She Leads in NW Louisiana
Bonné Summers: A Women-Owned Business Success Story
“I’ve enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most experienced, resourceful, creative and integrated event services in the region. I enjoy collaborating with other businesses and often subcontract with or refer to other businesses as I want to support other locally owned businesses. When I consider the direct and indirect economic impact Apex has on the local economy, I would estimate it averages between $350,000-$400,000 a year.”
For twenty years, Bonné Summers has both worked within the event industry and evolved with it.
“Back in the 1980s, this industry didn’t really exist as a true profession as it does now. Back then if you were an event planner, many times it was automatically assumed that one did this for fun or as a creative outlet. But delivering an event, meeting, or production that inspires and motivates to the point of effectively communicating the customer’s goal, message or intended business result is a profession.”
Growing up in a military family, it was the example left by Bonné’s mother that led her to the event planning business. “I grew up around a mother who entertained a lot. My mom was an Air Force officer’s wife who was required—they actually had a manual for this—to have a certain number of carefully planned dinner parties each year with a specific number of guests from each of the different ranks. The ultimate goal was networking and socializing, but when I look at it from a business strategy perspective, these were well thought out dinner events that took many strategies and logistics into consideration.”
Bonné considers her mom to be her greatest mentor. Apart from being a great mother and supportive wife, she was a businesswoman and artist: a historical anthropologist, a symphony harpist, and an entrepreneur. She started her own Southwest Indian arts and crafts business that grew into two stores located in Arizona and Wyoming.
Looking back at her career beginnings, Bonné noted that she helped her mom’s business with visual merchandising, ads, sales, and marketing before she even knew what those things were.
Bonné met her Shreveport native husband at the University of Arizona which ultimately brought her to Louisiana in 1980. “I never thought in a million years I’d be living in Louisiana as I thought the big city life was for me.” Working in a variety of roles in the corporate world in Shreveport, Louisiana, it always seemed to fall to her to be the creative person and plan events.
As the land-based casino industry began opening in Shreveport-Bossier in the 1990s, Bonné, along with an interior decorator friend she met thru a business association, was constantly being asked to create events and marketing campaigns. They wondered if this work could be viable in the long run. So, after some due diligence and research, they opened Events at Hand. Four years later, her partner decided to go in a different professional direction.
Since Bonné was busy raising two sons, she decided to take on what she thought was a more steady 9 to 5 job (the event industry sometimes has crazy hours) and went to work for the Shreveport Regional Arts Council as their special events coordinator. But the demand for specialized event coordination was still there. So Bonné reopened her event planning business as APEX Communications and Events eight years ago. This time she included integrated marketing services in her core services as she saw a need for this.
For Bonné, one of the best things about being a business owner is the flexibility of managing her time, which in her words, “doesn’t mean I can do whatever I want when I want; I still have goals and deadlines to meet. It’s just that I have a greater measure of control over planning personal time as it mixes with my business life.”
Bonné enjoys bringing ideas to life, but feels events should have a purpose. “Sometimes I have to challenge a potential client by playing devil’s advocate when their objectives don’t line up with their idea for an event. I may talk myself out of a job, but I’d rather have the client not waste money on an event that doesn’t meet their needs and goals.”
Sadly, Bonné’s business has been hit so hard by the pandemic that a “comeback” in the near future will be a challenge. “The event industry as a whole has suffered greatly from the coronavirus and pivoting to a non-social contact environment goes against the grain of what an event normally is with people gathered to connect to one another. 2019 was our best year in business followed by the worst business year since I began the business eight years ago.”
Apex pivoted to socially-distanced events in the spring and summer of 2020 with the production of a drive-in theater and also a drive- in live concert; both of which were produced to help the community be able to have a safe family-friendly environment that they could emotionally connect with, but also to support the local production and music industry which has also been hit hard with the inability to produce or perform at venues that have been shut down.
“One of the local organizations we collaborated with was the Shreveport Symphony to create an interactive car horn symphony in between the movies. People could sit in their cars to watch the movies and be a part of the interactive musical intermissions. They could roll down their windows and listen or also listen via a pre-set radio station in their cars (which were even socially distanced). It was an awesome experience to hear and watch the symphony conductor with his baton on a stage that cued all of the cars when to honk their horns.”
“These events were not meant to be huge moneymakers, but allowed us a creative event that helped our local music and entertainment industry, as well as gave those who came to watch and listen a much-needed break from the pandemic social pressures to enjoy themselves in a safe atmosphere.”
In late 2020, she’s planned a few weddings that had to incorporate Covid-19 protocols at churches and reception venues which was a challenge. One of the weddings was actually live-streamed to the reception site because the church could not hold the number of guests that had been invited before statewide protocols were put into effect.
If Bonné could share her best advice to up and coming entrepreneurs, she would stress the importance of doing your research.
“Being passionate about something is great but it’s not enough—you have to find out if the idea is viable. Is there a need for your service or product? Do your research! Create a business plan. Talk to others in business and find out if your business idea can support your lifestyle goals. Lastly, be prepared to constantly evolve your company as technology in all its forms constantly changes.”
Event professionals have become a blend of marketing, public relations, advertising, designer, production coordinator, and much more. Rather than a profession with a defined role, today their responsibilities are undergoing major structural and business cultural changes amidst a pandemic that has forever changed the world.
ABOUT APEX Communications and Events
APEX delivers integrated outsourced event production, management, and communications that connect consumers, companies, and communities.
Location: Shreveport, Louisiana