Harmony Walton, Founder of “The Bridal Bar”

Editor’s Note: Harmony Walton is the type of entrepreneur you need to keep your eye on.  She is, to me, the savviest type of entrepreneur...one who is always one step ahead of the game, noticing holes in an industry and coming up with the solution.  I believe that in this day in age, a successful business-woman must be multifaceted.  Very rarely are we seeing women at the top of their game solely focused on one particular career.  Instead, we see that their hands are in many different pots; keeping them relevant in many different industries.  Harmony is a perfect example of this.  She has an incredibly successful business, but has grown it to include a media, consulting and digital arm.  I love her candidness in this interview, and also her willingness to help other entrepreneurs along the way.  Her advice in the Q&A section is a must-read for anyone looking to launch their own business.  Bottom line, Harmony is the true definition of a self-made leader that has taken an entire industry by storm!

Photo Courtesy Melissa Wolfe Photography.

Photo Courtesy Melissa Wolfe Photography.

{it's my party}

Harmony Walton knows how to throw a party.  In fact, nearly her entire career has been catering to the elite and ultra-elite in making their nuptial dreams come true.  Think Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, Katherine Heigl and Josh Kelley, yes…THAT kind of elite.

Contrary to what you might think, Harmony isn’t actually a ‘wedding planner.’  Her company, ‘The Bridal Bar’, found this incredible niche in a very dense industry and ran with it.  It doesn’t hurt that Harmony is incredibly likeable, has a knack for throwing a killer soiree, and is an extremely savvy business woman.   Describing her as a ‘triple threat’ would be pretty spot-on.

“My job in college was as one of Dustin Hoffman’s personal assistants.  I did a ton of personal shopping and party planning, and I decided I wanted to stay in this realm of party planning and celebrities…I just didn’t know how.”

Photo Courtesy Robert Evans

Photo Courtesy Robert Evans

{bring on the bling}

After graduating UCLA and dipping her toe into a few different industries, Harmony decided she wanted to work for herself.  She opened her own celebrity-gifting company focused on collaborating with ultra-luxe donors who wanted their products included in gift bags that celebrities would take home after award shows and other big-name events.

“One of my clients asked me to put together gift bags for an event sponsored by a national wedding magazine.  At the end of the event, the magazine approached me to tell me that they liked my eye, and wanted to know if I’d ever consider writing for them.”

The magazine was a great launching point for her career.  In addition to writing wedding related articles as a contributing editor, Harmony was also able to maintain her core business in celebrity gifting.

Article featured in 'Angeleno Magazine' and 'Riviera Interiors' / Photo Courtesy Harmony Walton

Article featured in 'Angeleno Magazine' and 'Riviera Interiors' / Photo Courtesy Harmony Walton

{diamond in the rough}

Writing for the wedding magazine also opened Harmony’s eyes to a huge flaw in the industry itself, one that became glaringly obvious as time went on.

“In every magazine you’d see, there would be 40 wedding photographers, for example, all vying for the same space on the same page, wondering how they were going to get noticed.”

Harmony devised a solution, a business that would feature the most vetted wedding vendors including photographers, caterers, florists, etc, and feature their services to newly-engaged couples and wedding-planners.

“I really came up with the idea of ‘The Bridal Bar’ for the magazine, which I thought would really bring the magazine to life.  But when I approached them about it, they turned me down.”

Article featured in 'Destination I Do' Magazine. / Photo Courtesy Harmony Walton

Article featured in 'Destination I Do' Magazine. / Photo Courtesy Harmony Walton

{creme de la creme}

Harmony resigned, knowing her idea had some legs to it and wanting to run with it.  She named her new venture ‘The Bridal Bar’ and opened it within an annex in a local storefront in Los Angeles.

“Within the first three weeks, the store took off like wildfire, to the point where I chose to sell off my other business to take on Bridal Bar full-time.”

The business worked like this:  Harmony would receive submissions from vendors looking to be featured at The Bridal Bar.  After meticulously vetting the vendors, Harmony would decide on the few she’d like to feature.   The vendors would pay her a fee {which is how The Bridal Bar makes money}, but brides, grooms, wedding planners, etc. wouldn’t have to pay a thing.  Instead of having to filter through dozens of vendors, they could make an appointment at The Bridal Bar for a personal experience to learn about vendors that The Bridal Bar had already determined were worthy of their time.

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes Wedding Featured in People Magazine / Photo Courtesy People Magazine

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes Wedding Featured in People Magazine / Photo Courtesy People Magazine

{copy-her}

With the inception of such a brilliant idea also came the copycats, which Harmony said there were many.

“We received a lot of media attention when we first opened, so everyone thought they could knock us off and steal the idea.  I spent years dealing with trademark infringement and copyright issues.”

At one point, Harmony had two women drive up from San Diego, claiming that they were planning a wedding themselves and were looking for inspiration.

“It was clear from the second they walked in the door that their intention was to view our process so they could knock us off.  I was hip to that, because it had happened dozens and dozens of times before.  Shortly into the consultation I asked them point-blank ‘so when do you plan on opening your store!?’”

The women were mortified, but Harmony insisted they stay and at least enjoy themselves while they were there.  The next day, they had called her asking if they could start a franchise.

“I said sure! As I was googling ‘how to start a franchise’ {laughs}”

Their collaboration ended up with not a franchise, but a license of the The Bridal Bar business model, except this time their storefront would open in San Diego.

Harmony Hosting Bridal Bar Radio / Photo Courtesy Harmony Walton

Harmony Hosting Bridal Bar Radio / Photo Courtesy Harmony Walton

{the ripple effect}

Since Bridal Bar first opened its doors, it has been featured in more than 100 media outlets, from The New York Times to Martha Stewart Weddings.

This past April, Harmony found that more and more clients were asking to work with Bridal Bar online, so she shut the doors of her original brick-and-mortar in LA and work with clients digitally, allowing her reach to spread far beyond Southern California.

“We still work with couples in a private, concierge-like model, we just don’t have a storefront.  And what I’ve found is that these people are extremely efficient and extremely serious about hiring our vendors.”

Harmony says about 75% of her time is now spent focused on The Bridal Bar, with the additional time spent hosting a weekly radio talk show, Bridal Bar Radio, on iHeartRadio and America’s Talk, and also freelance writing for various Bridal Magazines.  She also oversees her popular destination wedding website, Jet Fete, which helps couples create their “Bridal Bar Worthy” dream wedding, in whichever far-off destination they choose.

Photo Courtesy Joshua Bobrove

Photo Courtesy Joshua Bobrove

{DRIVEN Q&A}

What’s your one piece of advice for someone who is in the midst of planning their own wedding?

“Don’t over-shop!  If you have too much time to plan, the endless choices of vendors, options, and ideas can get overwhelming, so sometimes less is more.  If you are required to make decisions, you can’t linger and stress yourself out too much over which direction to go in so just don’t over shop and that won’t happen.  Then once you’ve made a decision (like the dress), don’t look back and don’t keep looking!”

You were able to tactfully interact with women who were clearly trying to steal your idea.  How would you recommend other women deal with ‘copycats’ in the workplace?

“I wasn’t always able to tactfully interact with people like this.  It really depended on the situation, it wasn’t always graceful, sometimes I was (and am) better than other times!  Now I deal with it by avoiding spending too much time with it on a personal level.  I find my mental state is much better when I don’t get fixated on what others are doing to or around my business and that’s the best advice I can give.  If you have a good idea, it will happen.  Don’t let it get the better of you; you’ve got to have mental discipline.”

At one point, the magazine you were working for told you they had no interest in your business idea.  Any advice on how to get back up and brush yourself off when your idea is turned down?

“In hindsight, that was the best thing that happened for my business.  I wasn’t linked to a print outlet and it allowed me to get tons of press from all types of outlets who otherwise wouldn’t have covered my company.  I’m grateful for the ‘no.’  Remember that.  When something seemingly bad happens, in some way it’s for the greater good in the long run so just have faith.  Don’t give up.  Be open to change and pivoting and go where you are meant to be in the market”.

I imagine it was hard to shut down your LA store and decide to work with clients solely online.  Was that decision a difficult one for you to make?

“The decision was a very quick one so in some respects, it wasn’t as hard because I didn’t agonize over it for months and months.  But it was hard.  It also helped that at that moment, I was so busy that I didn’t have time to look back and I just ran with it.  The Bridal Bar is my baby.  I don’t have kids and I’ve nurtured this for twelve years so to see it change and recognize that the change was a positive, wasn’t easy but I just kept reminding myself of something a mentor once told me, “don’t be afraid to make the hard right.”  Making the hard right decision is hard, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t the right one. “

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“I think I just mentioned it above.  Don’t be afraid to make the hard right.  I’m not personally a fan of change.  It’s difficult for me, especially when things are going great, why change?  But I’ve learned from many mentors that if we stop changing and evolving our businesses, we’ll never sustain them, no matter how successful in the moment it may be.  That was hard to come around to, and sometimes I learned it the hard way, but I’m much better at it twelve years in.”

To visit The Bridal Bar, click here.

To hear awesome wedding planning advice firsthand, click here.

For advice on how to plan a destination wedding, check out Harmony's blog 'Jet Fete' here.

Next week, meet Kate. She's a Labor and Delivery nurse and also a Doula.  Her journey to discovering her career, and herself, took her to places you wouldn't believe.  Her story is up next, on DRIVEN for Women.  

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