Meet the front man of it all – Stuart!
Founder and owner of Pinnacle, Stuart has been married for 19 years to his amazing wife with whom he has raised identical twin girls currently in high school. His family inspires him and is a great source on strength on a daily basis. We sat down with Stuart for a little Q & A to hear a little more.
How did Pinnacle get started?
That’s a long story that I will shorten 🙂 When we moved to Charleston 8 years ago, I was looking to transition into something that had less travel, so I could be home more with my family. I noticed a real need at that time for an upscale DJ company that only did weddings. Having owned a DJ company earlier in life (starting at age 14!!) it was an easy decision to give it a shot.
I also wanted to fight the old myth about the cheesy DJ. So we really focused on fast communication and a real hands on approach to planning the music with a couple from booking to sendoff. We were one of the first to really lean on some very cool online planning tools that allowed us to really prepare for a wedding rather than show up and wing it. To this day, anyone on my DJ team still feels nervous if we don’t have a ton of info from our couples in advance. It’s just who we are. I joke with couples that they’d never let the caterer surprise them so don’t let the DJ!
Fortunately, the DJ side of Pinnacle was so successful that it allowed us to also move into wedding planning and then add wedding photography.
Tell us more about that change. From DJs to wedding planning does not seem common.
Haha. No, I suppose it is not. But you need to understand how my mind works. I see something and I want to fix it, improve it or turn it upside down. Like on the DJ side, where there was a real need for a different approach to weddings, I came the same realization about wedding planning.
As a DJ company, you see SO many different wedding planners working through the long and challenging wedding days here in the Charleston area. And it was easy to observe the “good” and the “what can be improved” part of that process. Nobody sees more weddings than a busy DJ – it really is true.
I also heard from a lot of our DJ clients the same sort of feedback time after time. (after time!) They told me that they did not always get the same sort of quick service from their planner as they did from me. I mean, that’s a simplified version of what they were sharing, but those couples really did teach me a lot about expectations and how to treat people who trust you with such a big day.
So, based on their feedback and my own observations from when I was still a wedding DJ, I thought we could take a new approach to wedding planning and make it a fun, organized, and stress free experience for our couples.We’ve managed to create something that is high stakes project management and make it extremely personal and intimate in the process.
With a booming wedding business and teenage daughters how do you manage to balance your time?
That’s actually pretty tough to do. Pinnacle really is an extension of me, so I tend to be emailing/working/thinking about it all day, every day. And every single couple who contacts us, starts their relationship off with me. Fortunately, we have a great team that takes a lot of the load, which is very helpful. But when I really need a break – I get in the woods for a few days and hike.
What is something that people do not know about Pinnacle?
Wow – interesting question. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that some people seem to think we’re a big company. We are not.
We are set up in a way that allows us to work with a lot of couples every year, but the experience is still a very personal, hands on one with each couple that we work with. That said, if an employee leaves us for some reason, which happens from time to time, there is someone ready to take over at a moments notice. This is one of the benefits of a small company like ours, and of using online, cloud based planning tools like I mentioned before. We are very, very unique in this way. I feel this is one of our strongest assets and should give any couple a lot of comfort in hiring us.
How have weddings changed in the last decade and what have you done to change with them?
Well first of all, actual weddings have not changed too much. Whew!
What has changed, is the way we work and communicate with our couples. We were one of the pioneers of using online planning tools to work with couples and we’ve seen that grow exponentially over the last few years as the tools have improved and others have also started using them.
One of the challenges we have now is simply the influx of people moving to the area, and creating pop-up wedding planning “companies”. The same happens with photography too. It is very easy to do this with a quick website and a good Instagram account. But, I can tell you that several times a year, we wind up hearing from couples who need a new planner, because theirs has left town etc…
That is not to say that this is the case for everyone new, not at all. We have planning colleagues here who’s work we admire and respect greatly who have lots and lots of well earned experience and success. But experience is really hard to convey in an online world and I think that ends up being confusing for couples trying to decide who to trust with their day.
How do you deal with negative reviews?
To be honest, it is very rare for us to receive negative feedback like that, so we don’t have a lot of experience in dealing with it. We tend to work so hard for our couples that a real “burner” type review or email is exceedingly rare. But it does happen once in a while and I can tell you that it hurts me on a personal level. As I’ve said, Pinnacle is an extension of me, and after my family, is my main focus in life. And I really do care about each couple that hires the team. So, if something is not as perfect or positive as possible, it really has an impact on me.
In most cases, we try to learn from it when we can, because it is really important to see valid criticism as an opportunity to improve and do better next time. But like all things in life, sometimes folks are just expressing something that we could never have avoided or fixed. Those ones you just have to shrug off and focus on the hundreds of positive reviews and happy clients. But, it is hard to do.
What has been your favorite memory at Pinnacle so far?
I have SO many favorite moments, it is impossible to pick one.
I always find something at a wedding that is really moving. I’ve heard Dads talk about their daughters while fighting back tears; met parents who barely made it home from serving in war zones in time for the wedding; been inspired by the faith a couple expresses during their ceremony and SO much more. A lot of times it is very, very inspiring.
The lesson I take from all of this – and it is THE most important thing I’ve learned – is quite simple. If I ever stop feeling something at a wedding; if I ever stop enjoying something at a wedding; is time to quit. I still meet some folks in the wedding world who feel it is “just another wedding”. That’s really unfortunate. It still baffles me how folks can be in any way negative. We are in the “happy business! I LOVE this work and the opportunity it gives me to see some pretty amazing people interact and enjoy a very, very important day of their lives.
Outside of the wedding world, what do you like to do for fun?
I like lots of different activities including travel, golf, skiing and coaching soccer. But our main hobby is backcountry backpacking. I say “our” because I trek a few hundred miles each year, mostly with my daughters. My wife joins once in a while for shorter trips too. It is amazing and a real passion of mine at this point in life.
We even have our own YouTube channel!