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VOL. 40 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 9, 2016

Over-the-top wedding? Why not?

Don’t be average ($32K) when you can have it all for $100K-plus

By Hollie Deese

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When Donte Noble, 30, and Elliott Holt, 38, get married December 17 at the Bridge Building in downtown Nashville, it will be the wedding of their dreams.

Every detail is perfected to exactly what they want, down to the black-and-white dress code to the customized light fixture that will descend at the reception.

“It’s actually exactly what we want,” says Holt, CEO of medical information exchange company MediCopy Services. And the total budget for their dream event is $110,000. “I can’t think of one thing we are not getting. It’s going to be pretty spectacular.”

The event will have three totally different looks for the ceremony, cocktail hour and reception, when the custom chandelier with LED lights will transform the space into a dance party.

The invitations were made to look like old vinyl records, shipped in boxes to guests. Dinner will include trios of everything, from soup to custom specialty drinks.

“It’s exactly to the T what we want,” Noble says.

Angela Proffitt, who is planning Noble and Holt’s wedding, says the couples she attracts and works with value customization as part of the entire experience for themselves and their guests, and that can include naming specialty drinks, using hashtags to have all of their pictures grouped together, even pairing music with the menu and specialty drinks.

“There is more focus on having a purpose for everything now so it is like ‘branding’ your event,” Proffitt says. “People are really wanting more of a mini production.”

Proffitt used to do double-duty, building her wedding business while working in the mental health industry. The Mt. Juliet native went all in on weddings when she was hired to handle the 2011 nuptials of American Idol singer Kellie Pickler. That took Proffitt on the road for six weeks and was televised on TLC.

“My job is to figure out what’s important to people and educate them on the best way to spend their money,” Proffitt adds. “It’s different for everyone, based on their priorities.”

Customization costs

Each year for almost a decade, wedding brand and marketplace The Knot has released figures for what an average wedding costs in various parts of the country, based on a survey of 18,000 brides and grooms. The study has national and local statistics including the average cost of a wedding, who pays, how couples budget and plan, the average number of guests and more.

In The Knot 2015 Real Weddings Study, the average cost of a wedding is $32,641, up more than $5,000 from just five years ago. But Proffitt says that number is for weddings that are just that – average. For events that are truly customized, couples are going to pay much more.

An over-the-top wedding can only be enhanced with a little showmanship. Donte Noble and Elliott Holt made a statement – perhaps multiple statements – with this pose celebrating their upcoming wedding.

-- Submitted Photograph Courtesy Of Www.Wildriversphotography.Com

“Your wedding is an experience. It’s unique,” she notes. “What The Knot doesn’t tell you is all the behind-the-scenes details if you’re having the most expensive venue in town or having a seated dinner for 300 people with a full open bar or you’re having a $15,000 band from Atlanta.

“When they don’t give all the details of what a wedding costs, it’s frustrating.”

Proffitt says her clientele is probably about 10 percent of the market and is looking for unique experiences with budgets well in excess of $100,000.

Why the expense? They want a production.

Of course, that’s not to say couples can’t have a very custom experience in that $30,000 range. It’s just all about the choices they make, whether it’s limiting guests, opting for a buffet over formal plated service or getting a DJ instead of the band.

“I did one over the summer on a Thursday night, a buffet with barbecue,” Proffitt points out. “It was beer and wine, they didn’t have a huge, designer cake, and we spent about $35,000 for 200 people.”

Managing expectations is a big part of the job, and couples need to understand that it can be expensive to get everything they want.

“That’s the caveat of the whole customization trend, measuring expectations and educating them on what the real cost is going to be for what they’re asking for,” Proffitt adds.

“But we really try to educate people and outline their priorities on the front end. We give you value. We give you quality. We give you a stress-free, educational experience. You can tell me what you want, and then we price everything out.

“Then we have a priority meeting to discuss where you want to spend your money. I don’t do a budget for people right off the bat. It would just scare them away.”

Creating a Nashville experience

Weddings continue to be one of the most important and most expensive events in couples’ lives. Today’s couples are willing to pay for the experience, and Proffitt says more and more people are extending their Nashville wedding into a three-day love affair with the city, starting with a welcome party filled with games and drinks and ending with post-nuptials brunch.

“They are really incorporating the city much more now than they did in the past,” Proffitt adds.

Jim Hagy, owner of Chef’s Market in Goodlettsville, agrees.

“We had a group in a tasting just a moment ago from Toronto, a really sophisticated food city, and so we were trying to do things a little bit different,” Hagy says.

“They said, ‘Well, what about catfish?’ People are looking for elevated southern, re-engineered southern or southern fusion and then just down-home southern is often what they would want, too.”

Many couples right now are requesting hot chicken, so Hagy will accommodate with hot chicken and waffles, hot chicken tacos, hot chicken sliders or just a station with fried chicken massaged hot on site, then placed on white bread with a pickle.

For Holt and Noble, there had been some initial discussion about getting married in Noble’s native New York, but ultimately Nashville won out.

“I’ve always loved downtown, so having the view of downtown from the Bridge Building was pretty exciting for pictures, and for his people that are coming in to actually see the city,” Holt says.

Proffitt says Nashville has become such a destination because it really offers everything.

“No other place has what Nashville has, no one,” she says. “It is the friendliest city in the world. We are accommodating southerners. When people come to Nashville for a wedding, it’s like the whole weekend becomes this experience.

“From the moment they’re picked up at the airport, then get to the concierge at the hotel, they check in with the cool welcome bags. It’s like, ‘Welcome to Nashville Y’all.’”

Of course, all that southern hospitality has led to a harder time booking affordable hotel rooms for out-of-town guests, and many times Proffitt will end up organizing shuttle service from less expensive rooms by the airport.

“We all know in Nashville it’s kind of an issue,” she says. “It’s a negative and a positive. On the positive side, our city is growing. Tourism is growing. Hospitality is the No. 2 revenue driver in our city.

“But on the negative side, for instance, we do a ton of business with the Hilton because they provide excellent, excellent customer service. They treat our guests like red carpet.

“Recently, we got an email, a corporate initiative, and from now on they can no longer do room blocks, even with attrition, unless they’re spending $7,500 for a brunch, rehearsal dinner, welcome party, drinks, something like that.

“Because the hotel’s gotten so busy.”

Fueled by social media

Innovative entrepreneurs are catching on to the customization trend, too, like Alison Embry, 26.

Hand lettering by Alison Embry

The University of Tennessee graduate had been doing the designs on the specials board at the restaurant where she works in Chattanooga when two close friends needed someone with her skills to create signs with pretty lettering for their October wedding.

The signs for the gift table, head table and evening’s schedule were so well-received, Embry is now in the process of setting up an Etsy store for the signs as well as attendant gifts, while promoting her services on social media and through word of mouth.

“When people are searching online they don’t want anything too mass-produced,” Embry explains. “And if they can’t find exactly what they want, why settle when you could have something that’s exactly what you want? It’s those details that make it even more special and memorable because obviously, it’s the most important day of their lives.”

Embry has thought about going into event planning in the past, but thinks she is better suited creating custom touches and marketing them. Within a few days of posting on Facebook she got four job offers and was connected with many people in the Middle Tennessee wedding industry.

“It works perfect to do stuff locally and then branch out from there to shipping and handling and things like that,” she says. “That’s definitely my starting platform. And Pinterest, because everybody has a wedding board on Pinterest, whether you’re single, engaged, whatever.”

In fact, Pinterest and other social media sites have only been fuel to the fire of informing couples of all the ways they can customize their wedding.

“Pinterest was the major, major game changer for our industry,” Proffitt points out.

“I would say the past three to four years, probably 95 percent of our clients get all their inspiration from Pinterest. They have already pinned thousands of pictures before they ever even meet us. And when I look at a client’s Pinterest board, I kind of already know psychologically where to steer them.”

Hagy says brides now send their Pinterest boards, too, and the more creative the pictures the more excited he and his crew get.

But he knows the expectations are incredibly high for this generation of couples who grew up watching the Food Network.

“It’s not cookie cutter or routine, but it certainly fits I think what people want,” he adds. “They’re able to be a lot more educated easily. There has been a change in the different generations, different expectations on everything from presentation to the globalness of the food or the localness of the food.

“Their expectations about what they want are so much more than I think they certainly would have been at my age at that time.”

And for the generation that isn’t used to having to buy the whole album to get the one song they like, having their one special day be perfect is worth any cost.

“We’re talking about weddings, the most important thing you can do which is the union of two families and two people and all of the children and life that will come out of that, and so it really needs to be something that’s going to be memorable,” Hagy says.

Hagy also adds today’s couples are concerned about the experience of their guests more than ever, especially when it comes to serving delicious food everyone can enjoy, no matter if they are gluten-free, soy-free, vegan or fans of the restaurant’s Jack Daniels-braised beef short ribs.

“There’s an amazing amount of dietary needs that are there,” Hagy says. “When you’re doing a plated meal for 300, having all of those different components in it really takes a lot of organization.

“I think it’s not necessarily designing it to the bride’s and groom’s needs. Sometimes they do have special needs or dietary needs, but it really is about making sure that everybody coming is going to be taken care of.”

For Holt and Noble, the most meaningful customized detail about their wedding didn’t cost a thing. Both of their mothers passed away last year, and Holt’s father died when he was 17, so they are leaving open seats for their parents who won’t physically be there.

“At the reception songs that his mother might have played on vinyl back in the day are incorporated into the playlist,” Holt says.

“Other people won’t even know, but for us, it is going to mean something. Those things are important.”

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