs of the economy over the past several years.

"There is no balance, but I do find this is a way to stay with it because I love what I do," said Ms. Perelman, who is seeking to grow the company through updating her website.

Her company's services are used for weddings, banquets and company functions -- both in Pittsburgh and nationwide. Mosaic provides tablecloths, napkins and aisle runners, along with other textiles. When it comes to events, she said, "Nothing else can get done until the linens are on the tables."

Ms. Perelman has landed in an industry that has strong growth potential, according to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, even though it might seem that event planning companies would struggle as people watch what they spend.

"People want to celebrate good times even during bad times," she said. "We're not recession-proof, but people find a way."

The BLS analysis found employment of event planners is expected to grow 33 percent between 2012 and 2022, a much faster clip than the average occupation. "As globalization increases and businesses continue to recognize the value of professionally planned meetings, demand for meetings and events is projected to grow," according to the labor bureau.

Planners who have clients in the health care industry are the best-positioned to ride out a downturn, the BLS research finds, because medical professionals have to attend meetings and conventions in order to fulfill continuing education requirements.

Ms. Perelman's event list includes the Hillman Cancer Center's gala, although her client list is fairly diverse, including the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins, the Pittsburgh Ballet, Pittsburgh Opera, and Animal Friends, as well as the inauguration for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

She said the biggest challenge to keeping things running smoothly is often the turnaround time. If a client is late returning linens or the weather prevents items from being shipped back or even a dry cleaner wants another go at getting out stains, it can make it hard to predict when inventory will be available for the next client.

Ms. Perelman is also a founder of the nonprofit Event Pros Take Action, which works with people left homeless by natural disasters to help rebuild their homes. Event planners donate products such as furniture, paint and fabric, and have restored homes in post-Katrina New Orleans and post-Sandy Rockaway Beach, N.J.

"We do an extreme home makeover, from top to bottom," she said.

The charitable organization was a natural fit, she said, because event planning is, at its most successful, a collaborative industry.

Pittsburgh's entrepreneurial community helps small businesses looking to connect with other small businesses, she added.

"The best things happen when we figure it out together," she said. "Our city is full of small business owners who want to help each other out."

That's key when planning a large event like a wedding or a gala, she added. If the bride calls the florist first but isn't thinking about linens or caterers, it may be the florist who steers her toward other vendors. So those connections pay off, Ms. Perelman said.

"I love that we're such a big city but a small enough city to support each other," she said. "There isn't a better place to get started than Pittsburgh."

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