Why Do Wedding Vendors Charge So Much?
Updated: Jul 8
One of my recent clients told me she was blown away by how much one photographer can charge for 8 hours of coverage. "I mean, sure, they've got some editing to do after the wedding," she said, "but that's still got to be, like, a hundred dollars per hour, minimum! I only make eighteen!"
And she's right! Wedding vendors do charge pretty high rates. But it's with good reason. In today's blog, I'll try to help explain why.
The Wedding Tax
First things first, I'm not going to touch on "the wedding markup" (also known as "the wedding tax") that you may have heard of before. That's where a business charges more for a wedding than for a comparable corporate event or even a "social gathering". That is absolutely a real thing, but it deserves a blog post of its own.
You're paying for their experience
I recently came across this image on my Facebook feed. It had been posted by a floral designer friend of mine and it resonated with me as well.
I've spent my entire adult life learning to do what I do. What used to take me eight hours, I can now pretty much do in my sleep (or in twenty minutes in my office). Should I be billing my clients for the twenty minutes I actually worked? For the 8+ hours it would take most other people to do it? For the 10 years of practice, training, and schooling I've had?
I know what you're thinking. "Whoa, whoa, Todd. I've got ten years of experience in my field too and I earn just slightly more than what our new hires do. Why should I pay you an arm and a leg for your experience?"
I hear you. You make a fair argument. But paying for their experience is just one piece of why wedding vendors charge so much, so let's move on!
You're Paying for Their Business
When you hire a solopreneur (or any small wedding business), you're not just paying the person who's doing the work. You're paying for their overhead expenses. You're paying for their rented office space, their business insurance, their taxes, their office equipment, their printer ink, and the tools of their trade (like camera lenses, makeup brushes, or inventory management systems). You're paying for their advertisement listings on websites like The Knot and WeddingWire, for their software subscriptions, for their participation in local wedding fairs, and for their memberships in local networking groups (which almost certainly directly benefit you, the client).
Of the $100/hour you're paying to the vendor, 25%-75% is probably going toward these necessary business expenses, which can add up to multiple thousands of dollars every year.
You're paying for their relationships
When you pay your vendors, you're paying not only for them, but for their relationships with their entire network of other local vendors, many of which they may have been cultivating for several years. Those relationships will likely save you money in the long run, so you really are getting your money's worth to invest in them.
You're Paying for their Work Before and After the Wedding Too
It's easy to forget that your vendors aren't just working for you on the day of your wedding. No matter what they are doing for you, each vendor you hire is spending at least some amount of time researching and preparing for your wedding before the day of your wedding.
A photographer may spend between 1 and 5 hours prior to your wedding day working on getting everything ready and anywhere between 10 and 40 hours editing your photos.
An officiant will spend many hours consulting with you and writing your ceremony before the big day.
A cake decorator can sometimes spend up to 16 hours making your cake, and that doesn't include the time it takes to work with you on designing it or the cost of the materials.
At Woodland Events, our Wedding Day Management package usually includes about 16 hours of work prior to your wedding day (not including the hours added up spending a couple of minutes here and there writing emails and having brief phone conversations) and 10 hours on the day of, which means you are paying roughly $45/hour for our $1200 package.
You're paying for their Non-Billable Hours
It may surprise you, but I'm not getting paid by anyone to write this blog. Not directly anyway.
When you pay your wedding vendors, you're not just paying for the time they spend working for you. You're paying for the time they spend writing blogs and social media posts, researching the latest wedding trends, attending webinars and educational sessions, working on business accounting and taxes, writing invoices and contracts, getting coffee with other vendors, and so much more.
You probably spend about 40 hours a week working in your industry. So do your vendors. And there's no way they can exclusively do the work their clients are paying them directly for. Personally, I spend about 25 hours each week working directly for my clients and the other 15+ working on all the little things I need to do to keep my business going.
You May be Paying their Only Income for an Entire Week
While some officiants and makeup artists may have several weddings in a day, many wedding vendors cannot book more than one wedding in a day, or even in a week. Consider also that in the winter months, many wedding vendors go two or even three months without a single wedding.
When you pay a wedding vendor, you're paying them for the time they're spending working for you during the off season.
You're Paying the Individual Last
This last point is more true for solopreneurs than for businesses that have a staff (hopefully).
When you pay a wedding professional, the person doing the work is taking the last (and probably smallest) cut of the money. Of that $100 per hour you're paying the photographer, they may only be using $12 - $20 of it to pay their bills, fund their health insurance and retirement, and support their families.
Here at Woodland Events, we've been open over a year and I still have yet to transfer a dime of our revenue into our personal bank account. (Fun side note: before I opened Woodland Events, I always criticized entrepreneurs on Shark Tank who said they'd been open two or three years and hadn't paid themselves yet, but now that I'm in the same boat, I get it...hopefully you do too?)
You're Paying for a service in a pretty Weird Market
I don't think this blog post would be complete if we didn't acknowledge that the wedding industry is an economic anomaly. One photographer may charge $1100 for what seems to be an identical service to another who charges $4500.
In the Twin Cities, wedding planners charge anywhere between $750 and $2375 for day-of coordination (with an average of $1453) and between $1995 and $8000 for full planning (with an average of $4199).**
The average consumer is accustomed to familiarity and transparency. These two factors help to ensure prices stay fair for the consumer and keep competitors' prices on a relatively equal playing field.
For example, when I'm looking for a gas station, I'm searching for a big sign displaying a price per gallon (transparency), and I'm expecting that big sign to say about $2.40 (familiarity). If it's much higher than that, I'll probably find another gas station.
Or when I go to the grocery store, I expect items to be labeled with their price and I expect that price to be about what I've paid for that item before. If it's much higher, there must be some kind of economic turmoil afoot...or I'm standing in the organic produce section.
With the wedding industry, the idea of familiarity is thrown out the window. Most couples have not planned a wedding before, so they don't have a good idea of what vendors should be charging.
There's also a lack of transparency. Many (if not most) wedding businesses don't share their pricing until after they meet with a potential client (by which point, they've probably already given you a sales pitch, sold you on their value, and had you sign a contract for a whole lot more than you were ready to pay initially). Even at Woodland Events, all of our packages are listed as "starting at..." a certain price, and will sometimes go up from there after we've met you and learned about your specific needs.
Imagine if all the world's gas stations took away their signs and didn't tell you the price per gallon until you'd already placed the dispenser in your vehicle. Would you still pump if they gave you a number slightly higher than you were expecting? Or would you pack up and drive to the next station down the street and see what they say?
Even though most vendors hate it, I recommend you demand at least a price range before you hear a sales pitch, even if they can't settle on the exact price until after speaking with you.
You Pay for What You Get
So there you have it. Just a few reasons why wedding vendors charge so much. Vendors who are reading this, did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!!
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**Based on information publicly displayed online as of December 2019. Does not take into consideration the many planning businesses whose pricing is not displayed on their website. Special thanks to our intern Macy for her market research so we could present these numbers.