Asheville and Western North Carolina have become very popular for destination weddings in the last three years. This popularity has a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon and make some money off it; however, a lot of people jumping on the wagon are fresh off the turnip truck, if you know what I mean. How do you tell a real, local Wedding Vendor from a fly-by-night?
1. They have done a lot of weddings in this area.
Check their website and Facebook page for photos of past events. Check their About Us page to see if they have details about their experience. New vendors have only the experience of helping with one or two weddings. Yellow flag: They did their daughter’s, sister’s, cousin’s (or their own) wedding and it was perfect. You also see that person is their reference.) Look for someone who has done over a dozen weddings at least.
2. They are familiar with the area.
I'm not saying that someone can't move here from Hawaii with experience and do weddings. However, it’s best to use a vendor who is truly local. They'll know the local vendors, the local venues, the local weather patterns (which are crazy in the mountains), the best routes to get to and from places, and have a host of emergency contacts on speed dial. Local vendors know things you can't find via Google search. If they are new to the area, they will have done their homework and previewed a lot of venues and made friends with other local vendors. Nothing's more frustrating than the vendor who shows up with the wrong equipment because they don't know the place. Yellow Flag: Their business name is the same or similar to another local business. This indicates they have not done their homework. Red flag: They advertise they work in Asheville all the time but can't remember the name of any place they worked.
3. They are professional.
Look for misspellings in their online and offline materials. Look for accreditation by a national association. Are they members of the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, or a local business group? Are they listed on reputable sites like Wedding Wire or The Knot? Have they updated their blog or FB page in the last couple of months? Is their site mobile-friendly (if not, they are waaay behind the times!) Yellow Flag: You can't find them anywhere other than their Facebook page. Red Flag: They are only on FB. FB pages are free. Domains and websites are so affordable there is no reason not to have a website if you’re serious about your business. Note: I would not take the fact that they work out of their home as a sign that they are not professional. This is a small town where rents are skyhigh for business space. A lot of vendors work out of their homes. I do. But they should have a regular place to meet clients.)
4. They want you to sign a contract.
"A contract is a voluntary arrangement between two or more parties that is enforceable by law as a binding legal agreement" [Wikepidia:Contracts]
Reputable vendors will have documents for you to sign indicating what they agreed to do and the price you agreed to pay.
I recently dealt with a new venue that is advertising for wedding business; however, they have not done any weddings other than their own. They did not have a contract for us to sign, nor even a list of rules. No photos of past weddings except theirs. They explained that they thought they would do some weddings, see how they go, and then figure all that out. They quoted a very low price, but we did not want to be their Guinea pigs.
5. They have answers to your questions and answer promptly.
A real vendor will answer calls and emails promptly. However, allow more than 24 hours for a response. Most good vendors are swamped with requests. But if you have already signed up with them, and it takes more than a week to hear back, I would move on. If there are a lot of excuses about their other job, their kids, their mother in law, etc., etc., that might be a signal that this is just a sideline for them.
6. They are focused.
They want to be the best photographer in Asheville. The most caring officiant. A venue owner/decorator/officiant/coordinator who also bakes cakes sounds convenient, but that is too many hats to wear. One of them is going to fall off on the day of your wedding.
7. They check out.
They have different reviews on multiple sites. Check their website, Facebook page, theknot.com and weddingwire.com. Also check the Better Business Bureau site. Don't be afraid to ask for references and email them all. Here's an example. This videographer has a great website and decent reviews on wedding wire. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find mixed reviews on the Knot, and an outright warning on BBB.org
8. Exception. They admit they are new to the business or the area.
There are good and bad sides to this. Their honesty is a good thing, their low rates are a good thing, and their eagerness to learn is a good thing. The bad thing is they might really mess up. I've had a couple of first time ministers (friends who were ordained online) who left guests standing for a half hour because they didn't know to tell them to be seated. Or the guy from the coast who works full time, DJ's part time, great rates, very charismatic, never been to your town, but loves to travel. He loves to travel because he loves to get out of the house on your dime and hook up with single, drunk girls at weddings. Seriously! Red flag. They are charging the same or more as the local vendors because that's what they got in Michigan, or wherever. Even a newbie should have studied the local market and adjusted their rates to reflect their inexperience. Only go this route if you’re getting a deal and really don't care about the results.
SPECIAL WARNING FOR WEDDING VENDORS. There are multiple scams out targeting wedding vendors floating around. These people call, text or email pretending to be wedding clients, but they are only after your money. It goes something like this:
"Hello how are doing today?...Am Adam checking if you do events planning. 40 guests and I will like you to handle everything. Budget is not issue. hope you accept credit cards aswell?"
If you see anything like this delete it and run away. These are related to the Nigerian email scams. They want to pay you a large sum of money upfront for planning the event, because they are in another country, so they need you to send them a check or credit card number as a sign of good faith, then the money will be deposited in your accounts immediately, blah, blah, blah. Later you find they gave you a bogus credit card or a fake certified check. RED FLAG!
After 24 years in the business, one of my goals is to spread my knowledge of best practices with other wedding vendors and improve the level of professionalism of vendors as a whole in this area. By using good, local vendors, you will assist us in this mission, have a great wedding, and, hopefully, put some of these scammers on the bus out of town.