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Wedding Planners Battle Price-Shopping Brides

Wedding Planners Battle Price-Shopping Brides

Remember the blushing bride? In the eyes of many wedding planners today, she is better known as the brazen bride. Armed with a wealth of online data about wedding options and pricing, brides today are challenging professional planners to justify every penny of the bridal budget.

A budget-conscious bride has "certainly done her research via the Internet before she has her very first design consultation," notes New York-based David Beahm, founder of David Beahm Design. "Oftentimes they walk in our door with a list of our very own vendors and images of the products they like and the ones they don’t. Recently, some of our vendors are even directly marketing to brides," he explains. "As a result, many of our clients are very aware of what things cost to rent, thereby making our markups nominal--if not impossible."

Compounding the problem, the figures that brides insist on are not always accurate, according to Gwen Helbush, head of Where to Start in Newark, Calif. Bridal media may give "national averages," Helbush says. Indeed, many brides she meets develop a budget based on "bridal media, friends and what they think it should cost."

EDUCATE THE ENGAGED

The answer, many wedding professionals believe, is educating the bride on the value that professionals provide—including the heartbreak they can help the bride avoid.

If a bride wants to contract with another vendor directly, Beahm will include a "furniture handling" or "vendor coordination" fee in his contract. "We defend this charge by listing the hours of labor taken to design the party, order the rental pieces, ensure their proper delivery, place them accordingly in the venue, and ensure their timely pickup," he says.

For brides who balk at this charge, Beahm asks who in the wedding party will deal with late, damaged or missing deliveries. "When faced with that conundrum, many brides realize that they simply will not be able to problem-solve an undesirable predicament when they are getting their hair and makeup done or taking formal family portraits on the most important day of their lives."

The team at Tara Wilson Events, headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, responds to budget-minded brides with a detailed budget proposal, including line-itemizing. "We simply break down every service we are offering to them," Wilson notes. "Once they see the magnitude of work it takes to put their event on, it changes the way they feel about allowing you to take that weight off their shoulders."

Helbush attempts to move the bride off the notion of a hard budget figure and to the concept of a beautiful event. "How do you help brides understand that they can have a wonderful wedding even in a recession?" she asks. "First you help them to understand that a wonderful wedding isn’t about money. Then you help them understand that if they are honest with you about how much money they are willing and/or able to spend for their wedding, and if they allow you to, you can make sure their money is spent wisely and with the sole purpose of creating a wedding that would be perfect for them in any economic climate."

BUDGET PICTURE BRIGHTENING?

In an encouraging sign, several wedding planners note that bridal budgets are beginning to firm up.

Pauline Parry, head of Los Angeles-based Good Gracious! Events and president of the Wedding Industry Professionals Association, says she "definitively negotiated" prices last year. But this year, she is holding the line. "I can already tell things are turning," she says.

In contrast, Master Bridal Consultant Frank Andonoplas, head of Frank Event Design in Chicago, hasn't lowered his prices and says he never will. "You get what you pay for," he says. "I've had several brides tell me I don't charge enough for what I do."

Next week, wedding planners share their business strategies to cope with the cost-conscious bride. Photo by iStockphoto.com/© Andrejs Zemdega

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