After a challenging 2020 that most in the industry would just as soon forget, wedding businesses and the clients they serve are now in much more of a celebratory mood.
It’s been a slow start to hosting weddings in 2021 for the Savoy Ballroom on Commercial Street, but co-owner Andy Wells said the pace is about to pick up considerably. The venue earlier this month hosted its fourth wedding of the year. However, he said nearly 50 are booked for the next six months.
“With our average of 65 (weddings), for as rough of a year it’s been, that gives you an idea how busy the rest of the year is,” he said. “If this whole year had been normal, it would be well above average.”
The coronavirus pandemic led to a slew of cancellations or postponements of nuptials last year at the Savoy, Wells said. Only around 25 were held. Revenue sank over 60% from 2019, he said, declining to disclose figures. It was even worse for Dance With Me LLC, the dance company Wells owns with wife Anne. The venture shut down for the remainder of the year in March 2020, as stay-at-home orders were enacted. He estimated the dance studio’s revenue decrease was closer to 95%.
“For the most part, 90% of our events for 2020 after that shutdown just didn’t happen,” he said.
Challenges faced by the Savoy Ballroom last year was hardly unique. As occupancy, travel and masking restrictions were implemented in Springfield and beyond beginning in mid-March 2020, weddings largely ground to a halt. The Wedding Report, a website that reports wedding industry data, noted that 41.5% of all 2020 weddings were delayed to 2021.
Some couples switched to livestream options or “microweddings” – often involving guest lists of 20 people or fewer. Others rescheduled or even canceled their big event.
But as vaccinations numbers rise, restrictions have been loosened or eliminated entirely, resulting in the resurgence of popularity for larger gatherings and traveling.
Misty Willinger, owner of Misty Willinger Events LLC, said the number of weddings she plans to work this year has doubled from last year.
“Really, it’s a double wedding season for us,” she said, noting about 60% of the 25 weddings booked with her last year came to fruition. “We had our reschedules from 2020 plus the clients who were already going to book in 2021. So, we’re seeing crazy growth.”
Declining to disclose 2020 revenue, Willinger said purchase options for her clients are generally a 50/50 split between her day-of wedding coordination, beginning at $1,300, and full planning services, which start at $4,000.
Willinger, who moved back to Springfield in 2019 to open her business, said she’s been in the events industry for 13 years. She’s worked or managed over 250 weddings during that time, she said, adding she still works remotely part time for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri in St. Louis.
“For me, I’ve always gravitated toward weddings and so that’s when I did move back home, I decided to go ahead and launch my own wedding planning business,” she said.
Both Willinger and Wells said couples that haven’t selected a date for 2021 will struggle to find any available options on weekends. Both are booking dates in 2022. Wells said the Savoy rental rates range $2,000-$4,000 depending on the day of the week and number of guests.
“I’m really encouraging couples if they want to get married in 2021 to just be flexible on the date,” Willinger said, noting she’s had an uptick of Wednesday and Thursday weddings.
For those looking for a tropical locale to tie the knot, an increasing number of couples are opting this year for destination weddings.
Travis Paquin, co-owner of 417 Travel, said destination weddings were roughly 20% of his company’s business in 2019 when it booked 40 such trips. The pandemic was responsible for a dip to just 16 last year, he said, adding a rebound is already in progress this year as 31 are booked. Pent-up demand is a large factor in the increase, he said.
“We hope to see well over 50 this year,” he said. “People didn’t spend that money last year to take a vacation, so now they’ve got extra money in the savings account or wherever they’re allocating those funds.”
Paquin said Rivera Maya, Mexico, Jamaica and Hawaii have been popular options since the company began offering destination weddings when it opened in 2015. He said it’s more likely than ever this year that guests are parlaying the trip into a vacation, as so many were canceled last year amid the pandemic.
“We tell everyone – especially the bride and groom – that you’re planning an event during someone’s vacation,” Paquin said, noting couples should budget $10,000-$15,000. “If you look at it that way, people will enjoy it more and be more apt to attend.”
After sales grew 42% in 2019, the travel agency set a 2020 sales goal of $10 million. However, the pandemic upended that target.
“We had to shift our focus to the product that was available,” he said of the travel industry struggles last year, which included a shutdown to cruises after mid-March. “Fortunately, we only finished down about 35%.”
Wells said the Savoy Ballroom’s busy fall will help make up for some of the struggles the venue experienced in 2020.
“We’re definitely in a place where we are going to survive,” he said.
Willinger said she envisions no slowdown for her young business now that weddings are resuming in a more familiar way.
“We are seeing the light right now. The busyness is there,” she said of her three-employee venture working 30 weddings this year. “I’m in the full throes of testing the limits of how much we can do. This will probably be the max amount of weddings we would do in a typical year.”
That’s meant having to decline business due to the full schedule, Willinger said.
“I’ve had to turn away at least a dozen clients this year due to the capacity of what we can take on,” she said. “That’s been the hardest part for me, personally, is having to say no.”
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