Planners Tap into Emerging Market
As more states prepare to legally recognize LGBT marriage, planners are taking note of this special market niche and educating themselves on how to meet the special needs and challenges that may arise.
There have been about 70,000 legal gay marriages in the United States since it’s become legal in some states. And many of these couples and their planners are forging new traditions and changing up the rules to make the experience relevant to themselves, their friends and families.
According to Bernadette Coveney Smith, founder and president of 14 Stories, a gay wedding planning company in New York and Boston, 87 percent of gay couples pay for their own wedding. And they don’t skimp. “This is a lucrative, emerging market,” she explains. “The median household income of gay and lesbian couples is $86,400; they spent $70 billion on travel last year. In the five years since gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts, $111 million has been spent on gay weddings.”
Although the budgets may be generous for same-sex weddings, the money tends to be allocated a bit differently than in straight weddings. Only 62 percent of gay couples have a wedding party. Weddings are typically much smaller, with a select group of friends or family members invited to share an intimate experience rather than a huge extravaganza. They tend to be on-trend in terms of venues, fashion and cuisine.
Julie Lyford of Fabulous Functions in St. Paul, MN, plans both straight and gay weddings, which take place across the border in Iowa. She agrees that same-sex weddings have a style all their own. “There’s usually a small guest list, but they spend just as much as a straight couple,” she says. “It’s usually over the top.”
One recent gay wedding she planned was only for about 20 people. But the grooms, one of whom flew in from Singapore, wanted only the best, from gorgeous floral to dinner at a haute cuisine seafood restaurant to high-end décor.
Both Lyford and Coveney Smith offer words of advice for planners who want to get a share of this emerging market.
First, Coveney Smith says, do not assume that planning a gay wedding is going to be just like planning a straight wedding. “You can’t put the couple in a box,” she says. “Don’t assume that the couple will perceive themselves as a husband and wife. They may be two wives and two husbands or some other gender identification,” she says.
Navigating the vendor waters can also be tricky. Vendors need to be thoroughly vetted for gay-friendly policies, and taught to be sensitive with language and personal interactions. Some vendors may choose not to work with a same-sex couple, which is perfectly legal in many states. Be sure to review all vendor contracts and worksheets to make sure they are inclusive and gender neutral.
Pay close attention to your own marketing materials. Do they talk about “brides and grooms” or “husbands and wives?” Do they reflect diversity—not just diversity in sexual orientation? Do your materials assume that there will be attendants and a bridal party?
Finally, both Lyford and Coveney Smith agree that the most important thing is for the planner to be authentic and treat the couple with respect. “Don’t try too hard,” says Coveney Smith. “The worst thing you can do is tell the couple, ‘Oh—I had a gay friend in college.’ It’s awkward and not credible.”
“You need to be comfortable with the couple and the idea of a gay wedding for it to work,” says Lyford. “You can’t force it. Ask them what they want. Don’t assume they’ll want a cake topper with two men or women or will choose to both wear tuxes or gowns. Make the day as special as they are.”