Smart entrepreneurs are walking down the aisle to big profits. Every year, more than 2 million happy couples tie the knot, each spending thousands of dollars on facilities, catering, photography, music, flowers, invitations, apparel and accessories, limousines and much more. One of the newest expenses to be added to the budget is a professional wedding consultant. Also called bridal consultants, wedding coordinators, wedding planners or wedding directors, wedding consultants offer a range of services--from basic by-the-hour advice and vendor referrals to full-blown planning of entire weddings.
Long-term changes in family life are spurring huge growth in the wedding consultant industry. Traditionally, the bride's mother was responsible for planning her daughter's wedding, but these days, both the bride and her mother often have demanding careers that leave little time for the extensive preparations even a simple wedding requires. These busy brides and their families are turning to consultants for help.
Another trend creating opportunities for wedding consultants: More couples are getting married in unfamiliar cities. "People are moving, then coming back to their hometowns to get married; others are moving and getting married in their new places of residence," says Eileen Monaghan, vice president of the Association of Bridal Consultants in New Milford, Connecticut. Either way, these couples need consultants with knowledge of local wedding sites and suppliers.
Mothers play such an important role in weddings that one wedding consultant actually went into business with her mom. "My mother and I had always loved to plan things, and we thought `Let's do this together,' " says Nichole McCammon-Link, owner of Exquisite Event Planning in Powell, Ohio. McCammon-Link, 28, and her mother, Clara McCammon, 47, started their business in August 1997, after McCammon-Link learned the ropes for 18 months as a volunteer apprentice to wedding consultants. The mother-daughter team attends all appointments together. "[On the day of a wedding,] she's usually at the reception and I'm usually at the ceremony," McCammon-Link says, "so [our company can] be two places at once."
Carol Marino started A Perfect Wedding Inc. in Fairfax, Virginia, in 1993, after volunteering for many years as an event planner for community and charitable functions. "That was a wonderful experience because it taught me how to meet deadlines, read contracts and deal with vendors," she says. Marino also coordinated weddings as a volunteer at a local historic church before starting her own service. A Perfect Wedding projects revenues of more than $50,000 this year, and Marino, 44, has hired an associate planner so the company can handle even more weddings.
The Best-Laid Plans
Like most wedding consultants, Marino and McCammon-Link and her mother offer three levels of service: full planning, partial planning and day-of-the-wedding coordination. "[A couple] may come to me and say they need a site, a photographer, a florist, a cake, a disc jockey, transportation, everything," Marino says. "[Other times,] they say `We have our site and photographer, but we're overwhelmed [by the rest]. Can you help?' I also provide day-of-the-wedding coordination for couples who've done all their planning and just need someone to execute the wedding."
Marino's fees range from $750 for day-of-the-wedding services to 15 percent of the wedding budget for full-service planning. The cost for partial planning depends on which services are included.
As a start-up, McCammon-Link and her mother limit themselves to two full-service weddings per month, generating monthly revenues of approximately $1,500. She also does partial planning and sells invitations, flower girl baskets, guest books, favors, disposable cameras and the like.
Happily Ever After
Starting a wedding consultancy takes a lot of time and legwork, but not much money. Exquisite Event Planning and A Perfect Wedding each cost several thousand dollars to start. Necessities include elegant brochures and letterhead, basic office supplies and equipment (such as a photocopier and a fax machine), and a selection of wedding planning books clients can thumb through. A computer is helpful but not essential at first.
The low start-up costs can be deceiving, however, because establishing your business usually takes three to five years. "Many people don't realize that [when] you book a wedding, it's nine months out," says Monaghan. "Your cash flow doesn't start until [then]."
One solution to the cash crunch is to charge an upfront retainer and ask the couple to make payments prior to the wedding day. Another option is to build a supplier list and book year-away weddings on a part-time basis. Wedding planning is a good business to start part time, says Monaghan, because most couples require meetings on nights and weekends anyway.
Another big challenge facing new wedding consultants is the selection of preferred vendors. "Your wedding is only as good as your worst vendor," warns Monaghan. "If the flowers are wrong, if the food isn't what the bride wanted, that will reflect on you."
The search for vendors starts with national and local bridal magazines, directories from bridal associations, and referrals from other vendors. "It took us a year to build a good base of vendors," says McCammon-Link, "because I won't recommend anyone I haven't met in person and interviewed."
With This Ring...
The next step for novice consultants is finding brides-to-be. McCammon-Link and McCammon as well as Marino found their first clients through professional wedding consultant associations. They also rely on advertising in the Yellow Pages and bridal magazines, and Marino participates in a couple of community bridal shows every year. Referrals from satisfied brides are important, too; many future brides first encounter wedding consultants at friends' weddings.
Given the low start-up costs and growing demand, wedding consultation presents a great opportunity for enthusiastic entrepreneurs. If you have a talent for planning special events, start compiling your list of sites and suppliers. You'll soon be booking your first wedding, then helping couples make their wedding day an event to remember.
- Association of Bridal Consultants, 200 Chestnutland Rd., New Milford, CT 06776, (860) 355-0464, http://www.weddingchannel.com/abc
- The Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants, (408) 528-9000
- June Wedding Inc., 8514 FM3117, Temple, TX 76501-7206, (254) 983-3596, http://www.junewedding.com
- International Special Events Society, 9202 N. Meridian St., #200, Indianapolis, IN 46260, (800) 688-4737, http://www.ises.com
- National Bridal Service, 3122 W. Cary St., Richmond, VA 23221, (804) 355-6945, http://www.nationalbridalservice.com
- Entrepreneur's Business Start-Up Guide #1330, Bridal Consultant, is available for $59 from Entrepreneur Media Inc., 2445 McCabe Way, Irvine, CA 92614, (800) 421-2300.
- The Association of Bridal Consultants publishes Weddings as a Business, available to members for $80 by calling (860) 355-0464.
- Look in consumer magazines such as Bride's Magazine and Modern Bride for information about wedding attire, accessories and trends.
Marcie Geffner is a Los Angeles freelance writer who covers small business and real estate. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Perfect Wedding Inc., 5224 Lewisham Rd., Fairfax, VA 22030, (703) 691-0133
Exquisite Event Planning, 307 Donerail Ave., Powell, OH 43065, (614) 761-0577