Some brides enjoy organising their big day so much they’re inspired to become wedding planners. For Sherrie Higgins, it wasn’t so much tying the knot as planning her best friend’s hen party that became the catalyst for a business. “I’ve always enjoyed parties and planning events,” says Higgins, 28, who is from Glasgow, Scotland. “But I didn’t expect to dive head first into all the little details that brought the weekend to life.
“Once it was done, I still had so many ideas and couldn’t wait to do it again. I started writing things down, designing other themes and, before I knew it, had a business idea.”
Recognising the creative challenges and potential pitfalls of devising the ideal pre-wedding party led to How to Hen, an online tips, stationery and at-venue help service launching in January. The inspiration came last year when Higgins was asked to be a bridesmaid – and hen weekend organiser – shortly before moving to Dubai. "Another bridesmaid and I worked out a lot of ideas before I moved. We knew the bride loved music festivals and would have gone to Coachella [in California] if she'd been able. So, we decided to build a 'festival' around her. It took eight months' planning, included weekly Skype meetings, a Pinterest board, two bullet journals of to-do lists, days of crafting to make decorations, and a monthly countdown announcement Facebook page."
Higgins, who lives with her air-traffic controller husband at Al Habtoor Polo Club, has experienced eight hen parties besides her own, so had firm ideas of what works and what doesn’t. “I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t attended any horrible hen nights,” she says. “My own hen weekend was brilliantly put together by my best friend. I gave details of the venue I wanted, but everything else felt really personal.
"My favourite thing about parties has been variety; the traditional parties … and also a weekend in a caravan with close friends just playing games, eating junk food," she says. "The best way to execute a hen weekend is to make sure you keep the bride in mind at all times. I have heard stories of girls who planned things they wanted to do without considering the bride – like taking a bride terrified of heights to jump from a cave into a gorge."
On one hen do, a meal planned for 20 nearly didn't happen when bridesmaids went ahead to decorate the restaurant only to find it had closed down. Higgins says she also learnt from her own hen. "While my weekend overall was really fantastic, part of the outdoor section required using a space hopper to bounce around a small outdoor maze," she says. "My bridesmaids hadn't tested how difficult this would be, so when people started trying to complete it, many couldn't because it was too exhausting.
“It didn’t impact the weekend, but it’s a good example of why you should make sure you test the things you organise in advance.”
While Dubai has a vibrant nightlife, Higgins admits she was uncertain how viable a market it would be for Howtohen.com, not least amid cultural sensitivities. "I was definitely concerned about this at first, but the more I go out in Dubai, the more I see groups of girls on hen nights. Other than people who live and get married here, there is also is a certain type of bride who'd love to come and experience the glamour associated with having her hen in Dubai."
That said, Higgins's service is designed for event organisers anywhere. Developing it has taken a year, from testing ideas at networking events and writing content to establishing suppliers and designing a website. She offers several themes – including parties based around a festival, unicorns or mermaids – and has a dozen more planned.
"My 12 types of bride were inspired by stories I heard of women who'd decided not to have a hen weekend because they had pre-established ideas of what one is, and it didn't suit their personality. One of the most important things I stress with How to Hen is that anyone can have a hen party. I want everyone from body builders and bookworms to spiritualists and socialites to be able to log on and find something they would enjoy with friends before they get married."
There are four packages to select from, starting with the basic at Dh125, for which one can access information and ideas, printable pre-designed materials and games. Another offers regular consultations with Higgins about venues, games and "dealing with tricky guests". A Dh5,000 VIP package adds photo booths or candid photography, movie post-production and venue decoration assistance, as well as personalised stationery and a full weekend programme, wall quotes and customised cocktail cards.
"Since my website is accessible from anywhere, I stress users must consider and be aware of laws and cultures of the country in which they're hosting their event," says Higgins. "There will always be something that goes wrong. It's just important to have backup plans and be willing to roll with the punches."