Behind the Veil
Ah, the flowers. the dresses. the menu. The cake. The registry. So many things to think about when planning a wedding. With today's brides and grooms so often overwhelmed by all that goes into saying "I do," smart entrepreneurs willing to step in and relieve the stress are poised to gather some well-earned profits.
Entrepreneurs are busting out of the wedding-consultant role (although that's still a big industry) and moving into less traditional businesses. These entrepreneurs have recognized which needs aren't being met . . . and are stepping right in, starting everything from a Web site for bridesmaids to a wedding chapel in a Minnesota mall.
MaryAnne London found a need when she saw a wedding chapel in a strip mall in Detroit in 1994. "It just caught my imagination," she says. "I figured someone was going to do it in Minneapolis, and I wanted to be that somebody." She took the idea for an elegant wedding chapel to the Mall of America, which has a program to help new retailers get their businesses off the ground. They loaned her fixtures for the store, and, as she says, "they've been a real partner in the chapel-I could not have done it without the right landlord."
New to retailing, London, 54, is a full-time marketing communications consultant-she runs the Chapel of Love on the side. But when sales started flattening out two years ago, London was ready for her next challenge: She started selling accessories and apparel for bridesmaids and flower girls-sending sales to more than $500,000 annually for the past two years.
Add-ons are an important component of any bridal business, says Brian Lawrence, author of the self-published The Wedding Expert's Guide to Sales & Marketing and vice president of sales and marketing for Encore Studios, an invitation manufacturer in Clifton, New Jersey. "[Entrepreneurs] have to think about the constant pursuit of add-ons," Lawrence says. "Contact your existing customers and sell them more." Bridal gifts for bridesmaids and ushers are often last-minute purchases, as are unique touches for the reception, like ice carvings and little trinkets. "People want something unique and different," he continues. "If they get exposed to [a cool product], they just [might] go for it."
Finding a Niche
"Unique" was in the plans of Joanna Dreifus and Ellen Horowitz when they founded BridesmaidAid.com in 2000. The idea was birthed out of the many experiences Dreifus, 29, and Horowitz, 28, had as bridesmaids. "We realized there were all these wedding Web sites and there were [virtually] no information sources for bridesmaids," says Dreifus. "And there are so many more bridesmaids [than brides]."
The pair created a Web site with advice for bridesmaids, a list of duties, suggestions for bachelorette parties, wedding city spotlights, links to wedding stores and a horror story section. Both full-time graduate students, the pair focused on generating content and building a user base. The business side--i.e., the money to be made from a site that gets over 10,000 hits daily--didn't come until recently. Now, says Dreifus, they're crafting a business plan to capitalize on the site and get revenues flowing. A segment on The Today Show and being picked as a Yahoo! site of the day have helped to generate exposure. "People want really specific information," says Dreifus. "[Wedding sites often] get caught up in the formal, flowery, syrupy side of things-[people] want specifics."
More couples are turning to the Web for wedding research and purchases, according to Lawrence. Other trends in weddings: People are marrying later in life, and wedding consultants are becoming more common among middle-class couples-not just a luxury for rich folk anymore.
Vincent S. Lipe, owner of Acquisitions Event Management Inc. in Seattle, happened upon another wedding trend: He plans weddings and commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, in addition to traditional ceremonies. Finding most of his business through word-of-mouth, Lipe, 46, happened upon this opportunity at a millennium party he had put together for a client. "A number of the guests approached me and said, 'We understand you put this all together--do you do commitment ceremonies and same-sex wedding planning?'" recalls Lipe. "I hadn't done one, but planning a wedding is planning a wedding."
The best lesson to take away? Whatever type of wedding biz you want to commit to, serve customers the best way you know how. As entrepreneurs like Lipe can attest, referrals can make all the difference.