Insights from the Coterie Retreat in South Africa


At the beginning of December, I hopped on a plane en route to my last speaking engagement of 2017. About 24 hours later, I landed in Johannesburg, South Africa where I spent the next five days at the Coterie Retreat, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. 

The Coterie Retreat is the wedding industry conference produced by the brilliant team at Munaluchi Bride, and focuses on companies who work with couples in the multicultural wedding market. Most of the attendees work in the Premium, Luxury, and Ultra Luxury segments of the wedding market and came from around the world. 

Nigeria has been the fastest growing wedding market in the world year over year since 2011 (followed by Lebanon and Brazil) – leading in both standard and luxury wedding spend (where it is not uncommon among luxury circles to view a $400,000 USD wedding budget as "stingy") – so I was happy to see one of the top global wedding industry conferences taking place in Africa.

As Coterie Retreat co-founder Jackie Nwobu said, "Africa . . . has many misguided perceptions due to the representation in the media." One of these misguided perceptions is that the top industry talent is elsewhere, and needs to be brought in from Europe, North America, or the Middle East to produce a wedding to magazine-quality luxury standards. I love that Jackie and her team chose to showcase not just to attendees, but to the industry globally via social media, the level of competition that wedding professionals living in African countries have to offer. Every evening party was produced by local planners and designers in collaboration with local florists, caterers, musicians, etc. The live opera singer at the closing gala was second to none. 

The speakers at the event included Eddie Zaratsian, Preston Bailey, Miguel Wilson, Elizabeth Messina, Christina Holt, and Karli Harvey Raymond, among a list of others. Eddie kicked off the conference with a vulnerable talk about ending a business deal that was no longer creatively fulfilling, and set the tone for a week full of insightful, open conversations. Every speaker shared useful, practical knowledge, and Preston Bailey even shared a spreadsheet with cost and pricing breakdowns from one of his events. It was easily the most unpretentious conference experience I've ever participated in, which helped create a magic that was unbeatable.

On Tuesday, I spoke about WedType, the wedding buyer behavioral model I've been working on for the past four years and unveiled earlier this year, and how wedding professionals could effectively sell to engaged couples based on key personality shifts during this milestone stage, and how to best work with them and their families during the entire wedding planning process.

What I liked most about the Coterie Retreat was how dedicated everyone was to everyone else's success. There was no hollow cheerleaderism, but instead authentic encouragement. Conversations and feedback were candid. If someone had an idea that wasn't necessarily going to flourish, others did not pour empty praise on it. They were quick to not only point out roadblocks, but offered solutions on how to to navigate around them, or gave an alternate path to consider. 

2017 has been an abnormal, uncertain year for many in the wedding business, not just in the United States. That said, the wedding industry is not even close to dying, as some have speculated. Your business strategy just needs to evolve again – just like it had to in 2008, in 2001, and, if you were around, like it had to in 1993. The theme for this year's Coterie Retreat was "expanding the boundaries, together," and that practice is exactly what wedding pros will need to do in order to move forward and grow over the next several years in ways that are sustainable, both financially and creatively.

Photo of bridal fashion designer (and Coterie Retreat speaker) Yemi Osunkoyah from Kosibah with a model wearing one of his dresses at the runway show held during the welcome party at Waterfall at Tintswalo.
Photo by Elizabeth Messina (with her iPhone), Event Planner: Precious Tumisho Thamaga of Precious Celebrations, Floral Designer: Maison De Fleur, Floral Distributer: Yes! Exclusive Flowers, Furniture: Lounge Around, Entertainment: DJ Isaac, Lighting & Staging: Blackmotion