On this week’s podcast, Marcus sits down with Heather Pfefferkorn. As she’s seen many parts of the hospitality industry, she now has created her own place of business to host others. Heather talks about how her mother knew she would end up in the hospitality business since she was a little girl. Let’s dive in to this week’s episode to hear how Heather was guided through her career to becoming the owner and principal planner at The Pillars.
Heather: Hi, I'm Heather Pefferkorn, the owner and principal planner at The Pillars.
Marcus: Well Heather, it is awesome to finally have wrangled you into the hot seat to be on the podcast, so welcome to the podcast.
Heather: Thanks for having me.
Marcus: Absolutely. One of the things that we like doing here on the podcast is telling the story of the owner of the business, and as part of that, we like to hear where you're from, where'd you go to high school, did you go to college? Because we find that many people didn't, or they started and they dropped out for whatever reason. Are you married? Give us some backstory, tell us who you are.
Heather: Sure. I was born and actually raised in Illinois, and then I graduated high school, moved to North Carolina, and attended East Carolina University and graduated with a degree in Community Arts Management, so my goal was to always ... I always wanted to work in development for a performing arts center or something like that, and when I graduated from college, I moved to Charlotte. Charlotte was, at the time, not a place ... people just worked downtown and went home, it was not what it is today, so it was on the cutting edge of lots of opportunity in the special events industry. When NFL came to town, the Charlotte Motor Speedway was huge, Bank of America was huge, the museum was expanding, so getting into events after college, I kind of switched gears to being in development to working for large special events companies. Unfortunately, when 9/11 happened, that all went away. People's budgets went away, there weren't as many events and things to do, so I transitioned into working in the hotel business and worked for Marriott, and locally here worked for PCH Hotels and Resorts, and have worked in different hotels in different capacities, but mostly in catering and events.
Marcus: So you've got quite an extensive history than just organizing events.
Marcus: So going back to East Carolina University, that's Myrtle Beach, is it not?
Heather: It is not.
Marcus: I thought it was.
Heather: They are closer to Greenville, North Carolina ... well, it's in Greenville, North Carolina, the closest beach would probably be like Wilmington or Wrightsville Beach.
Marcus: Okay. I thought I-
Heather: Myrtle Beach is South Carolina.
Marcus: That's right, I'm sorry. I had a buddy who went to college, and I thought maybe it was East Carolina, but I'm mistaken. Do you have ... this has been something that you've wanted to do for a long time? You went to college for this, so-
Heather: If you ask my mother, I've been doing this since I was a child. I was the one who always wanted to coordinate my birthday parties to make sure everybody had matching gifts to take home and things like that. So design and doing events, the biggest thing is there's so much that is negative in this world, so my passion for this comes from, if I can spend a few hours putting on an event where people laugh and make good memories and have a good time, then that's my passion behind doing events.
Marcus: That's amazing. I agree with you. I think ... we talked about this, I think, as an intro a couple of podcasts before this, where the whole purpose of this is to shine a positive light on the cool things that are happening in Mobile. That's the only reason why we do this, because we make no money from it, and I love hearing stories of other people that go into professions because they want to have positive impact on individuals, so that's really cool. Event planning wasn't really your first job though, right? You had some crummy job that you hated. Is that accurate?
Heather: I don't think I've ever had a job that I've hated because I feel like-
Marcus: Anybody has one.
Marcus: Nevermind, we don't need to go there.
Heather: I think I've always have jobs, though, I feel like, looking back, I think that they've gotten me to where I am today.
Heather: Whether it's helping me to decide, this isn't what I want to do, versus to push you in another direction to finally get to where you want to be.
Marcus: So think back to one of your first jobs. Were there any lessons that you learned from those? Even menial jobs, menial things like showing up on time, or how to lead a team, or managing people, stuff like that.
Heather: Yeah. Something a lot of people probably don't know about me is that I was really involved in swimming growing up, and so I became ... in college, I spent my summers being a summer camp counselor and teaching swimming lessons and life-guarding and things like that. Even out of those experiences, it's just learning about working with other people and learning about people. Somebody might be mad about something, but they're having a bad day because something else is going on. I think a lot of my experiences have just taught me, which I think has helped me in the event world, is to understand people and-
Marcus: Especially in the event world-
Heather: Especially in the event world.
Marcus: Because there's so much going on. Somebody's getting married or something, emotions are-
Heather: That's some of the biggest life stresses. And sometimes, I have clients who are doing multiple life events at a time. They're graduating from college and getting married the next weekend or moving across the country for a new job right after their wedding. There tends to be a lot of stress.
Marcus: That's cool. How did you get started as the principal planner and owner of The Pillars? What's the story there?
Heather: Another passion that I've always had is historic homes and historic architecture, and I've always loved The Pillars building. So having worked in events for over 20 years for other people, I felt it was time to do my own thing, but I was trying to find what that thing was, and The Pillars ... you drive by it, and it was sitting there and sitting there, so one day, I just made a phone call to inquire about it, and that's how it happened.
Marcus: That is very cool. I know because we represent you for some social media stuff, I know the story. When we first met, I told you that my wife and I had dinner there in, I think it was 2005 or something like that, back when it was still a restaurant, and I think ... take just a moment and explain to people what happened there because it's no longer a restaurant.
Heather: Right. The Pillars was a five-star restaurant for 30 years, and it is a place where ... so many people have life events happen there. People got engaged there, people went on their first date, or I have a doctor who told me his first interview out of medical school was there. So that building holds a lot of memories for a lot of people, and that's been one of the most satisfying things that we've ... since we've reopened The Pillars is that people come in and share those memories. That's a good thing, that we were able to save the building, restore the building, and people can come back and kind of relive those-
Marcus: Experience that.
Heather: Experience those moments again.
Marcus: Yeah, I thought it was really cool when we were sitting down and you were telling me about ... there was a couple that had gotten engaged there, so they came back and you kind of staged a whole dinner for them for ... I guess it was their anniversary.
Heather: Yeah, it was actually their ... Can I say who it was?
Heather: It was actually the owners of Meat Boss, Benny and Dara, and we had done an event with them where they actually were on a television show for Food Network, and it was called 'The Big Bad Barbecue Brawl', so we became friends because they filmed the event there, and the reason the network chose to film that there was because Benny and Dara met there in high school and became engaged, he proposed there. A few months ago was their ... I believe it was their 30th wedding anniversary. Dee had a diamond fall out of her engagement ring, he had lost his wedding ring, their daughter was a chef and contacted us and they wanted to surprise Benny's wife, Dara. So Leah came in and picked a private dinner, Benny ... they had a beautiful outfit for her to put on, Benny re-proposed with a new engagement ring, and he had a wedding ring, they had a first dance and a cake, and just relived that moment.
Marcus: That is just so cool. I love that.
Heather: It was neat that they could come back to where it all started.
Marcus: Yeah. That is very cool. Do you remember the first event that you held there or the first whatever it was that made you think that there might be something to this?
Heather: The very first event that we held there was actually a pretty special event. It was a client of ours who was a bride, who had booked with us, and she was going to have her wedding there, and her mother unfortunately had lung cancer, and we got a phone call, and we sped the wedding up and had it all put together within a week. And her mother attended and was enjoying herself, and then passed a week later, so it was a bittersweet moment, but everybody was just grateful that we could do that for that family and create those memories with her mother and her mother be a part of it. That's something that I think I'll always cherish.
Marcus: I'm just trying to keep my shit together.
Heather: I didn't mean to make it ... no, but it was.
Marcus: She gets me, man. I don't know what it is, it's just the stories. I'm just like, come on.
Heather: We pulled it together in a week.
Marcus: You can totally leave that in there, too.
Heather: She died that next Thursday.
Marcus: That's just insane.
Heather: And the thing was, the family still comes, and has become a part of our family, and as they shared with us, they knew her mom wasn't going to be around much longer, but they're so grateful that they had the opportunity to have that celebration, and that her mom was at her wedding.
Marcus: That's absolutely amazing. If you were talking to someone that wanted to get started running their own business, though, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Heather: Oh my gosh. We could write a book. I think just surround yourself with the right people. As an entrepreneur, you get an idea, and you get all excited, and you think it's a great idea, and if you just jump in and do it, there could be a lot of struggles. I would say, take some time take some planning, talk to other people in the area of what your idea is to get started in your business, and just get some feedback. What I have found in the entrepreneurial community, is that so many people are open to talking about their experiences or giving advice. They're not opposed to helping you.
Marcus: It used to be that everything was kept a secret because you wanted to keep the edge, but the things ... what I've learned is that the internet ... I think it's the internet because we're just pushing so much information out, has really opened up everybody's hands, and they're much freer with that information because they recognize that they're getting information in return, and also, things are changing so rapidly that what I'm telling you today, if you're not executing on it, then six months from now, it's going to be completely different.
Heather: Right. That's the biggest ... surround yourself with people that ... a good team of people that you can turn to for answers, anything like that.
Marcus: Yeah because you definitely can't do it yourself. Are there any books or podcasts that you've listened to, people that you've been mentored by, or organizations that you're a member of that have been helpful?
Heather: Christy Wright, she's part of the Dave Ramsey family, she has a podcast and she's written a couple of books, she's just honest and down to earth that being a small business owner is not easy, and it's not all glamorous and fun. And she's formed this community that you can turn to to help with. Another thing is what I talked about earlier, surrounding yourself with people. I have a good group of about a dozen females, we all started our businesses around the same time, so we get together once a month and have coffee, and it can be, 'Hey, I'm looking for an accountant. Does anybody have a recommendation?' To, 'I'm about to pull my hair out because I just can't figure this out.' Building that support team like that.
Marcus: You've mentioned that before, and I keep threatening to dress in drag and come with you guys. I don't think I would pass though.
Heather: You're welcome any time.
Marcus: I just think it's very cool that you've got that, a mastermind group if you will, of people that are going through things, because most businesses hit some of the same milestones at the same ... has that been your experience with that group?
Heather: Yeah. Some are a year or two ahead of where I might be, and somebody else is just starting, so it's not just ... you don't feel like you're alone in this, and sometimes, things get so overwhelming that you do feel like you're alone. If I can call up one of my friends who I know in her business just went through the struggles I'm going through, she can give advice, calm those nerves that it's going to be okay and that there's a way out of it.
Marcus: I think I mentioned in a podcast like a week or so ago, where I was like, 'Everybody suffers from imposter syndrome, so if you can just make sure you have some friends on speed dial.' In those instances, you've got twelve individuals, and especially, I'm not immune to the idea that women have ... there's a necessity to have other women that you know that are going through the same thing, just like for guys, I need other guys, but it's also helpful to have some lady friends that are going through the same thing.
Heather: I don't think we discriminate. It just happened that we're all women, but it's just-
Marcus: So what you're saying is that I don't have to dress in drag to come?
Heather: Exactly. Anybody is welcome to join us.
Marcus: What's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?
Heather: Oh goodness.
Marcus: You didn't think these were going to be soft ball questions, did you?
Heather: I thought these were going to be easier.
Marcus: Hold on, let me put you on pause. If you're listening to this podcast, and you're hearing ... because you've hard these questions a bit, you have to understand, for a business owner to be ... walk in and hear that question, 'What's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?' That is not a small ... that's not just a fluff question. That is a really difficult question to give a meaningful answer to.
Heather: I guess if you would like a meaningful answer, I guess that I have learned that I'm stronger than I ever thought I was because it is a roller coaster. There are some days that you're just like, 'This is the greatest day, I'm so glad I did this.' And there's days you want to give up, and so I think learning about yourself and how strong you are. If I can ... literally, if there are things that you can get through, from getting licensing, to figuring out social media and algorithms and things like that, I think you find that you have a lot of characteristics that you didn't know that you had, and that you're a lot stronger than you are.
Marcus: I think that might be one of my favorite answers. Seriously, because I don't think anybody's ever said that, but the truth is, going into this, there's a lot of unknown. And finding out things about yourself along the way is one of the wonderful aspects of owning a business.
Heather: Yeah, and learning things about yourself that you may not have known. That you are strong enough to do this, or that you can get through those hard times and those struggles. It's ... I think that's more rewarding than worrying about what other people think, or if they like your business or not. As long as you're comfortable and you're making it, or you're doing it.
Marcus: There's a short video that's making its way around on Facebook right now, it's Will Smith, and he's talking about failure. Have you seen it?
Heather: I haven't seen that.
Marcus: No? And I only bring that up because I think one of the things that he talks about in that is that you want to get to failure fast, and you want to get to failure often, and you need to learn to be okay with that because just like anything, and he uses, because he's a dude, he's using the gym as an analogy, and when you go to the gym, when you get to failure, that breakdown of your muscle, it's the recovery of the muscle afterwards that's making you stronger, and much like that in the business world, it's the faster you can get to failure and overcome that failure, that's what makes you stronger and ready to move to the next phase as a business owner. I just ... I was watching that, I think even earlier today, and I was so like, 'Yeah, there's some truth right there, man.' I'm going to ask this question even though I said I was not going to ask this question. What do you like to do in your free time?
Heather: That's a difficult one. Because we've just been discussing this, being a small business owner, it's like you just pour so much into it, you forget about your free time. In fact, we just talked about this at lunch today, this year we're trying to have more fun and be out there, but some of my favorite things, which is going to sound crazy, I love organizing things, but even as a little girl, if you go back and ask my mother, I love rearranging-
Marcus: It's not so far from what you do.
Heather: I know. She's like, 'You would spend time in your bedroom as a child and rearrange your furniture and organize your books.' Those are things that I love to do. I love cooking, I love being at home, doing things with my family and things like that.
Marcus: That's really cool. One of the things that I love that you do on a regular basis, at least most of the year, is the market. And I wanted to make sure that we made a point to share that with people as well because I think it's a very unique opportunity to see makers all coming together in one place, and it doesn't happen very often. So why don't you tell everyone what the market is as well?
Heather: So when we first opened, we're about to start our third season, it's called The Market at The Pillars. It is the second Sunday of every month, just a fun afternoon from 12 to 4. It's open to the public, there's no charge, it's kid-friendly, pet-friendly, but it started with people just approaching us. We saw that they were looking for a place to be able to sell things that they've created or make or we have crafters and artist and all kinds of ... or they have a small online business and maybe they need the presentation, or they're, like our friends at The Cheese Cottage, they were going to ... they're opening a retail shop, but wanted to start getting the word out about their business, so we started this monthly market, The Market at The Pillars, and it's for local ... we say local makers, bakers, crafters, and takers. And it's been a huge success, and we've seen ... actually Mayor Simpson has said a great comment that Mobile is a maker city. We make airplanes, we make boats, we make donuts, t-shirts, cookies, cakes, jewelry. We have so many creative minds in this city, they just need an outlet to showcase what they do. So we do this market, we have close to 50 vendors, and it's just a great, fun Sunday afternoon event for people to come out in Midtown and enjoy the afternoon.
Marcus: It's cool because when we were talking about it, you were mentioning ... wasn't there a young girl that does some baking or something along those lines?
Heather: We actually ... I think the story I told you about is, it's actually a brother and sister who are home-schooled, and they needed an economic project.
Marcus: That's one, yeah.
Heather: And they make the most amazing homemade breads, and their business is called Paint the Town Bread, and with the assistance of their mother, they're both in high school now, they make a variety of breads, they go to local farmer's markets, they come to our market, and they sell out every time, and they have taken the funds and bought their first car, put it towards their college education. Another little event that we've added to our market is called the mini-market for kid entrepreneurs because it's great to start them young. We had our first one this fall and we'll be doing a couple more this year, and it's for kids under the age of eighteen, and we've had as young as five, we have a sweet little five year old who paints canvases, she sold out. We have a ten year old, my favorite story, he has a business called Corky's, he took his mother's wine corks from her wine bottles and got creative, and he makes cute little animals out of them and calls them Corky's, and he sold out. It's just ... we try to incorporate some other events throughout the year in conjunction with the market so that it benefits ... and teach the kids a little about entrepreneurs.
Marcus: I just think that's so cool. Again, I agree with what you were saying about this city being a maker's city because we've sat with a lot of makers. This podcast highlights makers, because when you own a business, oftentimes you're either making something or selling something. Where can people find you?
Heather: The Pillars, we have a website, ThePillarsOfMobile.com, we are on social media, on Facebook and Instagram, that's about it.
Marcus: Same name, The Pillars?
Heather: The Pillars.
Marcus: Very cool. I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Heather: I guess I want to share one of my favorite quotes is ... when we were talking about being a small business owner and entrepreneur, one of my favorite quotes is, 'When you know better, you do better.' And I think that always constantly educating yourself and being involved in what you do outside of just your own little business is always a good thing to do too. That's it. Thanks for having me.
Marcus: Yeah. Absolutely. Heather, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you.