Saturday, May 14, 2011

Venue In's & Out's - How the Little Details Can Mean Big Bucks, Chapter 1 - Exclusive Vendors

One of the many gorgeous converted bank venues in NYC (Photo by Brian Dorsey Studios)

This is the first installment in a little series to help you stay within budget when comparing venues.  While, for the most part, venue pricing is pretty straightforward, there are a few areas that, if not accounted for in your initial calculations, can totally blow your budget out of the water overnight.  This isn't to say the topics we will cover should be avoided like a mustache wax an hour before your wedding, but just that you should pay special consideration and care so as to avoid a budgeting catastrophe, which is as welcome as a red and puffy upper lip in all your wedding photos.  Over the next few weeks we'll discuss exclusive vendors, raw loft space vs. full-service venue, additional charges to look out for and how venue design can impact your budget.

So, shall we?

Required Vendors

You picked the guy, you probably picked your ring, and the next step (and first of many) in your planning process is to pick your venue.  After hashing out the numbers (number of guests, number of dollars you're going to spend on your wedding, and the percentage of your budget you want to allot to your venue, typically 45-60%), it's time to start venue hunting.  

No pressure or anything, but your venue selection is major (as my husband says it, "MAY-juh!"), not only because it's the biggest portion of your wedding budget, but also because it will set the stage and tone for the entire celebration.  Think of the venue as the sun around which your decor, your flowers, your color and even your dress revolve.  Oh, sorry, I forgot for a're the bride, so you get to be the sun.  The venue will be some other celestial body that has other bodies orbiting it (I almost failed astronomy in college, so don't look to me for this one).  

Okay, so you stumble upon and subsequently obsess over the loft/garden/estate/museum/ballroom that is THE PERFECT PLACE FOR YOUR WEDDING!!!  The sales manager gives you the pricing, the capacities, the ceremony fees and a few incidental charges.  You whip out the calculator on your iphone, do a quick multiplication and you're ready to sign on the dotted line.  

Before you sign, please do a girl a favor and continue reading about how you might be unwittingly committing to something that could translate into a big, unexpected expense. 

"The lighting in here makes me look like a whale."
(Photo by Christian Oth, who is Othsome, if you didn't already know)
Exclusive Vendor Reason One - The Venue's Got Expensive Stuff
The first reason there are required vendors is typically in the circumstance where the venue possesses a unique historical or financial value, like an art museum or historic mansion.  I'm sure if you've ever thrown a party in your own home and spent the next three days doing damage control, you can appreciate this.  I once threw a party in high school at which a guest thought it necessary to deploy a handheld fire extinguisher in my bathroom.  Where were my exclusive vendors, say security or cleaning crew, when I needed them?

Sure your venue loves you, but they don't trust you or your friends after three tequila shots and a bottle of prosecco.  There's a running joke/saying in our house, "it's not a party until someone poops on the wall".  Believe you me, some crazy stuff happens at weddings, and a venue like the American Museum of Natural History doesn't want any poop on their walls. 

And the same goes for your vendors.  The Guggenheim, let's say, doesn't want your wedding DJ, who is your cousin's friend's ex-boyfriend's former jail cell mate, coming in with t-shirt guns and sparklers and causing any damage.  So they limit the vendors, like florists, dj's and photographers, they allow to ensure that the vendors are kind to the space.  You'd think all vendors are conscientious of this sort of thing, but they are not, just like that friend that never seems to notice that you are a shoe-free home and insists on traipsing across your beige carpet in their wellies every time they come over.  Some vendors are messy or careless or too inexperienced to know what needs to be done, and a venue will want to exclude these offenders from working in their venue.

Ellis Island (Photo by Kevin McCornick/Courtesy of Ellis Island)

Exclusive Vendor Reason Two - The Venue's Logistics are Challenging

When I was shopping for my wedding dress, I got into a chat with the bridal salon owner about her wedding.  She got married in a beautiful converted bank building with imposing pillars and soaring ceilings.  She loved the glamour and grand scale of the room, but didn't love a little detail she neglected to notice upon signing her contract - the venue had a required and exclusive lighting & sound vendor whose final bill came in just shy of $20,000, something she hadn't calculated into her venue costs.  

Now before you start with the, "hey, that's not fair", let me explain the logic behind an exclusive vendor.  The venue is not trying to fleece you or trick you into spending more money.  In the circumstance of the bank example, the reason they require a lighting and sound vendor is because the room is all marble with 60' ceilings.  I'm no sound technician, but anyone who has sung in the shower can tell you sound will echo, travel, bounce and spin all over that room.  And let me tell you, bad sound engineering goes over during a wedding ceremony like a fart in church.  "I do, I do, I do, I do".  Oy.  So they hire one company who can work that space over like nobody else, ensuring no embarrassing reverb ruins your party and that your sound (and often lighting) is flawless. 

How to Work with an Exclusive Vendor

While it's great to have the vendor's expertise on the matter as well as their experience working, well, every event that's taken place in the space, what is not always ideal is the inability to price out competing bids.  If you have a smaller budget than what they require, then you sometimes have to make tough decisions about what to keep and what to discard, whether it's within the proposal for the vendor's services or whether it's from another portion of your budget (say goodbye to hand calligraphed invitations!).

So what's the solution then?  Whenever a vendor is required, have your venue sales manager arrange a meeting for you with the vendor, and get a price quote in writing with a reasonable offer valid date included so that you can tack this cost onto your final calculation of just how much the venue in question will run you.  Why the note about the expiration date on the quote?  You want to make sure that whatever price you're banking on (badum!) is the same figure you end up contracting for, eliminating the opportunity for the vendor to change what they will require you to pay.  Trust me, you don't want to leave room for "Oh, our labor costs went up", or "Oh, that pricing expired on December 31st, 2011.  Here's our new and higher pricing for 2012", or "Oh, Eddie?  He left three weeks ago.  I'm your new contact.  Let me revise this quote for you".

Get creative in your discussions with them.  Since the vendor is there all the time, find out what the event before or after you is doing, and see if you can overlap some of the services to reduce the cost.  Or ask what styles of lighting look best in the space and which pack the most punch budget-wise.  Treat them as a friendly resource, not as the troll guarding the bridge, and most times they will be flattered and excited to help you make a big impact on the space with a smaller impact on your budget.   And if they don't, maybe it's a sign that you wouldn't enjoy working with them (especially after they've cashed your deposit), and that you should keep looking. 

While this discussion (a lengthy one at that) has been about a single exclusive vendor, some venues have a few vendors from you to choose from, let's say four florists, six dj's and five photographers.  The same goes for this scenario - get quotes, compare apples to apples, and don't commit to the venue if you can't also commit to the vendors.  It's also worth asking if there are other vendors who aren't on the list that they allow, or if there is a fee for bringing in an outside vendor.  

Okay, if that's not enough for one post, then we've all got issues.  You can see why this topic will be divided into more digestable installments.  Mama is a chatty Kathy when it comes to this stuff!  

Next week we'll go over raw loft spaces vs. full service venues.  Make sure you tinkle before you sit down to read it because I can only imagine it'll be a long one!  

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