Crain’s Manchester Business Interview

12:00 am, November 9, 2009
Recession pressure hits wedding industry

Photographers, caterers and venues are being given a tough time by wedding couples looking to save money on their big day.

Gone are the days when customers booked well in advance and were happy to pay the asking price. Now they leave it until the last minute in the hope of getting a bucket shop-style bargain, and the trend is forcing wedding car firms, photographers and caterers to slash prices.

Tony Marsh, whose Carrington-based wedding car hire firm Broadoak runs a fleet of 43 vehicles including Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, estimates that he has agreed more late deals in the last two months than he has since starting up in business in 1974. He said some competitors had offered to sell him their cars after pressure on margins persuaded them to throw in the towel.

He said: “The whole of the wedding industry is suffering. People aren’t stopping getting married, but they’re putting it off. Normally we’d be taking bookings on average six months in advance, but a lot of those bookings are now three to six weeks in advance. Everyone is booking late.”

Weddings and private functions account for around a third of the work carried out by Carl Nicholls’ Stockport-based outside catering firm By Request Ltd. He has seen a marked increase in late bookings and one couple asked him to throw in waiting staff free of charge. He refused.

Nicholls said: “When it began happening we started thinking they’d been let down by other caterers or it was a shotgun wedding, but it seems they’re leaving it to the last minute, like holidays, trying to get a better deal. Some people are quite shrewd. They come on the phone and they’re a bit dramatic, and then when they know you’ve got availability they’ll get the idea you’re desperate and will do anything.”

 

Increase efficiency

Kevin Barker, managing director at Mere Golf and Country Club near Knutsford, said numbers were down, with 70 weddings during 2009 compared to 90 in 2008.

He said: “The busier months have stayed the same as last year. I think people have cut back on the frivolous things in terms of what they want on the day. Chocolate fountains were very popular but demand has fallen there. Quite a lot of people have switched from champagne to sparkling wine, put it that way.”

From this month, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council will organise all weddings at council-owned properties centrally, including ceremonies at Bramall Hall, a Tudor manor set in 70 acres of land in Stockport. The aim is to increase efficiency and boost bookings.

Caroline Egan, manager of Bramall Hall, said the venue has hosted a lot more ceremonies without receptions in 2009 and believes people are shopping around and looking at a lot more venues than before.