DULUTH, Minn. (AP) - When Lana DeSanto was planning her daughter's wedding in 2004, she was determined to add the "wow" factor with chair covers.
"Nobody in Duluth did it at the time," she said.
So she extended her search to the Twin Cities and beyond, where she did find some businesses that rented chair covers for special events.
She was soon disappointed, however.
The samples she received were cheaply made, wrinkled badly or didn't fit the reception chairs at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, where her daughter's wedding reception for 300 guests would be held. Besides the per-chair rental fee, shipping could cost an additional $200. She also learned that most needed a sash to look nice - which, of course, was an extra cost.
But DeSanto really wanted chair covers.
So she settled on some white brocade chair covers from a Twin Cities business. To save on shipping, she arranged to have them picked up and brought to Duluth, recruited friends to put them on the chairs the morning of the wedding, and faced the daunting task of removing them afterward and returning them to the Cities.
The hassle was a wrinkle in the wedding that continued to bother DeSanto until, weeks later, she had a brainstorm.
She could fill that niche.
DeSanto, who was working part time as a receptionist, decided to make chair covers and rent them out for special events as the Cover Story, a small business based in her Duluth home.
Today, she has a stock of 500 white chair covers and is in demand for weddings, black-tie fundraisers and VIP events at venues that include Greysolon Ballroom, Radisson Hotel and the DECC Harborside Ballroom. Her $6 per-chair fee includes rental, delivery and the labor to put them on and remove them afterward in the Duluth-Superior area.
"People want to spend that money," said Jennifer Kolenda, event coordinator at Northland Country Club in Duluth. "It's a great addition. They're not going to the Cities and paying for shipping. It's a good deal."
At Northland, Kolenda tells clients about DeSanto's service.
"It just transforms the room," Kolenda said. "I have 'before' pictures of the room, which still looks gorgeous. But when you do put the chair covers on, it just makes everything complete."
To go with her white and blue color scheme, Patra Borden of Duluth opted for chair covers for her May wedding at the country club.
"I thought it would make the atmosphere more warm and inviting," she said, noting that the chairs beneath were maroon.
Was it worth it?
"Absolutely," Borden said. "It changed the feel of our wedding to very elegant. Guests commented on how beautiful it was, how everything looked so put together and how every detail in the room was tended to."
To set up her cottage business, DeSanto, 54, incorporated with the state, set up a Web site and created her inventory, which took nearly two years. She was bolstered by the advice and encouragement of friends who also had cottage businesses.
But the key was finding the right fabric.
She shopped around, scrunching up the fabric to see if it wrinkled and checking for fraying. She chose a 100 percent polyester that resisted wrinkles, has a sheen in candlelight and drapes nicely. She bought several super-size bolts of fabric for a bargain $3 per yard from a fabric warehouse in Brooklyn Park.
The basic pattern for chair covers is a big square. DeSanto's chair cover has an attached sash and, unlike many covers, it will fit 10 different banquet chair styles, she says.
"Whatever shape the chair is the shape they take on," DeSanto said.
She practiced making them using inexpensive material. She had only two made with the good fabric when she did the bridal show at the DECC in early 2005.
"I told people I would have 300 by June," she said.
Though she only got 250 made, it was enough for the three bookings she got from the show and the five others that came her way.
She continued making the covers. And for the 2006 wedding season, which runs from June to October, she had her 500 chair covers. She left her receptionist job that year as the season kicked off.
Through mostly word of mouth, the business has grown ever since. Events have ranged from 40 to 425 people. So far in this year, she has 22 events booked, her busiest season yet, with one or two events most weekends.
With the help of her husband, John, she has it down to a system. Clean and pressed, the chair covers are stored in hanging plastic bags, 20 to a bag.
For events, they are laid out in their station wagon and taken to the event site. There, they're hung on a rack that's rolled into the reception hall.
While John puts the covers over the chairs, his wife ties the sashes just so.
"As a guy, I didn't think this would go over so big," said John, who retired last year as St. Louis County's longtime chief prosecutor. "It's amazing she realized there was a need and (was) able to benefit from that. I'm proud of that."
Both say it's been fun.
"It's typically for an event that's a big celebration, and it's a happy occasion," John said.
For his wife, it's also a matter of adding to the ambiance.
"I love to take a nondescript room and make it elegant," she said.
Enjoying the freedom that a small home-based business allows her, DeSanto has little desire for it to get much bigger.
But during the slow winter months, she continues to make chair toppers, which cover just the chair backs for less-formal events.
And she's considering adding a line of black chair covers that would be more suited for business luncheons.