Interview with Wedding Planner Mark NiemierkoFriday, April 15, 2011
My friend and colleague, Mark Niemierko, recently launched the Niemierko Academy, a course that provides the tools and contacts to students looking to have a career as wedding planners. As Britain's leading wedding planner, Mark's class is focused on UK wedding style, but is open to anyone in the world. Mark visits the United States a few times each year for business, and I asked him to share some of his insights on the wedding industry, both here and across the pond.
For people who may not be familiar with you or your work, can you share a bit on how you got started in the wedding industry?
I worked in the Film and TV industry for a number of years prior to wedding planning, initially in operations and production managing on film and TV sets. I also did PR within film and really enjoyed the event organising part of my role. So I decided to start my own events planning company, which was supposed to have a small wedding planning arm. However, as wedding planning was an untouched area in London seven years ago, the wedding side of my business took off . . . and the rest is history.
What inspired you to start the Niemierko Academy?
Within a month of putting my wedding planning website live I think we had received around 30 or so CV’s. For what was then an unknown company and brand I was surprised. We now get 30 to 50 a week. There’s a large amount of people out there that want to work in the wedding industry. A large portion of them want to be planners, but have little knowledge, experience or confidence on where to begin.
I’ve also been shocked to hear how some wedding planners operate financially – and effectively aren’t making any money . . . well very little.
The Academy is about me giving back to people to ensure quality throughout the industry, and ensure it becomes a big business in the UK. Compared to the US, it is far behind.
You and I both know that there will be a bump in the number of people interested in wedding planning as a career because of the spotlight on the royal wedding. I appreciate that you are offering an educational opportunity for this new group of interest rather than turning a cynical nose at them out of fear of new competitors. What advice do you have for people regarding competition in the industry?
Firstly, yes I want to create competition for myself. Competition is healthy.
I recently spoke to a well known high-end wedding supplier in the US whose main (and only) competition closed. They are now competing with lower-end/middle market suppliers, which means the price comparison between what he quotes his customers to what the competition is quoting is so vast. He now has had to reduce his costs to compete for the business. Effectively losing his competition is nearly killing his business.
I know some planners in London charge as little at £5,000 for full planning on a wedding that can be up to a year away. I can’t compete with that fee . . . I have staff wages, office rent to pay, oh, and a wardrobe to upkeep!
But seriously, the Niemierko Wedding Academy will encourage its participants to be real and not live in a dream world. To think about this as a business career NOT a hobby. If you want this as a hobby go bake cakes, and leave the professionals to it.
What are the main differences in the wedding industry in the UK and the States?
New York first off seems to be on a whole other level compared to that of anywhere in the world, not just London and the UK. Budgets are bigger, weddings are grander and people want to overly impress.
The British clientele is much more subdued. For sure I appeal to a wealthy clientele but they also don’t want to shout about their wealth. They want the wedding to be wow and leave their guests amazed, but in an understated, elegant and effortless way. When in truth there is a huge amount of effort involved in creating that look.
We also don’t have as much choice and availability for table top, linens and glassware, etc. I tend to think the US has far more varied choices in that department. I mean just look at Martha Stewart Weddings – it's terribly inspiring.
The economic climate affected the U.S. wedding industry in a profound way over the past years, including the normally untouchable high-end segment of the market. To what extent did it affect weddings in the UK?
I’ll be honest I didn’t really feel it. People just spent their budgets in a different way. The guests numbers decreased but the per head cost increased on Food and Beverage for example. People spent money on putting guests up in hotels rather than spending money on over the top florals. Things have jumped back now however. I think there’s a number of wealthy individuals out there that have worked darn hard and want to celebrate their marriage in style. And why shouldn’t they!
What is the biggest lesson you learned your first year in business? What was the biggest lesson you learned in this past year of business?
In my first year I learned that being a wedding planner you have to be a confident and strong individual. And fast. There’s so much politics with ANY couple and their families, some on larger scales than others. And you will occasionally get the brunt of that. I soon learnt to juggle that and understand it has nothing to do with me, and just get on with the job and provide a great service.
In the last year I’ve learned I’m pretty darn good at what I do and so doubled my minimum spend requirement and starting fee. I want to focus on a hand full of fabulous weddings a year rather than 12 or so (I did 11 weddings and 4 other events such as birthday party’s last year). Less is certainly more in the high-end luxury world of weddings.
You can learn more about the Niemierko Academy here, and follow Mark on Twitter for your daily dose of British humor and on Tumblr for your daily dose of British wedding style.
Photo of Mark by Lloyd Dobbie