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With Wedding Bells, Novelty Sells

Finding and courting a creative niche business idea is destined for success in the $62.8 billion wedding industry.

As more than 2 million U.S. couples sort out their wedding budgets--which averaged $28,732 in 2007, according to The Wedding Report Inc.--they'll collectively be spending more than $62.8 billion this year to make the experience as memorable and personal as possible.

And sometimes that requires looking for entrepreneurs specializing in something a little more than ordinary.

At the Wedding Ring Workshop USA, for instance, couples not only design, but also make their own rings with the guidance of an experienced jeweler.

"We don't really sell rings, we sell an experience," says owner Lewis Barnes, 84, who carefully selects jewelers across the country as much for their skills as their personalities. "It's great fun, and it's a loving memory for the whole of their lives."

The day-long process includes lunch, a disposable camera to document the experience and a bottle of champagne at the end--when Barnes says their faces beam at their creations because the jeweler guarantees customers they won't mess it up.

Some customers go solo to create a surprise.

"I had one young lady fly in from Houston to make her fianc?'s wedding ring," Barnes says. "Later she e-mailed me that after it was announced she made the ring herself at the ceremony, he just stood mesmerized by his hand for the rest of the ceremony."

Barnes discovered the business idea through his daughter, who was doing PR for the flagship Wedding Ring Workshop business in the United Kingdom. Barnes met with its creator, Simon Lewis, and got a master license to expand the business to the United States. After testing a San Diego location for two years, Barnes has added four locations in the past 18 months and is in the process of starting another in Boston.

Nora Donston, 52, also found a unique way to enhance the wedding experience with her business, A Butterfly Affaire in Hemet, California. By partnering with a butterfly breeder, Donston farms beautiful monarch butterflies every week and then carefully and safely packages them in individual boxes. When the butterflies arrive, they're healthy so ceremony guests can take boxes and release the butterflies together.

Since she started in 2000, her client base has consistently increased, not only among Hollywood clients and nearby zoos, but also among young couples who hear about this visually appealing and hassle-free alternative to throwing rice or releasing birds or balloons.

"The popularity of my business is more about the experience--it's beautiful and spiritual to see all those creatures released into the air," Donston says.

Other entrepreneurs may find a goldmine in a demographic that hasn't been as catered to by the wedding industry: grooms.

Though there are many profitable wedding registries and publications, Chris Easter, 24, of Kansas City, Missouri, found there was no go-to place for grooms before he and his two future brothers-in-law--Jimmy Horner, 29, and Bobby Horner, 27-- started TheManRegistry.com.

"Wedding registries are a $17 billion industry right now, and that's because you have millions of couples renewing this customer base every year," Easter says. "And we feel there is a huge void in this market and that there's definitely a niche that remains to be carved for men."

In addition to the registry--which encourages adding things like camping equipment, tool sets and video games to couples' wish lists--the website also features articles and how-to guides for grooms.

"Men are afraid to ask a lot of times about what they need to know, like they may not know what a cuff link is or how to put one on," Easter says. "There aren't a lot of avenues out there for that information, let alone a chance for men to supplement their wedding registry."

In addition to the profits coming from his business, Easter will be reaping the rewards of his own registry when he gets married to his fianc?e, Kim, this summer.

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