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Vendor Shopping: More Than "What Do You Charge?"

Never send an email that says "What do you charge?" or any other form of that question. Sure, you need to know the costs to see if you can even afford the vendor -- I get it. But you aren't picking up a pair of shoes here.
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Picture this: Dark night. Car pulls up to a corner. Window rolls down... a voice asks "How much?"

A scene from a movie? Something you would see in a shady neighborhood? Nope. Just someone getting married asking the cost of a vendor.

At least once a week, I receive an inquiry through my website from a prospective client that simply asks "what do you charge?" There is little to no other information, sometimes not even a wedding date. But here's the thing: if I have an entire website giving you oodles of information to look at, why is it OK to just price shop with me and not give me any details? Answer: it's not.

There are thousands of vendors available for your Big Day, and it can be a daunting task to even know where to start. Do you rely on ads in wedding magazines and websites? Editorial features where they list the vendors involved? Wedding shows? Word of mouth? OMG how can you even begin?! Well, you're reading this blog, so that's step one.

First and foremost: I beg you to stop looking for all of your vendors at the exact same time. It doesn't matter how tight your deadline is, you cannot multi-shop here or you will pass out into a wedding planning coma.

Start with the big stuff you need: venue, dress, planner (um, hello?!) and then go down the list one by one: florist, music, photographer and so forth. If you're unbelievably savvy, you'll grab a planner first to help you with the longest to-do list of your life/to help keep you from going totally insane.

No matter how you window shop, whether it's through mountains of magazines, social media or website after website, take your time and do your research. What do you like about the portfolios of the vendors you are looking at? Does their personality come through? Keep a running list of the vendors you want to interview (yes, interview) and once you reach your top 5, STOP.

Now that you have looked through their respective websites and researched everything you could, send an email or call the vendor to set up a time to meet in person. A meeting is a must so that you can see the person and find out if you will click on your wedding day. Chemistry with your wedding vendors is crucial! Your first bit of communication, however, is where many brides and grooms go wrong.

Never send an email that says "What do you charge?" or any other form of that question. Sure, you need to know the costs to see if you can even afford the vendor -- I get it. But you aren't picking up a pair of shoes here. Many times there isn't a flat fee, and sometimes vendors don't offer set packages. Understand that the price you will be charged will be determined by factors including your venue location, guest count and, oh yeah, exactly what you need.

For instance, if someone emails me with one of these inquiries, and is just price shopping, I can't answer them. What they get in response is an invitation for a complimentary consultation at my office (or over the phone). Only then can their needs be really assessed. A good example: a 60 person guest count is going to require the service of myself and an assistant, whereas a 350 person guest count will require 2-4 people, in addition to myself. That right there changes the cost of hiring a planner.

The location of the wedding will also impact the pricing offered. Will the vendors need to travel all day? Is an 8 hour package not going to work because there is a 3 hour gap between the end of the ceremony and the beginning of the cocktail hour? Does everything need to be broken down at the end of the night, requiring your florist to come back at midnight and pack up? These questions, and more, will be asked during your consultation in order to determine the most accurate price.

But you just want an idea, right? You don't know what anything costs, so you're price shopping to find that out. The problem here is that what one person says is the "average" cost, is not what another person will say. It's much more helpful if you figure out what you want to spend (or at least a range/your maximum spend) and go to the vendors with that number. They should be able to tell you if they can work within those budgetary parameters. However, when you send that email, do give as many details as possible including your wedding date, location and guest count. Do your research and tell the vendor exactly what services you are interested in.

Now, I know there are some brides and grooms reading this blog that are getting frustrated and thinking "I just want a number, I don't have time for all of this." Well, sorry... but not really sorry. This industry is super saturated. Besides the legitimate reasons that vendors have for not giving you numbers via email, there is another one you're not thinking of: competition.

Who is the person emailing me asking for my prices? Are they even a future bride or groom? Is it possible that the person emailing me is another planner trying to figure out what they should charge? This happens all the time. I don't know who is on the other end of the email, and I'm not about to reveal my pricing to some other planner who can just save that email and undercut me every chance they get. Besides, most planners (including myself) offer a "starting at" price right on the website.

Wedding planning is not an easy task and feeling overwhelmed is something that happens to almost every couple. Shopping for vendors, though, is not like picking out something in a retail store. With everyone offering something different, and every couple requiring different/customized services, you have to meet in order to figure out who the best person is for you. The only way to do that is with a phone call or email asking more than just "what do you charge?"

Don't forget: You get to plan the Big Day once, and now you know how to start!