Secular Ceremonies

Secular Ceremonies

Weddings are big business. In fact, The Wedding Report, a research company, estimates there are more than half a million wedding businesses in the United States, and it said the average cost of an American wedding in 2010 exceeded $24,000. Much of that expense was distributed among small-business owners, from bridal salons to caterers to hair dressers.

But being in the wedding business isn’t always romantic. It takes good planning, tact and patience. BusinessNewsDaily interviewed the owners of five small businesses that specialize in making the big day extra special.

[Editor of The Knot Says Weddings Offer Big Opportunities for Small Business]

While many couples prefer the traditional feel of a church ceremony, a growing number are choosing a more personalized vow exchange. This shift has created plenty of opportunity for Terri Daniel, a wedding planner and ordained nonreligious minister who owns Secular Ceremonies, based in central Oregon. Since 1996, Daniel has specialized in officiating at nonreligious weddings, specifically those that do not mention a deity. Over the years, she has seen a steadily growing demand for such ceremonies, which previously could be performed only by a justice of the peace.

Daniel enjoys working with clients who seek the path less traveled on their wedding day.

“Planning a wedding can be great fun if it's done in the spirit of joy rather than the spirit of following traditions that don't really mean anything to the couple,” said Daniel. Her services generally cost about $300, depending on the travel and time involved.

Of course, even nontraditional weddings aren’t doves and flowers all the time. Daniel has had difficult clients. Her worst, she said, involved a “groomzilla” who refused to comply with the process and paperwork a legal ceremony requires. But the experience taught Daniels a valuable lesson, and this officiant now has made her own personal vow: “Never let a 'Zilla tell me what to do."

Kelly Guenther Studio

Kelly Guenther Studio

The speed at which the actual wedding day can come and go is shocking to many couples. It  also has made Kelly Guenther one of Manhattan’s most sought-after wedding photographers. Guenther, who shared in a 2002 Pulitzer Prize that went to the New York Times for news photography, now takes candid shots to capture the tale of the wedding day.

Guenther’s entrance into the wedding industry was kismet. As a stringer for the Times, Guenther was assigned to the “Vows” column. She recalled getting “amazing footage” of the bride and groom one hour before the ceremony, while the wedding photographer they had hired was noticeably absent. Eventually she spotted him “sitting in the front pew of the church, waiting for them to walk down the aisle, as if he had a shot list in his head.”

That experience revealed opportunity.

“The story arch of the wedding day was right up my alley as a journalist: the nervous anticipation, the joy, the party! I loved it. It also paid more than the New York Times' day rate, so I decided to focus my efforts on running my own studio,” Guenther said.

She now has 250 weddings under her belt In addition to shooting weddings herself, she has a support team of photojournalists who also shoot for some of the country’s most renowned publications.

Seventy percent of her business is referral-based, she said, but the special relationships she forms with her brides is the heart of it all.

“Since I'm with them the entire day, I seem less like a vendor and more like an honorary bridesmaid. I become their ally, their confidante, someone they can vent their frustrations to,” said Guenther.

Those connections have opened doors to a new, largely unintended, market opportunity: documenting life after "I do.”  Client demand to shoot family and baby portraits now accounts for about 20 percent of Guenther's income.

Go Get It Events

Go Get It Events

If ever there was an event provider to act as a partner in the wedding process, it’s Jenifour Jones, owner of Go Get It Events. That’s because she produces not only weddings but all the special moments that surround the big day, from marriage proposals to honeymoons to anniversaries.

Because of the trusting relationship that grows in the wedding planning process , Jones often becomes involved in milestones of her clients’ lives.

“We have clients that we started with by helping the man plan his marriage proposal, then came on as wedding planners and continued coordinating important life events such as birthdays, anniversaries and social dinners,” Jones said.

While Jones has always been drawn to planning unique events like romantic scavenger hunts, she did not start in the wedding business. First she was doing events like birthdays.

“One day a client said, ‘If you can create such an amazing event for someone's birthday, I would love to see what you could do with a wedding,’” Jones told BusinessNewsDaily. After planning one wedding, she was hooked.

Of course, with weddings usually comes family (and not always when they’re wanted). One of Jones' clients arranged a nine-family-member conference call just 30 days before the big day, for opinions on the pending plans. From that experience, Jones learned the importance of communicating to her clients that she is happy to work with them and perhaps one other family member, but that “too many cooks in the kitchen is not a good thing.”

Sweet I Do's

Sweet I Do's

The wedding business literally is sweet for Sweet I Do's, an event design , planning and coordination company that specializes in custom candy buffets. The company has found a niche in sweet surprises, such as adding sweets to the invitations and offering complimentary “extras” such as the couple’s favorite candy to the reception.

The inspiration for Sweet I Do’s came to Brandi Blackford when she was unable to find a company to create a candy buffet for her own wedding. Having searched the Phoenix area to no avail, she took matters into her own hands.  After the wedding, the managers of her reception venue inquired who had created her candy buffet. When she told them, they were so impressed that they requested she create similar buffets for their other clients.

As Blackford put it, “The rest is sweet history!”

Though her business idea was born out of necessity, Sweet I Do’s has paid off for Blackford in more ways than one, based on the way her clients react.

“Evoking thoughts of childhood or first dates through our candy buffets, seeing their eyes light up when they get that first glimpse of their ceremony and reception decor, knowing that they were able to fully enjoy and live in each magical moment of their once-in-a-lifetime day is the best feeling,” said Blackford.

I’m a Mrs.

I’m a Mrs.

For the bride, the hardest part of being wed can comes after the big day, with the task of legally changing her name.

As a wedding guest, Jo-Anne Stayner was constantly coming up short in her search for a bridal shower gift that would actually get used. She also was constantly hearing how her friends struggled with post-wedding name hassles. She decided to tackle both problems, and, her online name-change site, was founded.

The site takes the time-consuming guesswork out of the name-change process, and is becoming a choice for bridal shower and wedding gifts. Founded in February 2009, I’m a Mrs. serves the global community and provides a choice of package options for name-change needs, ranging from basics like driver’s licenses to frequent-flier cards or alumni association notifications. The site also offers gift cards that are easy for the bride to redeem online after the wedding.

Stayner said I’m a Mrs. differs from other name-change services by providing brides with the details they need, instead of just blank form letters. For example, if a bride attended NYU and belonged to its alumni association, would provide all the contact information the bride needed to submit the letter and complete the process.

While word of mouth is a factor, this online wedding business has benefited from the modern bride.

“Google and Facebook ads can be great to really target by geography or marital status — they definitely have a leg up on traditional media,” said Stayner.