Splendid Ideas: Just About MarriedMonday, December 06, 2010
In this next feature in the Splendid Ideas series, Mayra Castillo (left) and Xochitl Gonzalez (right) share about their new company, Just About Married, which offers day-of wedding coordination services to high-end couples. Although Just About Married is new, these ladies have been planning weddings in New York City for seven years under their first company, Always a Bridesmaid. While many planners build an associate model to take on day-of coordination clients, Mayra and Xochitl are trendsetters for planners worldwide with this new, and more sustainable, business model for day-of coordination. Here is my interview with them:
Can you explain the concept of Just About Married in more detail?
Just About Married is an event management and logistics planning firm. The core offering is our day-of coordination (DOC) service which is a turn-key system that begins about a month before the clients' wedding or event and concludes with one of our teams of event staff overseeing the set up, ceremony and reception flow for the couple's celebration. Some clients need additional support pulling things together or getting going when they are first engaged, so we also offer "getting started" and "panic" packages, which are still logistics based.
Your first company, Always a Bridesmaid, is very well known in New York, having been named to New York Magazine’s Top Wedding Planners' list seven times and your blog is also read internationally. With that kind of brand exposure, why did you feel it was important to create a separate company for day-of coordination services?
It was precisely because of the brand exposure that we felt it was important to separate the day-of wedding services into their own company. We have this reputation because we do very good work and have a brand attitude that people at various price points really identified with. The buyer confidence in the Always a Bridesmaid experience was so high that clients that couldn't afford the "full service" design experience that we had built our reputation on were seeking to purchase something that they could afford, and that was a DOC service.
Because the two of us are the faces of Always a Bridesmaid, it was more difficult to transition these DOC weddings to our other staff. Not impossible, but much more risky that "handing it over" would sour the clients' experience. The volume of business that we were booking was starting to overwhelm our core business, which is designing high-end weddings. We didn't want to become known as being a DOC firm and we also didn't want to cheapen the experience of our full service clients. We had a tough-love lunch with Sean Low last year and he said, "Keep doing day-of and it's going to cheapen your brand." We knew that, but we also couldn't overlook the revenue that it was bringing in. Creating Just About Married enabled us to keep control over our core brand and keep it high-end while simultaneously responding to market demand and offering a more specific, simplified service offering with a similar brand message. We saw this as akin to Donna Karen and DKNY or Crate and Barrel and CB2.
How do you ensure quality control across a large team since you and Mayra aren’t the planners running Just About Married?
When we decided to do this we realized that the most important thing was that it not be a bunch of planners running around willy nilly and that it needed to be fairly systematic. When we first started to train junior staff for Always a Bridesmaid, we began to document the process that we would take clients through during the last month, from our final meeting through the wedding day itself. That became the basis for the Just About Married process. As we did a soft launch of the service the first year, we kept our fingers in the pie enough to see where the holes or weak points in the system were so that we could tighten them up. The other part of it is our staff. We separate every event into three roles and everyone needs to train in each of the three roles. Part of this is to see where their strengths and weaknesses are and part of it is to minimize "damage" if someone has an off day. Even though we aren't the planners running this company, we and our Just About Married manager each get feedback within 24 hours from the lead planner and we try and check in with the other members of the team. Even if we hire people to join the team who have event experience, we try not to bring people on with wedding experience or a pre-conceived idea of how they think DOC should be executed. Although it's a different brand than Always a Bridesmaid, the quality level that we demand is still the same.
Many people tend to think of day-of coordination as low-end clients, since the price point for day-of coordination is obviously less than for full-service planning. Yet many of the brides who have booked Just About Married are working with high-end wedding professionals and have large budgets. Your price point for Just About Married is also not cheap. What do you make of this? Do you feel the DIY movement has had an impact on clients hiring full-time wedding planners?
What is happening is that day-of coordination used to be a service offered by wedding planners, but we think it's almost evolving into a separate job that speaks to a totally different client than the person who needs or wants full service planning. We think that for those full service "planners" who clearly offer something more than logistics, there will always be clients seeking their services.
That said, we do think that there is a shift in the profession as well as in the marketplace. We think it says something not only about the DIY movement, but about the concept of "wedding planners" in general. More than speaking to DOCs cannibalizing full-service clients, the high end nature of Just about Married's clients speaks to the fact that a DOC has become a "must have" service for brides at every budget level. It's being added to the list along with photographer and wedding cake. Since there is a proliferation of "wedding planners" offering DOC at all sorts of price points, it's possible for a "budget" bride to have a coordinator on board for the day. The same way that there are brides who choose to have luxury photo, video or stationery, this same type of bride also wants to have a luxury DOC experience.
DIY has come to not only refer to brides who want to craft, or even brides on a "budget", but it's really an attitude. We think DIY really encompasses a whole group of brides (and grooms) who see the engagement as a lifestyle phase and who really want to be a part of the nitty gritty and decision making. The couple with that attitude is simply not the same client that is looking for someone to come in and help them craft a vision for their day and execute each detail on their behalf, no matter what their budget.
Your team of planners for Just About Married all have event planning experience, but also have varying career backgrounds. How do you feel that helps what you do?
We're really fortunate to have a nice sized team of women who all have very different professional backgrounds. One woman produced rock concerts for years and now works at a high profile investment bank. Another one of our team members worked as a hostage negotiator. When we started to do staffing for Just About Married's first few weddings we realized that our staff was diverse enough that we could create teams with the clients' specific needs in mind. If a bride mentions at their initial meeting that relations between the family are a bit tense, well, the hostage negotiator might not be a bad call to be on board for that particular wedding! It's now become a bit of a sales tool and we try and highlight our event manager's bios on the company's website.
New York City is a melting pot, more so than any other place in the country. How did you set up Just About Married to appeal to such a wide variety of wedding styles and clients?
The benefit of starting a new company after seven years of experience in a particular market is that you can really set it up to respond to the clients' needs. Always a Bridesmaid has designed many intercultural weddings, so we knew that New York has a huge market of couples who are first generation or not American at all. Part of a what makes a great day-of coordinator is the ability to put people at ease and, simply put, if your family doesn't speak English, there is nothing that makes that client feel better than knowing that someone is there on the day that can communicate with everyone. While many of our staff have been a part of the Always a Bridesmaid team for several years, we make sure that new people who are brought on board can speak a foreign language or have knowledge of a religion or culture that we may not have on our team yet. Our staff speaks six languages and we are extremely proud of that.
Photo of Mayra and Xochitl by Karen Mordechai. Wedding photos (in order of appearance) by Ingalls Photo, Weddings by Two, and Keiko Niwa.