Today we’d like to introduce you to David Merrell.
Hi David, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I started my business 32 years ago now, in 1989 in Orange County as a caterer. I was self-taught (all aspects of the product and industry, and as an owner). I was also self-funded. Started my career off with some early contracts for some high-profile events like The Reagan Library Grand Opening. This catapulted my company to high-profile social events in Los Angeles as well as celebrity personal catering and moved my operation all to Los Angeles.
9-11 was a profound change for my company, For the “industry”. All catering events and celebrations shut down for a short period of time. Long enough to force me to liquidate my catering operation and drop from approximately 32 employees down to 5 to survive.
I re-emerged into the events industry with a new product, event design and production. Our clientele changed from social events to corporate events, and we rebranded completely. Now I was hiring the caterers as one aspect of the event versus being the caterer. For a number of reasons, we propelled quickly with an award-winning reputation and back up to about 20 full time and about 25 part time employees. We were thriving.
The economic downturn was the next hurdle along the way. In addition to simply being a scary time for the country financially and adding on the demonization of the events industry because of the AIG scandal, Everything shut down for the corporate side of the industry. The part of the industry I was now thriving in. I no longer did social events, weddings, mitzvahs. . . I was forced to go from all those employees down to 5 again to survive.
Recovery from this “disruption” was way slower then back when 9-11 happened. It was literally years until about 2011-2012 until corporate demand came back. AOO Events evolved again into more of full production event firm, designing and producing high profile events, galas, product launches, premieres, etc. for Hollywood and Fortune 500 clients. We were based in LA, but our clients took us around the country to produce events for them.
By the time we came to January of 2019, AOO Events had built back up to 16 full-time and 30 part-time employees, with annual sales at the highest it has ever been and very much on an upward trajectory. My company operated out of a 25,000 square foot warehouse in downtown LA!
Two months later, that all changed with COVID. After much-appreciated help in the way of government grant programs, I have been able to keep my doors open, albeit with drastic changes. Currently, I am holding on to 5 employees full-time and one part-time. The industry has started to come back slightly recently after the introduction of successful vaccines into our population, but 95% if that recovery is on the social side of the industry. . .weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, social celebrations. Not what we do.
Corporate America has no desire to have one of their events to be tied to a super-spreader and most of them remain quiet as we watch to see what happens with the Delta variant, moving into the winter months, with a cautiously successful vaccination program.
We find ourselves currently in limbo. There is only tepid demand from corporate America and decimated supply and labor chains.
How will AOO Events evolve from this? What will the future of meetings, events and conventions look like if we find that COVID IS going to be around for a while? . . .and most importantly . . . . When will we know when the industry will be in demand again?
The answer. I do not know.
What I do know, we will evolve again! I’m confident that we will come back stronger, more skilled, more experienced and most likely as a force to be reckoned with in the industry. I know that because I have already done it twice before!
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Safe to say, many significant struggles as I highlighted. However, it is important to point out that these profound challenges have, each time, profoundly affected my chosen industry. Other industries have been spared. So these drastic changes are very unique to my experience.
I have certainly had many other, more “normal struggles” as a business owner as well. From failed partnerships and debilitating financial debt to almost-devasting marketing choices to challenging employee situations, I don’t know of anyone who owns their own business that doesn’t have similar challenges. I have been doing this now for 32 years on my own. So, I recognize “struggle” simply as an integral part of the path forward.
Not only am I the owner and founder of the company and have experienced, learned and grown from all the challenges that a business owner goes through with their left brain challenges. I am also the creative director and equally live in the right brain creative world as well. The ability to switch back and forth. . . to put on my boss hat one moment and then brainstorm a new creative idea with the team . . . has a unique set of its own challenges!
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
AOO Events is a Live Event Design and Production Agency based in Los Angeles with national and international clients. We focus our work to Fortune 500 corporations based in the Tech, Financial, Medical, Sports Marketing and Hollywood industries. We also have many high-profile charitable clients.
We usually are brought in early into the conversations and are part of all the iterations and discussions regarding the need for an event, We are hired to design an experience that meets the client’s goals, brand, aesthetic and most importantly messaging. From Gala Award Shows to premieres to product launches and everything in between, we are known for award-winning, impactful Live events where we design, implement and produce all aspects of these live events.
With COVID inserting itself into all of our lives from 2019 to current, AOO Events has pivoted into designing and producing virtual and hybrid events. This adds a whole new level to what we can offer our clients.
I am VERY proud that, in an industry that tends to get “knocked down” more often, we have survived each time. I’m also proud that we are able to respond to a changing demand that rebounds from these disruptions while leveraging our unique set of skills and experiences to become the next best version of who we are becoming!
We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
You cannot avoid it if you are an owner of a business. Especially if YOU are personally responsible for the financial obligations. You can’t avoid it if you steer the product in any way and have say as to whether a product is a success or a complete failure?
Sticking your neck out pretty much is the ONLY way you can move forward if YOU are the owner. It’s inevitable IF you want to be a success. Playing safe will get you no where. The bigger the potential loss, the bigger the reward.
A number of times, I have come close to bankruptcy and then come back. I learned an expensive and valuable lesson each time. I have had challenges in my health due to anxiety from those risks and learned how to manage them so they don’t deter nor detract from my goals. Risk IS the only way to truly learn and grow and become a solid success.
So unfortunately. . . risk . . . is necessary.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: www.aooevents.com
- Instagram: AOO Events and DavideMerrell
- Facebook: AOO Events and DavidMerrell
- Twitter:AOO Events and DavidMerrell
I am photographer personally for all pictures (except my headshot). All events represented here are designed and produced by AOO Events.