Big weddings just a memory as planners offer small-group vows
The big weddings of yesteryear may seem like a distant memory, but despite taking an undeniable hit many vendors and service providers in Miami’s wedding industry have managed to hold on, prepare for the future and launch innovative new platforms, services and side businesses.
Though these vendors are certainly experiencing Covid-related challenges such as a decline in destination travel and shopping, failure to qualify for government assistance programs and the simple lack of weddings at the moment, they have also managed to seize and create opportunities by taking advantage of technology and working within social distancing parameters to create safe and unique experiences for clients.
“Marry now, party later” has become the mantra for many quarantined couples looking to tie the knot, said Melissa Jimenez, co-founder of Small Miami Weddings. At the moment, she said, couples who don’t want to put off their big day may look to small ceremonies and elopements now with an eye toward having a larger celebration or reception later.
Ms. Jimenez and co-founder Gennesy Martinez started the company, which focuses on planning all aspects of the ceremony for elopements and small weddings, in 2012. The pair offer packages starting at $600 for elopements of up to six guests that cover the officiant, floral arrangements, photography, marriage certificate and wedding concierge. Packages for larger parties and add-ons such as music, extra decor and even champagne are also available.
While gatherings of more than 10 people are restricted at the moment Ms. Jimenez, an officiant herself, has performed small elopements throughout the pandemic. These intimate events can accommodate the couple, up to six guests, an officiant and a photographer, she said. And, while the guests may be spread out and wearing masks, elopements now look much like they did before the coronavirus hit.
According to Ms. Jimenez and Ms. Martinez, inquiries for the next two years are already rolling in. While some business slowed during the pandemic, in part due to a decrease in travel leading to a decline in destination weddings, the co-founders used the time to rebrand the company website.
Leveraging technology has also been a priority as of late for Maggie Rodriguez, owner of event planning and catering company Inspired Events. While she customarily offers a range of celebration and catering packages for local events, Ms. Rodriguez is working on launching Wedding Masterclass (masterclasswed.com), an online platform that will offer wedding planning lessons and services to clients all over the nation.
Courses range from venue and caterer selection to photography and videography, Ms. Rodriguez told Miami Today, and are taught by instructors who are experts in each area. Clients can also purchase services such as “Wedding Planner on Demand” and “Wedding Blueprints,” which give them the opportunity to call or text a wedding planner for advice at any time or receive a “blueprint” that offers the client curated recommendations for planners, venues, caterers, and more in their area based on their budget and vision.
According to Ms. Rodriguez, one struggle many members of the wedding industry face right now is the inability to qualify for the Payment Protection Program loans that helped other small businesses.
“A lot of our industry,” she said, “are 1099 employees (independent contractors.) We don’t qualify for the PPP; we fall into a black hole and a lot of (assistance programs) didn’t really help us.”
Being fiscally responsible before the pandemic, she said, has allowed her to keep business running and continue to move forward.
Lisa Merritt-Lee, owner of styling company Alluring Faces, has also used the virus-induced slowdown to work on a new project: the development and branding of her new vegan, custom-blended cosmetics line “Alluring Beauty Cosmetics.”
Ms. Merritt-Lee, who started her career as a production makeup artist, has been working in the wedding industry since 2003 and offers packages including full hair and makeup services to her clients. While she typically does 25 to 30 weddings each year, Ms. Merritt-Lee said this year has definitely been slower due to the pandemic and many couples have pushed their weddings back, some even postponing the celebration twice, due to the virus.
Depending on clients’ needs and budget, Ms. Merritt-Lee offers packages ranging from $250 to $2,500. Customers looking to get their hair and makeup done in her studio pay less, while those looking to have these services done elsewhere or want to keep Ms. Merritt-Lee close throughout the wedding pay more. “I have brides that want me there the whole day!” she said.
When larger gatherings gradually resume, Ms. Merritt-Lee predicted the atmosphere would be “normal but cautious” and said more outdoor weddings in beach and garden venues may emerge, as couples reluctant to chop guest lists may still appreciate an opportunity to social distance.
As wedding trends change, one element that Catherine Fox-Milian, owner of bridal boutique Chic Parisian in Coral Gables, says brides may continue to splurge on is their gown for the big day. According to Ms. Fox-Milian, the store has been relatively busy since the end of the shutdown, albeit with new safety precautions in place.
“Even if (brides) cut the amount of guests they still want their dream gown,” she said, “they want the dress that makes them feel like the best version of themselves. So I think in that sense we’re lucky.”
While the family-owned studio has always been by appointment only, Ms. Fox-Milian said the number of appointments per day has been decreased and spread out to accommodate social distancing. Now every appointment is treated like a VIP appointment, with brides getting plenty of space to themselves and at least two hours to shop. However, only two guests may accompany brides to these meetings, and all must be masked.
Before the pandemic, Chic Parisian could see 40 brides on a busy Saturday, a number that has been intentionally decreased to 12 to ensure the safety and comfort of guests and staff. Virtual style consultations are also a new option for brides who can’t come into the shop yet, including those from other countries who see Chic Parisian as a destination boutique.
Since the studio’s designer dresses are typically made-to-order, Ms. Fox-Milian said, another important consideration is how manufacturers have been affected by the pandemic and material shortages. Some, she said, are requesting extra time for custom dresses, which start at around $4,000 at Chic Parisian.
“All of the lines of production have been interrupted somewhere along the way,” she said. However, one thing brides can look forward to is summer trunk shows at the boutique, which give them an opportunity to shop new trends and capsule collections that are not in most stores yet.