It’s not just restaurants — KC wedding industry experiencing ‘hardship beyond belief’ during coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus came as soon as the wedding season was supposed to start.

As things currently stand, the CDC has recommended no more than ten people to any sort of meeting, Mayor Quinton Lucas has prohibited all events, and the Kansas City metro is under a stay-at-home order, leading to disappointed soon-to-be brides and grooms. Weddings aren’t just about the couples, though.

Uncertainty and stress in the wedding industry, from venues and planners to photographers, caterers, and florists, is high.

A recent study dubbed the Newlywed Report found that on average couples hire fifteen vendors for their wedding day. Weddings are expensive for a reason—there are dozens of moving parts in planning a wedding.

The report also found that fifty-four percent of couples increase their budget during planning, with forty-five percent allocating additional funds to wedding items they fell in love with along the way. According to The Knot, the United States had 845,000 weddings planned for March through May alone, but many of these weddings are being rescheduled and postponed due to the pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak and banning of events has been devastating for both couples and for wedding vendors. The Knot has even launched a coronavirus hotline (833-998-2865) to help couples with downsizing, rescheduling, and to be a sounding board for panicked brides and grooms.

The wedding industry in Kansas City is definitely feeling the impact.

“When people ask what it’s like in the event industry right now, it’s hard to know where to begin,” says Michelle Layman, owner of Events by Elle. “From a financial standpoint, the industry has been hit hard. Rental companies alone take on hundreds of events during this time. It’s money they obviously depend on. That’s gone. A lot of [weddings] have shifted to the fall, but making it until then with little revenue is a hardship beyond belief. It’s the same for all vendors, no matter the scale of events. These are all small business owners paying for mortgages, dance classes, piano lessons, etc. These events keep the lights on.”

Ultrapom, a wedding and event rental business serving Kansas City, has been really affected by the coronavirus. “The events industry has essentially collapsed,” an Ultrapom spokesperson says. “We’ve furloughed everyone but our sales team, who are frantically helping people move their events or cancel. Our cash flow has come to an almost complete stop, right at the end of our slow season, so the timing couldn’t be worse.”

Ali Madden, owner of event planning company Brick + Ivory, says the fallout from the novel coronavirus is definitely hitting her and her business.

“As of today,” she says, “I have moved or am moving four weddings and that’s really just the beginning. I have late May weddings and June weddings that will probably be affected. Certainly, one thing that is really hard is that the final payments I was expecting in April, are now getting pushed to October, November, and December. Instead of adding bookings in late fall/winter for new clients, I am taking up all of those spots with current clients.  So it’s not just losing out on payments I thought were coming now but the payments I’m missing out on with new bookings.”

Kansas City photographer Steven Michael also feels the financial impact from the outbreak. “As a photographer who does about thirty-five weddings per year, the shutdown and ban on weddings has significantly impacted my short term revenues,” he says. “I have four postponements confirmed and three to five couples that have softly considered the option not knowing how long this will last.  Fortunately no cancellations, but definitely a significant delay of income in the early stages of 2020.”

Flowers by Emily was doing OK because although weddings were being postponed and rescheduled, many Kansas City folks were still wanting to send flowers. They were getting by through no-contact deliveries. They had actually been pretty busy.

“Unfortunately we had to close because of the stay-at-home order,” says owner Emily Fyten. “We tried to stay open by following CDC guidelines and only doing no-contact deliveries, but the county doesn’t consider flowers an essential. It’s frustrating because California does. I realize you don’t need flowers to survive, but they help at times like these!”

Photo Courtesy of Steven Michael at The Guild

Stephanie Hotujec, GM of The Guild event space in the crossroads of Kansas City, can feel the uncertainty and hopes this will end soon for the sake of the couples, all of our health, and the economy.

“I have people asking me ‘what if’ scenarios daily and asking for notice about postponements,” she says. “The sad part is, we don’t really know any more information than they do.  The event ban is government-controlled.”

There is more than just the financials when it comes to weddings. Brides and grooms envision their wedding days long before their engagement, and after popping the question, they spend months planning every single wedding detail to create the perfect day with their friends and family. This means spending weeks touring venues, emailing dozens of caterers with food options, meeting with photographers and checking out different flower shops, trying on a dozen dresses and deciding which photo booth to rent, comparing lettering and stationery and linens, and so many other details that make a wedding day fun and unique.

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Photo Courtesy of Claire Ryser

“From the emotional standpoint, it’s heartbreaking,” says Michelle Layman. “We work with couples for months, sometimes over a year to plan the single most important day to them. The day they vow to spend the rest of their lives with one person because that’s how much love they have for them. That’s a lot of love. A lot of emotion. For them to hear one morning that day is not allowed to happen is shocking.”

The wedding industry isn’t just reeling from the financial impact that they must face. “I am taking on the stress of my couples, their family members and friends, their vendor team, and my vendor friends in the industry,” says Ali Madden. “The wedding industry in Kansas City is a unique one. We are very collaborative and a lot of us are very close.”

During the short “10 people only” quarantine, La Villa, an event space in Kansas City, had a wedding with 8 people. Lori Johnson, the owner of La Villa says, “It was honestly a special thing to witness. The Bride and Groom had all their friends outside in their cars watching on Facebook Live. Once he kissed the bride, they walked outside and everyone started honking their horns and yelling from the parking lot. A few people were holding up signs. They took the opportunity in front of them and made the most out of it by focusing on what was important and in the end, a larger wedding with 250 people, a large wedding party with all the fixings didn’t matter. I know this because, in the end, they said it was a perfect day.” Since the 10 people limit has now been changed to a stay-at-home order, they are now taking the time to cast new vision, cross-off old to-do-lists, make new lists, and prepare for possibilities and opportunities that are ahead.

All of the Kansas City wedding industry folks we spoke to agree: the wedding industry in Kansas City is there for each other.

“We have all rallied to reschedule hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of events,” says Michelle Layman. “When I say, “We,” I don’t mean just the planners; the florists, photographers, venues, rental companies, DJ’s, bands, caterers, videographers, stationery artists, bakers, hairstylists, makeup artists, hotels, transportation, and dress shops have all rallied. We are still rallying. Not only for the weddings inside of the ban, but also the ones dangerously close.”

The wedding industry is hurting right now, but Steven Michael says they are resilient. “I see most of my vendor friends embracing the difficulties and rallying to support and serve their clients the best way they can.”

Other vendors are finding ways to help during this time. Kiffany Bosserman, Founder and Chief Spin Artist at Cottontale Cotton Candy, has started using her hobby of sewing to aid the community. She is making fabric masks for first responders, and so far has partnered with one Kansas City police station. She is currently looking into working with nursing homes in need of masks as well. She is asking for donations of fabric and ribbon and money from people who can’t sew, but want to sponsor a mask. This way she can get some sort of income while she can’t spin her sweets, but she believes the end goal is not to make money during this time, but to help people.

Cassie Taylor, a freelance photographer in Kansas City, has offered up her skills to any businesses being affected by the coronavirus with free flat lay product shoots. She wrote on her Instagram, “while my son is home from school I need something I can do at home that helps the community. I can’t wait to resume regularly scheduled work and collaboration, but until then let’s create something positive in the midst of all this.”

Steven Michael has waived his rebooking fees so long as the new wedding date is kept in 2020 or the couple chooses a non-Saturday date in 2021.

Nellie Sparkman, a Kansas City Wedding Planner and Stationary Designer, said that it has been disheartening to see so many wedding industry peers impacted by the canceling or postponing of events, but that she enjoys everyone coming together during this trying time.  “What I love seeing is the support that is surrounding them,” she says, “live DJing for donations, caterers providing food for first responders, photographers providing an incentive for booking with planners, stationers reprinting invitations/re-save the dates at cost, etc.  The best thing you can do during these times is purchase gift cards from these vendors, book them for a future date, follow them on social media, highlight their services in a blog post and continue to support them long after #socialdistancing is a thing of the past (hopefully sooner, than later)!

Michelle Layman and the Elle Girls agree that there are many ways to help vendors in the wedding industry right now, including paying your vendors in advance to keep revenue afloat, not expecting non-refundable retainers back, rescheduling instead of canceling, ordering carryout from your favorite caterers, using social media to highlight and promote vendors you love, and buying gift cards.

Marissa Wiley, a Kansas City Wedding Photographer, knows it is tough times for sure. “Brides and grooms that have spent a year or more on planning are having to refocus and alter their visions. It’s heartbreaking,” she says. “The good news is, now more than ever I feel like everyone in the industry is being extremely supportive and extending more kindness, flexibility, and concern. It has brought out some of the best qualities in vendors – a sense of other oriented support first and foremost!”

At the end of the day, all the vendors want to be there for their brides and grooms. The Guild’s GM said it best: “We are making sure our couples know we are incredibly sorry they are going through this and that we are here to talk. We know they are upset & worried but we want them to know that no matter what, they WILL get married.”

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Photo Courtesy of Claire Ryser

Whitney Craig, Owner and Leader of Confetti Events, said the decision to postpone weddings does not come lightly.

“Multiple issues factor in,” she says, including, “the current eight-week ban on events of  ten plus people, the high feasibility of extended bans, family health issues, location of guests, and mostly the health and safety of all guests and vendors. The risk of the minimum $500 fine for breaking the social gather bans is a deterrent as well. When considering the COVID-19 uncertainty in the world today it’s always smart to have a plan and be pragmatic. As a planner, I am here to guide and support the couple’s decisions, from logistics to advocacy I am here for them.”

Social distancing due to the Coronavirus pandemic has led to a lot of rescheduling and postponing, but the wedding industry has accepted that this is a global situation that requires flexibility and kindness. The bottom line: Health comes first. The best thing anyone on the consumer side of this equation can do right now is to be as understanding and flexible as possible. Livelihoods are at stake and they want you to have an amazing wedding day, whenever that day may be.

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