Profile: Pete Holding
Every month we read about fantastic and super-experienced DJs here in Pro Mobile, so I need to get something straight right away. This is definitely not an article featuring a DJ who has been behind the decks since the dawn of time and has done it all from radio jock to Blue Coat entertainer. The truth is, our little company is only just approaching its fifth anniversary (April 2017), and the very first time I stood behind decks in public was at the launch party we organised at our local village hall! Michelle, my wife, served free cakes and soft drinks! And, thanks to some clever marketing we had a pretty full hall of potential customers. This was the start of our very modest plan to go into business as All Parties and Events, but the way that plan has developed is scarcely believable.
Our story is one of a couple who have done the corporate thing, worn the T-shirt, and decided to get off of that particular carousel. By starting an entertainments company – of all things! We now both work fulltime on providing DJ services, wedding hosts, photobooths, venue lighting, as well as venue decoration and effects. It’s been an immense journey, and we’ve had some huge highs and lows, but we wouldn’t change a thing. I do have some kit that I probably shouldn’t have bought… but that’s a familiar story to many, I’m sure!
Our journey started back when I was recruited by a Head Office team within the bank I was working for as a Branch Manager back in 2006. This particular department promoted the ‘human face’ of the bank (yes, there really was such a thing), and we encouraged each sub-brand and its employees – from Director downwards – to do good deeds. Things like volunteering, fundraising, or starting green initiatives. It was the best job ever – but even better – I got to arrange, work on, and sometimes even attend award ceremonies and other functions celebrating charitable acts.
The largest event I ever worked on was our final awards ceremony. This was for 350 people and held at the V&A Museum in Kensington. The budget? £250,000! That was one fun night – doing sound checks with Bruce Forsyth (who we hired to MC) was surreal, though possibly sitting on the same table as Eddie Jordan was even better!
The work was fantastic, and the decent salary meant that Michelle could stay at home and focus on looking after our boys (who were very young back then). I was truly in my element and right at the top of my game. And then came the banking crash. Our team was based within the Communications Department of HBOS, which of course got dragged in to the liquidity crisis. It was a frantic few months, and pretty much everything we did went into reverse, so redundancy was inevitable. It was only a matter of time.
When it finally happened, I managed to get a new job working as Fundraising and Communications Manager at a homeless charity and that was when the germ of an idea started that would eventually lead to setting up All Parties and Events. Whilst I had a new job, it wasn’t as well paid, and it was obvious that we needed to do something to bring in some extra money. Also, there was a level of job satisfaction missing – crucial in anyone’s life.
Fortunately, not long in to my new job, it fell to me to organise a fundraising event at St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton. I didn’t know a DJ, but a colleague did, someone who did it in addition to his day job and would let us have his services for free. All he wanted was for us to pay for a new light bulb in one of his fixtures, and to have his kit PAT tested (as the venue insisted and he needed it doing).
You can see what’s coming, can’t you? This guy was late, needed a table to setup, and immediately launched into the most up-to-date club mixes he had. If you’ve ever worked a charity event, you’ll know that the sort of clientele in attendance is really not of the clubbing type, well at least not in the current century anyway! I was struck by the thought that, having a lifelong love of music myself, I could earn some extra money on the side by doing a bit of DJ work and take the strain off our finances.
Our original plan was to offer event organisation services, drawing on my experience from the bank, in addition to DJing. But, as anyone who ever started any business will tell you, the idea and the reality prove to be very, very different. With the economic crash from 2008 onwards, there wasn’t a line of companies asking for our services to run their events. That part of the economy all but disappeared and, along with it, a huge amount of work for people such as us. But the DJ service proved to be a winner.
In our early days, we found that children’s discos were a great source of business. Kids love a disco, but of course they need to be entertained. Which was a brilliant grounding in working a room. You just don’t get away with standing behind a console mixing music with a bunch of 8 year olds, they are continually looking to you to see what you’ll do next! You need to engage them, and then constantly keep their attention. Ironically, my advice for any aspiring wedding or function DJ would be to first ‘cut your teeth’ on kids’ parties.
After year one, we worked out that the wedding market was the big one to crack. Through a combination of marketing avenues, we slowly started to build a steady stream of wedding bookings. We also managed to forge a good relationship with a local venue that provides us with a lot of business – this was key to the development of our company. We worked out very quickly that if this venue called and asked to book, it was crucial to accept the booking, even if we had no availability. So, we bought another PA and lighting system, and started training and developing a second DJ.
A huge milestone in the development of our company was attending the Pro Mobile Conference (the second one to be held). My initial reaction to seeing a Facebook advert was in fact quite negative. It was a significant amount of money to find, and we were still working out whether we would carry on with the business in a meaningful way. By then I had been working as a full-time DJ for just under a year, but Michelle had gone back to work for a bank full-time in order to support us, and money was very tight.
But Michelle convinced me that the content was relevant and that I should attend, if for no other reason than to work out if running an entertainments company was right for us. And what a mind change that produced! When Randy Bartlett took to the stage and said “It would be nice to think that we could make a living from this, right?” he had me hooked. Things that he, and other speakers, said during the course of those two days have stuck with us ever since and have helped drive our company to where it is now.
A crucial part of that trip was hearing Randy say on several occasions “Do the right things, and the money will happen”. A lucky break for us was me ending up sat with Randy and his wife for breakfast on the Monday morning of the Conference. Michelle and I had been debating about how we could grow the company, and one of the avenues with potential was Photobooths. Having seen many very poor examples whilst out working, I thought we could do it better than the average, and at least as good as the better ones.
My conversation with Randy, and others at the Conference, convinced me that it was a viable option. And so that year we launched our first Photobooth. After 6 months of running our first booth, we could see that it was time for Michelle to join the business on a full-time basis – meaning that all of our earnings would be generated by our business.
We now have three Photobooths, four regular DJs (and we occasionally pass work on to several others), a number of PA systems, a lot of lighting, giant LOVE letters, and several bits of decoration kit as well as effects such as silk flames and a dry ice machine.
The full article can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 82, Pages 17-22.