In March, when Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order declaring a public health state of emergency and banning gatherings of more than 10 people, brides and grooms across the metro area had to hit pause on their plans. To date, nearly 20,000 weddings in Georgia, scheduled to take place March through June of this year, have been postponed, according to data compiled by The Wedding Report Inc.
“Our last simcha before the shutdown was Saturday, March 14. It was a scramble to make it happen,” said event planner Amy Ackerman of JDV Occasions. The event venue had closed abruptly due to COVID-19, so she rerouted a full team of vendors to an alternate location.
Guests canceled last minute, hand sanitizer stations had to be worked into décor plans and a fire marshal had to approve use of an outdoor area to keep guests adequately spaced. Ackerman even created an almost identical menu to the original one planned with a different catering team less than 24 hours before the celebration started. They still did a hora with guests circling the dance floor, she explained, but they clapped their hands instead of holding each other’s. Still, the event unfolded beautifully, Ackerman said.
Then came Monday, when the shelter-in-place orders took effect. Ackerman’s phone began ringing off the hook. “We started getting calls from couples who had spring and early summer dates who needed to postpone,” she said. “The challenge was in finding dates that had their venue available as well as their vendor team. For most weddings, we’re bringing in 10 to 12 vendors. Think of all the florists, photographers, DJs, caterers and decorators!”
Most of these vendors are small businesses, and this hit in a major way, Ackerman explained. “These businesses lose revenue by not being able to take an additional client on a future date. But they want to be there for their couples! They’re bending over backwards to make it work.”
At the same time, engagements are on the rise. Quarantining couples are making it official in large numbers, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal about the rise in online engagement ring sales. Newly engaged brides are eager to visit venues, try on dresses and taste party foods, but the coronavirus presents a huge roadblock to those experiences.
Shelly Danz, founder and Chief Party Officer of Atlanta Party Connection, produces the Atlanta Bar & Bat Mitzvah Expo and the biannual Bridal Extravaganza of Atlanta, a bridal show known for creative vendor displays and a distinct VIP bride experience that includes early entry, a take-home planning guide, a VIP lounge and bride and groom gifts. The BEA traditionally attracts more than 1,000 guests per show. They come to see their favorite bridal magazine images come to life and select their vendor team at a venue decorated from floor to ceiling. Brides-to-be frequently attend with their partners, parents, or bridal parties to make it a festive occasion. Although the next BEA is scheduled for August, Danz is unsure it can take place at that time. But she refuses to leave Atlanta brides dangling, unsure of next steps.
“We don’t see people gathering by the hundreds at expos or big shows any time soon, so I decided to move forward with an online experience in July,” Danz said.
The show will take place July 19-24 via the BEA website. Brides and grooms can purchase tickets to meet top wedding vendors through interactive video chats; register for ultimate wedding and honeymoon giveaways; receive door prizes from all vendors; and upgrade to the VIP ticket level for curbside pickups of such items as cake tastings, flowers and vendor gifts to sample from home.
“I know how stressful the wedding planning process can be under normal circumstances and now it’s even tougher,” Danz said. “We’re offering this unique resource to help alleviate some uncertainty for both engaged couples and Atlanta’s wedding vendors. The goal of the online show is to highlight talented wedding professionals and their creativity while helping brides and grooms celebrate their engagement and plan their wedding from home.”
Danz began working with a web designer in May to create a site for the show that will allow for more exploration with virtual booths and media (photos, video), just like when attendees come to an in-person show and plan their own experiences, moving from booth to booth.
She noted that feedback from vendors about moving to the online format has been positive. They express that they’re ready to share new offerings with engaged couples. “Many vendors have used this event downtime to expand their services and develop unique ways to meet the needs of what our new normal will be,” Danz said. “They’re excited to share [the new services] with brides and help them realize their vision.”
Joel Miller of Button It Up said, “Our green screen backgrounds have always been popular, but we’ve invested in updating them and now have more than 500 new options covering destinations, sports, patterns and even decades.”
While receptions may start to take place in coming months, many out-of-town or older and at-risk guests will likely not attend larger gatherings due to health and safety concerns. With this in mind, the photo entertainment company will debut a virtual cameo feature at the Bridal Extravaganza of Atlanta Online. It will allow invited guests to take selfies from their own screens that can be imported into green screen photos for in-person or digital events. “We’re preparing for combinations of in-person and virtual attendees at celebrations going forward and are making sure that all guests feel part of the fun,” Miller said.
While it may seem odd to long-married couples to meet the people you’ll entrust with your wedding day via computer, many vendors are embracing this approach, since it’s far more effective than phone calls. Ackerman noted that she was just hired by a bride via Zoom call, and she is starting to connect her with other vendors using the same technology. “We just had a photographer meeting, and the photographer shared her screen with us to view work samples and styles. It’s definitely a shift to use technology to connect in this way, but it’s working well. A bridal show online feels like a natural next step.”
Atlanta bride Hayley Langholtz recalled her experience. “I got engaged at the beginning of the year and had hardly started researching vendors when the pandemic shut everything down. I’ve had trouble interviewing potential vendors, and I really wanted the experience of going to a bridal show to see a lot of resources at one time. I am very excited to have a virtual experience that’s more than a directory. It feels like a really good way to start planning now.”
Ackerman added, “Being able to move forward with clients online right now is everything. I’m so excited that Bridal Extravaganza will happen in this way because we can still provide that one-stop shopping wedding planning experience and create the excitement for these couples that they deserve.”
She also cited the curbside pick-up of wedding vendor samples as an element that creates a well-rounded experience for brides. “A wedding is an emotional experience. Giving people the chance to not only see what we can do for them, but also touch, taste and feel is so important,” Ackerman said.
Since March, the Georgia wedding professional industry has seen a loss of $360 million in revenues, according to The Wedding Report.
Danz hopes the online event will help to jumpstart vendor-bride connections and result in contracts for future weddings. “This event will take place over a week, and we’re going to showcase all kinds of wedding goods and services, and make it very entertaining for brides,” Danz said. “We want the brides to feel special and like we’re throwing them a party!”
Nightly entertainment will include ceremony and celebration musicians. Virtual booths will showcase vendor work through photo and video displays. A bartender company is creating signature cocktails for each night and sharing the recipes for couples to enjoy at home. And door prizes and discounts will be given out every day. Upgrading to the VIP level will allow brides to enjoy curbside pickup of fabulous vendor gifts to sample at their leisure. But it won’t be an ordinary pickup, like those that have become the norm at retail, restaurants or grocery stores. It will take place July 19 at The Hotel at Avalon in Alpharetta. Live musicians will welcome the brides as they pick up gifts valued at over $60. Danz said that she is still adding more ways to make VIP brides feel catered to and celebrated when they come for their take-home packages. VIP level tickets will also include access to a special virtual lounge within the show, where brides can find exclusive deals on vendor services and items.
As Georgia’s gathering parameters change, wedding vendors hope to start seeing green lights in the coming months for receptions of larger groups. In the meantime, brides can Zoom through the start of wedding planning with vendors who are prepared to guide them to “I do.”
“I can’t wait for this show,” Langholtz said. “My fiancé and I are excited that we’re going to get some inspiration to start planning. We’re hoping to learn about what’ll be new for receptions next year and we might find vendors we’ll hire. The best part is that we don’t even have to leave the house!”
Bridal Extravaganza of Atlanta Online will be held daily, July 19-24. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit atlantaweddingconnection.com.