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Burton and Co. give weddings, events a Bravo! performance

by: Cliff Newell, 
Mary Lou Burton, above, is a real dynamo who has really grown Bravo! Productions, her Lake Oswego business. But, as she’ll tell anyone, family and friends come first.

Mary Lou Burton is the antidote for any bride or groom who has ever had the wedding bell blues.

'I'm like a salesperson,' Burton said. 'I say trust me. Trust me!'

They can. For couples headed into wedlock, Burton can turn their nightmares into dreams. Her Bravo! Productions, based in Lake Oswego, makes a point of pride in providing much more than her clients expect when it comes to weddings and corporate events.

'We under-promise and over-deliver,' Burton said. 'People ask me how I can do all of this and I tell them I find it very exciting. I love it.'

Burton has plenty of brains, savvy and in her field she usually comes up with the big idea before any of her competitors can.

But when all else fails Burton can overwhelm her challenges with sheer energy. With her big dancing brown eyes, hands that reach out to excitedly grasp you on the arm or happily swat you on the knee, feet that walk so fast that you have to run to keep up with her, and the heart that she wears on her sleeve.

'I'm a good Italian,' she says. Very good, indeed. But she is also very practical. That side comes from her German father.

Another word comes to mind, too: Dynamo. When it comes to wedding planners, Burton is the full package deal.

Her planning career, coincidentally enough started with her own wedding 19 years ago to husband John. It was truly a wonderful event, commemorated by a photo of the happy couple, parents and wedding party that Burton keeps in her office on B Avenue.

'Look at my big hair!' she said. 'It was my big fat Italian wedding.'

Yet this happy event had its perils. Like Burton and her mother negotiating about how many people she should invite to the wedding. As they went through the list of her mother's friends, Burton found that none of them were subject to elimination.

'I finally asked her, 'Well, should I not invite some of my friends?' And mom said, 'Oh, could you?' '

Looking back, Burton remembers, 'My husband thought I was possessed by the Wedding Alien.'

Certainly, the problems Burton encountered gave her food for thought as she started her honeymoon.

'I told John, 'This can be a big business.' He said, 'It sounds like it could be a fun hobby.' It's now a million-dollar business.'

John's prediction of the future for Bravo! Productions may have been way off, but his contribution was all-important.

'He gave me the last of our savings after the wedding and said, 'Go for it. I trust you,' ' Burton said. 'John has been a total blessing.'

Yes, becoming a wedding planner was a great career move.

'I've been doing this 19 years and I've seen two recessions in that time,' Burton said. 'But neither of them affected the wedding planning business. Even after 9-11, weddings became bigger family affairs than ever.'

But in the beginning Burton had few resources. As she was beginning her business, she was pregnant and was holding down two jobs. Her main resource was herself. She asked potential clients to trust her, and they did.

'They said, 'We believe in your spirit,'' Burton said.

Burton started out with her Wedding Guide. It has been a best seller for 19 years. That led to her Wedding Planner, another big seller (6,000 copies sold last year), followed by her move into event planning with her Event Guide. These heavy little books are simply dense with good information about services for weddings and business events.

But that wasn't enough for brides.

'A lot of brides wanted information, but they wanted to see it live,' Burton said.

Her response was the 'Wedding Affair,' a gala event where several hundred brides can see what they want from four options that are positively DeMilleian in their grandeur, with themes like 'Paris,' 'Morocco' and 'Green.'

Burton has proven to be a Queen Midas, displaying a golden touch with the Bravo! Event and Party Trade Show (most recently on Oct. 24 in Portland) and buying the building her business now occupies.

Still, Burton shows much more gratitude than ego when it comes to her business success.

'I can't believe we're this little, small company,' she said.

But Bravo! could be a big company if Burton desired it.

'I've had the opportunity to franchise,' Burton said. 'I've opted to stay small. I don't want to be consumed by this business, like I would with a corporate company.'

Burton runs her company under the Three Musketeers theory - all for one and one for all. 'Amazing' is the word she constantly uses to describe staffers Denise Hall, Carinne McCulloch, Jennifer Maust, Tracy Martin, Lisa Pyne and Heather Willig, all of whom have been with Burton for years.

'They practically run the company,' she said.

But tiny (she's just 5-feet-tall) tycoon that she is, Burton is first and foremost about family. Family means everything to a woman who had her grandmother's lasagna ('She wanted big food') served at her wedding reception.

'My goals are more simple now,' Burton said. 'My mom is 80 years old and I spend one day a week with her. She has always been my biggest fan. She told me from the day I was born I could do anything I wanted.'

Besides being a dedicated daughter, Burton is equally as dedicated to her four children.

'I scream louder than anybody at my sons' football games,' she said. 'The other women look at me like I'm crazy. But I'll be darned if I'm not going to cheer my kid.'

Bravo, Mary Lou, bravo.