Wedding planners take stress off families

by Bill Teeter, staff writer for the Waco Tribune-Herald

Sunday May 9, 2010

Denise Harlan - Wedding & Event Consultant

Denise Harlan (right) conducts a visit
with client Vera Limon at the coffee
shop at Books-A-Million in Waco.

Duane A. Laverty/Waco Tribune-Herald

Wedding planners know an important truth behind the frilly lace and cake-frosting facade of any wedding.

All eyes may be on the bride and groom, but it’s often the biggest day in the life of the bride’s mother.

Beyond mom, many other family members involved, including step-parents, fathers, and future in-laws. Often, relatives have strong opinions on wedding plans. If not carefully handled, problems can occur.

For wedding consultants, the people many couples pay to handle the critical details, making arrangements is the easy part.

To control emotions before they get out of hand and halt conflict are the main jobs, they said.

“Niney-eight percent of what I do is counseling the mothers and daughters. There can be very different needs and wants,” said Amy Williams, a Waco Wedding planner, who operates Shindigs Event & Party Consultants.

Wedding season

May is in the middle of crunch time for the bridal business. In 2009, 1,849 marriage licenses were issued in McLennan County. Records show the heaviest months were March through July, with June being having the most at 205 licenses issued. May was a close second with 197, and January was the slowest with 115.

Numbers from Jan. 1 through May 4 show 2010 is shaping up with similarly. Twenty-four were issued in the first four days of May, but only 90 were issued in January.

Wedding planning means advising the bride on whatever she needs. The job means orchestrating and keeping a sharp eye on vendors and caterers to make sure clothing, food, beverages and other services are taken care of when and where they should be.

When something doesn’t fall into place, these professionals must have other plans in place.

Each year about 2.4 million weddings take place in the U.S., said David Wood, president of the New Milford, Conn.-based Association of Bridal Consultants. The majority are still planned largely by the couples, but the use of planners is growing, as is the number of planners, Wood said.

The growth is driven largely by increases in the number of two-income couples in which the bride is unable to get free time to take care of planning, Wood said. It’s also being pushed by couples wanting to brand their nuptials, making them unusual in some way.

The association, a training organization for consultants, estimates the number of planners in the U.S. between 15,000 and 20,000, he said. The number has grown by about 30 percent in the past five years, he said.

Full-service planning often runs anywhere from $1,500 to $4,500, he said. Although hiring a planner is a cost, the planners have access to bulk rates and discounts that often mean hiring a planner results is a net savings for the couple, he said.

Ashley Salome, of Hewitt was married in October 2009. Her family hired Denise Harlan, owner of Thee Design in Waco, for a full-service planning job. It kept most of the stress off of her and her family at a reasonable price of about $700, she said.

Trained to plan

As more people become interested in planning, training courses have sprung up. Recently McLennan County College began operating classroom courses and an online training program.

Williams and other wedding planners said formal training is helpful, but experience is the best teacher. The best way to get into the business is to start working for a service that works at weddings or other events, Williams said. That can mean arranging flowers at a florists shop or catering.

Williams said she began working in weddings 20 years ago, including singing, and eventually learned enough to start her wedding and events planning business.

Healthy in tough times

Harlan said it’s been a recession-proof profession.

“The wedding business is booming right now, despite the economy. Budgets might be a little bit smaller,” she said.

Harlan said some brides think they can do without a consultant, but as the date draws close, they realize they could use some help.

Harlan and other planners offer everything from full packages to just day-of assistance, and it’s never too late to hire a wedding planner, she said.

Her work with a client often begins with an informal visit at a local coffee shop, and grows from there, she said.

As things progress, including the wedding day, things start to get tense, she said. The most effective tool besides a long list of phone numbers for backup bartenders, caterers and hairdressers, is being positive in how she communicates and acts with clients, she said.

“When you are positive that tends to calm fears,” she said.