Starting a business is never easy — and starting one with a friend can be nearly impossible. Yet, despite the inherent challenges, Christin Gish and Laura Nell Burton have managed to defy the odds to launch and grow Cloche Designs, a boutique design firm that specializes in bringing beautiful details to life for full-service occasions and special projects. Cloche is named for the French domed structures that were created to help plants reach their full growth potential despite the harsh surrounding environment, and in just their first year in business, Christin and Laura Nell have designed a pink Christmas-themed baby shower, intimate dinners, a charitable event close to both their hearts and numerous other projects. And they haven’t gotten into one fight along the way! Introducing today’s FACES of the South, Christin Gish and Laura Nell Burton.
You guys have been friends for a while; how did the business partnership come together?
Laura Nell: I initially had the business, and I called Christin for help because the wonderful thing about our partnership is that we bring completely different strengths to the table. We really have no overlaps at all, so what I can’t do Christin can do, and vice versa. I had this idea, and I knew I needed the skill set that Christin is so gifted at, so I called her and said, “Can you help me?” The further we got into it, the more I thought, “I can’t do this without her!” I made a phone call and said, “OK, you have to do this with me.” She said yes and didn’t even hesitate.
Christin, were you apprehensive about jumping into business with your friend?
Christin: If there’s anyone in my life I would ever go into business with, it’s Laura Nell. We are very yin and yang in our friendship, in our skills and in our strengths and weaknesses — all the way around. And I knew and believed in my heart that that was what was going to make the difference.
How do you handle disagreements?
Laura Nell: To be honest, we have never had a fight. Even when things have gotten very intense and I’ve asked myself, “What have I gotten into?” it’s like God’s gift to me in saying, “You’re right where you need to be – because look at this beautiful person that I’ve given you as a business partner.” It really helps me know that we’re doing what we need to be doing.
The event industry is notorious for having long, irregular hours. How do you balance work with your roles as mothers?
Christin: I don’t think there’s necessarily a golden answer to that. I think that every child needs different things from us, and over the past year we’ve really jumped into this — as all new business owners do — and have had to kind of ebb and flow and figure out what works best for our family. I will say that we have incredibly supportive spouses, which has been a cornerstone for us and a huge blessing. I think another benefit that we often appreciate is the fact that our kids are similar in ages, so a lot of times we’ve brought our kids over to each other’s houses and gotten some stuff done here and there on the weekends, as needed.
But I think that’s the question of every working mom’s life: How do you balance it? Everybody’s just doing the best they can, and I think that as long as you feel happy and you feel like you’ve done all that you can do at the end of the day, that’s the best you can do.
Laura Nell: One thing I would add is that our long-term strategy is not to be a business of volume. We are two people who love to meet with our clients and really get to know what makes their hearts beat, and we take the time to do that. We would rather do one huge event a month and pour everything into that, and spend the rest of our time building our lifestyle brand than spend every single weekend away from our families.
What advice do you have for readers who have been thinking about launching a business — maybe with a friend — and are a little unsure about it?
Laura Nell: As far as jumping into a business, you just have to jump in. There are some things that you cannot know, jumping in, that if you did know, would cause you to never do it. You just figure it out as you go along, and the challenges make you stronger. When you’re in the middle of something hard you think, How am I ever going to get through this? But then you look back and you’re so glad it happened because you’re so tough as a result.
Christin: Some advice that was given to me very early on was to surround yourself with good people who just elaborate on the strengths that you don’t have. Find a good accountant. Find a good attorney. Find a good friend. Find someone who you can ask a lot of these questions that you don’t know. If you have the right people in place, I think you will succeed.
Tell me about your favorite design project Cloche has done so far.
Laura Nell: I grew up playing in the playhouse on the lawn at the Argyle [a private dinner club that was founded to benefit the Texas Biomedical Research Institute], and the original owner of the playhouse is a family friend, so I just have huge heartstrings for it.
The playhouse had fallen into disrepair, and a year before Christin and I started Cloche, I offered to redo it, to curate all the artisans, if you will, and raise that extra money. The board said yes, and we remodeled the house. Then we went back and planned a party celebrating the remodel, and it was amazing. A client of ours who used to work in the White House during the Bush administration told us that she felt like she was in Hollywood at our party. Coming from someone who’s been in the White House, that’s a pretty big compliment. And we left this lasting mark on the lawn of the Argyle. We weren’t paid. It was a legacy project, and we did it because we cared.
What are the three most important elements of any successful event, regardless of budget?
Laura Nell: The first thing we start with is the creative heartbeat. What is it that’s going to make this special, that the client cares about?
Christin: That’s the creative, and the next thing is having the right team, and by that I mean vendors. From the logistical side of things, vendors are your heartbeat, and they are what contributes to your success. Without the right people, a lot can go wrong. Number three is, you have to be highly detail-oriented and on top of it all. Every single detail matters.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Christin: Laughter — you’ve just got to laugh at yourself sometimes. Lord knows sometimes we have late nights, so a bit of concealer. And Laura Nell. I can’t go day-to-day without her. We’re like each other’s iPhones.
Laura Nell: The pursuit of beauty — I’m just so stimulated by the beauty of the world, and I think we were created with this quest to find Eden, which is where we’re all going. Number two: I can’t live without white wine or coffee. And number three is Christin. I think Christin and I give each other a lot of grace. What an amazing thing it is to have people who love you, who are close to you, and who just give you grace when you mess up, when you behave badly and when you forget something.
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