Wedding planner Nicole Galloway (left) says many couples are sticking with fewer guests even though mass gathering restrictions have been lifted. Photo courtesy of Nicole Galloway

After a year of uncertainty, the wedding industry is experiencing a boom thanks to lifted restrictions on mass gatherings and widely available vaccinations. The wave of couples heading to the altar includes a mix of those newly engaged and those who postponed their 2020 nuptials, creating a high demand for venues and vendors.

I spoke with five Charlotte-area wedding vendors about business during the pandemic and trends they’re seeing. 

The Venue: Duke Mansion

In a typical year, the Duke Mansion hosts 25 weddings with spots filling up 12 to 18 months in advance. Staff was already scheduling weddings for 2021 before the pandemic halted events. 

With weddings given the green light to fully return to normal, the Duke Mansion is among the many event venues facing a new set of challenges.

“Everybody’s experiencing a labor shortage right now, and it’s not just in food services. It’s also in tech installations and lighting installations and all of these waterfall effects,” says Brittney Derrick, director of sales and events at the Duke Mansion. 

Engaged couples are going through with small ceremonies, Derrick said, but planning into 2022 and 2023 for big receptions, a trend also discovered in The Knot’s 2020 Real Weddings Study

“I think a lot of people are saying, ‘Let’s just go ahead and get married and do something small because we’re more likely to be able to afford that but also can find availability,’” she said.

Microwedding setup at the Duke Mansion. Credit: Alyssa Frost Photography

The Wedding Planner: Nicole Galloway Weddings & Events

“More people are realizing with the past year how important it is to celebrate the good times,” said Nicole Galloway, a certified wedding planner and owner of Nicole Galloway Weddings & Events.

Wedding planners have backup plans for the backup plan, but none could anticipate the impact of a global pandemic. Galloway said she spent time during the industry’s hiatus to rebrand her business.

“We changed our name and started limiting how many clients we wanted to take to make sure that we were really able to focus on client experience from start to finish,” she said.

Galloway has planned four weddings so far in 2021, with five on the books through the end of the year. Even with the freedom to hold large weddings, she says, couples are sticking with smaller guest counts.

“Many clients wanted 150, 200 guests at their wedding, but they were starting to sacrifice on the overall look and quality of events,” she said. “Now, more clients are starting to have less guests and really be able to invest in the experience that they want.” 

The Photographer: Harry McLaughlin Photography

Harry McLaughlin says 2020 taught him the importance of diversifying his business. He launched Harry McLaughlin Photography the year before as a part-time gig, and weddings quickly became his specialty. 

“For my first year, I had six or seven weddings on the books. Right away, they went down the drain because of Covid,” he said. 

Business didn’t completely disappear for McLaughlin. Instead of capturing large weddings, he booked clients who eloped or opted for microweddings.

Quinton and Bryanna Brown. Credit: Harry McLaughlin Photography

As a newer business owner, McLaughlin notes another lesson learned:

“Just being more cognizant of what’s going on around me to see the indicators of the market. That way, I’m more proactive than reactive.”

The Baker: Sweet It Is!

Lori and Calvin Chivers of Sweet It Is! were booked nearly every weekend pre-pandemic. When couples began pushing back their wedding dates, however, orders for their lavish tiered cakes also slowed down. 

Lori says wedding cakes make up nearly 40% of their state-approved, home-based baking service. To keep business coming in throughout the pandemic, the team began offering other items such as cupcakes and cake pops.

With peak wedding season underway, Sweet It Is! is accommodating couples who postponed their 2020 celebrations. That’s good and bad, according to Lori.  

“Our calendar is getting filled up, but we’re not able to book a lot of new business because we’re still filling in for 2020,” she said.

Their calendar is currently booked through September.

Photo credit: Timothy Montais Photography

The Supplier: Pomp Posh Event Decor & Rentals

Syreeta Hutchins, co-owner of Pomp Posh Event Rentals, says wedding-related events account for 65% of her boutique business that provides luxury furniture rentals, props and backdrops. The four-year-old startup had more than 100 events scheduled prior to the pandemic.

“When Covid hit, it was gut-wrenching for us because 2020 was pretty much going to be a breakout year,” she told me. “We hit three times the amount of events than we had scheduled the year before. We were expecting to finally start seeing profit and being able to pay ourselves.”

Robert and Syreeta Hutchins of Pomp Posh Event Decor & Rentals

The quiet period didn’t last long. Hutchins said she began receiving inquiries in May 2020 as North Carolina moved into Phase 2 of its reopening plan — allowing a maximum of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors at mass gatherings. She secured contracts as people were pushing their event dates into the following year.

With the 2021 wedding season underway, Hutchins is seeing some pandemic trends stick around.

“We’ve been getting requests for special seating arrangements. They provide us with a seating chart and how they would like it to be set up. Our clients are still taking a lot of precautions,” she said.

Katrina covers Charlotte's Black business scene for QCity Metro. She's a Miami transplant, pescatarian and lover of the arts. She earned a public relations degree from the University of Florida. Got a...

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