Before she became a sought-after event planner, Marie Danielle Vil-Young, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, was a seasoned research scientist with a love for plants and designing flowers. And she would still be cloning DNA if it hadn’t been for her wedding, when she realized her true calling was event planning—from designing flowers to coordinating details to executing her vision—and decided to do something about it. Soon after, she left her impressive scientific career behind and launched A Votre Service Events, a wedding design service offering luxury event planning and floral design. With her scientific background as the secret sauce to her success (she can tell you precisely when flowers will bloom to the minute), she’s been named one of the top wedding planners in the world by Harper’s Bazaar, has been featured and quoted in numerous magazines and newspapers, and is in demand for speaking and tv engagements. And though this past year was challenging for someone whose business relies on parties and group gatherings, it still didn’t stop Marie Danielle from growing her brand. We caught up with this Franklin Park mom of one to talk about how she’s kept her business alive and thriving during the pandemic, why she brings her daughter to work with her whenever possible, and one of the best beaches to relax on the Jersey Shore.
Featured Photo Credit: Sage Studios Photography
Tell us a little about your family and background.
My husband, Jabari, and I just celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary, and we live in Franklin Park with our 9-year-old daughter, Micaele Taylor. I have a master’s degree in biochemistry and pharmaceutical science. Though I might not be working in a lab anymore, I carry my science background with me every day in my family life and my career with how I think things through, attack the problems in front of me and troubleshoot. Growing up, I loved plants and flowers—I even had my own garden at 5 years old—but in college, I gravitated to a field where I knew I’d be able to get a job. Then, in 2008 when I was planning my wedding, I fell in love with what I was doing and knew I could build a business. I haven’t looked back since.
Since events have decreased, how did you pivot your business during the pandemic?
With weddings canceled and things so unsure initially, I had to think outside the box to help my business survive. I didn’t think my virtual workshops would be enough, and I know flowers are always in demand, so we started putting bouquets in beautiful boxes to sell online and ship nationwide. When things first closed, I ramped up a website I built in late 2019, and within a month, we were good to go. The pandemic made me figure out how to look at my floral work and see different ways I could monetize it. People still needed something to do for birthdays and anniversaries to show their love and let others know they were thinking about them.
I also opened a pop-up shop for a few months in the Short Hills Mall to get more eyeballs on my actual product. And like everything I do, my pop-up shop had to be extra special. Besides flowers and plants, we also had lifestyle items, including beautiful floral wooden jigsaw puzzles that I designed. I developed and negotiated a pop-up plant shop in Nordstrom before Mother’s Day, and it was such a hit, we’re doing it again for Father’s Day. And Anthropologie invited us to have a collaboration at their store as well. This whole shop that I organically ended up doing is snowballing and turning my business into a multi-faceted brand, which is very exciting.
Does your daughter ever help you at work? If so, what do you have her do?
Since she’s been a baby, I’ve had Micaele helping out whenever possible. I believe it’s made her more responsible and aware of the many different aspects of running a business. Over the years, she’s handed out bouquets or cards to brides, gone to the flower market with me, and helped me clean and carry buckets of flowers. And as she grows, so do her responsibilities—last summer, she worked for me for a few hours a few days per week, and this summer, she will as well.
What do you hope she learns by seeing you run your own business?
I hope she learns that whatever it is she chooses to do, she should be fully immersed in it, work her hardest, and aim to be one of the best in her field. Whenever possible, I’ve always made it a point to bring my daughter along to my speaking engagements so that she sees what it looks like when women are in charge and killing it.
Though most of the events you plan are huge lavish affairs, can you share the secret to throwing a successful gathering?
When entertaining friends and family, remember it’s not about you—it’s about your guests. Put a lot of thought into their likes and dislikes. Think about what would be fun or exciting for them to do or have or experience, and then focus on the details to bring that vision to life. It makes people feel great knowing you’ve thought about them and how they’ll experience your event.
What are some of your local go-to businesses?
We are big foodies, so we love trying different restaurants all the time. We are huge fans of Mistral in Princeton for a burger and drinks and Salt and The Frog & The Peach in New Brunswick. All have great food, a stellar staff, and an atmosphere that lends itself to a great experience.
Please share your favorite “family spots” in NJ.
Point Pleasant is a family favorite. It’s more spacious than many of the other beaches and is the perfect place to go and relax. Also, my daughter loves coding and gaming, as does my husband, so from time to time, they’ll head out and explore all the great arcades in our state. And we go to Six Flags Great Adventure a lot—it’s impossible not to have fun there!
A beautiful floral arrangement designed by Vil-Young and used as the visual for one of her magnificent wooden jigsaw puzzles. Photo Credit: Giselle Cornwell
What’s the best piece of advice you can share with another mompreneur just starting?
As entrepreneurs, our career path allows us to create the environment we want. Most women in the corporate world don’t have the luxury of doing that. Before I had my daughter, I came across a woman speaking at a conference, and I saw that her baby was at the back of the room with a caretaker. When my daughter was born, I made a conscious decision to do the same when it was appropriate. Yes, it takes a very strong person to do that unapologetically, but if everyone around you is clear about your expectations and boundaries, you do have the power to choose how you do business.