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COVID-19 shakes up wedding business

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While Springfield’s stay-at-home order lifted May 4, large public gatherings remain prohibited at least through the end of May, putting additional financial and scheduling strain on wedding industry businesses.

Starting in mid-March, as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the nation, weddings were caught up in the tidal wave of events either being postponed or canceled. Over the past seven weeks, companies in the wedding industry, including event planners, caterers, photographers, florists and event venues, have been forced to deal with a steady stream of rescheduling and lost revenue.

The city’s current limit of no more than 15 people at public gatherings is pushing weddings to late summer, fall or beyond.

Patty Wingo, owner of Simply Delicious LLC, said she had about 55 wedding orders canceled over a one-week span in mid-March.

“The revenue started dropping quickly for us,” she said, adding she’s lost around $200,000 due to event cancellations over the past seven weeks. “I thought this would actually be a stellar year for us.”

Wingo said revenue was up 12% in 2019 over 2018, declining to disclose figures.

Simply Delicious, which began in 2001, has worked between 45-60 events per month over the past 10 years, she said. Weddings make up around 70% of the business, with 30% for nonprofit and corporate events.

The U.S. wedding industry is big business – roughly $73 billion in 2019, according to data research firm IBISWorld. Analysts said due in part to the large number of wedding postponements this year, the severity of COVID-19’s financial impact for 2020 remains unknown.

On the move
Moving nuptial dates is a strain on the couple getting married, but it’s also stressful for wedding planners, said Stacie Burton of Aqua Bella Events & Decor LLC.

“You’re trying to now change a date with a minimum of 10 other vendors,” she said. “You’re not just moving the date with the couple. You’re not just finding a new venue. You’re trying to appease everybody.”

Burton planned 25 weddings in 2019 – her first full year in business. She’s been booked for 27 weddings already this year. However, most have been rescheduled.

While some couples have contacted her about refunds, Burton said she’s been sticking to the language in signed contracts, which include a deposit for her services. She estimates she’s lost some $7,000 in revenue since mid-March.

“It’s been hard telling people no. As soon as we get that deposit or retainer, that money goes back into our business,” Burton said, noting she also offers event design and equipment rental. “Like any business, that money doesn’t just sit there.”

Burton said those who have rented items from her for their wedding, including tabletop decor, lanterns, furniture and drapes, have a credit for a rescheduled date up to a year later. Although she booked three weddings in late April, she said her next wedding to coordinate isn’t until the end of July.

“My June calendar has basically been cleared because I’ve had people either cancel or reschedule,” she said, adding equipment rental is helping stabilize revenue.

A cleared calendar also is plaguing Tuscan Hospitality LLC.

Around a dozen events, originally scheduled for April, May and June, have been rescheduled at the 12-acre Strafford venue, which does business as Tuscan Hill.

Many of the events, mostly weddings, have moved to the fall or even 2021.

“Not only has everyone rescheduled, but no one is wanting to come and even look,” said owner Julie Forrester.

Even though most of the events aren’t being canceled, Forrester estimated the rescheduled ones are impacting future revenue opportunities to a tune of $50,000-$60,000.

She said Tuscan Hill, which opened in 2009, typically hosts 80 events a year. Weddings make up roughly 80% of the gatherings, which average 170 guests.

“You’re losing those future dates because you’re moving people into them,” she said, declining to disclose 2019 revenue.

Making pivots
Prior to COVID-19, Forrester began offering microweddings, a package deal that includes the ceremony, reception, cake, flowers and photography. Prices are $1,650 for up to 25 people and $1,350 for up to 10 guests. “We don’t do a lot of them, but it does appeal to some. It will appeal more in this year as people are trying to figure out what to do,” she said.

Despite the revenue drop at Simply Delicious, Wingo said she’s managed to keep her staff of 15 employed largely through a $110,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan.

“In my mind, I never thought of unemployment or furloughing anybody on my staff. I just worry about them all too much,” she said, adding Simply Delicious pivoted by offering a to-go menu and working with clients to rapidly reschedule catering services. Although nearly all of Wingo’s corporate and nonprofit events have canceled into the summer, most of the weddings are just postponed.

That means she’ll cater multiple weddings per week for the next several months, as only so many can be rescheduled for weekends, she said.

“I was pretty lucky, but that means now from July to November I’m going to do nine months of catering in a nearly six-month window,” she said. “We’re going to land on our feet. But is it going to be a tough year? Absolutely.”

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