Why good suppliers are worth their weight in gold

At the beginning of the week, we were contacted by Annabel Beeforth from Love My Dress in regards to a BBC article which  challenged why weddings were so ‘expensive‘ .

Along with other key industry figures, Laura was invited to add her thoughts to the debate, which can be read here.

However, we thought it might also be useful to share our full response to Annabel’s questions on our blog, as it’s a debate that we would strongly argue in order to ensure our couples get the day they’ve always dreamed of. . .

Firstly, can I ask you to illustrate the fees you charge for hire of your wedding venue and what is included in this fee?

Fetcham Park is available for exclusive use hire on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays for £7,000 inc. VAT.  This fee ensures that our couples have the use of the house from 9am on the day of their wedding until midnight, as well as support throughout their planning process including access to a hand-picked, trusted network of suppliers, two in depth planning meetings at the house and ongoing support from a dedicated wedding coordinator.

How did you arrive at this fee and determine what you felt was a fair and reasonable rate? How do you justify your charges?

Fetcham Park is only available for exclusive use hire for a limited amount of days per year, but the level of service that is delivered for every wedding is unwavering and likened to that of a 5* hotel.  Like most businesses, the venue itself has running costs, which include garden maintenance, housekeeping and the upkeep of all the rooms amongst many other things.  Grade II* listed houses are expensive to maintain and our maintenance and improvements are ongoing.  Not only so that we can preserve the house for future generations but so we can ensure it looks its very best for each and every couple.  There’s nothing sadder than seeing a venue looking ‘tired’ at the end of a long wedding season which is another reason why we only take on a certain number of events each year.

On top of this, and in order to establish this consistency, a team of highly professional individuals are employed by us to undertake a multitude of tasks – from liaising directly with the bride and groom (which on average, adds up to 300 emails and a day of face-to-face time), to ensuring Fetcham Park has an online and offline presence, and most importantly ensuring we are keeping abreast and ahead of industry advancements so that we can offer our couples the best service. Our staff are working 7 days a week – often late into the night so we can be available at times that suit our client – not just on wedding days and I think that’s often forgotten.

There’s also the many hours that are spent liaising with suppliers for each wedding; there are usually a minimum of 7 different suppliers on a wedding day and there can be more than 20.  In brief, it’s the man hours and behind the scenes costs that are often overlooked but when put into context, demonstrate just how reasonable our charges are. The day itself is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our costs!

What is your response to this quote in the BBC feature “With a venue setting you back on average £6,500, and a wedding dress costing in excess of £1,400, it is easy to see how costs spiral out of control.”?

It doesn’t have to cost thousands of pounds to get married – all that’s needed is two people and a registry office. However, the amount of money spent on a wedding will often reflect the quality, craftsmanship and years of experience that have gone into creating each individual element; it is the choice of the bride and groom how they choose to spend their money to mark the occasion of their marriage.

Every wedding at Fetcham Park is a bespoke event and our price ensures that we can provide the highest levels of service and attention to detail to each and every client.  Our clients also trust that they are working with experienced – and trusted – professionals.  What price can you put on peace of mind and a stress-free planning experience?

And your response to this quote “One of the best ways to make sure your wedding comes in on budget is to choose a week day in the winter.  A wedding on a Tuesday in November could be up to 50% cheaper than a Saturday in June.” 

Most people understand the relationship between supply and demand as it’s apparent in day-to-day life; happy hours during the week, cheaper haircuts on Mondays, sales on clothing at the end of a season.  The price of stock and service is all relative to how in demand they are, and the same can be said of summer weekend weddings vs weekday winter.  However unlike most venues, Fetcham Park is only available at weekends and is just as desirable in the winter as it is in summer; in fact in was chosen at Quintessentially’s favourite winter wedding venue, so our prices remain consistent throughout the year and there is no premium or summer dates.  The time and effort devoted to each of our couples – and our expenses – don’t change depending on the time of year so therefore neither do our prices.

Wedding suppliers often get a bad-rap and are accused of ‘over charging’ as soon as the word wedding is involved. Do you think this ‘wedding premium’ exists and if so why? Or do you think the media are responsible for perpetuating an old-fashioned, unhelpful view of wedding suppliers?

A fact that is often overlooked is that what a consumer encounters in day to day life is not scalable for a wedding.  Take food, for instance.  If you were to go to a restaurant chain for a meal, and have a few nibbles, then a starter, main, dessert, cheese, coffees, a bottle of wine and water and service you would probably expect to pay around £60 + per head. Bare in mind that this restaurant has reduced costs because of the high turnover of business they do.  The level of service and attention a wedding is given is over and above what you would expect in such a restaurant. Menus are bespoke, teams of people are brought in especially for you and in some cases, the quality of food will be comparable to that of a fine dining restaurant.  Plus whereas you are sat in a restaurant for a couple of hours, our team will be hosting your guests for up to 12hrs!

To give another example, a photographer is expected to have the skill to capture some of the most intimate moments of your life,  having known you for the least amount of time out of all the guests at your wedding.  That is a skill that takes years to hone.

There is no ‘wedding premium’ but there is most certainly a ‘skills premium’ needed for weddings and that is greatly undervalued and reported. It would be helpful if the media concentrated more on the level of expertise, and bespoke nature of the services provided, rather than the cost of weddings.

As most couples have not planned a wedding before, it’s to be expected that they may not first appreciate the amount of work and skill involved in creating ‘a perfect day’.  I have to admit that it wasn’t until I started working in the industry that I appreciated the hard work and dedication that the majority of suppliers demonstrate on a day-to-day basis.  That’s from an initial email, countless meetings, months of planning, the inevitable late night calls and of course the day itself!  I often cite florists as a good example: we’re all familiar with picking up a cheap bunch of flowers with our weekly shop but people don’t think about the workshop space required, the transportation, 2am starts at the flower market, the pressure of bringing flowers to bloom at just the right time, temperature variations, hand-wiring……the list goes on!  My point is that whilst a bunch of flowers from the supermarket might ‘cost’ £10, a bespoke bunch from an independent supplier (which the majority of wedding suppliers are), is going to cost significantly more.  That’s not because you’re being ripped off, it’s because we simply don’t and can’t have the same economies of scale as mass-produced products.

In order to help demystify the cost of your particular products and services, are you able to breakdown the various elements that make up the whole cost of hiring Fetcham Park?

To include every element would be a tiresome read, but the top line headings would be; venue rates, insurances, utilities, administration, wedding licence, staffing (including planning support), cleaning, event set-up, event furniture, security and marketing.

Any feedback on the BBC piece?

To quote a bride who managed to have so much support from friends and family is a skewed view on reality; most people have full time jobs and whilst I’m sure no one would turn down the opportunity to help a friend, it can become a very time consuming ‘favour’.  Also, not everyone has creative friends to lean on and trying to do it all yourself can be incredibly stressful in what is supposed to be one of the happiest times in your life.  Experienced suppliers know what they’re doing and can take the pressure off you so that you can concentrate on enjoying the run up to your day and the day itself without worrying about the details.  Professional suppliers will help you avoid a problem before it even happens!

What’s your best advice to brides/couples planning a wedding in terms of their budget?

Work out what is most important to you right from the start, and try not to get carried away with everything you see on Pinterest!

We accept that in day-to-day life we can’t have everything we want and yet with weddings we seem to forget the same rules apply and that’s often why people get carried away.  Just because your friends a particular type of wedding day, that doesn’t mean that you can too.  I think celebrity culture has a lot to blame for spiraling costs; whereas my grandparent’s generation were happy with a simple (and cheap) celebration, weddings today are increasingly elaborate with a much larger number of guests.

It’s inevitable that budgets will rise and couples will feel under pressure to equal the increasingly lavish weddings that the media is sharing. Kimye anyone?!  Whilst it doesn’t mean the average couple will suddenly start commissioning flower walls, it does permeate every day culture and Don’t Tell The Bride seems to suggest that nearly every girl dreams of a stately home and a month in the Maldives.  What happened to a reception in the local village hall and a couple of nights at a seaside town in the UK?!  I think people need to be a lot more realistic about what they can afford and then they wouldn’t feel under so much pressure.  Ultimately they’ll then enjoy the planning, and the day, so much more, especially if they’re not still paying it off 10yrs later….

A budget is all about priorities, which is why we always our couples to start with the highest value items first (do the fun stuff last!), and at the end of the day you probably need decide what matters most: having all the people that you love and care about to celebrate your marriage or having a wedding day that looks great on Facebook.  I’m sorry to sound cynical but the best wedding we’ve hosted was planned in just 5 weeks – it wasn’t about a big budget or years spent obsessively planning but rather a couple that just wanted to get married surrounded by their favourite people.  A single day can never be worth getting yourself into debt over and whilst it’s an incredibly special day, I also don’t believe it will be the best day of your life…how depressing would that be?!

One final note of caution: always check prices include VAT and make sure there are no ‘hidden extras’ e.g. we’ve recently been told of a venue charging £8 for bottled water.  That’s something even not I’d have thought to check at the start of my planning!