They say the most beautiful diamonds are formed under pressure, but the challenges of COVID have proved overwhelming for many small business owners, especially in the events industry, with its focus on creating memorable in-person gatherings.

For Durban luxury wedding planners and safari wedding specialists, Oh Happy Day, it was a make-or-break moment. Two years later, as the national state of disaster is lifted, this proudly-KZN business finds itself not just surviving but thriving, and ready to wow clients and guests with their most incredible season of weddings yet.

Their secret? Strong leadership and an unquenchable passion for what they do. Oh Happy Day director, Joelene Botha, explains: “2020 and 2021 were undoubtedly the most challenging of our personal and professional lives. They forced us to confront some harsh realities and draw on reserves of strength we didn’t know we had, challenged us to find new ways to grow and ultimately made us appreciate the true value of what we offer.”

Tino Mugwambi, Jessica Prior, Joelene Botha (director), Amy Wright and Jenna Rattray. Photo: Roxanne Davison Photography

Joelene shares some of the lessons that she and her team gained from the past two years:

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The role of a wedding planner is to plan for every scenario and to be absolutely unflappable when faced with a challenge. It’s something the Oh Happy Day team have always excelled at, making even the biggest productions run smoothly from start to finish. But the pandemic presented a crisis on a completely different scale. They were forced to postpone no fewer than 43 weddings through fresh waves of COVID, lockdowns and ever-changing event and travel restrictions. It required them to be not only flexible and creative, but to provide much-needed support for couples who were struggling with disappointment and uncertainty. “We were forced to acknowledge that some things really aren’t in our control,” says Joelene. “It was humbling, but we learned how to ‘weather the storm’ and find a new kind of calm within the chaos.”

Oh Happy Day was founded in 2014, quickly growing from a one-woman enterprise to a talented team of planners and specialists. When COVID hit, many events businesses downscaled jobs to cut costs. This was a route that Joelene was determined to avoid. “I believe that the core of a company is its people. Challenging times call for strong, compassionate leadership, but they’re also the time to empower your team and allow them to step up and be part of creating a solution.”
The OHD girls faced this together and emerged stronger – and closer – than ever as a team, which has now grown to include: Jess Prior (chief operations officer), Amy Wright (lead planner), Jenna Rattray (lead planner) and Tino Mugwambi (all-round office fairy). “We’ve also learnt the spirit of building up our fellow wedding industry friends and clients, and I like to think that our role within the industry has become much more meaningful,” says Joelene. After months of remote working and endless zoom calls, 2022 ushered in a new era of togetherness for the team who recently moved into stylish new offices in Foundry Park, Cornubia.

Throughout the pandemic, businesses worldwide had to get creative to survive and Oh Happy Day was no exception. Large-scale celebrations were re-imagined as ‘minimonies’ and ‘micro weddings’ with larger parties to follow. Dates and logistics were shifted – and shifted again. The team diversified their skills and took on new roles. They ran webinars to help and inform brides across the country how to manage their own COVID wedding planning. They also launched a sideline dried flower bar business, OHD Everlast, which proved extremely successful. Tough times made them innovative, and it’s that spirit of innovation that they have brought with them into this next chapter.

Many of us look for the perfect moment to take a leap of faith in life or business. But what if that perfect moment never comes? For Joelene, dealing with pandemic-related issues didn’t mean benching her long-term goals and plans. These included expanding beyond KZN into weddings across South Africa, particularly in the Western Cape. This year, a third of Oh Happy Day’s weddings will be outside of KZN. However, while the company continues to expand their horizons, KZN will always be their home base. “We’re passionate about our home province and all the incredible places we have for people to get married here,” says Joelene, “and we’re looking forward to showing it off to a whole new generation of couples and their visiting guests.”

COVID has given all of us a sense of perspective and a renewed appreciation for time spent with the people we love. In the same way, it’s important to keep sight of what your business is all about and why it was started in the first place. “Personally, it made me realise that what matters most in my job as a wedding planner is connection. A meaningful connection with our clients, with our network of suppliers and creative partners, and with each other as a team. We’re here to help our clients celebrate this most meaningful moment in their lives, a joining of families and communities, and we’ll continue to live up to that.” Despite all the very real pain and uncertainty of the past two years, Oh Happy Day is an example of how passion and determination can find a way.

Details: Oh Happy Day – [email protected], www.ohhappyday.co.za, 079 277 8844, @ohhappydaydbn

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