Brides are cutting back


Josh Judson, left, and Josh Metz with Barefoot Weddings set up for a wedding recently on Navarre Beach.

Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 01:46 PM.

EMERALD COAST - Dancing, laughter, cake, a fluffy white dress and Prince Charming. Almost every bride has her idea of the perfect wedding day. But in a slumping economy, many are finding ways to cut back.

Maggie Halsey has been in the wedding planning business for 10 years with her company Barefoot Weddings. She said she is booking the same number of weddings, but couples are looking at smaller packages and fewer people are attending.

“The actual set-up and archway are things they are looking to downsize,” said Halsey, who added that the bride’s bouquet is still a “must have.”

Instead of eight months to a year in advance, brides and grooms are now booking weddings only a couple of months beforehand. They also are having 20 guests versus the 60 they might have invited several years ago.

They have found that a destination wedding is less expensive than a hometown celebration where hundreds of people might be involved.

About 60 wedding companies advertise in the Destin area, so Halsey has supplemented the economic slump by negotiating licensing agreements with about 13 new bridal companies. She teaches them how to decorate and run their businesses for a portion of their profits.

“It’s a very competitive business,” Halsey said. “It’s been beneficial to be compensated for my ideas. I’ve been blessed.”

As a whole, the wedding business on the Emerald Coast is on the uptick, according to the Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It’s sort of a recession proof market,” said Sarah Leahy, travel industry sales manager at the bureau.

In 2007-08, the bureau worked with 134 families that booked weddings in Okaloosa County. The $8 million that was spent in the area was 22 percent of the total economic impact generated by all the groups the bureau assisted.

“We’ve pretty much become the wedding capital of the South,” joked Sherry Rushing, travel industry sales director at the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And we see business from others who’ve come to the area for a wedding and want their own ceremony or anniversary celebration here.”

So far this fiscal year, the number of weddings in Okaloosa County the bureau has helped with is the same as all of last year. With 2½ months to go, Leahy said she anticipates an increase of 10 to 15 percent by the end of the year Sept. 30.

“The brides that seek out our help are more of the brides that are looking to work on a tighter budget, the do-it-yourselfers,” Leahy said.

Many of the brides are cutting back on photography packages or recruiting family members as photographers and musicians.

And while they save money, salons, such as Bella Day Spa, are losing out.

Marty Coulbourn has owned Bella for five years and said people stopped calling to book wedding party appointments about mid-June.

“I think they’re just trying to cut costs,” Coulbourn said. “We’ve been seeing people cut corners every way they can.”

At first, brides were less interested in manicures and pedicures. Now, they’re not even booking hair and makeup appointments, said Coulbourn, who added that wedding parties have frequented his shop less and less in the last two years.

The cutbacks have not extended to jewelry.

“They might have scaled down a little bit on the amount of diamonds,” said Don Mims, manager of Vandegriff Jewelers on Racetrack Road in Fort Walton Beach. “There hasn’t been a dramatic drop in sales.”

Mims said the popular Hearts on Fire company and a few others have changed settings or the size of bands in order to keep costs down. A 1/3-carat diamond in a platinum setting can be found for less than $2,000. That might be half of what a groom-to-be would have paid for his bride’s ring previously.

“A lot of companies are realizing that people are working with different budgets,” Mims said. “They’re trying to help out, too.”

Vandegriff Jewelers and other local businesses have adopted the “let us help” attitude.

“We can work with everyone,” Mims said. “Don’t be afraid to come in and ask for help.”

Bea Collins with Bea’Chelles’ in Uptown Station said sales are definitely down, but the formal dress and tuxedo store understands there are constraints on families now that might not have existed a few years ago.

“One bride came in today with $200 in her pocket and said she felt like she was settling, but she had to have a dress for this weekend,” Collins said. “Her time was up.”

Collins said she pulled every dress she could let go for that price off the rack for the woman to try on.

“When she left, she was beautiful in that dress,” Collins said.

The trend has been toward purchasing gowns in more of a rush setting, she added.

“They’re on a strict budget and there’s not a lot of planning,” Collins said. “Just remember, if you’re on a shoestring budget don’t get discouraged. Someone can help.”

Collins said “industry people” have told her July and August this year will be the worst she’ll see.

“We just have to get through it,” said Collins, who noted she has had a period of two weeks with no tuxedo rentals at all.

People are definitely being more conservative in their dress choices, said Bob West with Simply Elegant on Racetrack Road.

“Everybody is budget conscious. They’re looking for gowns on sale and fewer embellishments than in years past,” West said.

Still, sales are within 1 to 2 percent of last year.

Just like many of the other local bridal businesses, less expensive sales are being compensated by more sales, West said.

“People still fall in love. They still get married. We’re thankful there.”

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