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Meet Your Neighborhood Event Planner | Q&A with Amber Karson of Karson Butler Events

Posted November 16, 2020

Amber Karson has had a knack for planning events ever since she was a kid, throwing Christmas parades with her twin sister, Emily Butler in their one-stoplight town in Northern California. As adults, Amber and Emily have planned and executed corporate and social events all over the globe — fulfilling Karson Butler Events core mission of spreading joy and celebrating everyday though. 

Today, Amber runs the West Coast operation and on Small Business Saturday in 2016 moved into the historic Ah Louis building, adding a robust retail aspect to the business. We were able to grab a few minutes with Amber to chat all things events, learn the craziest thing a client has ever asked for, and get a sneak peak into what she’s working on for the holidays here in SLO. 

Ah Louis Store
Photo Credit: @jodiandkurtphoto

Where would you rather be right now?

We specialize in destination events, so I’m missing travel big time this year. My passport is feeling pretty lonely right now and my intuition is to pick somewhere out of the country or tropical — maybe back in Costa Rica or Hawaii to start?! 

That being said, a silver lining of Covid travel restrictions has been a renewed interest in American destinations. For instance, I traveled to Glacier National Park last month and can’t wait to go back to Montana. I can’t believe I had never been!

Henna Party - Karson Butler Events
Photo Credit: @jodiandkurtphoto

Craziest thing you ever pulled off for a client?

It’s a three-way tie:

  1. Getting a small island off Rekjavik, Iceland to open just for us for a private site visit in December years ago – that ferry ride in the dark will always be magical! We had just two weeks to pull everything together for clients considering Iceland and Portgual — and with just 4+ hours of daylight that time of year, it was a trip I’ll never forget! Two weeks to plan, two countries to visit, four days on the road and one carry on suitcase. Whew!
  2. Convincing a historic landmark venue and gardens to allow us to have a surprise fireworks show despite their no firework policy. Their gardens were started in 1741, are modeled after Versailles, and just so happen to house the first camellia plants ever brought to America. No pressure! With careful coordination with the local fire department, unmarked production trucks and relocation of on-property animals, we successfully launched a safe and spectacular show from a floating barge in the alligator friendly Ashley River. Planning in Charleston, South Carolina is always a good time!
  3. Don’t get me started on India — I have too many stories from planning there! All amazing and equally crazy!
Photo Cred: @mirellecarmichaelphoto

Best part about running Karson Butler Events bi-coastally with your sister?

Emily is a rock-star. Seriously, she’s one of the most talented event planners in this country and I’m lucky to have her as a business partner. Our clients and vendors just love her — she has the ability to put everyone at ease all while managing a million things at once. 

It’s wild how she ended up in DC where I started KBE, and now I’m back in CA. We bring a West Coast meets East Coast vibe to our respective locales. We’re very different, yet very similar. Plus, hiring twins is the closest thing to getting someone who can be in two different locations at the same time!

Most challenging?

The time difference — by the time I get up in the morning, I’m already behind! I’m a bit of a night owl and Emily is an early bird!

What surprises you the most about San Luis Obispo?

I’m one of those Cal Poly alumni (BUS ‘01) who found my way back to SLO. I’m surprised how much has changed since then, but also how much is exactly the same. I worked several jobs to put myself through college, and people are always surprised to learn one of those was Franks Famous Hotdogs. Every now and then, I’ll stop in for a nostalgic visit and it looks exactly the same! 

I teach event planning classes at Cal Poly now which is a bit full circle and I swear some of the classrooms I’m in are exactly the same from when I was a student! That said, SLO has changed a lot too! I love the new potential for downtown — especially with two new luxury hotels. As an event planner and store owner, I see so much potential here for SLO’s future. It is the charming, warm and welcoming town I remembered from my youth — with world class wineries, incredible open spaces and a history that I love.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

My team over the years laugh at my constant “words of wisdom” – but here are a few favorites:

  •  “There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile results come from hard work and careful planning.” — John Wooden. I love this quote from the late Coach John Wooden, who I spent a great amount of time with during my first job as an event planner in the finance industry. He was a legend for a reason, and his words are timeless. 
  • When evaluating an opportunity, if you say no, you have to be okay with that door maybe never opening again. It might not be the best time to walk through that door – our time, resources and energy are all limited – but would you be okay if you never had that doorway present itself again? Keeping this mindset allows me to evaluate the various asks that come my way and manage my commitments in both my personal and professional life. 
Photo Credit: @ahlouisstore

Can you share any holiday plans for Karson Butler?

We love the holidays — in fact we have more than 100 unique ornament designs at the Ah Louis Store right now! We started decorating early because it’s 2020 and anything goes! We’re helping our events clients embrace the pivot too! For instance, without the big holiday parties we normally have, we’re creating curated gift boxes for clients who still want to celebrate their employees/customers and creating virtual holiday party alternatives. 

In addition, we’re helping several hotel & residential clients with their holiday decorating this year, which I love and am very excited about! We’re also working with the City of SLO & Downtown SLO on a very exciting alternative to the annual holiday parade this year — so stay tuned for more info about that!! Personally, I’m so excited to host Christmas this year for my immediate family, we have a new niece and so much to celebrate.

Photo Credit: @ktmerry

Most rewarding part of your work?

The clients — from our corporate clients to our social clients, our planning partners become part of the KBE family. We’ve been lucky to be selective regarding the accounts we take on, and our KBE clients are awesome people across numerous sectors doing absolutely amazing things in the world. I would also be remiss, if I didn’t mention our employees. We have hired the most amazing talented people to work for us — full time, part time, event assistants, and interns over the years. 

One last question…why should our community shop local?

I’m so passionate about this every year, but in 2020 it’s absolutely crucial. Your decisions on where to spend your dollar absolutely make a difference. When you support our local shop, you keep dollars here in our community, create local jobs and help create a downtown we are proud of and want to stroll in. It takes intention to create change, but I believe a city is vibrant when we invest in small business.