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Working with vendors

Lesson
Materials

Vendors (also known as ‘suppliers’) are sellers of merchandise or services that may be used before, during or after a wedding. As a wedding planner, you will likely be working with many types of vendors.

Following is a list of typical vendors involved with a wedding. The list if by no means complete, but it will give you a good idea of how many different individuals and businesses are involved in the successful planning of a wedding.

  • Bakers
  • Bridal shops
  • Stationers
  • Caterers
  • Ceremony venues
  • Confectioners
  • Decorators
  • DJs
  • Florists
  • Jewelers
  • Limousine rentals
  • Linen suppliers
  • Musicians
  • Party supply rentals
  • Photographers
  • Printers
  • Reception venues
  • Travel agents
  • Tuxedo rentals
  • Videographers

It is not necessary for you to understand every facet of each vendor’s particular business because your role will be as a liaison between your client and the vendor. With some exceptions, depending on the type of service or product, your job will be the same with the different vendors and may include any of the following:

  • Recommend vendors
  • Met with the vendors chosen by your clients
  • Review and negotiate vendor contracts
  • Prepare a letter of understanding
  • Wedding day coordination and supervision
  • Follow-up after the wedding

Forming a preferred list of vendors

Many clients will ask you to recommend vendors, so it’s a good idea to have a list of ‘preferred vendors’. When you start out as a wedding planner, you can ask anyone you know who has been recently married in your area who they used, and would they recommend them. Next, look for vendors that advertise their services in the Yellow Pages – check under ‘Wedding suppliers’ or ‘Wedding services’ as well as under the specific headings such as ‘Florist’ or ‘Caterer’. You can also attend bridal fairs and expos or by searching the Internet.

Arrange a meeting

Before you recommend vendors to your clients, you will need to check them out if you can. Meet with them in person. Simply phone and ask at arrange an appointment with the owner or manager. Explain that you are a wedding planner and that you are looking for vendors to recommend to your client. They should only be too pleased to help if they want your business.

Depending on the type of vendor, they may be able to show you photo albums or a portfolio with samples of their work. For example, if you are meeting with a photographer, you can look through albums of his wedding photography and judge the quality of the pictures taken, and if the photos capture the romance of the day. Also, find out if the photographer takes candid photos as well as posed. Often the candid photos are the ones that capture the moment best, and may be the photos that your clients will be most thrilled to have.

Choosing reputable vendors

Always remember, your reputation as a wedding planner rests on the quality of the services offered by your vendors. If the wedding cake doesn’t arrive on time, or the limousine, people will remember your name, not theirs. So always ask for references before you sign a contract with a vendor. Your professionalism is at stake. Call the references to find out whether the clients’ were, at the end of the day, happy customers.

Once you’ve done a number of weddings, you will know which vendors deliver what they promise, and you will have built a preferred list of vendors that you are happy and confident to recommend.

TIP:

Some vendors may offer a ‘kickback’ for any business you refer to them. For example, if your client spends $1000 with the vendor, the vendor would pay you $100. Although most wedding planners pass on any price reduction to the client, some wedding planners keep the kickback. It’s not illegal to do so, but recommending a vendor just because they give you a kickback can cost you a lot more in the long run if they don’t do a good job for your clients.

Meeting with the chosen vendor

Once you’ve built a list of preferred vendors, you will help your clients choose a vendor that suits their budget and preferences. Of course, the client may decide to use a vendor that a friend or relative has recommended and this should not pose a problem for you. In fact, it could a good opportunity for you to get to know the service and reliability of another vendor. If you have dealt with the vendor in the past and the service was sub-standard, you should let your clients know – but in the end, allow them to decide.

While some of your clients may be quite comfortable visiting the various vendors along to choose their own wedding supplies (cake, flowers, decorations etc.), you should be prepared for those clients that want you to go with them to assist in making selections. (If you are providing complete wedding planning services, this will be part of the service you provide.

Contract negotiation

Most wedding professionals list their powers of negotiation with vendors (their cost savings potential) as a key reason why a client should consider hiring them. The better negotiator you are, the lower your client’s costs will be.

TIP:

Most vendors expect you to negotiate, and many will give you a ‘corporate rate’ to subtract 10% from the price simply because you ask for a discount.

The optimal result of any negotiation is to come away in a win-win situation for everyone. As you become more experienced in the wedding industry, it will become easier to for you to negotiate deals with vendors because of the volume of work you will be able to send their way. Until you earn a reputation in the industry however, you will have to be a little more creative to negotiate the best possible prices for your clients. Here are some effective negotiating tips.

Be prepared. A vital part of negotiating is knowledge. Do your homework before you begin negotiating price with a vendor. Find out the industry average so you know whether the price the vendor is asking is fair or not.

Be creative. If a vendor won’t budge on the issue of price, try to get them to include something that won’t cost them much, but will give the client perceived value. For example, the florist you are negotiating with will not move on the price for a bride’s bouquet. You feel the price is unreasonable, but this shop is very popular with brides and has a reputation for quality. Perhaps you could ask them to throw in a bunch of greenery that you could use for decorating an area in the reception venue. The florist gets the greenery for very little, and you were going to buy some anyway, so it’s worth a try!

Reviewing the contract

Once you have reached an agreement with the vendor, you should review the vendor contract with your clients to ensure they fully understand what they are signing. There should always be a contract in place and even if it is a very simple one it should be carefully reviewed. Some of the important information to note is:

Cost – Is the vendor charging a fair price for the service, and is the price the same as the one negotiated? Before your client signs, ensure the vendor has not added any unnecessary items or services.

Cancellation policy – This is very important for your clients to know. Of course, they won’t think it could happen to them – but couples do have to call the wedding off sometimes. So ensure the cancellation policy is clearly outlined on the contract.

Service provided – Every contract should accurately detail exactly what (and more importantly what will not) be provided. For example, if the vendor is a caterer and the venue is a community hall, it is important to know if the caterer will provide wait staff, linens, dishes, bar and wine glasses, and set-up/clean up staff.

TIP:

Make sure the contract is between the vendor and your clients, NOT between the vendor and you. If you enter into a contract with a vendor, you will be held personally liable for payment if the wedding is cancelled or postponed.

Coordination with the Vendor/ Supplier

After the contract has been signed and delivered, you are responsible for contacting the vendor to arrange logistics. It is important to learn about the vendor’s timelines and scheduling. You will also need to know whether they deliver and set up, or whether they require you to pick up items from them. Ultimately you will be responsible for seeing that all of these items come together on time for the wedding and, in some cases, that they are also returned on time).

Before the wedding

It is a good idea for you to make the initial contact with a vendor once they have been chosen, so the vendor will know immediately that you will be the main contact person.

Let’s use the wedding cake as an example. Bella Bride has decided to go with Scrumptious Bakery for her wedding cake after looking through your vendor portfolio or file. Once Bella has met with the bakery representative and picked out the design and type of cake she wants you to take over. You should send a letter to the bakery outlining your understanding of the order, the date of the wedding, the venue for drop off and set-up of the cake and any other pertinent information.

Let the vendor know that you are the clients’ representative and all contact should now be made with you on their behalf. You might include a copy of the room layout with the cake table clearly marked, and any decorating or set-up instructions that apply. Indicate that your clients are responsible for payment to the vendor, including deposits and for any loss of damage to loaned or rented equipment (if applicable). If the venue is difficult to find, include a map to get there, and make sure the vendor has your cell phone number.

Send a follow-up letter or reminder notice a couple of weeks before the wedding confirming the address and applicable details, such as the time the cake should arrive and set-up instructions. Then call the day before the wedding to confirm that everything will go according to plan. Be prepared with back-up plans in the event of unforeseen problems, for example, if the bakery were to go out of business a few days before the wedding, you will need to have another bakery you can use.

TIP:

In every correspondence with a vendor, state the clients’ names and wedding date.

Here’s a sample letter that you can use to introduce yourself to a vendor and get the details you need:

Coordinating the vendor on the wedding day

Taking our wedding cake example again, here is what you will do to coordinate or liaise with this vendor.

While the bridal party is having their photographs taken (or at another appropriate time) you will connect with the reception venue coordinator or caterer and ensure the cake and other items arrived safely and have been set up according to the plan. You will also do a visual check once you arrive at the reception venue. If the instructions were not followed, fix the situation yourself if you can, or call the contact number and ask the bakery to correct the situation. Make a note of the problem that occurred and another note to remind yourself to follow-up with the vendor.

Again, have a back-up plan in case the cake does not arrive and you cannot reach anyone at the bakery. Is there another bakery nearby that can deliver? Can the venue supply a cake? Can you find an artificial cake to use for photos? Make sure you have your back-up plans in place (for all vendors) well before the wedding day.

If something goes wrong

Mistakes do happen, and while it’s all too easy to assign blame, get the facts before you react. Vendors can and have refused to work for wedding planners who have been rude to them, or their employees. Always maintain a level of professionalism, no matter how frustrated you may become – it’s your reputation at stake. Besides, until you know for sure, be aware that it may not necessarily be the vendor’s fault. Could you have given the limousine driver the wrong address, for example, which caused him to be late to pick up the bride?

Once the wedding is over, you can take the issue up with the vendor/ and or manager. Work with management to find a solution for future events, and send a follow-up letter outlining your understanding of the events and steps being taken to avoid a future mistake. If a similar incident happens again you would be wise to stop using that vendor. This is a great time to remind you to always carry your mobile and a spare battery for those little emergencies that will happen! Above all, remember this is a joyous occasion. If you are upset or ranting, you will get everyone around you upset. Your reputation is at stake as well and it would be prudent of you to keep your temper under control. Your job is to provide order and calm to what can be a very stressful day.

Follow up

As soon as possible after the wedding, write thank-you notes where appropriate. Thank-you notes should be warmly worded and addressed to the owner/manager. In addition, you should specifically acknowledge any employees who went out of their way to provide excellent services in the letter to the manager and send a thank-you note to the employee as well. Remember, word of mouth is the best advertising tool you can employ and most of these people will either get married or know someone who will.)

Find a sample initial letter and vendor thank-you letter in the lesson materials.

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