My fiancé and I are getting married August of next year. Under normal circumstances, that would leave plenty of time for thorough research of various vendors and probably meeting with our top one or two choices for each vendor that we need to hire. We aren’t exactly planning under normal circumstances though. We are long-distance trans-Atlantic planning. We have one trip to my hometown before the wedding, and we’ll be there for less than three weeks. We won’t have time to casually talk to many vendors, so I have been trying to research like crazy, but I’ve been having trouble.
Somehow 85% of wedding vendors (a very technical statistic I just made up) have gotten it into their heads that the best pricing strategy is to never list any sort of price on their website. Sometimes they list their bottom price, which generally includes almost no service at all. We don’t have the smallest budget in the history of weddings, but we also want to spend it practically (obvs). When you finally get the magic password right you’re able to see an actual price sheet, but if none of their packages fit your needs, they SAY they are able to customize packages to individual needs. What they MEAN is different. If you want MOAR WEDDING STUFF than their packages list, they are always willing to upsell. If you want less than their packages offer, well, you still have to pay the exact same thing.
My question is, Team Practical, what is the best way to deal with not-Practical wedding vendors? What is the best way to find practical vendors who haven’t yet found us here at APW?
I hope you can help!
Elfless in Delaware
Handling vendors can seem pretty tough at the outset. You’re hiring potentially several different professionals to do jobs that you’ve never needed to hire for and with large price tags attached. Scary! I hope you don’t mind, EID, but I’m gonna use your letter as an opportunity to talk about hiring vendors in general—and I’ve even roped the rest of the APW staff into helping me. So here we go! Vendors! (Or, as Meg prefers, Wedding Elves and Artisans!)
- Right off the bat, you don’t need to meet with several vendors. Honestly. When you mentioned something about meeting with one or two of your top options for each vendor, I started to get stressed for you. Holy Moses, that’s a lot of meetings. Somehow, weddings have been built up to be so important that normal shopping isn’t enough; we need to meet with ALL the vendors! If we don’t, we might miss out on the perfect florist! I don’t pick a plumber by having coffee with every plumber in my zip code first. I find someone who’s reasonable and good at what they do, and then I hire them. It’s okay if you’re able to do the same in wedding planning, too.
- My best advice for getting vendors to be up-front is to do the same—be up-front. You know how you complained about vendors not being straightforward about pricing? Combat this by being totally honest about budget. Rather than emailing for a price-list, consider skipping a few steps in the email-back-and-forth process and show all the cards in your hand from the beginning. “Hi! We have this much money. What do you offer for that amount?” If you have some idea, you can even use that as a segue to explaining what expectations you have for that budget. “We were hoping for six hours of photography for two grand. Can you do this? I’m not sure if this is your price range since your prices are not listed on your site,” is fine. This isn’t a used car dealership. Your vendors (hopefully) won’t be hiking their prices with greedily wringing hands before emailing you back. Most will be able to tell you point-blank what’s offered for your price-range (or if their prices start at twice what you’ve got) without the mess of haggling. Other vendors will make your life even easier by not responding to your email if you’re well below their range. (Sigh. Awfully kind of them.) Maddie, who is very no-nonsense about up-front pricing, suggests it may save you a little time and stress to cross off anyone without their prices listed. It’s okay if you miss out on an awesome vendor because you saved yourself a little time. There are other awesome vendors who do list their prices at the outset.
- That said, there are a few key points about discussing pricing and services with vendors. Every vendor has a baseline of pricing that they’ve carefully decided upon with consideration to their time, experience, and equipment. Please do not expect anyone to give you a lower price without you also making some concessions (less time, less food, less variety). The point of compromise is a give and take. Perhaps your vendor cuts their price in half to meet your budget—amazing! But don’t anticipate that happening without your making it worth their while, and realize that some vendors just can’t go below their baseline. With 52 weekends in the year, and less than half of those in wedding season, many vendors have to make a certain amount per weekend if they want to pay their rent (and possibly feed their kids). This doesn’t mean they’re greedy jerks, just that you guys might not be a perfect match for each other. Which is fine!
- Maddie adds that it’s okay to sell yourself a little. Really love a vendor but not sure how to meet their price point? Maybe they’ll be willing to shave a few bucks if you mention that the ceremony will be only ten minutes from their studio.
- When hiring a person for something you don’t really understand, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that someone is trying to rip you off. I feel this way every time I’m talking to my doctor, lawyer, or mechanic. Basically, my knowledge of whatever they’re doing is so limited, I have a constant nagging fear that this guy just made up a word and is charging me a few hundred for it. I think we often approach wedding vendors with the same trepidation. Is this the actual price I’m going to pay, or will there be some surprise tack-on at the end? Simple solution? Ask. Emily suggests that if you’d like specific answers, ask specific questions.
- Some examples of specific questions you could ask include: Will there be an additional charge for travel? Will there be an additional charge for running over time? For photographers, Who will own the rights to my photos? Will we receive digital copies or prints? How many photos should we expect? For how many hours will you shoot? How long will we wait for the finished photos? For caterers and venues: Do you charge additional for tables? Chairs? Linens? Serving staff?
- When you’ve gathered all of your info, make sure you keep track of the details in a way that allows you to compare apples to apples. Sure, this venue may be loads cheaper, but don’t forget to write down that they don’t provide any tables or chairs because that might be a problem come dinner time.
- Meg cautions to trust your gut. This wedding planning stuff may be all new to you, but if it feels as though something is off or a vendor is treating you badly, chances are, they probably are. Just for reference, every vendor should have a contract outlining what services they’re providing, how much you’re paying, and what happens if you cancel with them or they don’t deliver (and make sure you read that contract, and request changes as needed). If a vendor is extra pushy, rude, or unresponsive, consider finding someone else. Maddie adds that your impression of a professional during the first few interactions will probably ring true for how they treat you on your wedding day.
- And when trusting your gut, remember to still be nice. If you choose not to go with someone or you’re having a conflict with a vendor you’ve chosen, remember that these folks are just people trying to make a living! And they’ve all probably dealt with clients trying to pull one over on them.
- Don’t anticipate being best friends with every vendor you hire. Because we have such a terrific community of wedding artists contributing to this here blog, it’s easy to assume that you’ll *click* with every person you hire for your wedding day. When that happens, it’s terrific! But sometimes it doesn’t. It’s okay to hire someone just because they’re nice, professional and good at what they do. You don’t need to feel the urge to have them all over for a hair-braiding slumber party after the wedding.
- If your friends are vendors, don’t hire them unless you’re willing to pay them full price. Gut instinct may say, “Ah, Sarah bakes cakes! She’ll totally cut me a deal!” But if Sarah is your friend, you’ll want to support Sarah’s business, yeah? Not to mention that you’ll be avoiding a lot of hassle later when Sarah decides, meh, your cake isn’t as important because you’re “just a friend” and not paying her the full amount. Hire your friends for their talents, not for their deals. Otherwise, you may end up disappointed. Also, paying full price will limit your embarrassment at asking for a contract (which you should definitely do, even with friends). If you and your friendor both see you as a customer and not just a “pal,” there should be no misunderstanding of obligation on either end.
- If your vendors do a terrific job on your wedding day, be sure to write them a glowing review. Tips are never required (beyond any waitstaff who is making less than minimum wage), but are nice for service that is above and beyond. Meaning, don’t feel obligated to hand over an extra check unless your vendor has blown you away with their service. Nothing is as valuable to a wedding vendor as a shining recommendation, and when I work with professionals who are good at what they do, I’m eager to tell my friends.
- Lastly, be sure to check out the APW Vendor Directory. These guys have all been screened before being listed and have signed a Sanity Pledge, so you already know a little something about their ethics. And if you find a vendor that totally has APW values but doesn’t know about us yet, do us all a favor and have them apply for the vendor directory! Trust me, we all want to know their details.
Team Practical, how do you get straight answers from vendors? Do you have any tips for hiring great folks who do an awesome job?
Photo by APW sponsor Emily Takes Photos.
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!