published Friday, February 21st, 2014

Biz Bulletin: Wedding planning tips for bridal shopping

By Jim Winsett

Q. My daughter recently got engaged, and I would like to help her plan her wedding. We were planning to start the vendor search by going to some bridal shows in the area. Does the BBB have any tips before going and ideas on what to expect with vendors?

A. Congratulations on your daughter's recent engagement. It is definitely an exciting time, but daunting when statistics show that the average wedding can cost around $25,000. With her event being a large investment, it is important that you both make wise consumer decisions about the vendors you select. The Better Business Bureau offers the following advice to help make the planning process a little smoother and a lot less stressful.

The first step in the planning process is to decide which aspects of your wedding you will be taking on yourself and which ones require vendors. Do your research. Ask friends and family about specific vendors they have used in the past and their satisfaction level. As you evaluate vendors, don't be lured in by low prices; don't sacrifice quality for price. For example, once you have your choices narrowed down to a few photographers, ask to see their portfolio, and a list of recent clients that may be contacted as references. Also, check with your local Better Business Bureau to see their Business Review.

When you have established a budget and decided on what wedding vendors are required, it is time to discuss exactly what you want and how much you are willing to spend. Don't permit yourself to be pressured into buying a service or product you don't actually want or need in the wedding. This is your daughter's day, and vendors work for you, not the other way around. The Better Business Bureau advises that you keep the following key points in mind while preparing for the wedding:

Ask the right questions. Before falling in love with a vendor and its services, ask if the company is available for your daughter's wedding date. Also ask whether the special packages and pricing being offered are available after the show and remember to obtain a list of references.

Get all sales promises in writing. Be sure to document with whom you spoke, by obtaining a business card and agree upon a time to follow up after the show. Once you have decided to use a particular vendor, require a written contract that details every service or product to be provided, and review it very carefully. Get every detail in writing, no matter how small it seems. The contract should also specify the cancellation/refund policy.

Research the vendor before signing a contract. The goal of a bridal expo vendor is to make connections, get exposure and attract the right brides for its services. Start your research by reading the vendor's BBB Business Review at www.chattanooga.bbb.org. Better yet, many shows will list the vendors who will be present. Check them out before you go in order to maximize your time at the show.

Create a new email just for the show. Whether you are registering early or signing up at the door, it is a good idea to create a new email for wedding vendor communication. This allows the bride to keep track of all of the special offers and electronic newsletters she will likely receive after attending the show. This can also help reduce high volumes of email in your personal inbox.

Watch out for "free" offers. It's hard not to get wrapped up in the planning, and most vendors will have prizes to sign up for at each booth. Keep your wits about you and realize what you are signing up for and how the vendors will use your information. This is one way they get your contact information, and once given they will take full advantage of this information to contact you. Some will legitimately contact you with information you requested, but others may offer more expensive products/services not needed or wanted and end up spamming your phone and email.

Bring someone you trust. It is great you are going with your daughter, as BBB recommends taking someone to the expo who is not as emotionally and financially connected to the wedding planning as the bride. This individual may provide a different, yet helpful, perspective when talking with vendors and visiting booths.

Pay with a credit card. Credit cards offer more protection than cash because if something goes awry, you can ask the credit card issuer to dispute the charge until both parties are in agreement. Payments with cash offer less protection and negotiation opportunities.

Always allow for extra time. When arranging delivery plans with vendors, do not require everything to arrive at the same time or the day before the wedding. Anticipate and allow for problems and mistakes --they will occur. By allowing extra time, if something isn't right, there is time to have it corrected.

To find a list of BBB Accredited Businesses in the wedding industry, visit www.chattanooga.bbb.org.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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