More than 3,000 chairs, ranging from elegant chivari to tropical bamboo; 8,000 pieces of glassware; 4,000 pieces of silverware, in varying styles; and a selection of 1,500 linens, spanning from sleek satin to textured.

And that’s just a small sampling of inventory at Celebrations, Cayman’s premier wedding and event planning company.

The number of décor items, linens, glassware, props and backdrops – and on and on – tallies more than 300,000.

JoAnne Brown with her floral team.
Photo by Stephen Clarke

Indeed, the inventory is so vast that the company had software specially designed to keep track of everything in stock.

It’s stored in a two-story 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Industrial Park, plus another six 40-foot containers. It is a treasure-trove of items, many custom-designed, for gala fundraisers, birthday parties, weddings, anniversaries, corporate functions, and other celebrations – and is arguably Cayman’s most elegant attic.

Founder, CEO and Creative Director JoAnne Brown keeps it all in hand – and streamlined. There are staff in numerous departments under one roof carrying out various duties, all working in tandem to make sure every detail is meticulously looked after – a trait the company is well-known for.

“You need to have a team that understands your work ethic and your standards,” she says. “Your team also has to have passion.”

It’s passion that has made JoAnne so successful in her line of work. She started out as a one-woman operation, working from home in what little spare time she had after her day job was done. Her workspace was the dining room table.

Today, she employs 45 people, has a flagship shop in Camana Bay and the massive warehouse where designers, planners, carpenters and artists create one-of-a-kind props and backdrops – spanning from archways and canopies to full-size facades of traditional Caymanian cottages – for weddings and events.

JoAnne never dreamed her small, home-based business would become such a thriving enterprise. “All I knew was I loved doing this,” she says. “It was a joy, not work.”

Modest beginnings

JoAnne’s career in event planning began more by chance than design.

JoAnne Brown in the warehouse showroom.
Photo by Stephen Clarke

She took joy in organizing her children’s birthday parties, but things moved forward when she planned her eldest daughter Amanda’s “Sweet 16” birthday party, an extravagant affair with more than 300 guests.

“I spent months preparing for it – months,” she says.

It was that event that got people talking – and eventually seeking – JoAnne’s help in wedding and party planning. “That was the beginning,” she says.

Her first event was planning the wedding of a friend’s daughter.

In those days, it was a challenge to find all the necessary items for a celebration as there were no rental outlets on-island.

“I had to go around to restaurants to borrow tablecloths,” she recalls. “I got chairs from wherever I could – I even borrowed chairs from churches.”

She worked with a local florist and pulled it all together in time. “It worked. That wedding was a huge success.”

Industry peers are impressed with how JoAnne manages to pull off such major events so seamlessly, in particular, the collaboration of staff in various departments – planners, designers, florists, carpenters and production assistants.

Word-of-mouth began to spread, but time was tight as JoAnne was still working full-time with her husband, Mike Brown, helping out with operations at Mike’s Ice and Parts World. There were children to care for as well – Amanda, Jason, and Kristin.

When a small space became available in the Mirco Centre, Mike encouraged her to take the next step and set up shop.

She opened in November, just in time for the Christmas season. Valentine’s Day gave sales another boost – all of the flowers sold out. Indeed, it was such a busy day, JoAnne enlisted her husband’s help to make sure all Valentine deliveries were made.

“That was a great catapult,” she says. “It just grew.”

Within the first year, she tripled the space and added her own floral department.

Destination weddings

Elegant décor and an impeccable table setting for an outdoor island wedding. Photo by Amanda Kopp

JoAnne recalls planning her very first destination wedding – a challenge to organize, to say the least, as it was in the days before email and smart phones. She relied mainly on a fax machine, and a few phone calls, and it worked.

She says her foray into wedding planning happily coincided with the emergence of destination weddings as a new form of tourism – an industry that has grown by leaps and bounds.

“Destination weddings were just beginning to take off,” she says. “That whole industry has taken off. It didn’t even matter when the world recession hit – it never stopped.”

Unfortunately, she was stopped in her tracks when Hurricane Ivan hit in September 2004, devastating the island – and her business. JoAnne was unsure if she would be able to continue.

Testing the waters, she decided to open a small shop in time for the holiday season.

“It was one of the best Christmases we had,” she recalls. “It was a positive to all of the negative around us.”

Once again, things began to snowball. In early 2005, the Travel Channel contacted her for a six-hour series called Weddings Away that would feature destination weddings in various exotic locales.

At the time, she was still recovering from Ivan – the company didn’t even have proper office space.

She agreed to do it, however, and the wedding that was being filmed went off without a hitch.

Another shot-in-the-arm came when the producers decided to focus the series entirely on Celebrations – scrapping other islands that had been filmed. The crew spent four months filming JoAnne and her team.

“It was huge publicity for us, and helped ignite us as a company that could do destination weddings,” she says. “We got back into our stride after that. It definitely gave us a huge boost.”

Corporate clients

Over the years, Celebrations has branched out into corporate event planning, landing some major companies, including IBM and BMC. One corporate client splashed out $500,000 for a lavish five-day affair at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman catering to around 800 staff and executives.

“Every day needed to have its own one-of-a-kind character,” recalls JoAnne. “That was a huge challenge but I really loved doing that.”

Industry peers are impressed with how JoAnne manages to pull off such major events so seamlessly, in particular, the collaboration of staff in various departments – planners, designers, florists, carpenters and production assistants.

“In most countries, they would all be separate industries,” she says. “But that has only evolved out of necessity.”

There is even an auxiliary laundry department to launder, hand-wash and iron linens and tuxedos, along with a seamstress.

JoAnne says tuxedo rentals have proven quite popular, for both residents and overseas visitors. The Celebrations team will go on-site to hotels and resorts to measure and fit guests – sometimes numbering in the hundreds.

The company is involved in around 800 events and bookings each year and has done thousands of weddings since its inception in 1993, including some celebrity nuptials such as professional baseball player Jimmy Rollins and R&B artist Genuwine. They’ve also organized events on-island for Ivanka Trump, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

Her contributions to the industry have been noted both locally and internationally, including being featured in international wedding publications and media, including The Knot.

She was voted one of the “Top 25 Most Influential Wedding Planners in the World” by Event Planning University and named one of 2010’s A-List Wedding Planners by Destination Weddings & Honeymoons.

In 2013, she was recognized at the Cayman Stingray Tourism Awards, hosted by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association to honor excellence within the hospitality sector.

Photo by Rebecca Davidson

“Destination weddings are really critical to our tourism product,” says JoAnne. “It is a positive, sustainable type of tourism – it is always going to be developing.”

But even after all she has accomplished, JoAnne isn’t about to rest on her laurels.

She is launching a new department in the spring – JoAnne V. Brown Design House, a sister company of Celebrations that will take event design and development to the next level.

It will coincide with the launch of JoAnne’s upcoming coffee table book showcasing around 20 of her favorite weddings.

It’s been quite the journey, she says, and one that hasn’t always been smooth sailing, as any event planner can attest. Contending with everything from bad weather and tight deadlines to high expectations, long hours, and complicated logistics, event planning is a high-demand industry.

Indeed, it was ranked the fifth most stressful career in 2016, according to a study by U.S.-based CareerCast.

“It is stressful, but I love doing it,” she says.

At the end of the day, there is nothing quite like pulling off an event-to-remember and being part of some of the greatest moments in people’s lives.

“I love making people happy,” she says. “It is my passion.”