Sonya Scott, MBC™, The Bridal Suite, Knoxville, Tenn.
Wedding planning studios are a unique product line offering that provides brides with free or paid resources to use in planning their weddings. Though a growing trend, these studios are embraced by some wedding professionals and snubbed by others. Love them or hate them, they are creative revenue streams that are part of the wedding community and should not be ignored. What should planners consider before entering into the very different territory of wedding studio ownership?
Consider your business model
Wedding planning studios can range from an office setting, by appointment only, to a warehouse or storefront with elaborate booth displays and set hours. Before deciding on your business model, set your personal and career goals and make sure the model you’re choosing will take you there. Studios can be supported by either brides or wedding professionals. You can charge through a tiered-scale, flat fee, or monthly membership, which gives brides access to the studio and planning assistance. Don’t set your rates until you’ve determined what you have to offer. Wedding professionals can be charged a monthly or annual fee in order to become a member. Some studios charge a percentage of each booking, but collections could be a bookkeeping nightmare, especially if members are listed on the studio website.
Know what you’re getting into
The advantages of studio ownership seem obvious. It makes sense that brides would jump all over free wedding planning assistance, and all of your resources are right at their fingertips. Some planners enjoy studio ownership because it gives them the ability to help brides, without having to give up their weekends for the wedding day. Of course, the biggest perceived advantage for many professionals, is gaining revenue toward overhead rental costs. Make no mistake, rent is a drop in the bucket of wedding studio overhead.
Remember that even though your current wedding business may already be established, the wedding planning studio will be less established than the businesses you’re recruiting. Do not forget to estimate the time and money necessary for marketing.
While the advantages of owning a studio seem apparent, disadvantages are more difficult to foresee. If the studio concept is new to your area, brides will not understand it. They’re used to being charged, but they don’t know what to do with free wedding services. Running a studio is like running two businesses. You’ll have to market to and meet with brides, as well as market and sell to wedding professionals. And once you accept money from other wedding professionals, it changes your relationship from friend or colleague to client.
Understand potential conflicts of interest
If your studio is supported by wedding professionals and you are accepting planning clients, you should be very upfront with brides regarding the fact that wedding professionals pay for studio membership. You will eventually experience a conflict of interest as you try to serve both brides and members. Both are paying clients, and even though you may have your favorite wedding professionals in your studio, there will be times when your brides needs are best met by a professional outside of the studio.
Some of your favorite wedding professionals may choose not to join your studio, even though you have sent them thousands of dollars of business over the years. Since you are only human, your tendency may be to not recommend your brides to those wedding pros, even though they may be the best match for a particular bride. Tread carefully, and consider your brides’ needs first.
You could also have a bride who is having a conflict with one of your members. In this case, you could feel uncomfortable addressing the issue, because the member is paying to be part of your studio. This situation can be even more difficult to address if you know the member has not received an adequate return on his or her investment.
Do your homework first
Before starting a wedding planning studio, research your market. Decide how many members you will need to make it worth your while. Analyze your vendor depth across categories, and make sure you can meet your financial goals if your top two or three choices in each vendor category don’t join.
Keep in mind that established wedding professionals will need you less, because they already have word-of-mouth marketing, money to advertise, and possibly, their own storefront or office space. Wedding professionals who do not have their own meeting space may be more willing to join, and will increase bridal traffic into your studio.
Consult a business coach or a Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE) volunteer to help you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of opening a wedding planning studio, and examine your planned business model. Doing your homework on the front end can prevent a lot of frustration on the back end.