Features

The Party Starts Here!

TCI’s premier party planners host events of all shapes and sizes.

By Kathy Borsuk

From the day I moved into my office in the Lucille Lightbourne Building in downtown Providenciales, I noticed a steady bustle of activity around the small office next to mine. The sign on the door said “Got-U-Covered” and “Skyjuice” and trucks bearing the same names came and went from the parking lot at all hours. I peeked through the office window and saw a small reception area filled with oddly-matched decor: a leather sofa, ornate lamps, a dinner table with a different place setting at each spot, bouquets of artificial flowers, chairs of all shapes and sizes, a silver fountain, a podium, a large-screen TV and even a karaoke machine! At first I thought an eccentric family must be living there. Potted palms would line the building’s hall one day, and disappear the next. Our shared trash area often held strange things as well: a plastic Santa statue, a papier mache dolphin, psychedelically colored garlands. I watched and wondered . . .

The mystery was partially solved one day just before Christmas. After my workout in the Graceway Sports Centre fitness room, I did a double-take at the state of the large gymnasium. Its bland, utilitarian basketball court had been transformed into an elegant winter wonderland, with twinkling lights, cloth-draped tables, a disco dance floor and evergreen boughs everywhere. The change was so remarkable, I had to discover “what’s up.” Outside, I met Vernay Robinson tersely urging a workman to bring more chairs NOW! She took a quick minute to tell me that Got-U-Covered was preparing for the Graceway IGA’s annual Christmas party, and that this was but one of many functions they were handling that week.

Ah ha! A light bulb lit underneath my sweatband. That’s why I often saw Vernay and her colleagues around the office looking harried. That’s why Got-U-Covered trucks and workers frequented resorts and auditoriums. It even explained why Homey’s Restaurant (just below my office) was often cooking up a storm even when the storefront café was closed. By the next day, I had learned that Got-U-Covered — the country’s largest and most experienced event planning, party rental and catering company — was operating right under my unsuspecting nose.

Dion Pratt

Dion Pratt

Islander Dion Pratt is the driving force behind Got-U-Covered, and my respect and admiration for the company grew the more I got to know. Since 1997, his team of professional and friendly staff has catered to a huge range of local events including celebrity weddings, corporate and government functions and conventions, concerts and festivals, beauty pageants, graduations, birthday parties, funerals, and just about any other celebration you can imagine. What is clear is that Got-U-Covered aims to raise the bar with each new event. Dion explains, “We put an incredible amount of creativity and time into making every occasion fresh and innovative, unique and unimaginable. At the same time, we strive to be totally dependable, and work with our customers to ensure full satisfaction from start to finish.”

Got-U-Covered’s job often starts when an idea is no more than a vague pipe dream. Dion will meet with the clients, determine their vision, needs and budget, and put his exhaustive creativity into play to design an event that will exceed all expectations! Depending on the project’s size and scope, this can mean handling everything from booking the venue and ordering/importing all necessary supplies to coordinating temporary work permits and licenses, building sets, stages and props from scratch and handling sound engineering, lighting and landscaping. As Dion explains, “We’re always the first in and last out.”

Sandy beach and coral reef within auditorium

Sandy beach and coral reef within auditorium

During the TCI’s “golden days” in mid 2000, it seemed there was a major event, opening or ground-breaking ceremony nearly every week and Got-U-Covered was there. Dion recalls, “We handled the TCI Music & Cultural Festival at the time when it was a venue for such top artists as Boyz II Men, Alicia Keys, Lionel Richie, Fantasia and Kenny G. We helped the budding TCI Film Festival succeed, including setting up ‘a cinema in a tent’ on the beach.” Got-U-Covered worked closely with celebrity wedding planner Preston Bailey to coordinate former TCI Premier Michael Misick’s fairy tale (though short-lived) wedding to actress LisaRaye McCoy at the Amanyara Resort. This lavish affair included catering to an upscale audience of hundreds in a venue that was well off the island’s beaten path . . . actually, out in the bush. Got-U-Covered also assisted in the production of Former Minister McAllister (Piper) Hanchell’s nuptials at The Somerset Resort. As well, they turned a vacant field in Thompson Cove into an “Ice and Fire” themed dream wedding for Jermaine and Aisha Laporte.

Grace Bay Beach wedding tent

Grace Bay Beach wedding tent

More recently (May 2009), Got-U-Covered handled the Caribbean Development Bank’s Annual Conference, virtually re-creating the best of the country’s islands within the Gus Lightbourne sports complex, right down to building a sandy beach with palm trees and a mock coral reef complete with live fish. (Ironically, local environmental regulations required that the tropical fish be imported from Florida.) Dion explains, “We never say ‘no’ to any idea. Nothing is impossible. If it’s not something we can source and order, we’ll make it ourselves.”

Got-U-Covered also works with all of TCI’s major resorts on weddings, banquets, charity fund-raisers, balls, award ceremonies and every kind of special event. Although regularly purchasing thousands of dollars of party supplies for each unique function, Dion also maintains an inventory of equipment, from plain to fancy. He notes that the catering industry has somewhat standardized basic chairs, tables, glassware, china, flatware and linens, which helps with cost control and stock management. As he says, “We can supply anything from the frilly toothpicks for pigs-in-a-blanket to elaborate crystal and silver place settings. Beaches Resort regularly calls on us for rentals when they have large functions.”

This flexibility was tested this winter, when Got-U-Covered assisted with the production of a multi-million dollar wedding at The Regent Palms for which the family rented the entire resort for a week. At the same time, local holiday parties, church events, galas and concerts were in full swing. Of this exhausting season, Dion recalls, “One day we hosted 15 events. It was a true test of planning, organization and staying focused. I think at one point we went 72 hours without sleep!”

When asked as to whether the economic slowdown has affected the party business, Dion replied, “There will always be special occasions and we cater to all the Islands, from womb to tomb. About 25% of our business is local and the remainder destination events. We’ve just had to give deeper discounts to help out our clients. But truthfully, we have such a large inventory and good reputation that we probably touch 99% of all events in the TCI.”

The dynamic businessman seems to have discovered the perfect outlet for his natural talent and wealth of work experience. Dion explains, “I was always gifted in art, but my early jobs were in hospitality, working as a bartender, waiter, chef and casino croupier across the Bahamas and TCI. This was followed by stints as a welder, diesel mechanic and carpenter. I found that I loved building things and working with my hands, and was able to travel and apprentice as a contractor for nearly a decade.” He also worked briefly as a movie extra in the States, learning the stage handling skills that are so crucial to his job now. He put these skills to the test when a French game show was filmed at North West Point in 1993, working to create many of the buildings and props used.

Got-U-Covered was born in 1995 after trying to plan his mother-in-law’s 54th birthday party. Dion recalls, “We couldn’t find a venue large enough to host the event, so we bought tents, draping, tables and chairs for the occasion. After that, it seemed family and friends wanted to ‘borrow’ the stuff every couple of days. One day, my charity turned to entrepreneurship and I said, ‘Let’s make this a business.’”

Dion believes the key to his company’s success is their professionalism and determination. “We try to remember that every event is a lifetime of memories for the participants. In this industry, if you don’t take that seriously, all it takes is one failure and you’re through.” With this in mind, Dion treats each customer as his “one and only,” breaking down large projects into manageable tasks that he delegates to his staff, pulling everything back together at the end. “Never be late” is a motto and multi-tasking an important part of his day, as is ALWAYS keeping cool for the sake of an event. He explains, “No matter what, the show must go on. You might win the battle, but lose the war if you fuss over petty issues. And never let anyone see you sweat!”

Also important is following the rules. He says, “We always make sure the off-island planners and our clients understand TCI rules and regulations regarding importing goods and labor. We can take the headaches out of customs and immigrations procedures, and work closely with any government departments involved.”

What are some lessons he’s learned along the way? “I’m now a stickler for having everything in writing, after we had set up for a wedding and wondered why no one was showing up. It turns out the wedding planner was off by one day. It could have been a total disaster.” Dion also says, “The only time I’ll turn down a job is if there is too short a notice to do it well. I’ve had people calling me a day before, an hour before, during and even after an event, saying ‘I SHOULD HAVE called you.’ I’m really pleased at the level of trust I get from well-known event planners, such as Robin Rosin, the famous designer with whom we’ve been working on the Beaches Resort Martha Stewart wedding concept and David Monn, who has done several weddings at Amanyara. They appreciate my quick responses to phone calls and emails; they know we’re on top of the situation, which makes them look good.”

Got-U-Covered’s full-time employees include many who have been with the company since the beginning, including Vernay Robinson, Dion’s confessed “right hand” and Jermone Ligele. As Vernay explains, “We don’t have specific positions or titles — we all work together to get the job done.”

Dion is proud of the positive role Got-U-Covered plays in the TCI economy. “I believe the fact that we offer this service, at a world-class level, brings a lot of revenue to the country in the form of bed and meal taxes and customs duties, along with stimulating business for hotels, restaurants, florists, photographers, anyone associated with this facet of the economy. I know, for instance, that The Regent Palms has been able to increase their corporate conference sales because we can handle the work.”

Ironically, while I was writing this story, Got-U-Covered had returned full circle, making plans to cater Dion’s wife Thelma’s 50th birthday party. It was “only” going to be a few hundred guests on the beach with a jazz theme, music and skits of meaningful events in her life. But no problem, because, as Dion says, “We got you covered!”



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LHV
Sep 4, 2010 14:51

Wonderful.

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Photographer Marta Morton used her small Canon SX720HS “point and shoot” camera (with a great 40X optical zoom) to photograph this lovely early Winter sunset over Grace Bay Beach, with the high cirrus clouds tracing a feathery pattern in the sky.

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