Before I became fiancée to my most favorite guy, I was blissfully unaware of just how overwhelming wedding planning can be. Just weeks into the planning process, I now know that fussiness is not restricted to three year olds, but can, in fact, transcend the ages (hi mom! hi dad!). All in all, our picture perfect day is still looking beautiful, albeit much simpler. Because simple is how you stay out of the straitjacket, right? Craziness aside, that’s the idea behind host & toast, an online retail source for wedding and event decor – that every host/ess should be able to throw one heck of a bash, relax and toast to themselves without a worry in the world. High five, guys.
Carlen & David Arnold have combined their respective (mad) skill sets to make host & toast a reality, and the results are supremely lovely. They are inspiringly passionate about their work product and the business they’ve built together, giving their collection that special something. They have big plans and if their success since launching just last year is any indication, I expect to see some wonderful things ahead for these two – really, I do.
NAMES Carlen & David Arnold
AGES 25 & 28
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND David: University of Georgia, class of 2008. BA in Business Management; Carlen: University of Georgia, class of 2011. BA in Comparative Literature, BA in Linguistics
LOCATION Denver, Colorado<
COMPANY host & toast
ESTABLISHED June 2013
Tell me a little bit about your company & how you first got started. Carlen: host & toast is an online retail source for wedding and event decor. We combine laser-cut, handmade, and hand-finished methods to create high-quality products. In our design process, we seek to remain true to our taste yet relate to multiple styles, meaning many of our products are influenced by different areas in design. In our studio, we produce and sell only the highest quality products, right down to the finishing and packaging. We care about more than just sales; we care tremendously that our brand is known for quality and integrity, so we take every opportunity to demonstrate excellence in our production and packaging. David: As far as how we got started, Carlen and I met in 2007 working for a wholesale merchandiser designing and building displays for wholesale gift shows in Atlanta. A year later, when I graduated college with a business degree, I knew I had a passion for business, but I wanted to do something creative where I could utilize and expand my design and woodworking skills; thus, I started DA Custom Frames. Carlen: Three years later, when I graduated college, we decided to move DA Custom Frames to Colorado, where I got a job teaching low-income middle school students in Aurora. I fell in love with my students, but didn’t have a passion for teaching, so during my second year, I had to decide what was next. I quickly realized I had a passion for four things: branding, design, making, and wedding blogs. We spent nights and weekends brainstorming, and, over time, came up with a concept. We realized most brides and grooms were making their own wedding decor (we sure did!), so we wanted to create a source where couples can find those special pieces for their day without having to stress about making everything themselves.
“host & toast” is very cute and catchy. Is there a story behind the name? David: We LOVE escaping up into the Colorado mountains to think, so, one weekend, we decided to spend some time business planning near Breckinridge. Sitting in a local coffee shop, exhausting ideas for names and logos, we decided to go back to the basics and talk about what we ultimately wanted for our customers. Carlen: At the end of the day, we feel that every host, hostess, and engaged couple should to be able to 1) host a beautiful, well-designed wedding or event, whether they have the design skills, time, and/or tools to create their own decor, and 2) relax and raise a toast to celebrate themselves and the people around them, not worry about all the details of their event. We love beautiful things and environments, and we feel most people do, too. David: With our products, anyone can host a beautiful wedding or party and toast themselves!
Your studio looks like a fantastic space to spend the day in! What does your typical workday look like? David: Really, every day is different, but for the most part, we spend Monday-Wednesday building, finishing, and shipping our current orders; we try to save Thursday and Friday for new design projects and assessing where we are and how to move forward. Carlen: As part of our growth strategy, we are trying to give “outsiders” a glimpse behind the scenes on Instagram and Facebook, so our iPhones are a really big part of our day. Often times, there is loud music and some dancing, especially when we’re wearing our denim paint aprons (sexyyyyy).
Where do you find your inspiration? How has it changed since launching your company? Carlen: When we first started, I found a lot of inspiration on wedding blogs, and, to a certain extent, I still do. I think now, I trust myself in the design process more than I did at the beginning, so I try to “go with my gut” in product design. Me personally: I find inspiration in branding, trying new things, and tracking others on social media to see what they are doing. New haircuts, music, and wine definitely help, too! David: For me, getting outside and moving keeps me fresh and inspired. Skiing (of course!), playing twice a week in a volleyball league, basketball, corn hole; you name it. Something about being outside and active keeps my mind inspired to create new things.
As partners in life & business, have you set any rules pertaining to shop talk? Carlen: Honestly, we don’t have many rules regarding shop talk. If we have something to talk through, we want things to be resolved quickly so we can move on and get things done! David: I’d say we have to set more rules at home than at the shop. We are both extremely passionate about business, which means we are thinking about growth strategies and new designs all the time, but we don’t want our entire relationship to be about work. Nights and weekends, we try to keep shop talk to a minimum.
How did you get the word out about host & toast when you first launched? Carlen: One of the first jobs we did was for a friend’s wedding here in Golden, Colorado. She was a teacher at the school I taught at, so I told her we would lend her decor for free if we could have rights to the photographer’s pictures. This really helped us because by the time we launched, we had professional photos of work we had already done, and when people came to our website or to our Facebook page, they could see our work already!
Between budgeting, pricing, marketing, labor & material costs, etc. there are a lot of things to tackle before launching a business. How did you learn the ins and outs of running your own company? David: Well, it helps that I have a business degree, but I’d definitely say past experience with DA Custom Frames is how we knew we could start host & toast. We use a lot of trial and error and spend time evaluating what works. One of our favorite shop “sayings” that we hold on to is “don’t stray from what’s working.” Carlen: David truly is the business mind behind both of our businesses. He definitely helps us maintain a great balance between trying new things and keeping up what’s working. I let him handle budget and finances, and he lets me handle social media (shhh…I like it this way!).
Has there been a particular moment where you felt most accomplished and validated in your career together? Carlen: One of the most accomplished I’ve felt is being sought out by The NotWedding. The NotWedding is a bridal show that throws a big, fake wedding so that brides can really see vendors in action. Basically, one of the staff members found our Instagram account via a hashtag we used; that felt pretty good to be found through our work on social media! David: For me, it was when a designer I’ve worked with for several years in Atlanta and New York told me he loved our brand and the designs of our products. Since I’ve learned so many things from him and aspire to be like him in our designs, I’ve really taken those to heart. Carlen: I also feel like the little things make us feel accomplished. For example, the Etsy iPhone app makes a “cha-ching” sound every time we receive an order, so when we hear that in the studio, we get pretty pumped; cue the dancing in aprons!
As you well know, being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance? David: I’ve heard people say that entrepreneurs don’t work 40 hours, 5 days a week; they work 24 hours, 7 days a week. Since most of our work involves laser cutting woodworking, painting, etc., it definitely helps that our studio space is 3 miles away from our apartment; thus, once we leave the studio, there are only a few things we can really do at home. When I first started DA Custom Frames in Georgia, my studio workshop was in my garage, which was helpful and efficient in some ways, but definitely didn’t promote work/life boundaries in the same way! Carlen: We try to make a wholesome dinner together a few times a week, and we play in a volleyball league at Wash Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We definitely bring work home some nights, and we do have nights where we stay late at the studio, but one of our top priorities? Getting 8 hours of sleep every night!
What have been the most 1) rewarding and 2) difficult parts about working for yourselves? Rewarding: We love the fact that with everything we put in, we get to see our efforts come to fruition. When you work for someone else, you don’t always reap the benefits of your hard work. Working for ourselves means we can set our own schedule. During ski season, we often work weekends and ski two days during the week, when the mountain is less crowded. Talk about rewarding! We love that we get to decide and determine the direction of host & toast, and change that direction if we feel the need. Carlen: When I was working in the school system, one of the most frustrating parts for me was that I couldn’t decide the direction I wanted to take with my kids throughout the year depending on the group of kids I had; it was pre-determined. Difficult: As we mentioned before, a 40-hour work week is unheard of as an entrepreneur, so that can be difficult sometimes. Since we are in online sales, we don’t have a predictable, guaranteed paycheck each month. Some months, we do really well, and some months, we don’t hit our goals. (But, we think it keeps things interesting!) At this point in time, it’s just the two of us, which means we are literally doing everything, from making products to running errands to taking pictures.
What is your dream for the future of host & toast? David: Eventually, we want to purchase several venues throughout the US, while maintaining our online website and Etsy shop. It’s a big dream, but it keeps us motivated.
Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s? Trader Joe’s, for sure! Three words: two buck chuck. But seriously, we aren’t gluten free/ organic/ vegan/ millionaires…
Guilty pleasure? Sushi dates, Netflix series, Trader Joe’s Toasted Coconut Cookie Thins, new tools, slipping Bailey’s in our ski jackets for the lift-ride, Apple products, college football Saturdays (GO DAWGS!), design and branding blogs, $10 blackjack in Vegas or Blackhawk.
Spirit animal? Well, according to this online quiz we just took…David: wolf, Carlen: swan
Morning or night? Carlen: This is actually one of the hardest things about the two of us working together…I’m 100% night, so I have a really hard time waking up in the morning. Perfect hours for me: 11am-9pm. David: Definitely morning. As soon as I wake up, I’m ready to go! Perfect hours for me: 7am-5pm
Perfect Sunday? Lounging around the house sharing a pot (or two) of coffee, going out for brunch with mimosas, volleyball in the park with picnic lunch, then heading home to Netflix with stove-top popcorn and Chipotle.
Photos of Carlen & David by Anna Salzer with Smiling Eyes Photo in Fort Collins, Colorado.