TUPELO – Tupelo might be home to the only forklift-driver-turned-hospitality-guru-extraordinaire.
Charles Samples, food and beverage manager at the Hilton Garden Inn and the BancorpSouth Conference Center, oversees on average three to five events per weekday and a banquet and a wedding each weekend.
Just this last weekend, he was responsible for overseeing a wedding with 350 guests, in addition to housing and feeding the Ole Miss football team.
The Baldwyn High School graduate also was on five episodes of the popular television cable show, “Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?,” a reality show on the Style Network.
Yet, Samples started off as a sawmill worker and forklift driver at Berkline and Action Industries, now Lane. He worked at the factories at night and delivered flowers for a shop in Pontotoc during the day.
“I’ve nearly worked two jobs my whole adult life,” Samples said with a laugh.
He also went to school at Itawamba Community College to study art, a passion he still pursues through his oil and acrylic painting. He recently did a painting for Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center that will be auctioned to raise money.
His career change from manufacturing to floral designing and event coordinating sort of just happened, he said.
The flower shop he was working for part time was put up for sale and Samples bought it.
“It wasn’t that I wanted to own a flower shop,” Samples said. “I was just looking for a business opportunity. Then once I had to use some artistic abilities, it all fell together.”
Turns out he was pretty good at it.
He later wound up selling the business and moving to Dallas. In Dallas, he got a job working as a lead designer at a florist owned by Donnie Brown, a wedding planner whose clients include LeAnn Rimes and Emma Thompson.
Samples said he saw his fair share of drama during his time working in the wedding industry in Texas. It also was where he was filmed for three months as part of Brown’s team on “Whose Wedding Is it Anyway?” Brown remains a wedding planner on the show.
Each episode follows two couples as they iron out the details of their special day with the help of wedding planners. Each show is different, but the episodes usually include some bridezilla behavior, extravagant wedding requests and usually a temper tantrum or two from members of the bride and groom’s family.
“All the drama, all the fussing and fighting between the families, it all happens,” Samples said. “It’s all true.”
Samples recalls the time when one bridezilla was fussing about wedding details and was swinging her bouquet repeatedly against her dress. As part of her fidgety behavior, she trashed out the bouquet.
“People get so nervous and fidgety they don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.
She then called the florist, Samples recalled, and said the bouquet was ruined when she got it.
Another time, he said, Samples and the other floral team members showed up to a wedding with all the arrangements.
“We left the flowers and no one showed up for the wedding,” Samples said. “I have no idea what happened. It was just weird.”
After a while, Samples decided to move back to Northeast Mississippi to be closer to family. He started with the hotel in October 2006 and was part of the team that opened the facility.
He now oversees about 25 bar, banquet and restaurant employees.
Shari Neely, the sales director for the Hilton Garden Inn and the BancorpSouth Conference Center, calls Samples one of her “behind-the-scene stars.”
Most of the weddings he works with in Tupelo are much more low-key than the extravagant events he helped with in Dallas. Here, he said, the brides prefer simple elegance, opting for centerpieces with candles and roses floating in water or in hurricane vases.
“In Dallas, the wilder the better,” Samples said.
He said it wasn’t uncommon for him to build a gazebo inside a facility and have roses and vines going everywhere to achieve a fairy tale look. He credited his background at the sawmill for his skills in making props.
While some of the skills might be the same, Samples said the event industry is a “big change” from his job in the furniture factories.
“In this line of work, you don’t have the same hours,” he said. “I can work from 6 a.m. to 1 or 2 the next morning. It’s not a 9-to-5 punch in, punch out job. Me and the staff can work 16-hour shifts.”
For people interested in getting into his line of work, Samples recommends they have an artistic interest and really want to be involved in the event industry.
“You have to have a creativity about yourself, a passion or a drive to want things to be great,” he said. “You can tell the difference between someone who puts something up and someone who put something into it.”
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal