From a young age, Angel McLaughlin has had a passion for party planning. Her summer birthday always coincided with a large family reunion each year.
By middle school the Bordentown, N.J. resident recalls watching her mother plan three different weddings.
“I think that’s where it really took off for me,” McLaughlin said of her dream to start an event and party planning business. “I started to do little events for family, for myself.”
Years later, while working in banking in 2014, the perpetual planner planted the seeds for her yet-to-be-started business by reserving the business name, Website domain and toll-free phone number. By 2018, McLaughlin resigned from her banking job to take her party and event planning business full-time. She launched Dreams of Themes in 2018 in conjunction with a brick-and-mortar store in Willingboro, N.J.
“The store was set up to try to get foot traffic because I was so new to the business,” she said. “It was a great learning experience.”
Amid COVID-19, her landlord closed the building where her store was located in 2020.
“I didn’t stop,” McLaughlin said. “What I did was transition from a physical presence to more of an online presence.”
She continued serving clients in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York and, in fact, has been busier than ever. Dreams of Themes offers customizable services, including party planning, balloon delivery, party décor setup and breakdown. While birthday celebrations make up the bulk of the events, McLaughlin is excited to have added weddings, graduations and book-signing events to her services this year.
At the start of 2021, McLaughlin reached out to SCORE Bucks County for insight in taking her business to the next level. She began mentoring with Krishna Akella, whose more than 25 years expertise in business strategy and planning helped in creating a one-page business summary, a business plan and competitive analysis. Through monthly mentoring sessions, Akella also answered questions as they arose and provided much-needed input on packaging and streamlining of services, as well as hiring.
“From day one I felt very comfortable discussing with him some of my questions,” McLaughlin said. “A lot of the takeaways that I’ve implemented have really had an impact. Every call there’s a perspective that he offers that I hadn’t thought about.”
In addition to mentoring with Akella, McLaughlin participated in a dozen SCORE webinars. With guidance from the workshops and from Akella, she successfully booked events for every month of 2021, strengthened her online presence and this spring planned an Easter Bunny appearance at a South Jersey shopping mall. The mall has asked Dreams of Themes to plan another character appearance, but McLaughlin said she first needs to hire staff to undertake additional event planning opportunities.
Akella said her motivation will keep the positive momentum going.
“Angel is a self-starter,” Akella said. “She is highly self-disciplined and determined to make her own dreams come true through ‘Dreams of Themes.’”