When COVID-19 was causing the postponement or cancellation of most large gatherings, event planning businesses like LEO Design Gallery were left in a state of uncertainty.
Two years later, after its acquisition of Wishes Entertaining and Event Design from Boscov’s, LEO Design Gallery is poised to become a force in southeastern Pennsylvania’s event and decor industry.
The West Reading-based company with a second location inside the Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia quietly acquired Wishes in October, choosing to keep the deal under wraps until all terms were finalized and its existing clients were satisfied.
“It was such a whirlwind for us because we had our current weddings, our postponed weddings and all of their new clients,” said Heather Pasko, creative director and owner of LEO Design. “From October 1 until January, we basically didn’t have a day off.”
With the purchase in the books, though, and LEO Design settling into a new normal of its own, the ramifications are starting to become clear.
The business is growing, which means providing a larger scope of services, hiring a bigger team and expanding its reach deeper into the Philadelphia market — while staying true to its Berks County roots, of course.
“We took over that whole division (Wishes), purchased the majority of their inventory, their furniture, their drapery,” Pasko said. “Our corporate client portfolio expanded. We now have even more product to help people on all spectrums of events.
“The door is wide open for us.”
Turning lemons into lemonade
Not too long ago, the door was slammed closed, so LEO Design needed to find a window.
While many industries that had traditional operations shut down or restricted due to COVID found alternative revenue streams, it was four months before gatherings were allowed to resume at any size in Pennsylvania, effectively rendering events businesses moot.
Even then, indoor gatherings were limited to impossibly small numbers of people, which sent many brides and grooms scrambling for last-minute outdoor venues.
And LEO Design was there to lend a hand.
“That (2020) was one of the scariest years of our lives for business,” Pasko said. “It was a scary year in general for most people, but for us, we were completely shut down.
“Then we started offering free consulting, helping people find venues, and they then in turn started hiring us to decorate the tents they put up in parking lots or outside. That really kept us in business.”
Others in the business community took notice of what LEO Design was doing, and it was leading to a bigger opportunity.
The DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Reading formally joined forces with Boscov’s Ala Carte Catering on March 1, bringing the service under the hotel’s roof — though the wheels were in motion much longer.
Craig Poole, general manager at the DoubleTree Reading, knew the head of Wishes, David Reppert, was thinking about retiring, but that somebody would at the very least need to service existing contracts for the event business’ decor division.
Having heard about what LEO Design was doing to save couples’ wedding days, he contacted Pasko.
“From that goodwill, we ended up being approached by Craig,” she said. “Our designer, Gregory Paul, was the only other guy they knew who could do the draping. We were the only company that could do the same level and beyond service-wise.
“So we took over their contracts. We had to be a little careful in the beginning. It’s very delicate. Your wedding is two weeks away and a new company is taking over. That’s a scary process, but we were there to help and successfully fulfilled those contracts.”
It wasn’t just weddings, either, but holiday decor — which was, at the time, uncharted territory for LEO Design.
“I always joked because my last name, Pasko, means ‘Christmas’ that some day we’d get into holiday decor,” she said. “Well, we inherited a lot of holiday contracts for corporate clients, so we said, ‘Let’s start a division called LEO’s Elves,’ and we decorated all these venues and spread holiday joy.”
LEO Design-ing on something big
The addition of services and influx of inventory were unexpected but welcome changes for LEO Design.
“We didn’t know where we were going to be coming out of 2020,” Pasko said. “But taking over one of our largest competitors in the area — probably the largest — has opened the door for so much significant growth for our company.”
In addition to serving Berks, LEO Design has always done work in Philadelphia and out of state.
With the breadth of services it’s able to offer now, though, it may be able to lure some of those luxury clients back to the area.
“We’re going to be able to compete with the Philly market,” Pasko said. “I’d say the big thing we’re trying to do is bring work and clients to the Reading area, and create revenue and keep it here.”
The plan now is to staff up, including adding floral services to its slate of offerings.
“This is where I grew up, where my husband grew up,” Pasko said. “This is a very important area to us. It’s our main location, and we would like to keep our main anchor store here in Berks County. We’re not leaving Berks County.
“It’s how do we help revitalize and better the area and continue to give back. And having lots of work is a good thing because we’re bringing new employment to the area. We’re hiring, training, getting more jobs out there. It’s a great thing for the community and we’re excited.”