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Of all the events altered by the coronavirus pandemic, weddings are among the most obvious. Traditional weddings often have dozens or even hundreds of guests and in most places during the pandemic, gatherings of this size were not possible. But it wasn’t just the bride and groom who were affected – the wedding planner’s entire livelihood was also at stake.
About 46% of couples use a wedding planner, according to a 2020 survey from online magazine Brides, and most are small, entrepreneurial outfits like D’Concierge Weddings in Houston. Darryl Moore, its founder and creative director, has been planning and hosting weddings for over a decade, most with a guest count of 175-500. Some of the traditional ethnic weddings he runs – Nigerian or Haitian, for example – can have like up to 1000 guests.
Before the pandemic, D’Concierge was forecasting about two weddings a month and gross income in 2019 exceeded $ 400,000. By the summer of 2020, that number had dropped by 50%. Moore had one full-time and three part-time employees to pay and feared the business he had been building since 2007 would not survive.
As is the custom with most wedding planners, D’Concierge clients sign a contract and if the couple separate or want to cancel, they are still obligated to pay. Due to COVID, Moore has been forced to become more flexible and has had numerous conversations with couples about their options, including postponing or reducing the marriage.
“A lot of couples were so involved in the process that they would have lost thousands of dollars if they had canceled because a lot of the wedding had already been paid off,” he said.
Like D’Concierge, wedding planners across the country were forced to become more flexible during the pandemic, deepening the elements of a wedding that couples saw as essential. This meant embracing the micro-wedding – a high-end affair with a much lower guest count – which kept many planners in business but generally generated less income.
D’Concierge’s path to micro-weddings began last June, when a couple whose families were already scheduled to travel to Houston for their July 4 wedding, decided to change an event weekend to 150. guests in a dinner for 25.
Moore transformed the couple’s apartment into a wedding venue. Guests were seated at two long, candlelit tables lined with glittering gold and black cutlery, their centers filled with red roses. “We took it out of the park for them,” Moore said. “And from there, the little marriages began.”
Moore created a micro-wedding package, charging about 50% less than he usually would. Many of them took place in someone’s home, often in their garden. Without the micro-wedding option, clients who were early in the planning process would likely have canceled; newly engaged couples may not have requested D’Concierge services at all. “It has kept me afloat during the pandemic, without a doubt,” said Moore, who maintains the offer at all times.
That kind of thinking is what prompted a group of five city-based wedding planners to form the Small Wedding Society in May 2020. One of those planners, Beth Bernstein, Founder and Creative Director of SQN Events in Chicago, said the companies are part of an accountability group that have shared business ideas, pricing strategies, and reviews of each other’s work for many years. During the pandemic, these relationships took on a new urgency: they had weekly video calls and began to think about ways to provide clients with very small weddings.
“We thought, why not give it a shot now, during the pandemic,” Bernstein recalled. “What could be the downside? “
Most of the planners had a fairly large number of Instagram followers and launched their micro-wedding businesses on the same day for maximum effect. Bernstein, whose own micro-wedding offerings are featured under the Essential I Dos brand, said initial interest came mostly from other wedding planners.
“We’ve had calls from people saying, ‘This is a great idea, how can I do this? “, Said Bernstein. This spurred the creation of the Small Wedding Society, which includes a website that currently lists 28 suppliers who meet certain criteria, including a minimum of two years in business, a tax ID number, and business insurance.
Rocket Science Events, founded in 2010 in Minneapolis, specializes in elaborate and imaginative weddings held in non-traditional venues, such as an airplane hangar or a boxing hall. In early 2020, Gretchen Culver, its founder, had three part-time employees, a handful of independent contractor work events, and projected earnings of just under $ 500,000. Then the lockdown hit Minnesota.
“It was terrible for us,” she said. “All of my weddings have been postponed and I waived the date change fee. That meant, essentially, zero revenue for Rocket Science in 2020 and most of 2021. ”
A few years before the pandemic, however, Culver began to notice that the number of guests for many weddings was declining. Instead of 200-300 people at weddings, many customers wanted 100 or less. “I could sense that the priorities were changing,” she said. “Deep in my head I was wondering if there was a way to make small weddings, with a smaller overall budget, work for my business.”
The pandemic gave him the opportunity to find out. She consulted with a planner in Birmingham, Alabama, doing several micro-weddings a day, and that conversation sparked a light bulb moment for Culver. She has created a separate business, Minne Weddings, which offers very stylish, all-inclusive Sunday wedding packages.
Several time slots are available on each date for a 90-minute wedding that can accommodate up to 32 guests. Package includes venue, rentals, decor, digital invitations, flowers, photos, videography, cake, sparkling wine and an officiant; prices range from $ 5,000 to $ 7,000. Couples booking the last slot on a particular day can pay to extend the wedding to three and a half hours and add extras like special dances, speeches, and more food. Everything is done through the website; in most cases, Culver doesn’t even meet the couple until the wedding day.
Almost from the start of Minne Weddings in April 2020, demand was high. “In five months it turned into a six-figure business,” said Culver, who was able to hire a full-time employee for it.
A May survey of engaged couples with fixed wedding dates conducted by The Knot, an online wedding platform, found that 73% believed micro-marriage was “here to stay”, although only 5 % of couples with summer weddings invited less than 25 guests.
This renewed confidence in larger gatherings “stems from a number of factors, including the availability of vaccines and a steady decline in COVID cases and hospitalizations,” said Lauren Kay, editor-in-chief of The Knot. She added that many businesses that served the wedding industry and had closed during the pandemic – such as venues, caterers and florists – had reopened.
Culver noted that most of his clients are beginners in their 20s and 30s, and those with second marriages and vow renewals. “We get requests every week for dates in June and October 2022, so I know this model is here to stay. “
Philadelphia-based Clover Event Co. produces weddings focused on high-end decor and design. The typical number of guests is 150-200, and full service planning packages cost around $ 15,000. Caitlin Maloney Kuchemba, the owner and senior planner who started the business in 2015, employs two full-time planners and, before the pandemic, forecasted sales of around $ 500,000 in 2020.
After the closure, two-thirds of its clients postponed their wedding. It has also been reduced by offering two options: micro (less than 25 guests) and intimate (less than 50). (Like Moore of D’Concierge, she plans to continue these offerings.) Planning services for micro-weddings cost $ 3,500; intimate weddings cost $ 5,500.
“With a very small wedding, you don’t pay for a group of 15 musicians, or you might decide to get married on a weekday evening,” Kuchemba said. Clover planned and performed 20 weddings last year, stemming the company’s losses. By year-end, with the help of a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, earnings had fallen by only about $ 37,000 from 2019.
Anna Price Olson, Associate Editorial Director at Brides, agrees that micro-weddings are now a big part of the wedding landscape. “COVID has taught us to re-imagine everything, and with weddings that meant you could break the rules, invite whoever you really want, wear what you want,” she said. “It’s taught couples to embrace what’s right for them right now. “
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.