By Paul Pannone
The changing state of the wedding business since the economic collapse in 2007 is known to all. Couples to wedding suppliers of goods and services are now faced with dealing with the new realities, not just lamenting about them.
Discussions in the Wedding Water Cooler suggest a lessening need for surveys, polls or even information about what happened over the last three years. Members say it’s time to stop beating the dead horse, bury it and move on. The idea that people demand more and are willing to pay for less is nothing new, according to the discussions. But few disagree, wedding data that looks back on the past several years offers little or no insight to what happens next.
No one needs another survey to know weddings are in trouble. Instead of looking back and lamenting, Wedding Water Cooler experts discuss solutions.
Local and Celebrity planners and members of WWC poking fun at unrealistic expectations for events with limited financial budgets became serious when asked if the wedding business is in a degenerating state.
“Yes, we all understand something happened. OK, so now what? Where do we go from here? Do we keep looking back, remain as we are or do something that may actually help the situation?” asks Jim Duhe.
His analytical style sparked debate in WWC discussions that sounded good but offered little or no direction at first. Determined to make his point, Duhe offered the following statement this morning that garnered some serious statements from other members of the group.
The word “degenerative” has a derogatory connotation. It implies that marriage is degraded — reduced to a state that implies shame. You’re looking for a sound bite response to a complex question. In her book The Art of Marriage, Catherine Blyth notes that the range of acceptable replies to the BIG question were limited to “Yes”, “No”, ”When?” and “Ask me later.” In the twenty-first century, however, the question begs a new reply: “What for?”
According to Blyth, the first recorded exchange of wedding rings took place in Egypt in 2790 B.C. However, marriage as we know it today didn’t exist until the Catholic Church created its holy sacraments in the Council of Trent in 1547. Marriages have been evolving ever since. There was no way that Pope Julius III could have foretold that same-sex marriage would be legalized in 2011. Has it escaped attention that people are FIGHTING for marriage rights. Therefore, to say that opinions about marriage are degenerating is less than accurate.
Today, marriage has far less to do with religious requirements or social demands than it does with human psychology. Old men become cynical about marriage through the years. However, it remains that having love accepted and receiving love in return is perhaps the most spectacular thing that life can offer to us. It’s a natural reaction to want to make the bond permanent. For the majority of us, that means that we look forward to married life. Straight or gay, bisexual or transgender — it’s universal psychology.
Because of the unreported number of off-shore destination weddings, it’s impossible to calculate the actual number of marriages in the United States. However, even if the numbers are slipping, there’s no legitimate research to prove that marriage is an unacceptable arrangement. Regardless of what people are doing in Hollywood or on TV, marriage is still the ideal for most of us.
The laws that govern divorce have as much or more to do with the contemporary view of marriage than anything else. Culturally, we’re told that if you’re unhappy with your marriage, it’s acceptable to end it before financial complications become too intense. In short, get the hell out of Dodge immediately. For many couples, divorce is hiding around the corner every time an argument rears its head. Nobody wants to see first hand how married bliss degenerates (yes degenerates) into bitter frustration and resentment. Unfortunately, many people of marriageable age have been part of a divorced family. They don’t want to repeat their parent’s mistakes.
The only people who are complaining about the condition of American weddings are those who earn their living from it. However, most business people agree that it’s pointless to complain about any problem. Complaints won’t/can’t address social issues. Bridal industry professionals complain because they don’t like and can’t accept change. Yes. Marriages are different today than they were 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago. Look in the mirror. Everything — all of us — change over the years. Why is it unreasonable to accept business changes?” said Duhe.
Curiously, Duhe acknowledged the word “degenerates” in his statement. Duhe’s statement polarized the group’s discussion, forcing members to choose a position and substantiate their views.
Wedding analyst, Christine Boulton, told eWedNewz, “Rather than a degenerative state, I think that the wedding industry is in a state of change. Weddings are still important milestones but the way we celebrate then is changing. They are more about meaning and family and friends than spectacle and impressing the neighbors. As a result, the things couples choose to spend on are shifting.
Wedding planner, Wendy Hartigan, weighed in saying, “I read Jim’s response first, before commenting. I can’t disagree with him. He makes several good points. I see in my interaction with brides there are weddings being planned “for the party” and not for the “life” being embarked on with a wedding being the first step.
As with many things in life, the latest legal decision being one totally unrelated to weddings, we are a disposable nation. Nothing is meant to last; not even human life. Not much is valued, not even our children. In disposing of my mother’s household in order to sell the house, I find that no one is interested in the old books, antique furniture, even the grand lady that is the house of 170 years and full of local history. So, it is no surprise that marriage has fallen victim to the temporary and instant gratification that is our society.
Is the wedding business in a degenerative state? Yes, the BUSINESS of weddings is deteriorating FAST! There are still brides with good taste and a reasonable budget to have an elegant and memorable wedding. But, the glut of wannabe vendors Craigslist DJ’s, photographers and caterers, the online dress business and the insane number of women that plan a wedding or a birthday party for family and then decide they have what it takes to be a professional, have changed the face of the business as a whole. Then, you have the DIY craze; thank you Martha Stewart!. A wedding is not an arts and crafts project. And, there is no way that a bride can bake her cake, arrange her flowers, make her dress, her favors, her invitations and her table linens and not have it look like a kindergarten class’s art project, not to mention be exhausted and stressed to the max on her wedding day. There are very few people with integrity, with common sense and with a sense of fair play. Everyone wants to be a star and everyone wants the whole pie. That is an unrealistic and selfish notion. There is enough business for everyone if everyone would stick to his or her own field. No one can DO IT ALL! I was just speaking to a photographer the other day that feels strongly that quality is more important than quantity. He also brought up a very good point. In tracking his traffic to his site, he sees that brides click on the homepage and spend only seconds before they are gone. What can you learn in seconds on line? The internet, though a wonderful tool, cannot speak to a brides’ innermost desires. Without reaching out and seeing the quality of the work and the person, how can you find vendors based on a few seconds on line?
Until society as a whole makes the union of two people more important and more special, it won’t change. And, until the brides and grooms looking for services understand that quality comes at a cost, that message boards and bartering in the square is not the way to hire vendors, it will continue to degenerate. Real professionals, people who have spent their lives working, honing their talents, building a network of other professionals, will continue to close up shop because of all the Craigslist amateurs and the Knot brides’ big egos. Not everyone is a star. And, even some of the “stars” aren’t that good!! Just because one has a bigger voice, a TV show or a local notoriety because they throw money around, doesn’t make them quality. Couples need to understand that quality is something that very few have. And, yes, you get what you pay for.
People are losing what they have spent years building. they are losing their homes, their livelihoods, their shirts. Bridal shops can’t compete with online impostors and David’s. Florists can’t compete with Costco and Whole Foods. Photographers can’t compete with students trying to build their portfolios. And, couples getting married are too foolish to know the difference. Education is key. But, I have actually tried to be that voice and have been pushed aside by the “local heroes”, the tried and true voices of some of those “stars” I spoke of above. Until someone is willing to stretch and hear a new voice, a new view, a more common sense approach, I fear the complaining will continue.
I spend the day reading, talking to people and being disgusted by the “whore” that this business has become. Good taste, common sense and values have given way to cheap, back stabbing and greedy mongers of deceit and ego. And, sadly, the bride doesn’t know she has been duped until it is too late. In attempting to keep a roof over my head, I have been reduced to helping some of those $5000 budget brides. Say what you will, but I have children to feed. I don’t feel it cheapens my services. I have the same mindset no matter the budget. My tastes and my network are more geared to the upscale bride. But, the market isn’t there for me. So, I must do what will pay the bills. If the hobbyists and the part time wannabes would move over, the whole industry could pick itself up and start over. I try not to complain. I just try to keep going the best I can. I am eternally looking for that pony at the bottom of the box of manure!”
Marcinho Savant told eWedNewz, “ According to the PRB article entitled “In U.S., Proportion Married at Lowest Recorded Levels“(by Mark Mather and Diana Lavery; September 2010) the ”marriage” business is in a degenerative state, and, by extension, so are weddings. The lengthy and declarative article lists numerous indicators and explanations for that condition. Dealing in fact does not equate with being negative, “gloom & doom” or the like. We can choose to turn away from truth, and pay the hefty price for that ignorance.
The societal factors mentioned in the article are clear and logical. So there is nothing that we can do, as an industry, to change relationship dynamics and mores at all. Perhaps the next best step is to continue to escalate client care provisions, innovate client results, and master “outside the box” thinking in order to gain and secure the lion’s share of those couples still excited by weddings? Attrition as a result of poverty should continue to cull out the hobbyists over the long run. On the short, will remain the “I just got $500.00 to do a wedding for Julie”, “hand-to-mouth-ers”, living from event to event. The problem, in these economic times, is that the scenario is largely sustainable, as long as people continue to have hard fiscal times and take whomever they can afford or cajole into planning their day.
With the market as saturated and overrun by vocational wedding “professionals” (who’d do a wedding for a pepperoni pizza and a six pack— “‘cuz it’s HELLA FUN!” and “It’s so exciting” or “It’s so EASY!”), as it is, we must master selling, and desirability, to those who seek, crave and can afford proper weddings. Crying in our collective “champagne toast” is not only “alcohol abuse’”— it’s pointless. Lamenting the state of affairs is a haunting tune, but it grows annoying and deadly after a few verses.
We. Must. DO something— other than complaining. There has never been a more clear call for the survival of the fittest. While cliché, “Only the strong shall survive”. Those who simply complain, without taking action and cooperating with other professionals, will just end up eating their cake out in the rain. We can only sell or starve. If we continue to do the same things… the same way… we are in peril. I don’t believe we can “wait” this drier time out. We need to PULL it out— by its EARS!
Many couples see weddings, on the whole, as a house payment, a corny ancient relic of the past or dumb and impractical. We have to make weddings a “must have” in the minds of generation X and y people. It has to be the coolest thing to do again. Once it is, many will FIND a way to hire professionals, and in ways that won’t put them in harm’$ way. Remember how you SAVED in order to buy your dream car? I say: Innovate. Increase client value, educate… or step aside. ,” feels Savant.
Newcomer to the group, Steve Lang, gave his views about the business side of the wedding business, mainly from a product standpoint.” There are many sides to the wedding business and most people lump them together as a single entity rather than seeing all the colors that make up the bridal prism. There are wedding gowns for sure, but there is only one person in white at the altar. There are so many other women at the affair that will buy dresses and multiple times in their lifetime.
Stores that define themselves as being in the wedding business are making a mistake. They are in the social occasion business. One is like fishing in a river and one is like fishing in an ocean. Let’s say there are 150 people at a wedding. half of these are female and are recyclable customers. There are only 2.4 million wedding a year in the USA and a third of second marriages or less formal marriages, 200,000 do not buy a dress so we are left with 1.4 million units. But think about guest of the wedding and mothers of the bride; then the unit potential becomes staggering.”
Lang’s statement became a practical application expression of how he managed to change with the times, and not resist the changes. Lang’s decision to leverage the power of the internet and traditional advertising– plus promote them in every possible channel– is the object of much jealousy from complaining competitors that choose to sniff his fumes instead of accepting the challenge of challenging Lang.
“Mon Cheri was a wedding gown manufacturer that dabbled in social occasion., we are now a huge social occasion company that also has a huge bridal business. I morphed our business years ago to match demographic trends; we make christening, communion, flower girls, tween dresses, first wedding, second wedding, prom, graduation dresses, maids, bridals, MOB, guest of the wedding, prom and more is coming.
If you address the products under the bell curve of opportunities and your business mission is defined to encompass all the potential, you can prosper. All I can say is that growth is achievable but you have to make your own luck. You need to reinvent yourself continuously,” says Lang.
When asked what could be done to turn things around in the business, Lang went out on a limb; something very few are willing to do in the wedding business, according to multiple sources.
“To turn things brighter for the whole industry we need change on many fronts. First, we need education. Retailers must be brought up to speed on cutting edge marketing and sales theory. This has been an on-going activity at Mon Cheri and believe in investing in our stores. Benjamin Franklin said that ‘education is an investment that pays dividends for life’. I believe wholeheartedly in this and that is why we invest so much money into Mon Cheri Academy. We need more manufacturers to join us in helping stores. It is their job, in my humble opinion, to prepare stores to sell their product more effectively.
Second, we need wedding magazines and portals to concentrate on all aspects of the wedding business; dresses, tuxes, accessories, etc, where they traditionally fail. They must stop editorialized statement featuring expensive clothes exclusively; they can take a cue from Bridal Guide in this aspect of reporting on fashion.
Third, we need manufacturers to invest in design talent. Too many just copy dresses and do not innovate. I have 8 world-class designers and I am always looking at new ones. I think that we need to invest more in talent as an industry.
On the issue of why so many complain, it is like voting. People who do not vote (read “invest in themselves and change their thinking”) , should not complain about the state of the country (industry). Complaining is easy, hard work is– well, work,” according to Lang
What’s your opinion? We’d like to know. Tell us here or contact Paul@ewednewz.com – 516-312-0090
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