It finally happened. It is heartbreaking to watch. And we (the coordinators) are powerless to help.
One of our recent brides contracted the services of a vendor who boasted outstanding (below market-value) prices in Photography, Videography and DJ services. The provider was engaged and responsive until she wrote a check and then proceeded to have a very difficult time getting the provider to return calls. While I was preparing for her day-of coordination, I experienced similar problems in connecting with the provider and was unable to confirm most details of the event in advance of the client’s wedding day but proceeded with optimism and baited breath. The provider (and his subcontractors) showed up on time and we were off to the races. Whew!
A few weeks after their event, I approached my client requesting photos of the event for our blog. It was a beautiful event and we were looking forward to posting it for all to see! … but everything fell apart.
The provider had declared bankruptcy – and to make matters worse, he hadn’t completed payments to the subcontractors. What did this mean for the newly married couple? It meant that their photos and video were, for all intents and purposes, being held by the subcontractors while they waited for payment from the initial provider.
Imagine, for a moment, how you would feel – after weeks of waiting for your images and video, finding out that you will get neither product. You have already paid your provider in full, and there is nothing you can do to get your product.
The economic depression has put added pressure on couples to find cost-effective vendors to service their wedding. Chief among their “cost-effective” options are the notorious “all in one” houses. These are professionals in the wedding and event industry who offer, most commonly, DJ, Photography and Video services in house. The appeal to most couples is two fold: 1) Simplicity. These companies offer you the ability to contract three services on one contract with one deposit/balance owed and one person to deal with for three services. 2) Packaged Pricing. By grouping all three services together, the house (which usually boasts less-expensive packages to begin with) offers additional booking incentives to close the deal. (e.x. “Since you are booking all three services, we will provide 10 uplights free of charge, a free disc of all your photos and … and… and…) It would be easy for a bride to think that she found the bargain of a lifetime.
Generally speaking, how these operations works that there is a business owner who acts as a general contractor. Much like you would hire a general contractor to build you a house or redo your condo, this contractor sub-contracts specialists to complete specific work. In construction, you would hire the General Contractor to execute the work on time, provide you with a budget, and you would pay the general contractor (or in some cases the sub-contractor directly) at agreed-upon intervals. It is very similar in the wedding industry model. A contractor will provide you with subcontractors in photography, video and dj services. In many cases, the person doing the contracting specializes in one of these fields and subcontracts the other two parts.
But much like the construction industry, there is high turn over and crooks abound. The good general contractors (usually licensed for a myriad of reasons) work hard to create a great reputation by completing work on time, on budget and with an excellent product as the end result. They rarely discount their services and align themselves with reputable specialists in rough carpentry, flooring, air conditioning, etc.
How much homework would you do on a general contractor before you engaged them to rebuild your home? Would you spend countless hours researching them? Obtaining references? Checking their history?
Unfortunately, few couples do the same due diligence before hiring a vendor to perform services for their wedding. There is so much incentive to save money wherever possible that couples become blinded by the potentially saved dollars and proceed with a vendor based on very little information.
So what can you do to avoid this nightmare?
- Research the provider. Wedding Wire, the Knot and other online aggregates can be a great resource. Just be sure to tweak the engine so that you are viewing “most recent” reviews FIRST as most of these aggregates show you “highest ratings” on top. Not helpful if you are trying to establish the vendors most current reputation.
- Ask for references – for each service you are contracting. The best way to do this is to be proactive and identify clients you would like to speak with. Facebook enables you to go on to the providers site and client previous clients to obtain feedback about their experience. By gathering a good cross-section of clients (5 more more) you can get a pretty good sense of whether the provider gave them what they were looking for on the timeline they expected it and if they were satisfied with the products they were given. Yes, this takes some time – but confidence is worth everything in the long run.
- Ask for the full names and contact information of each subcontractor. Some houses will not be willing to share this with you – and that MAY be the way they do business. They do this to protect themselves and minimize the possibility you will contract their subs directly. There is nothing wrong with this – but it doesn’t hurt to ask. This way, if the main provider doesn’t come through on their obligations, you will at least know WHO has your products.
- Ask if you can pay the subcontractors directly. This is extremely unlikely as the main provider usually keeps a percentage of the ticket, but at least you are guaranteed that the subcontractors has received their payment and you “spread around” the risk a little bit. Again, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Pay by Credit Card. If you do not receive the product, some credit card companies refund at least some part of your payment.
- Acknowledge that “saving money” is not the end all be all. Determine how much your time is worth and work to identify vendors who fit within your budget with whom you can work directly.
- Remember that you get what you pay for. The adage “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” applies to the wedding industry in spades. The reality is: you are paying for products and services – you know that there is a tipping point at which something goes from “profitable” to “unprofitable”. The laws of economics are not suspended simply because the word “wedding” is attached to the event. Do you feel that the price you are being quoted “makes sense” in comparison to other professionals in the industry? If the great photographers usually cost $4,000+ and you are being offered photography services for $900, do you believe in your heart you will get a $4,000 product?
At Event Design, we have criteria which must be met in order for a vendor to be considered “recommended”. Firstly, we must have worked with them no fewer than three times on separate events. Secondly, we must believe that the vendor provides an outstanding product. Thirdly, the vendor must have a track record of meeting the obligations of their contracts with our clients and fourth, we must believe that they would “do us proud” as a recommended vendor. After all, referring you to a vendor is a reflection of us, by proxy. Generally, we do not recommend vendors who do not specialize in one thing – and we take great care to recommend a vendor who will fit your needs, your taste and your budget.
We feel its important to note that not all houses which are set-up in this fashion are bad news – it is our hope that there are exceptions out there conducting business and rockin’ socks!
So what happened to our clients, their photos and their video? They had paid for the services on their credit card and, fortunately, were able to receive a partial refund. They took this refund and contacted their subcontractors directly, paid them the balances the provider owed and received their products. A happy ending to a very stressful situation.
By educating yourself as a consumer, you CAN find vendors who are budget friendly and with whom you can trust one of the most magical days of your life! Take care. Take time. And trust your instincts.