The business end of weddings

Engage! 09 Something Blue was a fascinating conference held earlier this year at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, dedicated to promoting interaction between wedding industry professionals. The event is a regularly held luxury wedding seminar that is quickly becoming a must-attend in the diaries of those in the know. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull was in attendance and reports.  

Hosted by Sean Low who is the president of Bailey Designs, Harmony Walton, founder of The Bridal Bar and Laura Novak, of Laura Novak Photography, this session focused on assisting the audience with ideas on how to grow their wedding-related business during a tough economic climate, and at the same time provided an interesting glimpse into their own hugely successful wedding business empires.

As a previous contributing editor with Inside Weddings Magazine, Harmony Walton, worked closely with wedding planning professionals, and thus learnt a tremendous amount about the intricacies of this billion dollar industry She went on to create The Bridal Bar; a high-end online wedding planner where brides and their families can educate themselves with the assistance of knowledgeable wedding professionals.

Sean Low is the president of Preston Bailey Designs, a highly successful wedding design business that markets the brand of celebrity designer Preston Bailey around the world.
Laura Novak built up her New York-based photography business into a tremendously successful must-have service for any bride-to-be. Laura specialises in documentary wedding and portrait photography and is highly sought-after for her art.

How to begin
Dissecting the qualities required to be successful in a new business venture (wedding or otherwise) Harmony said that starting a new business such as hers which had never been tried and tested before took courage.

Sean agreed and said that to be successful you needed to ensure that who you are translates into everything that you do business-wise. “Know who you are and translate that into every aspect of your work. This makes your business sustainable and allows you to grow your business into any direction that you want to take it,” he explained.

“If you don’t have that ability in your belly, then you are in trouble” he added.

Attendees to the Engage! 09 seminar were clearly looking for advice as to beat the recession. To this end Harmony said that it was vital to be able to change to accommodate the recession. “A market such as the one in which we are operating now requires restructuring and diversification,” she said.

Sean thought that as demand slows while the recession takes a hold, it was probably an excellent time to reassess businesses and take an evaluation of the business as a whole.

Laura Novak spoke about the need to draw from sources close to you for assistance. She explained, “I have found it has been essential to find reciprocal relationships; you cannot go it alone. You are also setting yourself up for failure if you abide by the silly stereotype that creative people cannot be good business people – in fact, creative people make wonderful business people.

They simply need the resources and systems to set themselves up for success.”

Sean added that when Preston Bailey Designs partnered with Sandals in Jamaica, the business for both companies was elevated simultaneously.

“Find unexpected alliances and willing partners to make a change in your business,” he said.  

Growing a business
Those in the wedding business, such as photographers, designers and planners sell their time, so the question was posed to the panel as to how a business could grow successfully.

The panel agreed that this was a difficult concept. Laura said that she assessed where she could grow her photography business by looking at how to fulfill the needs of her local clientele. She created a separate value brand within her main business that catered more to the middle class in her local Wilmington, Delaware area, while her high-end business took care of her New York clientele.

“They get all the usual service available to the high-end clients but not necessarily me taking the photos,” she explained.

Laura’s intuitive move to create specific brand identities for each section of her business meant she could diversify and grow successfully.

Harmony said it was a good idea to try and structure your business “so it makes money while you sleep!”

“It’s hard but you need to try and create value and worth in something that did not exist yesterday,” she commented.

Tapping into other markets in a sideways movement was another key strategy for business growth, according to Sean. He explained: “Once you are completely happy with your brand and your business reflects your own personality you can find other markets. If your business is floral, why not tap into the floral container market, too?”

Empowering staff to work for you was another key strategic move, according to Harmony. “When your business becomes so intrinsically entwined with your own personality it is really important to ensure that it can continue without you. Take Max factor, for example. The brand still bears his name even after he is long gone. The customer needs the relationship with the brand, not you specifically. The brand must become bigger than you.”

Laura warned that a business should always stay true to its business plan when expansion is considered. Expansion, she explained, should always be founded upon the founding principles of the company.



l-r Laura Novak, Sean Low and Harmony Walton