Written by Shelby Morrison
Photos by Mike Aaron Photography
Entering the office of Cheers in a Box in Chantilly, Virginia, you can’t help but smile. From the hot pink walls and stylish decor to the endless shelves lined with wine-filled gourmet chocolates, inspirational notebooks, and cheeky magnets, it’s hard to imagine that a company designed “to elicit joy with every client experience” was created as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jessica Shea, Aldie resident and founder and CEO of J Shea, an event strategy and design firm, was looking forward to big things in 2020. “I had just landed a huge client. We had our strategic meeting in their New York office and were about to sign the contract. Three days later, everything shuts down,” she recalls. “I had also just gone to see Oprah’s 2020 Vision Tour — I was so motivated and ready to go. My goal [had been to] find peace professionally and personally in 2020 and [then] absolute panic mode set in.”
“Her preparation and mental toughness from playing sports became a factor,” shares her father, Mike Welch. “When COVID-19 hit, some people didn’t know what to do. Jessica has this internal drive that when adversity hits, [she] just [gets] up and [finds] something new and different.”
For ten years of her career, Shea was responsible for planning roughly 50 events per year. The events ranged from large conventions, to association events, to trade shows hosting anywhere from 20 to 4,000 guests. When the pandemic hit, she knew she needed to shift gears. “In the moment, I was like, you know what? I need to stay relevant,” Shea says. “So, what do I need to do? I need to learn how to do virtual events and I need to make them fun.”
Shea decided to reach out to all her contacts in the industry. As a result of these conversations, she developed the “J Shea Joyful Zoom Series” to conduct research on how to make virtual gatherings engaging. “I created a series of different [events] — wine tastings, mixology, makeup tutorials — anything to get people online to see each other,” she remembers. “[For me] it was all research [about] what made people enjoy it and what worked well.”
From there came the fun.
“I had this idea. I thought, people are going to need something in the mail to guilt them into getting on [Zoom calls] and people still need to entertain their clients. They are not going to get on a Zoom to learn how to make a drink, you need to send them the drink or the stuff to make the drink,” Shea remembers. “I mentioned to a client, ‘We should send a cheers in a box.’”
CheersinaBox.com launched in the fall of 2020.
Shea’s new business venture developed into two divisions: virtual event planning and corporate gifting. For virtual events, Cheers in a Box sends each participant a curated box and provides a professional facilitator to engage attendees over Zoom. For corporate gifting, Cheers in a Box offers products which can be customized with company logos before being sent out.
Alexis Wirtz, senior vice president of meetings and management services at the National Pest Management Association, has worked with Shea on multiple events. “When COVID-19 hit, the hospitality industry pretty much tanked. Nobody was doing events,” Wirtz notes. “Jessica has amazing ideas. And with Cheers in a Box, she customizes everything. We were all struggling during that time when you couldn’t be in person.You could just come to her with an idea, and she [would] come back with several different options and make it happen. She’s more like a partner, not just a vendor.”
The possibilities for Cheers in a Box customization are endless. Some of the popular themes include wine, coffee, cocktails, sip and paint, realtor boxes, and in true Oprah fashion, a favorite things box where recipients get to experience products hand-selected by their friends.
“We got together with [female entrepreneurs] for a round table at a local winery when Jessica told me she had started putting together her ideas,” says Estefania Arregui-Gomez, president and CEO of Abaco Strategy, LLC, and Shea’s client. “I thought it was a brilliant idea. But what’s more brilliant is the execution of it. She went from zero to a successful business in less than a year and it’s such a happy product.”
Paying it forward is also a big part of Shea’s mission. The vendors she works with to create the boxes are primarily local, small, or women-owned companies. “I just want to support other people,” she says. “I’ve certainly felt this as a small business owner, and I want to give back. Finding great partners is key in allowing you the time to focus on what you do best.”
And time management is something that Shea is very familiar with. In addition to running two successful businesses, Shea is also a mother of three. She and her family reside in Aldie, Virginia. “Success means different things to different people and for me, I’m home for dinner,” she emphasizes. “If [work] interferes with my family and spending time with my children, then I’m not going to like what I’m doing.”
Even as the world returns to in-person events, Shea believes that “The virtual events are here to stay.” Especially when you know how fun virtual can be. “I try to focus on what brings people joy. You don’t spend money on something that’s not fun,” Shea shares. “[Focus] on what brings people joy and makes them remember why they are there.” ML
This article first appeared in the May 2022 Issue.