In Cebu’s wedding industry, there is no bigger name than Carlo Abaquita. That’s a fact. Check the last few years’ top wedding suppliers awarded by different hotels and establishments and you will see only one name at number 1—it’s Unique Weddings and Events by Carlo Abaquita. Not only that, his is a name that’s also been making the same waves among Filipina brides—including celebrities—not only all over the country but across the world. Carlo Bride they are fondly called.
I first heard of Carlo in 2012 when I was working as a marketing officer at Oakridge Pavillon, where the grandest weddings in the city were expected to be held, so the space was quite huge and imposing. Carlo was already an up-and-coming wedding coordinator and stylist at that time. A rising star, if you would.
It was part of my work to arrange a photographer to capture the venue set-up before the guests arrived and the events staff would always excitedly tell me before I even get in, “It’s Carlo Abaquita’s.” And from the dramatic drapes to the fascinating lights to the overflow of fauna to the striking centerpieces, each time would always leave me in awe.
When this blog started a few years ago, people would ask me if we’d ever do a feature of Carlo and I always said, “I’d love to but he’s like super-big time! He might be too busy.” Nonetheless, I’d send private messages to Carlo to ask permission to share his posts and he’d always gladly give us a go.
Fast forward to 2019, I finally met the man himself at a wedding suppliers’ event in Montebello Villa Hotel. He had just been awarded as the year’s top 1 wedding coordinator. We were introduced by my friend who was once a Carlo Bride. I did not expect it, but Carlo gave me the warmest beso while saying, “So it’s you!” Probably referring to the girl who always bugged him for photo grabs.
I’ve been following Carlo and his company for years now. I’ve attended weddings of friends and families that were made magical by Unique Weddings & Events. The one I’ll never forget was how they managed to pull off an “indoor beach” wedding amid a storm.
So when Carlo did a live video from Chicago (where he’s staying for some work at the moment), sharing his current situation amid COVID-19 while opening up about his business, I, of course, watched. When it ended, I instantly messaged him to ask if I could do a feature about it. I did not think he’d remember me but to my surprise again, he gave me a call and we talked for a few minutes.
Certified Good Heart
Why did I feel the need to tell this story? It’s to show how one person can be so successful yet amiable and unassuming at the same time. In fact, their team has been known to sponsor weddings of couples with unfortunate stories, like that couple who lost their home to fire just a few days before their wedding (see photos here) and the groom whose only wish was to be wed to his partner who was fighting cancer (see photos here).
Success with a heart. That’s something we don’t always see every day. The more I got to know Carlo, the more I couldn’t help but wonder, “He must be a nice person and it’s probably why he’s so blessed with success.”
But things weren’t always as smooth-going and elegant as the life events he organizes today. Based on one of Carlo’s videos posted on their page, he’s not one who’s ashamed to talk about his past. In fact, he looks back to it to motivate others.
Growing up, his family was not financially equipped. That’s why, like many middle-class Filipinos, his dream was to become a nurse in the United States. He worked hard for that dream, doing sidelines as a make-up artist, events coordinator, host, and even dressing up as a clown to help support nursing school.
He graduated, passed all exams, and even earned a master’s degree. Unfortunately, despite all the hard work meeting all requirements, he never got entry to the U.S.
Chasing the (other) Dream
Carlo spent five years being a nurse at Perpetual Succour Hospital. While a dedicated nurse, he moonlighted as a wedding planner, something that he was always passionate about. Word started to spread about his small team’s services until he was able to grow his clientele, beyond those who work at the hospital.
Eventually, he took the big leap and quit his medical profession. Soon, he opened his very own shop while working as an English tutor to support the shop’s operations.
With determination, the growing connection in the industry, and with more and more clients trusting him, he was finally able to establish a name for himself.
Lessons from Carlo Abaquita
Today, he shares life and career lessons to everyone who’s dreaming to open their very own business. Here are the top 7 things we learned from his Facebook Live, wherein he answered some questions, and which now has 1.9K views.
- Starting is not easy. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Carlo pointed out examples of business empires today that started out small, like SM (which used to be Shoe Mart) and Jollibee (which originated as an ice cream parlor). Lucky are those who are destined to follow their parent’s established business; for many of us, we have to hustle extra hard. Dedication will get you far and timing is everything.
- Business is a gamble so you might as well go big. Invest and innovate. When Carlo’s team started in 2008, their decorations were mostly rustic. It’s because this theme is easy to achieve with a small budget. Jars and twines mostly do the trick. However, he learned along the way to invest on a grander scale which meant spending more. So they started purchasing more fancy and posh details and that’s when they got more attention.
- Don’t think of your competition as a competition. Never quit learning, do your research, but never compare. Just keep on doing your best.
- You can’t please everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re celebrated as the best in your field, there will always be someone you can’t impress. And that’s okay as long as you’re providing service heartily. As much as possible, try to meet halfway and find common ground.
- Set the right expectation. Carlo explained this beautifully. In nursing school, you are taught to present reality and never give false reassurance. “Presenting reality is a therapeutic communication,” he said. That’s why it’s important to never let your client expect something that you know is impossible. Be frank about the budget. “If you want a celebrity-style wedding, you should be ready with a celebrity-budget.” Do not let your clients think something can be achieved in the beginning, only to let them down in the end. As well, never jump to the conclusion that your client is being overly ambitious because not everyone knows the industry rate standards. Sometimes, you have to walk them through. Educating them is vital.
- Finding the right people is not easy. Appreciate your team. Carlo’s number one requirement in recruiting new members is that you must show hard work. Next is the “taste level.” He explained that, even if you’re a talented person, if your taste is not of a certain quality, it might end up being tacky or too much for social standard.Thus, finding the right mix of dedication, talent, and style from someone to add to your team is quite the challenge alone. Asses their skill and assign them where they excel. If you ever find someone who’s willing to cancel any plans, even family affairs, for a gig with you, then you’re extra lucky.When you book someone that’s been on Carlo’s list of trusted suppliers, you know you’re in good hands.
- Always start with what you love and the rest will follow. While it’s true that a lot of us start a business to earn money, it’s important to choose something where you can effortlessly put your heart in. Because when you’re passionate about something, it will show in your work and the way you handle customers. And that’s how you grow.
On the wedding industry’s status amid COVID-19
Being a nurse, Carlo has some clever inputs about how we should all take the coronavirus pandemic seriously and how we should listen to our government and health workers. Along with that, he reminded wedding suppliers to stop whining about the canceled bookings because almost everyone running a business during this time is affected one way or another. “It’s a tie,” he expressed in jest. As for brides, he suggested for them to re-schedule instead of completely canceling.
Hard work, dedication, consistency will take you to places
While things did not pan out the way he originally planned, and he never got to work in the U.S., Carlo is now living his dreams. Touring the Land of the Free—and not for the first time—to do some bridal shoots. For the last few weeks, he’s been hopping from one state to another, including New York, California, Illinois, Texas, and Louisiana. His Vancouver trip can no longer happen due to the current travel ban, so he’ll be traveling to Hawaii instead.
Carlo Abquita is proud to say that his biggest accomplishment in his business is his company’s growth. But being able to meet people and helping others is what made the journey meaningful. “It’s no longer about the money, but about making a positive impact in people’s lives,” he revealed.
You can watch the entire video here.
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