In the ever-competitive wedding marketplace, a bumper crop of one-stop bridal “lounges” and “libraries” showcasing a select number of vendors and venues is making waves. The concept is to offer complimentary planning assistance to brides while matching them with venues and vendors who suit their overall vision and budget. The featured vendors and venues get great access to brides-to-be, giving them time to focus on what they do best while leaving the sales and marketing up to the experts.
The Wedding Library, situated in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, may be the longest-standing example of the concept, and similar business models have popped up in major cities across the country from Los Angeles to New Orleans to Boston.
Professionals, like Claudia Hanlin, who started the Wedding Library 11 years ago and is now a contributing editor to Martha Stewart Weddings, have their finger on the pulse of the industry and use their extensive, up-to-date knowledge to help brides and industry professionals simplify the booking process. How many brides are we talking about? Some of these operations work with up to 700 brides at the same time. That’s some serious buying power.
Most bridal libraries and lounges are membership based for venues and vendors, and they’re often exclusive. Members pay a monthly or yearly fee to have their portfolio added to the library and to be considered by the in-house coordinators. But what’s unique is that these wedding-industry matchmakers tend to look for the next great, up-and-coming wedding professional. “Brides don’t need me to connect them with that famous, high-profile vendor who everyone knows about; they just need me to find them a talented vendor who will meet their budget needs and mirror their vision,” says Hanlin. They’re also not just there to support the brides; it’s a true matchmaking process from start to finish, continues Hanlin: “We have a very intimate relationship with our members, and when we match a bride with a vendor, we can say with conviction that it’s a good fit.”
Head south from New York City to the Bride’s Lounge in New Orleans, and you’ll see a similar format with all of its own style and flair. Appointments are suggested, but walk-ins are welcome. Once there, brides receive complimentary consultations, full access to vendor portfolios, and beauty consultations from an on-site hair and makeup artists. But again, it’s not just about the bride; vendor and venue members are invited and encouraged to use the lounge space for parties, tastings, client meetings, and networking.
The Boston Bridal Lounge on Newbury Street offers a full library of wedding resources, local vendor portfolios, and an inspiration wall complete with trending color schemes. Brides can also browse seasonal tablescape displays by vendors like Winston Flowers and Rafinelli Events, while sipping champagne and discussing their upcoming weddings with experienced professionals.
The Bridal Bar, which has locations in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Atlanta, does all of the above while placing a focus on education so brides know all they need to know before the big day. They represent a group of vendors they believe to be the best in their area while also offering bridal shows, styling events, sample sales, and designer trunk shows.
In addition to offering their extensive “matchmaking” services and general wedding planning consultations, these locations also often operate as retailers. For example: The Wedding Library carries stationery suites and bridesmaid dresses. They are the flagship store for well-known names like Dessy and Thread, garnering foot traffic that only makes a membership with them all the more valuable.
But what if your wedding business is based far from a major city with no such trendy bridal lounge? Here at Hawthorn, we’ve seen wedding professionals take matters into their own hands by building a network within their area and setting up meetings to share ideas with other venues and vendors. Another option is a virtual one: Connect with other professionals through social media by tagging another vendor in one of your Facebook posts or alerting your Twitter followers by using the “follow Friday” hash tag (#FF) on Fridays to suggest that your fans follow other talented professionals. A time-intensive but effective third option is to come together to plan and design a photo shoot to showcase your collective creativity, then work with editorial outlets to make it all pay off in the form of magazine or online feature. Jubilee Events out of Connecticut did just that with partner vendors in a photo shoot we picked up for the last issue of GALA Weddings New England.
Our point in all of this: Collaboration is key and whether you can join a library or lounge network like those showcased above or generate something grassroots on your own, having a support system of like-minded professionals who know the industry can turn today’s brides-to-be into those you’re working with tomorrow.