Known for its Instagram-worthy alfresco setups and signature long tables, the Valley’s Cloth & Flame is learning to roll with the pandemic punches. Here is how the event company is able to still create happily-ever-afters for couples needing to shift wedding plans, safe corporate retreat for clients and more during a time of social distancing.
What types of events are people reaching out to you about?
Overall, we’ve been surprised with the consistently increasing number of phone calls and emails we’ve received during the pandemic. Corporate has slowed down, but we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries from couples who had been planning on getting married this summer, fall or spring of next year. Many were already in the process of planning larger weddings and are now going back to the drawing board. Most are postponing the larger celebration for now, and working with us to design an intimate elopement or micro-wedding to experience with close family and friends on or near their original dates. Some are forgoing their larger celebrations altogether and focusing on dialing up the scenery, experience and connection by concentrating their wedding down to a smaller size.
In what ways is safety at the forefront of the current events?
At our very core, our business exists to make all types of event experiences possible where they otherwise couldn’t be. We are bringing our guests into unconventional spaces, often off the beaten path, so we’ve always been obsessed with preparation and safety protocols. In terms of ensuring our guests are safe to gather in the current climate, we are very fortunate to have always focused on connecting our guests with nature – 95 percent of our events occur outdoors, where physical distancing is easy and fresh air is abundant. In terms of seating, we’ve traded our signature long table setup for many smaller tables, allowing guests to sit with people with whom they’ve had regular in-person contact, while maintaining safe distance with other groups. These things, in addition to strict adherence to the latest CDC guidelines and cleaning practices help us ensure that Cloth & Flame gatherings are the safest and healthiest way to gather in the current crisis.
What advice do you have for people whose big events had to be canceled or postponed?
Think small and stay local. Also, choose event partners and vendors who offer a lot of flexibility on changing group sizes and even dates. This way the event can adapt without incurring costs as the situation with COVID-19 evolves. We’re working with our corporate clients to split their larger parties into two or three smaller groups which will revolve through our sites throughout an event day with deep sanitization between each, thereby maintaining adherence to restrictions on gathering size. We’re also encouraging those organizations who planned to fly-in guests from two to three offices around the country, to instead design individual events in each location and connect them through digital means like Zoom, or even a central sharing hashtag. For weddings, many couples that are coming from conventional venues are locked-in with deposits and because of the massive amount of rescheduled events, Friday and Saturday dates are now unavailable through 2021. They don’t want to lose these funds, but many aren’t prepared to try to make a 150-person wedding happen on a weekday, or wait one to two years to tie the knot. We know this is the situation so many of our clients are coming from, so we’ve designed a package that will allow them to use any of the vendors they already have scheduled, change their group size or dates without penalty, and we’ve even created some discounts for those who have been most impacted.
In what ways do you serve as the middle man between hosts and landowners?
Each of our sites is the result of a relationship Cloth & Flame has established with a private landowner, historic building, hotel grounds or land trust. All are partnerships. We market, sell and create temporary infrastructure to both create incredible exclusive spaces for our event groups, and providing passive income to landowners without changing or developing their land in any way. Most of our sites earn between $15,000 and $65,000 annually from Cloth & Flame events alone. Large or small, developed or not, we’re always looking for new spaces, especially as we turn toward smaller events.
How do you go about choosing which setting/land is best for which event?
Our clients are heavily involved in selecting the right site for their particular events. They’re invited to choose from one of our 52 sites in Arizona, California, and throughout the western United States. We also help those seeking something new and uncharted through our complimentary scout service. Many of our land partnerships were formed from these searches, and we now operate sites within red rock canyons, down rows of orchards, in rocky deserts, within historic estates, and more.
Food is the centerpiece of many of life’s big events. What role is it currently playing?
Food has always been the grand connector. It’s changing a great deal, both at our events and in our community, but we’re confident that whatever form it takes it will drive people further into their experiences. It will continue to show us all how easy it is to find each other when we’re sharing a great meal – even if it is individually plated.
What has been the biggest challenge for you at this time? What about any silver linings that have come from this time?
The biggest challenge has been just processing and retooling for so much change at once. We’ve reimagined and adapted nearly 80 events to the current situation with our guests, while building a new micro-weddings product. Some of our best team members are temporarily furloughed, and we can feel their knowledge and skill missing as we try to wear hats made just for them. The silver lining is (always is) our community of support. Our focus on expansive outdoor sites has been hoisted up by our incredible customers as the safest way to gather during the pandemic and we’re rising to meet their expectations.
Do you think this time of crisis will change your business model overall?
The current crisis has no doubt forever changed Cloth & Flame. Like so many startups, we were running at full speed to keep up with our own growth, and then the pandemic stopped us in our tracks. It has forced us to work within extreme limitations, and find efficiencies everywhere. We’ve dusted off some of the best ideas we’ve had over the past year, and will emerge from this a healthier, more focused, and more innovative company. Hopefully sooner rather than later.