Last Friday, the ABC News program 20/20 aired a segment called “Wedding Confidential,” which they pitched as some kind of scathing exposé of the wedding industry.
Many others in the wedding business already beat me to critiquing the show. Which is great, because it gave me some time to consider my thoughts on what amounted to, in my opinion, an entirely typical, sensationalist newsmagazine segment. Nothing more or less than I’d expect, really.
I don’t take issue with the assertion that some wedding businesses engage in unethical practices, or that better deals can be found when you know what to ask. I think those things are definitely true. And, while I rolled my eyes at the whole “OMG! Brides are being ripped off!” framing of the segment, I couldn’t say that there weren’t at least some kernels of truth in an otherwise trumped-up story.
What I’ve been pondering, though, is this crazy notion that wedding businesses are – or, at least should be – something other than businesses.
We’re here to make money by providing goods and services to consumers. If you’re smart, and you don’t suck at life, you’ll make sure those goods and services are worth what you’re charging and you’ll deliver them in a way that makes people feel good about purchasing from you. But, ultimately, we’re just businesses.
Not friends. Certainly not charities.
And that doesn’t make us vultures.
Weddings are, almost by definition, a luxury. You truly don’t need anything to get married except a license and someone to make it legal. No food. No music. No flowers. No photos. No makeup. It’s all pure luxury. That’s what makes this kind of media chastisement of wedding business owners so completely ludicrous – there is no reason to feel bad about offering a product or service, charging what it’s worth, and selling it to willing customers. Period.
Now, to be fair, I’ve definitely done my share of criticizing shady sales practices. My former business partner and I once co-wrote an e-book denouncing companies for engaging in tactics like what Ms. Vargas called “the Mercedes Syndrome,” in which prospective clients’ events are priced based on the cost of the car they drive. That kind of arbitrary pricing is just gross, because it has nothing to do with what actually goes into a wedding.
Just as gross, however, was 20/20’s decision to paint all wedding businesses’ practices with the same ugly brush. There is absolutely nothing wrong with charging a client more for a wedding than a party when you’re investing more in product, labor and time.
According to Ms. Vargas, however, it was shocking that a DJ would charge more for his “Wedding Director” services than to be “just a DJ,” as the fake bride claimed to want.
This is nonsense, because you know what? Wedding business owners have the right to decide what products and services they will include in their rates, and to turn away clients who don’t want or value those services. We are not obligated to strip down our packages to bare bones – foregoing our income and tarnishing our brand among other wedding vendors and guests – just for the privilege of doing someone’s event as cheaply as possible. I wouldn’t send one of our DJs out with sub-par equipment, even if the client insisted he or she didn’t care about the quality. My brand, and the kind of experience my company is known for providing, is way too important, and I’ve worked way too hard to build it.
Interestingly, Ms. Vargas’ ridiculous claims were bolstered by Denise and Alan Fields, the apparent king and queen of bargain hunting in the wedding- and baby-related industries. Their spy missions gave 20/20 plenty of fodder for this story. Of course, the Fields’ books aren’t offered for free, because (quelle horreur!) they’re making a living selling a product. Just as ABC News sells advertising. Neither of them are operating as charities, nor should they.
I don’t know who originated this notion that wedding businesses owe couples “bargains,” and how earning a living – even a good living – as a wedding business owner became such a horrible thing. Clearly the fear-mongering news media, desperate to pitch stories, isn’t doing anything to dispel it.
So what can we in the wedding business do? Well, I think confidently owning one’s status within the for-profit wedding industry is a good start. Acknowledging that we provide valuable, quality goods and services – and that we charge accordingly – is a way to take back the pride in operating businesses that do fulfill a worthwhile purpose.
I know that I, for one, am not going to allow myself to feel threatened by tabloid TV, or bargain-happy authors, or anyone who feels that luxury services (and the people who provide them) are shameful. I feel fantastic about what I do. No shame in my game.