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Why Required Vendors Are Bad Busines

Posted by on Mar 20, 2015 in Strategy & Advice | One Comment

About a decade ago, it was fairly common for venues to have a list of “Required Vendors”, often this was specific to lighting companies, but sometimes could go as far as required caterers, florists and more.

This was smart business for the old model of wedding planning. First of all, brides and their mothers (who were the main people who were planning weddings a decade ago) appreciated the ease of having a list of proven vendors to create yet another beautiful wedding similar to the others that had been held at your property. Next, there was the quality control factor: you could somewhat maintain your venue’s reputation as producing “elegant” or “flawless” or “luxury” or insert adjective here, weddings, because you could entrust that these vendors counted on your location as a constant stream of busines and would always perform well. Then there was ease for staff: put together the same team weekend after weekend and it is easier. Finally, the BIG ONE: financially, the commission fee that these vendors are paying you is bankable… and if you weren’t taking fees from these vendors, no one believes you aren’t, so you might as well have been.

Today, this goes completely counter to how contemporary wedding planning works and while having “required” vendors MIGHT be working now, it is a business model in it’s twilight, so keep reading and share with a venue manager you love.

First: Couples are now planning their weddings together- brides and grooms, brides and brides, grooms and grooms. The planning of the wedding is a process that the couple not only doesn’t want to just “get it over with” but they look forward to it being a unique expression of themselves. So, assembling a team to give them more of the same of what’s already happened at your property isn’t a selling point for them. Nor is the ease. The process of finding vendors that uniquely “speak” to the story they want to tell is important to them.

Second: The couple is savvy and does a lot of research and has a sense of who is out there that’s a hot “florist” or Music company, etc. In cases where they have formed attachements, your list will turn them off.

Third: This savvy-ness can also translate to mis-trust of things that don’t seem transparent. It feels “fishy” to couples today to have their options limited and you will come across as “shady” or worse, trying to “swindle them” into spending more (this applies to even the Luxury segment). Your assertions of quality control to two self defined savvy individuals aren’t as welcome as they once were, because the contemporary to-be-weds often feel that they are competent enough to assess people’s professionalism on their own.

Fourth: You are limiting your appeal to a set number of couples who only like the style of the weddings that your required vendor team can produce AND you are also limiting the appeal of your venue to couples who might have different priorities financially than those who have booked before. For instance, your “great caterer” that you require might not be as high end as what a potential couple is actually looking for, but they might rather go elsewhere than do a buyout.

Listen, no one will blink at a “Recommended Vendor” list that provides them with options or even a diversified Required List with 3-4 choices in each area of varying styles, but you better have that buy out fee be reasonable… because even in a tight market like New York, I’ve seen Required Vendors Lists leave a bad taste in many a couples’ mouth and they will go elsewhere.
There is always another option.

Trendsetter: Floral Genius Sarah Ryhanen at Saipua

Posted by on Mar 13, 2015 in Florists, Trendsetters | One Comment

I got excited about the re-launch of the blog because the wedding industry focus allows us to resurrect an old wedding industry concept that Modern Bride used to do which was profiling “Trendsetters”… I never knew if brides actually gave a crap about that distinction, but I knew that I certainly did and dreamed of one day possibly being a trendsetter… and then the magazine folded. So, this new direction for the blog gives us the space to recognize trendsetters of all kinds in our industry! Being New York based, I am sadly worried about New York bias, so please send me any trendsetters that I should know about in YOUR area…

Wedding Industry Trendsetter : Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua

Wedding Industry Trendsetter : Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua

A quick tip on how I’m generating this “list”… if you’ve innovated something in business or stylistically… So who better to kick this off than Floral Genius Sarah Ryhanen at Saipua. It’s almost not proper to refer to her as a florist since I really think of her as an artist whose medium is flowers. I think about wedding aesthetic in two ways, BS and AS- before and after Saipua… their loose, wild style changed the whole landscape of weddings and launched thousands of copy cats and acolytes… but I can honestly still always tell a Saipua arrangement from any one elses… there is a signature uniqueness that simply stands out. Having worked with their team dozens of times, it’s not uncommon to watch Sarah and her team forrage in the forest for the right branch or drive for miles to the best Dahlia farm nearby. They are constantly innovating not just in their commitment to showcasing beautiful blooms, but to launching their own floral farm.

How many years have you been in business, and specifically weddings?
We started Saipua in 2006 and did our first wedding in 2007.

What, if anything, is your philosophy about flowers and how do you think that made you diffferent from the landscape when you launched?
I think being self taught was a big thing that set us apart from the rest at the time. I had no preconieved notions about how flowers were supposed to go together so I just did it free form the way I liked it. It made for a different look than the tight, round dome like arrangements that were still really popular at the time.

Do you remember your first wedding and what your budget was?
Absolutely I remember! It was a tiny little wedding at Ici in June. The budget was $700. I’m sure I spend double that on flowers, but the rest was history.
saipua-aabwedding-2
When you first started, the more natural wild style for wedding floral wasn’t really out there… how has it been watching some people do the “look for less” kind of thing and how do you get past it (mentally hang up kind of thing…)
It’s a question I get a lot – but the simplest answer is that “look for less” is actually going to be less. No getting around that. Our clients get folded into our world of flowers both in the city and now at our flower farm — they learn about flowers, visit the wholesale district with us, visit our farm to see their flowers growing in the field, plan their gardens with us…It’s a lot more than just ‘how much is your centerpiece.’
If we were still that, we’d be stuck in first gear. A lot of the new up and coming florists who undercharge serve the purpose of giving those brides on a budget great flowers. The process might be a little simpler, and the finished product a little less considered, but different people value different things. The bride who cares most about having a wedding with a rager of a dance party in the dark might not care as much about flowers and I get that.
Saipua Centerpieces at Virginia wedding

You recently wrote on your own blog that you’ve accepted that for Saipua to do what they do really well, you have accepted that you need a certain budget to do that. We kind of accepted the same thing here over the last couple of years at AaB… can you elaborate and do you feel that that “space” is what enables you to stay innovative/creatively motivated?

It’s really just about the logistics of running a business. The last 10 years of Saipua have been a serious crash course in business! Not my natural forte, but I’m learning slowly. The reality is that with a staff of 7 and a farm and a truck, etc, our overhead has really gotten sizeable. Our expenses are close to 50K a month. To reach that number (and then hopefully profit some) we’d have to do so many small weddings which actually can take a lot of time — sometimes a very small budget bride can consume lots of your time. It’s just a matter of growth — we don’t fit in that model anymore. When it was just myself and eric (my partner) and our pickup truck, those $1000 weddings at Frankies or Ici were great work.
Gruber Photographers, Wedding, Mitzvah, NYC, Event
What are you most excited about for Saipua in the next 5 years?
Any other advice/tips/ things you would share….

The first 10 years of Saipua was really about learning business, how we wanted to run ours. And of course learning about flowers and producing events. We’re really good at those things now. I have access to the best flowers in the world, and a staff who can build the most amazing compositions with those flowers. The next 10 years will be about developing Worlds End, our flower farm upstate. My vision for the farm is not only to grow some of my dream flowers — specimens I can’t get in our market or from other growers — but also to develop the farm as a center for floriculture; with artist residencies, performances, lectures, workshops, etc. We have so much work to do there but so many beautiful people on our side helping us!
Sarah with gorgeous dahlias

Wedding Photographers Biggest Marketing Fail

Dear Wedding Photographers:

We love you. We really do. Which is why we are want to let you in on a giant secret:  we hate your mailed collateral pieces.  Hate might be a strong word, but they invoke a range of emotions that include stress, guilt, anxiety and sadness.

When I open up my mailbox after a conference and see a package from a photographer I don’t know and the expensive postage placed on it, a wave of dread comes over me, b/c I know how much time and money this mailing cost you to produce and I know it will end up in my trashcan within moments of me opening it.  The sentiment only gets worse when I actually get the thing open… because the more lavishly produced it is, the more badly I feel about your wasted money and guilty because I know about it’s inevitable resting place.  If your images aren’t the style of our brand or reflective of the work on our site, my guilt shifts to anger and resentment, because I’m mad at you for being so lazy as to not look at our work and edit your mailing list.  And now because of your laziness, I am stuck feeling guilty about throwing your money away.  And a little part of me thinks you must think we’re not that bright b/c no amount of pretty packaging will distract from whether or not your images are of the style of our site….

All this being said, I recognize that Mayra and I are just two women and one planning company (well, technically two, but you get the point) SOOOO, I decided to take this topic to a few of our Planner/Designer colleagues across the country.

Annie Lee of Daughter of Design works bi-coastally and has NY as her home base:

“I always feel so bad throwing away marketing materials or sample albums. But like, where am I putting that? And remember this is NYC, I have to be selective which underwear I keep, just no space for extra things. Send me a digital version please!

Brochures are obsolete in our business in my opinion!”
Lindsay Landman, of Lindsay Landman Events who designs and produces weddings, other social events AND corporate in New York said:
“I have such terrible guilt about throwing away these expensive promo pieces and so I literally keep a box of them, despite the fact that I have never actually reached out to a photographer as a result of getting an album, etc.  I’ll take a hand written note any day over an expensive book because I can see their photos online, but only a note can indicate why specifically they are reaching out to me based on my business and my clientele.”
I also reached out to Calder Clark, who I know runs the tightest ship and also maintains a stunning studio… Not surprisingly, being a Southern Lady, she was the most charitable of all of us, but was still in agreement….
 ‘I personally enjoy noting how other industry professionals brand + market themselves, and it’s a treat to unveil a beautiful box of hand-picked fine art prints. In the few cases when the photographer did his/her homework and actually targeted us appopriately, it easily converts into a new relationship + eventually a real booking- a win-win.
Unfortunately, 95% of the time, we are solicited + targeted by photographers whose work does not resonate with us, nor is even reflective of the style or level of  shooters with whom we already work closely. It’s not that this bothers me per se, but it saddens me that they didn’t perform their due diligence by leafing through our own image-heavy website to canvas appropriately. It seems instead like blanket marketing- casting a wide net and hoping something sticks . . . which then makes it seem less personal that they reached out to us personally in the first place, thus stripping their package of its authenticity + aim.”
Calder FURTHER went on to point out that being planners, we’re all a little OCD and the clutter of these things makes them too much of a hassle to keep around….
From North to South and East to West, the verdict is unanimous (though the reasons vary): STOP SPENDING MONEY PRODUCING EXPENSIVE COLLATERAL PIECES, BECAUSE YOUR MARKETING EFFORT ISN’T WORKING.  At least not the way most of you have been doing it.  So, I get it.. now you are saying to yourself, “but then how do I get myself out there to top planners and designers? “

  • To Lindsay’s point, NOTES go a long way.  If you are desperate to spend that money that you would have spent on the collateral piece, so do well-selected gifts…. After I met Matt Blum he sent me the most stunning, simple porcelain bowl with a fabulous note about how it reminded him of our approach to events… His note led me to his site, I loved his photos and while we haven’t found a job together YET, I’ve totally put him out there to my clients as an option and made efforts at working together.
  • Edit your mailing list for either a mailing or even just notes.  Don’t solicit people whose style isn’t like your style.
  • Photograph more industry events.  I have totally started reaching out to new photographers (like Carla Ten Eyck) after consistently seeing her gorgeous images of Engage posted on Facebook and other outlets. Yes, it’s an investment of your time and energy…but so is a mailing…
  • EDIT YOUR IMAGES, or better yet, take the money you would have spent on your website and hire an editor to help you- as Calder puts it, “tighten up your ship”- on your website.
  • In my experience most wedding photographers are terrible editors of their own work.  Kristi Drago Price runs Editor’s Edge and to me it’s a fantastic service for photographers as you go out to market yourself.   She can help you figure out exactly the ONE IMAGE to put on your gorgeous notecards that you send to a selected group of planners/designers whose work is compatible with yours.   As Kristi puts it

    “One of the biggest problems I come across while consulting (specifically with photographers) is what I call the “one man band syndrome”…putting way too many images in different styles and categories to show “range” when all they are doing is confusing the viewer.  Thoughtful image curation and organization is key to a calming and understandable visual experience….no one wants to think of this (below) when they look at your work!  Yes, editing your own work can be painful but in the end “less is always more.”

    I know… the truth hurts.. but wasting tons of money on ineffective mailings that alienate your target hurts more!  Photographers Biggest Marketing Mistake

    Love,

    The Wedding Professionals Who Refer You Business

     

    How Wedding Vendors Can Make Client Pinterest Boards Useful

    Posted by on Mar 5, 2015 in Strategy & Advice | 3 Comments

    Ah, Pinterest!  It lives for most of us like the machines in the Matrix… a great innovation that we thought would liberate us and instead has made us slaves to it… left to execute the same Pinned wedding details again and again and again.   It has been the torture of event planners, designers, bakers and florists for years and now, lucky for photographers, the Pinterest Monster has enveloped them too.  If you haven’t heard, the new “trend” on Pinterest is pinning “moments” you want your photographer to capture… so not only is there a shot list to go through, but you will be given a visual guide to how to position the rings, the bridal portrait, the wedding party and more. (See below for an example… ) Listen, no creative person wants to feel like a robot, executing stuff that’s already been done.  But the irony here is that most couples want something original, they are just nervous about not understanding what it will be in advance.   Today, I am going to give you 5 tips to help you wrestle yourselves out of the Matrix AND garner more room for creativity and trust with the client in the meantime. Screenshot 2015-03-05 11.42.17

     

    1) First, as a general rule, when you first meet you should of course always explain you aren’t in the business of copying, but you DO love to understand their style, taste and what they are drawn to.  It’s important to establish expectations.

    2) Next, if they’ve set up a wedding pinterest, take the time to go through the images of the wedding for them and articulate to them what they are drawn to.  Most people aren’t articulate in a visual vocabulary and can’t necessarily articulate why they are responding to a certain image, but you can go through them and say what you observe they seem to respond to “I see you are really drawn to Romantic, moody images.” or “You love a more quirky, fun style.”  Then open up specific images and ask what in particular they may have liked.  Ask them to send you the link so you can spend a bit more time with their Pinterest.

    3) Give Pinterest Homework.    Tell them you want them to create a board just for you that is relevant to what you, specifically do.  And then give them the following parameters:  only 2 items on the board can be of what you specifically do (so, if you are a baker, just 2 cakes… a stationer, just 2 invitations), and only 3 other images can be wedding images.  The rest need to be other things- art, film, hotel rooms, dining rooms, runway shots, photographs, fonts. ANYTHING but wedding images- that feel like the mood they like for the wedding OR if that feels to complicated to them, that they are drawn to.  Ask them to write in the comments section of all the images WHY they put it on this board.

    4)  Talk to them about this board to make sure you are understanding what you are seeing and their intentions.

    5) Give them a board back (on pinterest or MOOD BOARD or whatever you use for this) that incorporates SOME of their images but that synthesizes their ideas.

    This is a lot more work in the upfront, BUT it also is better than spending the next few months re-creating something that you know has been done 17 dozen times (and repinned 6,000 times). Trust me in the end, the client will thank you for it.

    The Pros (and Cons) of Using SquareSpace for Your Wedding Business

    Posted by on Mar 2, 2015 in Strategy & Advice | No Comments

    I built our first website back in 2003 on an orange iMac, on Yahoo! sites using a dial-up modem with a copy of HTML for Dummies on my lap.   I think it took about 2 weeks. The homepage had no photos b/c we had done no weddings…. By the time we were ready for our second website, probably circa 2006, we realized we needed to hire a professional and spent around $5,000 for a new site.  We spent another $7,500 two years later for a totally new WordPress Site, plus few thousand dollars for a re-skin when we re-branded in late 2011… Plus all the money (in relatively equivalent sums) on JAM’s first site and this very blog (original and re-skin).

    So, going into 2013 it was very, VERY apparent to us that we needed a new website, especially the day when, to my HORROR I realized that our portfolio feature on our then AAB Site didn’t work on mobile!  Our friend had just launched her businesses first website and had a good experience with her designers and so we engaged them to create something more modern, but retaining AaB’s unique quirky personality.   We were extremely specific clients with mood boards and graphic references and more and, halfway through the process decided to cut our losses (and lose our deposit) because we realized quickly that creating someone’s FIRST website and creating a new site that elevates their brand and personality are two different tasks and not everyone is cut out for the latter.

    Our company's original website Homepage from almost 12 years ago!

    Our company’s original website Homepage from almost 12 years ago!

     

    Since the old HTML for Dummies days, I’m sort of IT here, so rather than start the painful process of looking for someone else to take on the webdesign process, decided to spend a few days tinkering with the (then) AaB Site in WordPress and via a variety of easy to install plugins, was able to optimize the whole thing to mobile in about a weekend… and it worked.  So we held the Band Aid on the thing for another year UNTIL, looking for a quick fix to redesigning the Just About Married site, I decided to build it in SquareSpace.

    Armed with a beautifully re-designed Logo by Regas and amazing portfolio images, good taste and a semi-legitimate degree in Fine Art (I don’t know that I would have called myself a shining star of that department.. but it IS on my diploma.. ) in one 15 hour day we had a new, beautiful website.  Six Months later the site was coming up #1 or 2 on google search for DOC services in NY.

    Still, while this was good for the Jan Brady of our businesses, would it ever be good enough for Marcia?  Initially I thought no, until after doing tons and tons of interviews for web designers I realized that the kind of people who would take the time to understand our brand and the story we wanted to tell were about 3x the cost of people who wanted to tell their version of a wedding business story and slap our logo on it.  And after doing the math not just on the output of MONEY to a firm we felt really good about, I realized that it was still all of the TIME not just waiting for the site, but coordinating all the materials, etc back and forth.

    And that is the story of how we came to build the latest (and actually greatest) version of the AaB Site in SquareSpace….  with almost immediate results- we noticed a direct increase in the number of inquiries converting to meetings and bookings as soon as the new site was launched.  Clearly… our Besties in Business site was built in Square Space too.  Still, I get that this isn’t necessarily a good choice for everyone.  The quick Pros, Cons of SquareSpace for your Wedding Business….

    Our Current AaB Site (built in Square Space)

     

     

    Pros:

    – Great for a start up business or experimental branch of your own brand, because you can get something that looks really good without a ton of investment.

    -Really great (and relatively easy) SEO

    -Once you get the hang of it, using SquareSpace is pretty simple- ESPECIALLY uploading photos as they resize themselves, which has been the bain of my wordpress existence.

    -If you have Beautiful, Unique Work, you can have a Beautiful, Unique Site… It showcases images really, really well and again, easily… so if the bulk of what you are selling is your portfolio, it’s a great option.

    -It is easy to update and make changes, which is great for small business

    -If you run a lot of video content, it’s easy and nice looking to embed video.

    -If you have a good story teller about your brand and want to avoid a middle-man, this is a quick and easy well to tell a beautiful story.

    -The ROI is immediate as your cost is significantly reduced.

    Cons:

    -Can be “generic” if you haven’t worked with a Graphic Designer to get your Visual Identity of your brand strong.

    -If you don’t have a strong portfolio with a strong point of view, your site will look like a generic “square space” site.   For this reason, I think it’s a fabulous solution to newer brands/companies who haven’t had websites before (believe it or not, they exist)  AND for more established, boutique firms like AAB where our work has a strong P.O.V, there is a ton of it, and we are VERY familiar with how to convey our brand… Put more simply, if you are looking at your 2nd version of your website (or 3rd) in that critical year 3-6 phase of your business where your reputation is established… you should invest in a professional web designer to HELP YOU identify, define and refine your brand more clearly.

    -If your business is web-based e-commerce related to weddings, a solution that is more customized to you might simply be better… something that gives you more metrics and analytics and specific skew based SEO is going to boost your business more (in my opinion)

    -I don’t love the mobile versions… I hate mobile versions in general… I want the same site, but smaller… so it doesn’t do that intuitive response resizing thing that custom designers can do.

    – The blog functions are functional and relatively easy to use… but we decided to keep this baby on WordPress… because.. I don’t know. It seemed easier to give the BLOG part more personality…

    -If you have a very complicated business structure and lots of password protected areas, this probably isn’t for you.

    -If you want to use the SquareSpace Platform but have a developer trick it out for you… there aren’t a ton of people doing that yet…  visit