Karen Dilligard Creates Lasting Memories with Exquisite Affairs Chicago
2017 Chicago Defender Woman of Excellence and Entrepreneur Karen Dilligard is the Founder and CEO of Exquisite Affaires Chicago. She leads the industry with her talents in event planning, decoration and event management, providing her clients with creativity and expertise that leave a lasting impression and fond memories.
In addition to running her own business, Karen has always found the time to give back to her community. Dilligard is the Chapter Organizer and Past President of the Will County Black Diamond Chapter of Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc. (TLOD). Additionally, she continues to advocate for women and girls around the world as a founding member of the Chicago Metropolitan Section of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and an active member of the Chicago Central Section of the National Council of Black Women and of the Professional Women Network, to name a few. Dilligard is a graduate of Whitney M. Young Magnet High School and Illinois State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational management with a minor in voice communication.
Tammy Gibson: How did you get started in organizing events?
Karen Dilligard: I realized I had a gift at a young age. I could organize and lead. I loved to cook. I was good with my hands and I could recreate things by looking at them. The things I touched seemed to get bigger and better.
After I graduated from college, I started making silk flower arrangements and mirrored wall hangings for homes. I had been planning parties for myself, my friends and my family for quite some time now. Friends were starting to get married and asked me to make their bridal bouquets and centerpieces for their weddings. I almost decided to be a caterer and follow my passion for cooking, but then decided to turn my planning and decorating hobby into a business.
Fast forward to August 2019, my almost 30-year-long corporate job has come to a standstill. Companies were downsizing, restructuring and changing direction. The day the company announced the closure of my office, I received the Woman of Excellence award in 2017. It was confirmation for me. It was time to move forward on faith. I was done with Corporate America. I think we have all learned or heard that God does not close a door without opening a window for you. I felt it was time to live my passion and harness my goal. I only wanted to do things that I enjoyed in the second half of my life, namely organizing events, decorating, traveling, and exploring my newfound love of wine.
I put the plans in motion. Exquisite Affaires Chicago was relaunched in 2020 as a business organization, design, decoration and event management.
TG: How much should you invest in starting an event organization business?
KD: It depends on where you want to start. I first started in the silk flower business, without focusing on the event planning part. My financial outlet was more than what an average event planner would have to invest because I had to buy inventory and incur additional overhead costs.
The best investment as an event planner doesn’t have to be money. It is having good communication and organizational skills. You have to be a human person to do this job. I don’t think it’s a big financial expense. You can do a lot of things with pen, paper, and a computer. Other than that, it doesn’t require a lot of money.
TG: When the pandemic happened, weddings, graduations, and birthday parties were called off. How were you able to stay inspired?
KD: The pandemic was a real eye-opener but also a blessing. God is so faithful. My clients have inspired me. They wanted to find a way to continue to celebrate milestones, birthdays and accomplishments.
When the pandemic happened, all of my wedding and corporate events were called off. At that point, God allowed my creativity to express itself. The end of the pandemic allowed me to regroup and reorganize myself.
People always wanted to find ways to celebrate during the pandemic. Outdoor parties and drive-bys were organized which was a blessing for me. We have also integrated sorting card displays into our product line. These things have allowed us to survive during the pandemic.
I also became a freelance wine consultant for WineShop at Home in February 2020, doing in-home wine tastings. My wine business has skyrocketed during the pandemic. We quickly pivoted to deliver virtual in-home wine tasting experiences.
TG: How does your creative process work when planning an event?
KD: My creativity begins to flow between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. I wake up with some of the best ideas I’ve ever had. When I do a first consultation with a client and listen to their vision, I start to think about their style, the colors that match their personality and themes. Then I meditate on the vision. I like calm because I don’t watch television. Instead, I get inspired by looking at photos, researching, and window shopping.
TG: What do you do to relax and stay stress free during and after planning an event?
KD: I like to travel. Working for me is a blessing. I can work from anywhere. If I have a computer, I can travel. The planning process is not too stressful for me; it’s more therapeutic. What better place and what better therapy than to go to Mexico, Jamaica, Fort Lauderdale, Scottsdale, Dallas and Tampa. I have been to all of these places this year. It’s great to be in a position where I can work and play simultaneously.
TG: How has your business changed and grown since you started your business?
KD: I started my business as a floral business then added invitations, accessories and travel services to become a one stop shop. When I mastered one thing, I was able to stretch out. I’ve been doing this for almost 25 years.
We have expanded our corporate client base by providing event planning and management services for conferences, galas and fundraisers. We expanded our staff to help run the event and hired a part-time assistant. In addition, we recently acquired a CPS Supplier License to offer planning and decoration services for proms, graduation ceremonies, teacher appreciation and more.
TG: What makes Exquisite Affaires Chicago different from other wedding planning companies?
KD: We try to stay up to date and relevant. I believe in continuing education and surround myself with like-minded people in the industry. I think you can always learn something from someone else. So I continue to take courses. I am a certified wedding planner by the Association of Bridal Consultants. In addition, I received my accreditation as an event and floral designer from the Institute of Wedding and Event Design. My business partner, Lisa Cooper, has extensive knowledge in project management, leadership, public relations and is bilingual. This allows us to serve a diverse clientele.
TG: What was the most exciting or memorable experience you have had as an event designer?
KD: Knowing that my clients were satisfied with the services we provided. Knowing that we have made their vision a reality gives me this warm, fuzzy feeling that I have a satisfied customer.
TG: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started in organizing events?
KD: Make sure that being an event planner is something you want to do. Do your research. Organizing events is not for the faint of heart. If you want to do it as a hobby, that’s fine. However, making a career out of it is serious.
Join professional organizations, get strong client management software system, accountant, tax advisor and insurance agent.
TG: Where do you see Exquisite Business Chicago in the future?
KD: We move forward and move forward. We are looking for opportunities to expand our brand in other cities. We hope to emerge from this pandemic bigger and better while finding ways to operate safely in our new normal.
It is a blessing that we have been able to maintain, and so many doors continue to open for us. So I can’t wait to continue creating these magical moments for people.
To learn more about Karen Dilligard and Exquisite Affaires Chicago, visit https://www.exquisiteaffaireschicago.com.
Tammy Gibson is a writer, black history traveler and author. Find her on social networks @SankofaTravelHr and @sankofatravelher