The rite of marriage may stay the same, but wedding transportation is changing, with vehicle choices going beyond the white SEDAN stretch. Here are the latest limousine wedding trends.
Rich Rottier of Cedar Mill Limousine in Crown Point, Ind. says that although he does not own any limo buses or stretch SUVs, he gets an even amount of price-quote requests to use such vehicles for weddings versus his standard stretch limousines.
Dave Brodoway of Executive 4Star Limousine in Lethbridge, Alberta, says that his 120-inch stretch limousine is the last vehicle to ever go out; his most popular wedding vehicles are his luxury limo bus and 24-passenger Ford F-650 Mammoth.
And Greg Pruitt of Kings Worldwide Transportation in Oklahoma City, Okla. says his Mercedes Sprinter van is gaining popularity with wedding parties.
Add it all up, and it becomes apparent the wedding limo business has become more demanding and diverse.
Research compiled by The Wedding Report shows a steady drop in the actual number of U.S. weddings during the past decade: 2.33 million in 2000, 2.23 million in 2005, 2.20 million in 2007, and 2.08 million for 2009. But wedding parties have increased in size, with the average number of guests rising from 128 in 2009 to 141 in 2010. That means more people need to be moved.
Budgets seem to be growing as well. The Wedding Report shows the average cost of a wedding increased from $19,581 in 2009 to $24,066 in 2010, a 23% jump. The most recent statistics released by wedding planning website TheKnot.com show that the average wedding budget in 2009 was $28,385, but don’t be shocked if you encounter budgets double or triple that size.
“All the weddings I did in 2010 had really large bridal parties with $50,000 to $80,000 budgets,” says Wenda Evans of More Than Just Weddings, a wedding planning firm based in Los Angeles.
Carrie Peele, owner of Blue Diamond Limousines & Sedans in Raleigh, N.C., says she’s been seeing people spend six figures on weddings. On the heels of the Great Recession, however, comes new opportunity. The wedding market — a $70 billion per year industry — is walking tall. The Wedding Report projects that spending will continue to climb from 2011 through 2013, so operators should pay close attention to the following tips and trends to further tap this evergreen market.
Go BIG Or Go Home
One of the emerging wedding transportation trends is the use of larger vehicles such as mini-buses to move bigger wedding parties. “I’ve had several situations where brides hired a 10-passenger vehicle, and after the church ceremony the party doubles and ends up being 12 or more,” says Ric Garza, owner of R&R Limousine Service in Houston.
Couples are booking larger vehicles such as motorcoaches and mini-buses to transport their bridal parties and guests, whereas in the past they may have booked several limousines for the same amount of people. But aside from being cheaper, there’s another reason limo buses are booked: “They can stand up in them and they’re more comfortable,” Peele says.
But this doesn’t mean that stretch Lincoln Town Cars and Hummers are disappearing. For Garza, those two vehicle types are still his most popular for weddings in his service area of Houston. The fact is that brides and grooms still want to share their special day with friends and family but are more willing to spend on one or two larger vehicles than multiple smaller ones.
Operators who don’t have such larger vehicles but want to capitalize on the wedding business should consider either investing in one specifically for weddings or be willing to offer discounted prices on using several vehicles. Cutting a deal with wedding clients to use more vehicles is better than having them go to your competitors, and it also shows them that you understand their situation and will go out of your way to meet their needs.
Another trend operators are noticing is that brides are booking closer to the wedding date and are sometimes booking vehicles only for the wedding day instead of all the pre- and post-wedding activities. Some may even skip the limousines and reserve a “Just Married” getaway car for after the event. While budgets are growing, remember that there will still be plenty of do-it-yourself (DIY) weddings. So be open to providing service even in a limited way.
Putting the custom back into customer service
Considering that a couple’s wedding day may be the most important day of their lives, it’s imperative to provide superior customer service. Pierce Fleming of Dynasty Limousine in Jacksonville, Fla. offers a wedding package that includes rolling a red carpet outside the vehicle, placing “Just Married” flags on the front windows, and decorating the floor of the limousine with silk rose petals. He also asks the client scheduling the limousine what the wedding colors are and buys matching napkins to put in the glassware inside the limousine, all at no extra charge. Dynasty Limousine was named one of the top limousine wedding service providers by TheKnot.com.
Operators need to recognize that brides and grooms want to customize their weddings to match their personalities. “Refrain from trying to squeeze potential clients into the same box,” Rottier says, “because if they get talked into something they don’t want, chances are they will find something wrong with your service — even if it doesn’t exist — in order to make themselves feel better for making a bad decision. If you can’t accommodate their requests, don’t be afraid to let them go.”
Marrying weddings and the Web
A website is necessary to branding your services on the Internet, Garza says. “We have links to all of our social media on our website. We use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to communicate with other industries that cater to our customers so we can link up and create packages,” he says.
That’s not a bad strategy considering there are 500 million-plus active users on Facebook who spend more than 700 billion (yes, billion) minutes per month on the social media site.
Integrating your company’s website with a social media page is quick and painless and can reap benefits. “We use Facebook advertising on many different levels, and have videos on YouTube,” Executive 4Star’s Brodoway says. “Our F-650 commercial seems to be the most popular with over 20,000 views. I personally have over 1,400 friends on Facebook, and enjoy a great amount of referrals from them.”
Your website could and should have detailed information about your services and special promotions, such as wedding packages. Supplement this by adding a Twitter account or Facebook page to blast out these promotions, especially during peak wedding times (May, June, September — November). One thing you can do for your social media marketing campaign is to put up photos of your clients from their weddings (with their permission, of course) because:
1) People love to see themselves in pictures.
2) Displaying happy clients will make potential clients associate your service with having a good time. Not only is social media a great marketing tool, it also can provide immediate feedback from your clients.
Wising up on smartphones
Another technology trend that seems to be taking off is the use of smartphone apps. Technology has permeated the chauffeured transportation industry overall, making communications and operations more efficient. Brides and wedding planners, who value organization above all, also can benefit from the fruits of the technological tree. There are smartphone apps that provide simple checklists and planners, and others that include vendor directories.
Los Angeles wedding planner Wenda Evans says she’s had clients find her through such apps. Taking the time to research these apps — from wedding apps to birthday party and prom apps — is highly recommended if you want to reach a wider audience.
Making your client relationships monogamous
Charming a couple may land you a contract for their wedding, but how many times do they plan on getting married? The key to driving business in your direction is to establish relationships with wedding planners, tuxedo stores, bridal shops, church facility coordinators, and anyone else in the business with whom you can solidify the role as their go-to transportation provider.
“Everything with me is built on relationships,” says Peele of Blue Diamond. “In the 21 years that I’ve been in the business, wedding planners have always taken priority, because they’re the ones who make all the decisions, including whom to recommend for transportation. I establish my relationships with them at expos and trade shows, then maintain it by taking them out to lunch.”
Wooing the bride
Brodoway says he’s spoken to many operators who don’t want to spend money for wedding industry shows. “Just to get my limos inside the Calgary show I went to in January cost me $3,500. But that show brought about 1,500 brides right to my vehicle. They got up in there and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘WOW, I love this,’ and boom — I’ve got it. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel."
Garza also believes that bridal shows are the best place to network. “Interacting with the bride and having them see your limo at the show has a lot to do with them contacting you for your services,” he says. Operators also might try inter-bartering with wedding professionals. Pruitt of Kings Worldwide Transportation got attention by giving a local bridal magazine use of a car for a girl’s night out.
The bottom line: Find out your clients’ interests and make suggestions accordingly. Don’t be afraid of being creative. Take the party to them in a limo bus if they don’t have any other ideas. Most importantly, let them know that whatever their decisions are, you’ll be there to provide safe, responsible, and hassle-free transportation.
FACT BOX: No. of weddings going down. . .
2000: 2.33 million
2005: 2.23 million
2007: 2.20 million
2009: 2.08 million
But spending is going up. . .
Average wedding cost $24,066 in 2010, up 23%
Source: The Wedding Report
FACT BOX: Popular Wedding Apps
iWedding Deluxe — Add your service to its listings for FREE by visiting http://vendors.iweddingdeluxe.com.
Wedding Wire — Choose between a free basic account or a premium membership by visiting http://vendors.weddingwire.com.