Spending, marriage like a horse and carriage

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Kali Shaw, right, modeled a Danelle’s Bridal Boutique dress at the annual Bridal Extravaganza at Cheyenne Mountain Resort on Jan. 29.

In the post-holiday shopping lull, retail businesses are already counting on future holiday sales, but those in the wedding industry are counting something else — phone calls, tours, consultations and sales.

Many marriage proposals are made during the holiday season. Weddings happen in the spring and summer, but the time between the beginning of January and end of February is wedding-planning season.

Starry-eyed brides and grooms-to-be, with their parents in tow are in spending mode, pulling out all the stops and opening their wallets wide for what they believe is the most important day of their lives.

Those in the wedding industry know it all too well.

“Busy doesn’t begin to describe it,” said Cheyenne Mountain Resort catering and event manager John Kerr. “We call it the tsunami of brides.”

In the first 18 days of January, he gave grounds tours and sales pitches to 60 bridal entourages, booked nine weddings and fielded hundreds of phone calls and e-mails.

Briarhurst Manor President Ken Healy said he gets swamped with tours.

“Sometimes we’ll have 10 to 12 brides coming through in an afternoon,” he said.

It starts the week between Christmas and New Years when the most ambitious brides –almost always the brides and not grooms, insiders say — begin making calls and looking for venues and vendors for the big day.

It’s smart for them to get a jump on it, said wedding planner Nada Gutierrez who owns RSVP Weddings and organizes the annual Bridal Extravaganza at Cheyenne Mountain. Things begin to book up quickly in January.

The reason: November and December are big months for jewelry sales. WeddingWire, which provides technology for wedding industry professionals, reports that a full third of American engagements happen between Thanksgiving and New Years.

After the venues, bridal shops are the next to get swarmed, Gutierrez said.

“Oh my, it’s wild,” said Danelle Meyerle, who owns Danelle’s Bridal Boutique. “This is our busiest season of the year.”

January and February are her bread and butter, when she makes the bulk of her annual bridal gown sales. It’s one of the first things women do after they get engaged, she said. They go looking for venues and then dresses. Those two things will set the tone for the rest of the event.

This is a busy time of year for wedding professionals in Colorado Springs and it has been as long as most can remember. But in the midst of a deep recession, many local vendors were surprised to see their businesses grow.

“By the state of things, you wouldn’t think this was a recession,” Kerr said. “I’m stronger in business than I have been since 2009. I’m bursting at the seams.”

He said the resort is almost booked up for 2012 and he’s already selling 2013 dates. The hotel and country club doubled its pre-season bookings (those before Dec. 31) from 2010 to 2011.

Kerr said there could be a number of reasons for that. It could be because of the economic environment, the $20 million remodel at the club last year or because he’s new on the job.

Whatever the reason, wedding business is booming at Cheyenne Mountain Resort.

It’s also booming for Michelle Talarico, who owns Picnic Basket, Cravings and Buffalo Gals catering.

“Though the economy has been less stable during the last three years, our wedding business continues to grow and grow,” Talarico said. “It’s crazy. After 25 years in business, you would think it would have leveled out.”

She gets about five inquiries a day from brides to be in January and February and saw her wedding related business climb almost 40 percent from 104 wedding-related jobs, which includes receptions, rehearsal dinners and morning-after brunches, in 2010 to 145 in 2011.

“The percentage of our gross sales that used to be attributable to weddings has doubled in the last couple years,” Talarico said.

Today, about 60 percent of her business comes from weddings. It used to rely a lot more on corporate catering events. But as businesses have cut their budgets, engaged couples have not.

“In some cases, they’re spending more,” she said. “I’m finding people either have no money or they have a lot of money.”

She said she’s seen more parents footing the bill today than in the years immediately leading up to the recession. It could be that parents are paying for a wedding instead of offering money toward a down-payment on a house, she said.

Gutierrez said she’s seeing some changes in the way couples budget for weddings as well. On average, couples in Colorado Springs spend between $17,567 and $29,279 for a wedding, according to The Wedding Report. The totals are based on the average number of guests estimated between 138 and 152.

Gutierrez said she primarily sees budgets between $15,000 and $25,000, though she has planned weddings with budgets as large as $500,000 and as small as $5,000.

“That might sound like a lot of money,” she said. “But [$5,000] doesn’t go very far for a wedding.”

She said people are booking farther out now, where during the recession, she would get calls just weeks before the wedding. People are typically spending about the same amount of money with her, but they are coming with it up front and ahead of time.

The last few years, they seemed to wait until they had the money to book something — most likely avoiding hefty deposits.

Talarico said she’s catering more and more weddings on off days like Fridays and Sundays because venues are less expensive on those days.

John Vandervalk, who owns Majesty Photo, said he’s also been shooting more weddings on off days.

His 2011 started out slow and seemed like it would be a dry year, he said. But he ended up on par with previous years, but with a lot more last-minute bookings.

Couples would call just weeks sometimes days before the wedding, he said.

This year, he’s getting a lot more calls, but they’re mostly low budget inquiries that he can’t book.

Gutierrez said she’s hearing good things about the economy.

“Everybody is telling me, all of my vendors, that their business is looking up,” Gutierrez said. “They’re optimistic.”

Meyerle said the brides who come into her boutique seem to be relaxing some about the economy.

“It’s not like people are throwing money away,” she said. “They’re still very careful about how they spend. But I do think the economy is lightening up.”

She saw a slight downturn during the recession, but because she’s been making changes of her own, including a move to a new location, she’s continued to grow.

Liz Ash, who owns Ambience Florals, opened her business in 2004 and has grown every year since. She started as a one-woman show and now has three employees.

“I’ve been really lucky to have this steady increase in business,” she said. “I built my business through word of mouth with the idea that every wedding should lead me to another one.”

She did 75 weddings in 2011 and has to make some tough decisions this year about how much she is willing to grow. If she wants to remain a boutique operation — catering to brides and providing individualized service, she will probably have to turn weddings down this year, she said.

“I advertise that I do weddings and special events, but really it’s weddings,” she said. “It’s the one time in people’s lives when they will spend money on flowers and you get to do some really fun things. It’s the one time where people might be extravagant.”

Her business will pick up in March, though she has had several consultations with couples over the last month and some have signed with her. Flowers usually come later in the planning stages.

For those in venues and dresses, they’re right in the thick of it.

“You have the holiday engagements,” Kerr said. “And then, guess what — it’s Valentine’s Day.”