Kayla Zuidema, with business partner Valerie Mackenthun
Opened January 2015
Kayla: We knew of each other, and then we both started working at the same restaurant. One night Val was like, “I really want to go to California and take this road trip.” I was like, “That sounds fun!” We flew into San Francisco and drove up the coast, did a bunch of hiking, a ton of wineries and just lived it up on the West Coast together.
We stayed at a bunch of Airbnb’s. We were in the car talking about our dreams, what we want to do when we grow up. Basically, we got back and we thought we wanted to open up an Airbnb. We could host events, people could stay there, it would just be this big experience. Greg Jodzio at Southwest Initiative Foundation was the first person we met with and he said, “Don’t get it in your head what this is going to be,” which I think has been some of the best advice we’ve gotten through all of this. After a few meetings, Greg said, “Do you want to have an Airbnb or do you want to throw events?” We were like, “We want to throw events. That’s what we want to do.”
For the first three years after we started Compass Occasions, we’d have meetings in the morning before our other jobs. We’d have 7 o’clock morning meetings and meet in evenings and work on weekends.
Valerie: We made something completely out of nothing. This business 100 percent didn’t exist. It was all of our sweat and blood that went into it. We’ve had tons of support though. One of my measures of success is that we’ve made the people that have helped us very proud, and they’re very vocal about how proud of us they are and how much they believe in us, in giving us all these different opportunities.
I think it’s interesting to go from constantly being mentored, like we were, to now we need to start passing it on because we are getting a little bit older and a little bit wiser. We do things like having interns and showing them our world and what this really feels like. It’s been all female interns so far. They’re right next to us the whole entire time, so they’re learning about starting your own business, running events, work-life balance. I don’t think you get into it initially thinking, “I’m going to be a female entrepreneur.” But then that label gets put on you, and you realize really what that means and kind of the responsibility you have when people see you that way. I’m just proud that we’ve made it this far and are continuing to grow.
Kayla: You get to be a part of so many intimate moments with people. I’m pretty proud that that’s our job. We’re the last person with that bride before she’s walking down the aisle to get married. Usually we’re both crying by this point. You’re so invested in their love and their relationship. And that’s just weddings. With nonprofits, we’re eagerly waiting for the results at the end of their fundraising event, I think probably as much as the president of the board.
I’m proud that we can get invested with our clients to where they become like family. That’s something at the end of the day that makes you feel pretty good. We’re there for all that stuff. Not a lot of people get to say that. ~Kayla
Valerie: I think in addition to the personal relationships that we develop with our clients, becoming even more of a part of a community is really important to me. I grew up in a military family and we moved around a lot. One of the groups that first opened their arms to me in Hutchinson was Historic Hutchinson, and I find it interesting how constantly all the things we do and the people we work with are related, because that’s how we got the opportunity to manage the new event venue – Art’s Place. It’s in the remodeled Nemitz Paint Factory, a building that’s been a part of Hutchinson’s downtown since 1912. We just opened this year (2020).
I’m proud we opened a venue during COVID. If we can do that, I think we can really do anything. I have no doubt in my mind that we’re going to be successful. All the things just continue to click together. Initially this place didn’t feel right. We said no twice. And then all the sudden it did. That doesn’t mean it’s not scary and it’s not hard and it’s not challenging, but I feel that we’re moving down the right path.
Kayla: We couldn’t have said yes to this next step without a loan. We bought all of our tables and chairs; we bought all of the things that make it a venue. We couldn’t have personally afforded to do it.
Valerie: We could’ve got a loan at a bank, but we went with Southwest Initiative Foundation for two reasons. First, help with QuickBooks. Financials and marketing were always the two areas we hoped one day to be able to pass on to a professional. But from everyone we’ve talked to, you have to 100 percent understand every single detail of your financials and your marketing before you give it to anyone. And second, SWIF will do everything that they can to ensure you’re successful in what you do.
Kayla: Employees in some way, shape or form I think is our next big goal. Some of our systems, especially weddings, are really streamlined. It would be nice to have someone handle those so we’re starting to see more of our time freed up to focus on some of the things we still need to grow instead of feeling like Stretch Armstrong.
Valerie: We have our own visions of events that we’ve always wanted to throw. I want to have a little kid rave. And I want techno music and glow sticks, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon in winter when it’s dark out. Parents can be in one room and the kids can just run.
Kayla: My dream event, I want brisket and BBQ and cornbread. And then I want to go, and I want to line dance. There could be pony rides out back. That would be totally my jam.