GROWING up, Kevin Tinashe Zhou was a creative kid yet he had no clue of what he aspired to be in his adult life. It was during his teenage years that he considered pursuing medicine as a career path but destiny had something else in store for him.
After many years of trial and error, Kevin found his true calling and passion in the events industry. Even though the industry has of late suffered a blow due to Covid 19 pandemic, Kevin has endured and adapted with his events management company VIP hosting, whose flagship is celebrated locally and internationally.
VIP Hosting manages, plans and co-ordinates top notch events like weddings, exhibitions, conferences, promotions, product launches as well as social events, and has become one of the sort after event organiser in Zimbabwe and abroad.
“I started off the business on Facebook where I would post a lot of inspiration pictures. I landed my first client in May 2014 for a lady that was based in the UK and was coming to get married in Zimbabwe. I remember when I started communicating with her, I billed her US$50 which she thought was ridiculously cheap, at the end of her wedding she gave me a cash gift of US$1000 which I partly used to buy a laptop which I really needed to start working better at quotations and growing my social media,” Kevin told The Entrepreneurial Magazine.
“I used that first wedding to market on Facebook and started receiving a lot of inquiries from diaspora-based clients. I knew at the back of my head that I needed to raise a lot of money to start purchasing my own inventory and so during one of my inventories searches I met a gentleman called Craig Zoowie and a lady called Lungile Dlodlo who were running a decor and hiring company.
Even though he started the company alone, Kevin realized the power of collaboration and took on two other members as partners to take VIP Hosting to greater heights.
“They had just moved from Bulawayo into Harare and we met over coffee and decided that we should collaborate as a team. I came in as their resident wedding planner while their focus was on decor and design. The three of us then formulated the brand VIP Hosting offering a one stop experience to our clients,” Kevin added.
The trio did not have any funding and had to use the money from their first events to purchase more inventory. They started off with basic corporate cocktail furniture and bulked up their stocks with bespoke table accessories, vases, linens and many more. As the business grew, they bought a 5 tonnes truck and two small vehicles for day to day running.
“We have spread our wings and have been privileged enough to do a wedding in the United Kingdom, in Zambia and lots in South Africa. Our international acclaim has seen me as a speaker on prestigious event industry engagements beyond our borders as a lot of people find our story to be interesting given the conditions that we work under in a country where there are constant economic hardships,” Kevin said.
“I would say our biggest local career height at VIP Hosting was working with the former First Family where we were contracted to decorate part of the First Lady’s 50th Birthday which opened more doors for us to do events for the South Africa Embassy in Zimbabwe and other state affiliated engagements that we have been part of.
“My personal biggest career highlight is being the first wedding planner in Zimbabwe to actively do weddings abroad. Our business is based on experiences and we never thought that the experiences we give would propel us to be a famous brand. It goes without saying that our brand is well known in our country and we use our influence to also benefit some charitable events that we are part of in the Rotaract Club where we have sponsored the event design for several projects consecutively for three years.”
As a way of giving back to the society, the company has embarked on a mentorship program that we will be offered to aspiring creatives in the country. With plans at an advanced stage, a master class and workshop are being set up to equip young people who have a dream of running successful event businesses.
“This will all fall under the VIP Hosting Academy and that is the foreseeable future of VIP Hosting,” Kevin added.
“Our business has a staff compliment of six permanent staff and over 40 event casuals that come in when required for events all who are trained by us at VIP Hosting.”
Speaking of setbacks and challenges faced in the events industry, Kevin said one of his challenges stems mainly from the fact that he was not confident in himself because the work he is doing is mainly dominated by women, which at times makes him hold back a lot of ideas based on the fact that he thought he wouldn’t fit in.
He further added that most challenges are faced every day as the team forge its way with planning events in a difficult economy and in a country where resources are not widely available for the events industry.
“Just recently we have been faced with a huge decline in flower availability which we use at almost all our events. One of the biggest farms that we used to buy from converted their flower greenhouses to a fruit and vegetable fam which left the event industry in Zimbabwe scrounging for florals to pull off the most memorable events that we used to accomplish whilst using local florals,” Kevin highlighted.
“Recently we have had to look at using other elements to achieve beautiful events without letting the flower scarcity affect our decor and style for events.”
When the events business was affected by the absence of gatherings due lockdowns and the strict conditions on social gatherings, the company had to diversify operations to keep the business afloat.
“We created Do it Yourself (DIY) decor boxes that we would deliver to our clients to setup their own small family gatherings like Mother’s Day, lobola and many more. We also started a floral gifting service where we sell and deliver luxury flower boxes to our clients,” he added.
Kevin advised other entrepreneurs to believe in their product, improve it daily and work relentlessly towards achieving their entrepreneurial goals. He added that being listed by Forbes is his biggest accolade to date.
“It is just amazing to be recognised for doing something that I am extremely passionate about and above all it makes me proud that this listing has raised not only the Zimbabwean flag but also the events industry in general,” he said.
Kevin’s life journey and how he located his passion for weddings
Kevin’s childhood wasn’t all rosy as he lost his mother at the age of seven years while his father was never part of his life. His maternal grandparents had to step up to take care of him
“I was born and raised in a fairly small town called Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. An only child to Farisai Pauline Zhou my mother who passed on when I was 7 years old. Growing up, I didn’t really envision a career in events, in fact it was non-existent,” he narrated.
“My grandparents were raised during the colonial era and picked up a few British norms like setting the dinner table, picking flowers from the garden for the lounge table and re-arranging the house for spring cleaning which are all skills that I learnt from them at a very young age and now implement in our business.
“I attended school in government institutions in Zimbabwe where I initially thought I would take up a career in Medicine. My earlier years in education were not challenging at all and my academic results encouraged the idea of studying medicine in the future.”
However, Zimbabwe went through a crisis just as he was heading into High School when a major strike by teachers persisted with approximately 6 months of on and off learning as teachers demonstrated against the government.
“That affected my studies a lot as well as other living conditions that changed drastically and ultimately. The situation was generally quite bad and within the year that I was sitting for my exams. I failed my high school education,” Kevin revealed.
“My grandparents had to sell their home in the suburbs of Bulawayo and relocated to their Rural Home where I moved with them. The rural setting was quite a new experience for me, quite uncomfortable so much so that my grandparents saw it fit for me to go and live with an uncle in Mutare.
“The economic hardships made our family nomads as we moved to several different places in search of greener pastures. In 2008 I found myself living in Harare with an aunt. It was there where I watched my first wedding TV show on DSTV as we had access to that luxury at my aunt’s who was doing moderately better than the rest. I found myself so absorbed in wedding related TV shows as well as fashion shows.”
According to Kevin, at that time there was no formal training for weddings and events in Zimbabwe so he chose to take up a career in Fashion Design. He studied Fashion for a year and somewhat lost interest.
“At the back of my head, I knew I wanted to be an event planner, particularly a wedding planner and so my journey went round and round in circles as I tried out Interior Design, then studied to be a Chef, the volunteered in a gospel outfit called Zimpraise for quite a while,” he said.
“I learnt a lot during all my experiences in a bid to sort of find a way into events. In 2011 I then decided to send a Facebook message to a wedding decor company that I had found online. I offered myself to work there with no renumeration and the owner of the business, WinLian Decor, took me on as an intern.
“That is where my journey started. I got a bit acquainted with the tricks of the trade when it comes to running a wedding. WinLian Decor specialised in Decor and Florals only, I remember while I was in the company I started off as a general hand carrying tables and chairs. I only then got promoted to an assistant coordinator where I was given more responsibilities over and beyond just setting the tables.”
Kevin’s passion and zeal drove him to keep a good eye on how things were run at weddings. He was not required to stay all throughout a wedding but he used to stay behind at each and every wedding to watch.
“I watched brides getting ready, walking down the aisle, walking into their wedding reception to be wowed by how our decor looked, but I also noticed that a lot of the times the brides had to sort of work during their own weddings,” explained Kevin
“It seemed to me that there were no people assigned to run the weddings as I had seen it done on TV and from that I even wanted to take on that role even more passionately. Two years into my engagement at Winlian decor I became bored with the way things were run, it was the same thing day in and day out and I was not really allowed to have a creative input so I thought this was the end.
“I was terrified of the idea of starting my own company so I enrolled into a Chef’s program. Part of the chef’s program was that we had to go through internship in a hotel kitchen and so when my internship came along, I realised once again that I did not enjoy the experience, in fact during my time at the hotel that I was interning at I found myself going to assist the functions department a lot.
Kevin then decided that he would take up a career in events and started his business on a Facebook page before going to study Events & Wedding Planning in South Africa School of Weddings.
He took a bold decision after leaving the hotel and started a wedding planning business prior to training, and went on to train while the business was already running.