It pays to keep calm and carry on. In fact, these very qualities have literally helped generate a growing income stream for Eileen Kaden Dean, owner of a successful wedding planning business in the New York City and New Jersey area.
“To be successful in this business, you have to stay calm and realize that a wedding emergency isn’t your emergency. You can’t make the stress about you because it’s not your day,” says Kaden Dean, owner of An Affair to Remember and a go-to wedding planner.
Kaden Dean, who opened her company eight years ago, is among the many small business owners who make up the nearly $60 billion wedding services industry in the U.S. The lucrative industry covers an array of wedding service providers, including venues, apparel retailers, florists, photographers, and wedding planners, according to market research firm IBISWorld.
The average wedding in the U.S. cost about $31,000 in 2015. Wedding costs vary greatly depending on where you live and your budget, but Manhattan is the most expensive place to get married, with the average couple spending a whopping $76,328 according to The Knot.
Although websites like The Knot and WeddingWire make it easier for couples to plan their big day themselves, many still turn to professionals like Kaden Dean. An Affair to Remember helps plan the wedding, deals with vendors, and coordinates the chain of events at the wedding and reception to make sure the day goes off without a hitch. In a nutshell, wedding planners are in the business of creating happiness and keeping everything organized, so the couple doesn’t have to worry about all the little (and big) things, says Kaden Dean.
When it comes to planning weddings, there are many moving parts, from picking out a bridal dress and venue to choosing invitations, to hiring a band or disc jockey, to selecting a menu. And the list goes on. Even small weddings—in vogue right now—aren’t as simple to plan as you might think.
“There’s a need for wedding planners as couples are busy doing other things, like looking to buy a house and working long hours in their careers. Having someone to manage things is attractive, and this way couples can enjoy themselves and be present on their wedding day.”
There’s no special education required to become a wedding planner or start an event planning company. But if you’re considering opening up a wedding planning business, Kaden Dean suggests that you first gain industry experience by working for other successful vendors. You should also forge relationships in the wedding industry. Kaden Dean credits these moves for helping her launch An Affair to Remember.
In 2002, she started working at The Wedding Library, a high-end full-service wedding planning firm in Manhattan. When it came time to start her family, Kaden Dean moved to New Jersey. The commute to her city job became too difficult, especially when balancing work and young children. So Kaden Dean took a job selling bridal gowns at Vera Wang in New Jersey. When Vera Wang moved into a larger retail space in 2008, Kaden Dean saw a great opportunity to launch her own wedding planning business. She asked to rent a small space in the bridal store where she could market wedding consulting services to the brides-to-be who were shopping for gowns.
An Affair to Remember was born.
The recession was in full swing in 2008 and it wasn’t an easy year to launch a business, recalls Kaden Dean. “It was a challenging first year, but I spent the time introducing myself to the local wedding vendors so I could find people to recommend and work with. I set the groundwork for my business and established myself.”
An Affair to Remember’s start-up costs that first year maxed out at $10,000, including the rent and furniture for the small space in the bridal shop, along with signage, business cards and brochures, a website, and advertising on WeddingWire. Kaden Dean also had to pay to attend bridal shows, hire an assistant to help her track advertising inquiries, and cover her childcare costs.
The investment and hard work making connections paid off. Vera Wang closed in 2010, but An Affair to Remember no longer needed the store’s foot traffic to bring in wedding customers. Kaden Dean had also fostered key relationships that remain strong today.
Kaden Dean strives to keep her overhead as low as possible so she can pass along lower pricing to couples getting married.
She now works out of her house, and her minimal operating costs include advertising on WeddingWire for about $100 a month and paying her three assistants. Kaden Dean meets with couples and does most of the work herself, as this is a personal business.
“Hiring a planner is so important to your big day,” says Kaden Dean. The last thing a bride needs is for someone else to show up to handle the details: “They trust me. When you hire me, you get me. I’ve never missed a wedding.”
Although her clientele is in the greater New York area, Kaden Dean recognizes that not all couples can afford to spend upwards of $50,000 on their weddings. For this reason, it’s important to offer services and packages for all budgets.
An Affair to Remember offers three pricing packages:
1. Full planning. For this most expensive option, Kaden Dean will plan the entire event from soup to nuts. This includes helping couples find the perfect venue, lining up all the vendors, helping choose invitations and centerpieces, and just about everything else. “Sometimes I even help pick the colors of the ties.”
The cost: about $5,000 and up.
2. Day of the wedding. This least expensive option is ideal for couples who want to do the planning themselves, but need some organizational help on the day of the wedding. For a typical wedding where Kaden Dean is hired for the day only, she creates a minute-to-minute timeline of when events will happen, like the hour the flowers will be delivered to the site and the exact time when the bridesmaids will arrive. On the big day, Kaden Dean is there to ensure that all goes according to plan.
She also handles any snafus. “One time a couple in the wedding party left a diaper bag in a taxi with their passports in it.” She went to work and tracked down the diaper bag, so that the couple could participate in the wedding stress-free. An hour later, the bag arrived at the venue.
The cost: about $1,750 to $2,250. The exact pricing depends on the amount of time Kaden Dean puts in, the number of assistants hired, and so on.
3. Day of “plus.” This is An Affair to Remember’s most popular offering. Couples hiring Kaden Dean for this package will plan their own weddings but rely on her to handle events on the wedding day, as well as any last minute planning issues. “I take everything they have, shake it out, and see what pockets are missing to make sure everything is cohesive.” This package usually entails five hours of consultation time, 12 hours on the day of the wedding, one hour for the rehearsal, and 15 hours of virtual legwork to put all the ducks in a row.
The cost: about $2,500 to $3,000.
If you want to survive and thrive in the wedding business, you’ve got to put on a happy face and mean it—all the time. Also, you’ve got to be nice—all the time, says Kaden Dean.
It might seem like a simple recipe for success, but if you do a great job and you’re happy and people know it, the referrals will flow and you’ll stay busy, she says.