Mike Hillis once owned a flower shop in a small space near the elevators at the Cornhusker Hotel. It sat across from the ballrooms that often hosted weddings and parties, elaborately decorated with flowers from his competitors. Mike remembers looking on from his quaint shop, feeling disappointed and slightly defeated. But his father, who worked in business himself, reminded him: “You have so much to worry about yourself, you don’t have time to worry about what other people are doing.”
It’s an idea he seems to have internalized. Since opening an event planning business, he’s developed the skilled ability to not only tune out his competition, but to create outstanding and truly unique experiences. Mike has always done things his own way.
In college he majored in horticulture. While catering at the Nebraska East Union he met his wife Sally, who was studying to be a dietician. They both shared a drive to do something different.
“She didn’t want to be a hospital dietician. I didn’t want to be an FTD florist where you stick a mixing bowl on top of an arrangement and every flower touches. We want to do the unusual, and the different, and be creative.”
They opened Hillis & Company, a joint venture that utilized both their talents, as an answer to that desire. It began as a retail space and headquarters to their event planning and catering business.
It was difficult, Mike remembers. There’s a lot of red tape that surrounds the process of opening a business, along with a daunting amount of responsibility.
“We would be taking down a party at two in the morning and we would get a call from a baker. ‘I’m sick I can’t come in today.’ So we would have to be in baking bread at four in the morning. We decided there is way more to life than work all the time.”
When their daughter was born, the Hillises decided it was time to reprioritize. They ended the retail space. Hillis & Company would focus solely on event design.
This meant he and Sally could get back to doing what they loved, their favorite part of which is working with people.
Mike beamed as he spoke of the families they’ve served. He’s planned multiple generations of weddings and other milestone events. That kind of experience can come only as the result of being deeply rooted in a community.
Mike and Sally have planned events all over the country, but Lincoln has always been their home. There were a few moments when they considered relocating to larger markets like New York or California. But once again, they decided not to do as others were doing. They stayed in Lincoln. And with good reason.
“Quite frankly, in New York or California we’d just be one of many. But in Lincoln we were the unusual.”
They would travel, explore and allow themselves to be inspired by what was happening in other places. Then they would bring that inspiration back to Lincoln.
“That was our whole goal, was to bring those things and not be like everyone else.”
It’s why people love them. And it’s what they love to do. They will continue to push their own creative boundaries, explore the new, and offer unique experiences to the community they’ve served throughout the journey to where they are now.
“We try to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.”