The most complete guide to wedding planning and services in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

Shopping For The Perfect Wedding Vendor

By Rachel Shreckengast (author of Wedding Dollars and Sense and Say "I Do" to Saving Money On Your Wedding)

Planning a wedding can be a stressful and often frustrating experience. There are so many things to learn in such a short amount of time. Not only do you have to choose attire for the bride and groom, but also for the bridesmaids, flower girls, ring-bearers, best man, maid of honour and groomsmen. You have to find a site whether you're having an outdoors wedding or an indoors one. It doesn't matter whether you choose a hotel, church or park wedding...it's still a task you have to take on. Then there's the flowers. Should you have real flowers or silk? Do you want centerpieces or an arch? The videographer and photographer bring up more questions. Should you preserve your memories on video or via pictures? With so many options available to couples, it's often hard to sort out where you should start...and how you should proceed.

Vendors of every type and form are the most common option available to an engaged couple. Of course, there's a good reason for this...it's very difficult to plan a wedding without any help whatsoever...and vendors *are* there to help you with those tasks you need help with. Whether you choose to employ vendors for every task or for only a few...it's easier for you if you're prepared before-hand. The ideas presented in this article should give you tips on; finding a vendor, finding the best vendor for you, precautions you should take, money-saving tips, how to communicate your needs to a vendor and finally some general ideas and tips.

How to Find a Vendor

There are three main ways to find a vendor...by word of mouth, through your phone book or from advertising or print. Word of mouth can come from many different sources and in many forms. Whether you choose to ask a friend, family member or a different vendor, this is the preferred method. It allows the couple to find out what the general opinion of the vendor is, as well as what that person's experiences with the vendor was like. The couple can discuss the general attitude of the vendor as well as the amount of professionalism that the vendor exudes. While this is considered the best way to find a vendor...this method tends to give the couple a false sense of security. One person's opinions may or may not mesh with those of the couple. It also tends to cause the couple to follow their instincts less closely. In some cases this is fine, but in other cases...the couple finds that there is a personality conflict or other problem that they hadn't prepared for. In any given area of the United States...you can looto the yellow pages of your phone book to find a vendor. The phone book can be a form of advertising for vendors, but has one benefit over other types of advertising. It allows the couple to find most (if not all) of the vendors of that type in their area of the country. With a little bit of work on the couples part, this is a very easy and useful method of finding a vendor. Of course...as with any purchase of services the couple will need to take a few steps to insure that this is the right vendor for them. I'll go over a few of the steps in the next section of this article.

Advertising is an effective tool for finding a vendor as well. Whether you find your vendor through a television ad, newspaper ad, over the internet or even from a bridal magazine...most advertising includes either rate information or it shows what type of services that vendor offers. If you have to rely on advertising to find your vendor you should remember that the biggest ad doesn't necessarily mean the best services. You still need to insure that this is the right vendor for you. There are numerous reasons that a vendor might have a large (or flashy) advertisement. Some of them include; professionals who have been in the business for a while...and are successful enough to be able to afford the ad, it may be because the vendor offers a "package deal" at a very affordable price...but lacks in the service department, etc. The reasons can be both good or bad. Always shop around no matter which form you use to find a vendor.

Finding the Right Vendor for You

Most vendors are highly qualified professionals with good reputations...and they deserve your patronage for their quality and professionalism. Unfortunately...as with any business or service...vendors fall into three basic areas--good, bad and okay. Most couples want to find a good vendor...and with a little bit of work they can.

I prefer to interview a vendor over the phone before I meet with them. This has one advantage. You can get a general feeling of whether your personality and that of the vendor matches or is totally opposite....and can decide whether to interview in person or not. Of course this is not always possible and is only one of your options. Whether you interview over the phone or meet the vendor first, there are a few questions that will insure that you choose the right vendor for you. They are as follows:

1.  Does vendor have references (including phone numbers/addresses of brides/grooms) I can contact?
2.  Do I feel comfortable with this vendor?
3.  Was vendor recommended to me by someone I trust?
4.  Is vendor willing to work with me to help me realize the wedding want?
5.  Are vendor's prices fair?
6.  Does vendor listen to my ideas?
7.  What type of personality does vendor have? (example-bossy, friendly, nice disposition)
8.  Is vendor willing to put his/her claims in writing?
9.  What is my gut-feeling about vendor?
10. Is vendor treating my wedding as if it were a special event (rather than one among many)?
11. Is vendor helpful?
12. Does vendor treat me with respect?
13. Do I trust vendor to take the special needs of bride/groom into consideration?
14. Does vendor seem familiar with their area of business/expertise?
15. Does vendor give you the type of service that you are looking for?

All of these questions are important as they give you a "feel" for your vendor and the services that they offer. Most vendors work hard to insure that you are receiving a quality product and quality service at a fair price. These questions will help you weed out those few that don't. You can use these questions if interviewing over the phone...then use them again during the face-to-face meeting in order to reinforce your initial observations.

Many vendors work from inside their home and many others work in a business type setting. Is there an advantage with either? The answer is...sometimes. In general, those that work from a business type setting are more professional...while those that work from home will take more time to be personable. Of course, it also depends on the vendor...you will find some vendors that work from their homes to be professional, while some who work from a business type setting are very personable. It all depends on what you're personally looking for...and which you feel the most comfortable with.

Comfort is perhaps the biggest factor in finding the best vendor for you. If you don't feel comfortable with a vendor it will be difficult to trust that vendor. There has to be trust on both sides with the couple and vendor relationship. If neither party feels comfortable the relationship will be a strained one...and things won't go as smoothly as they should.

Precautions

This section will focus mostly on contracts between you and your vendor. The first piece of advice is to always get a contract. A contract will protect both you and your vendor in the possibility of something going wrong. As for what should go into a contract...it depends on the vendor's services. There are a few items that are specific to the type of vendor, but there are a few general items you should insist on including...no matter the type of service. Below you'll find a small list:

1.  Note date of contract, name of vendor and name of customer
2.  Note description (as full of one as possible) of the services the vendor is offering.
3.  Note manufacturer, style #, size or any other pertinent information.
4.  Note all additional costs (these can be hourly costs, alterations or add-ons in the contract).
5.  Note price of product or service
6.  Note exactly what customer receives for price (an itemized list is easiest form of this).
7.  Note what steps will be taken if service is not given as promised
8.  Note any deposits (non-refundable or not)
9.  Note date and time of wedding (when services will be rendered)
10. Have both the vendor and customer sign the contract if both are happy with the terms therein

There are two additional tips concerning contracts that I can offer to you. The first is to never sign a contract without reading it and understanding the terms in it. If you don't understand it, then you won't know if it's been broken. The second is that even with a contract non-refundable deposits are still non-refundable. Which is why you should take the steps outlined above to insure that you've found the right vendor for you. The trust factor comes into play extensively during this stage.

One more note on non-refundable deposits. They are there for a reason. The vendor needs to protect himself/herself from fraud just as you do. A non-refundable deposit is one of the best ways to do this. It is *your* responsibility to determine whether or not this is the right vendor for you before you get to the stage of signing contracts. If you decide that you no longer want or need the services of the vendor for any reason other than those stated in the contract...the vendor is protected, and is able to protect himself/herself against lost revenue because of a change in plans by the couple.

Money-Saving Tips

Most vendors are very open to negotiation when the subject of fees come up. Of course there are some items that have a set price due to cost of materials, time, etc. While it can be intimidating to ask for a fee reduction....there are cases in which it is warranted. Perhaps you don't need a part of the services that the vendor offers...or perhaps you simply can't afford the vendors price. It's easier on everyone involved if you have a good solid reason to ask for a fee reduction. For example if a florist has a package that includes 20 centerpieces...but you only need 10...ask if she/he would be willing to cut the price to reflect what items are needed rather than included. Any changes of course should be added to the contract.

If you can't afford the services of the vendor, but would really love to use and have a great rapport with a vendor...it's more difficult to get a reduction as the reason isn't as solid. However; you can do a bit of legwork to compare prices. If you find a vendor with a comparable product and service but a lower price...all you can do is ask. Be honest with your vendor. Tell him/her that it would be difficult to afford the price he/she has set. Tell him/her that you've compared costs and found a lower price for the same quality, product and service, but would rather use him/her. You won't always get a discount in this manner, but if you're honest and honorable about it...some vendors do appreciate being thought so highly of and will reflect that by matching the other price or offering a small discount.

If the vendor has given discounts regularly in the past...and you know of someone who has gotten such a discount...you can ask him/her outright. Some vendors will regularly offer discounts during certain periods of the year, on certain non-traditional days for a wedding (such as Sundays), etc. The only way to find out if a vendor will offer any kind of a discount is to ask him/her. They may and they may not, but it's always wise to ask about the possibility. I'd personally pay more for great service...and if you feel that the vendor's price is fair...and you feel comfortable with the price...then discounts may not come into the picture for you. This is perfectly acceptable as long as both parties are happy.

Finally, there is one last way to find a discount from a vendor. If you have a service that you can offer the vendor, the vendor may be willing to exchange part of his services for yours. This is called bartering and has been around longer than money. It has long been used by people who are short on money, but have a talent that they can exchange for services. The best example of this that I've personally seen is a friend who offered a years worth of yard work in exchange for the services of a consultant. She's shoveled snow, raked leaves, mowed grass and even planted a garden, but both parties feel as if they got the better end of the deal. That is the secret of bartering...the services you offer must be comparable to the services the vendor offers or else one of you will feel short-changed...which isn't very conducive to a good working relationship. If you decide to try this however, be willing to meet with some opposition. Not all vendors appreciate this approach...and not all vendors are willing to accept this type of arrangement.

How to Communicate your Needs to a Vendor

You're finally at the point where you've chosen you're vendor, signed the contract and are feeling comfortable with your vendor. Now all you need to know is how to communicate your needs effectively. This can be accomplished in many different ways. Speech is an important part of any communications, but there are other options. For example; if you are dealing with a bridal shop, but aren't sure how to communicate the style of dress you're looking for....you have the option of being prepared before you visit. Check out bridal magazines, dress design descriptions from your local newspaper, check out fashion books from your local library, etc.

Treat your vendor with respect. Not only does this add to the vendor customer relationship, but it also means that a vendor will be more willing to listen to and help you with problems and areas of their services that you don't understand. Just like you, vendors don't appreciate people who act childish, throw fits or don't respect others without reason. In order to have a good relationship with your vendor, you need to respect the fact that they are professionals, that you chose this vendor for a good reason...and that most vendors are willing to help as much as they can. Yes, you have paid the vendor for his/her services, but that doesn't mean that good manners and common sense have to get thrown out of the window. Treat your vendor with respect, and you will be respected back.

 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maryland Wedding Guide, The Washington DC Wedding Guide, The Baltimore Wedding Guide or its advertisers. We thank Rachel for sharing this document with all of us.