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Wedding planning solutions

Event Production, Features, Tent Décor | June 1, 2009 | By:

Help couples make budget-friendly choices while keeping your business profitable.

It’s probably true that money won’t buy happiness, but it can definitely buy a very happy and memorable day. Perhaps this is why, even in this economy, brides and grooms and their families may talk about serious cost cutting when, in reality, they only trim small things from their budget rather than sacrifice what they truly want for their special day.

It can be tricky to help the uninitiated understand all that goes into a tented wedding and then discern what they truly want and what they can live without. But tent rental experts and seasoned event planners have a variety of strategies to make wedding clients happy while still turning a profit, even in frugal times.

Cut costs, not results

Bryan Loane, president of Loane Bros. Inc., Towson, Md., is hearing the same story over and over again. People meet with him to discuss their wedding plans and, invariably, they say they can’t spend the kind of money they would need to hold the kind of event they desire. And then they go ahead and do it anyway. “We were prepared for people to really cut back, but this feels like it’s developing like any other year,” Loane says. “I think they feel that the economy is just not going to change their plans for the wedding they always wanted.”

Still, Loane Bros. does try to help clients control costs wherever possible. For example, one money-saving idea Loane suggests is having a cocktail party with hors d’oeuvres rather than the traditional sit-down dinner. “I’ve been told that this idea is really popular on the East Coast,” Loane explains. “It saves money because it requires less square footage, you only need chairs for about half the guests and it’s more fun for people who don’t want to sit for three hours with people they don’t know.”

Though some people need tents to shield guests from hot summer sun, many of Loane’s clients want a tent only in case of rain. In the case of a home ceremony, for which the tent doesn’t have to be set up too far in advance, he offers people the option of putting down a deposit rather than paying for the whole tent if they aren’t going to need it. “We keep the reservation fee,” Loane says, “but it’s much less than the rental would be and they know they’ll have a tent if they need one.”

If a tented wedding requires more electricity than the site can provide, Loane recommends hiring an electrician (if power is available) to run a line out to the tent site rather than renting a costly generator. “Just make sure you find an electrician who understands deadlines,” he says.

Another budget-conscious idea that will probably go unnoticed by guests is to suggest that people skip pricier white wood chairs and go with plastic or metal chairs instead, says Terry Simpson, president of American Tent & Awning Co. Inc., Indianapolis, Ind.

“Even if they want wooden chairs for the guests, they can get the less expensive ones for the caterers and the band — the [non-guests] who don’t need all the fancy decorations,” he says. Simpson also suggests clients forego china and crystal for more everyday dishware that still looks good, but is far less costly.

For those who plan to exchange vows on a grassy hilltop and then have guests walk down to a tent for the reception, Simpson suggests saving money by not ordering two sets of chairs. “Some people will order 400 chairs for 200 guests in these situations, but if they can either have guests carry their chairs or have someone move all of the chairs before the reception, that works just fine.”

The best deal

Maureen Riebel, owner of San Antonio, Texas-based Elegant Events, often has to explain to clients why tents feel personal but are usually more costly than hosting an event at an indoor venue because everything must be brought in, right down to the forks and chairs. She and associate Katherine Lawrence have found several ways to help families set realistic budgets and stick to them. One of the biggest challenges, she says, is helping people factor in all the costs that can go into a wedding that is held at home. “When a wedding is planned, people wind up doing all of the things they’ve been planning on doing for years like landscaping, painting and even remodeling,” she says.

To get that point across, she holds herself up as Exhibit A. When Riebel’s son wanted to get married on a hill on the family’s ranch a couple of years ago, she and her husband had to repave a road and have a small cement bridge poured so rented vans could drive guests across a creek bed to the site.

“I always tell my clients that they’re going to get a little nutsy with what they’ll do when they’re planning a wedding at home, and I’m a good example of that,” she says. Knowing this helps people prioritize, so good event planners need to be upfront about costs, she adds.

One way Riebel and Lawrence help clients save money while also making their own job easier is to form business-to-business partnerships. A florist that Elegant Events works with, for example, took the initiative last year to invest in some elegant chandeliers that Riebel has used for several weddings.

“I’m so grateful that he was willing to take on the expense of buying them because it helps us deliver something that’s unique, which makes us more competitive.”

Mike Holland, vice president of Chattanooga Tent Co., Chattanooga, Tenn., also helps keep his company profitable by building alliances with other vendors. With lounge areas being so popular these days, he has aligned himself with businesses that offer furniture. He also has strong relationships with vendors of plates and glassware. “When we’re asked to organize a whole wedding, I call the vendors I like to work with and then they call me when they have clients who want to rent tents, so they’re great partnerships,” he says.

Some of the most important vendors for tent rental companies to build relationships with, Holland says, are wedding planners. Having one at the helm of a wedding can really save people money.

“We can put people in touch with caterers and florists, but if they really want someone who knows what things should cost and can get them better deals, people need to hire an event planner,” he says, adding that the expense will probably more than pay for itself in the end. “People don’t think about this, but when the wedding day comes they’re not going to have to be running around getting everything together. They want someone who will be handling everything from Thursday to Monday.”

Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis, Minn.-based freelance writer and editor.

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