Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Brides are from Mars, Vendors are from Venus

As all four of you know, I recently took a new job.  After years of working in high end venues in Manhattan (and subsequently taking what I learned to help open a colossal private event space and restaurant overlooking the New York skyline and Statue of Liberty), I decided to make a move "in-house", which basically means that in my new(ish) position, the new "me" (in my current position) calls the old "me" (meaning the person who worked for venues) on behalf of my clients to explore whether the Old Me's venue is a good fit for New Me's clients.  Confused?  Me too, but I'll spare you and save it for my therapist (and by therapist I mean a Keeping Up With The Kardashians marathon paired with a crisp and cheap glass of vinho verde).

The gist of this is that I have been on both sides of the coin, spending time first as the sales person and now as the client.  Don't get me wrong, I still answer to my own clients, but as far as the venues go, I do all the dirty leg work on behalf of my wonderful, charming, intelligent, funny clients.  Did I mention good looking?  Really, really good looking?  I kid, although my favorite part of planning events has always been the people.  Helping my clients through the entire process is especially rewarding for me.  We run the gamut together - brainstorming decor ideas, finding useful ways to incorporate personal details, and even listening to frustrated brides vent about the challenges they face as they navigate issues with their families, both new (the in-laws) and old (their own). 

Because I have always loved my clients, it's amazing to me what I sometimes see, now that I am at the other end of the stick (and phone and negotiation).  While most sales people love what they do, and it shows, in every bowl of fruit there's a lemon.  Okay, not really, very few people include lemon in their hand fruit bowls, but two of said people are related to me - my mom, who eats lemons like apples, and my mother-in-law, who has a bowl of plastic lemons on her dining room table. 

Here's a little breakdown of tips I've learned that will hopefully help you as you deal with vendors, whether they be peaches or lemons.  That said, communication goes two ways, so the below applies to vendors, too:

Speak Slowly
This is figurative (unless you're Southern, in which case you already speak really slowly).  What I mean is, be very clear on what you want, take the time to express your ideas, questions and concerns, and don't be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves.  Just as a sales person has repeated the same pitch you're hearing about seven hundred times, you've thought about your wedding just as often, but this is the first time you're discussing it with each other.  Be patient, listen and don't leave your appointment until you feel that you and the sales person both walk away with a confident and complete understanding of the other's position.

Say It With A Smile
Planning a wedding can be stressful, and when you've spent six consecutive weekends visiting every florist/band/venue/photographer within a 200 mile radius, the novelty of the search can fade.  But just as you've given up your Saturday or Sunday (as well as the five before), so has the sales person sitting across the table from you.  If you find the temptation of grumpiness setting in, do whatever it takes (iced chai, lunch al fresco, a shot of vodka) to regroup.  Greeting your sales person with a smile and a pleasant attitude is an investment, payable when you're ready to start negotiating your contract.  Courtesy goes a long way when it comes to a sales person wanting to accommodate you.  They will go the extra mile to make you happy when you're finalizing your contract, returning the favor of your favorable disposition with extra add-on's or a great price point.  Trust me, having seen this go both ways (meaning watching negotiations for nice clients versus less-than-pleasant clients), the nice guy does always finish first. 

Get It In Writing
If there is an item on your "wedding wants" list that is a total dealbreaker, you already know to ask potential vendors if they can accommodate.  While you may hear their answer as "yes", what they might have actually said was something a little less affirmative.  I've had this happen post-appointment where a colleague or client and I will hear two different answers - one hears "yes" and the other hears "maybe" or "I'm not sure" or even "doubt it" scattered within the much lengthier response of the vendor.  No matter what you hear, if a vendor really means "yes", they will have no problem putting it in writing.  In a contract.  With a signature.  If they won't put it in writing, they won't do it.  It's pretty simple.  And if you show up the day of your event to find that a verbal promise wasn't fulfilled, you have no recourse, and red-faced anger/tear-streaked cheeks is not a good look on a bride.

Some Answers Have More Than One Question
Not to put a feather in my own cap, but one of the more important skills I've refined (after lots and lots of practice), is being able to see "through" what someone is saying or asking in order to identify what the real question is.  Maybe a bride asks if the caterer can do a vegan menu.  The caterer starts to sweat thinking "no butter, no cheese? No way!", but by digging a little deeper, the real question is "can you do a vegan menu for just my sister?", while the remaining 149 guests enjoy an evening filled with meat and dairy (unless, of course, you keep kosher, which is another discussion to be had with your venue). 

"Negotiate" Is Not A Four-Letter Word
Not unlike being a vegan, being a "negotiator" is something you either are or you're not.  If ever there were a time to experiment with being one who asks for concessions from a vendor, your wedding is the time.  Most expect to haggle a bit when purchasing a car, and wedding shopping should be no different.  After all, the amount you spend on a new car and on your wedding could be the same (and if your wedding is more than your car, well then all the more reason to get your negotiations on!).  Vendors actually expect you to negotiate.  If you walk in and ask for nothing, you are doing yourself a disservice.  If it's pricing that matters most, ask for the price you want.  If they can do it, they will.  If they can't they at least counteroffer, which is still better than starting with their published rate.  You can also get creative and ask for services or items in lieu of a price break.  From a martini bar to a cupcake tower to an extra half hour, nothing is out of the realm of discussion.  Granted, there may be a few key dates where your negotiation power is diminished.  Every year there are a few "hot" dates where vendors are less likely to budge, since they can only "sell" that date (and their corresponding services) once, and therefore to the highest bidder.  The other situation in which you may not have much wiggle room is if your group size is at the bottom of their minimum requirements, meaning if the venue won't do a wedding smaller than 100, and your group is 100, well, you won't find as much leeway as someone with an extra 75 guests.  But let them tell you "no", you'll never know unless you try!

Time Is Not On Your Side
One of the most shocking habits I see is a slow response rate from vendors throughout each step of the vendor selection process.  From initial inquiry to contract request, I'm frankly surprised how long it takes some to respond.  The early bird gets the bride!  If it takes three tries to get a response while you're considering a vendor, don't expect the response time to improve once you've given them money.  In return, do your best to respond to your vendors in a timely manner, not only for their benefit but also for yours - remember, there is only one  October 10th or June 15th or whatever your date may be, and if you drag your feet, a faster bride may swoop in and nab your first choice date and vendor.

I hope you find this helpful as you search for the pro's who will contribute to your big day.  Have any other tips?  Horror stories? Fabulous experiences?  Comment below with anything you'd like to share!

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