The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 19, 2014

Matrimonial marketplace

Pinterest drives wedding trends

By Tim Krohn
The Mankato Free Press

---- — Those in the wedding business have always been driven by the changing trends in everything from invitations and flowers to bridal gowns and table centerpieces.

But never have so many hot trends been so instantly available to brides-to-be, all thanks to the Internet.

“Pinterest has had the biggest effect on the industry,” said Kathy Van Tol of Hilltop Florist and Greenhouse in Mankato.

“It’s visual and they have a whole wedding section so people see what they want,” she said of the website where users create and share collections of visual images for everything from recipes to planning trips and weddings.

“The Midwest used to be a little slower in seeing changing trends but with Pinterest and a global world it’s moving faster,” Van Tol said.

A visit to Pinterest’s wedding section shows hundreds of potential hairstyles, possible bouquets, cake toppers, guest favors and exotic wedding destinations.

Tammy Lillo, at the Travel & Cruise Center, said more couples are turning to destination weddings.

“It’s been a steady trend. The last few years it’s been a big thing,” she said. “A lot of people are opting for that destination wedding rather than the traditional one and then having a reception when they get back.”

Rich Draheim, who owns the New Ulm Event Center and just opened Minnesota Wedding Shop in New Ulm, said that while brides have easy access to trends in the virtual world, they still want to see and touch bridal gowns.

“Brides want to see them and try them on. Dresses look different on different body types and they need to try them on to know,” said Draheim, who is also a Realtor and owner of Westwood Marina on Lake Washington.

Kelly Murphy, a long-time bridal shop worker and part-owner of Sisters Bridal & Tux in New Ulm, said that keeping up with trends requires attention to on-line and magazine fashions as well as going to trade shows to see what’s predicted to be hot.

“We go to market in Chicago or Las Vegas. You see all the latest things there and we keep up by seeing what clients are asking for,” Murphy said. “Things don’t change drastically year to year, it’s more subtle.”

In some areas, however, basic needs overrule hot trends. Bill Vistad, owner of A-Z Rental in Mankato, said most of his wedding business is geared toward the unflashy necessities such as tables, chairs, and PA systems.

But he, too, is affected by trends such as more outdoor weddings.

“We rent the portable dance floors and the big tents. The entertainment has moved toward the DJs - we rent the sound systems.”

Bridal gowns still the focus

After the proposal and maybe ring shopping, most brides’ attention turns to the bridal gown, the star of the show come wedding day.

One of the oldest shops around, Sisters Bridal & Tux has been a mainstay in New Ulm for 40 years under different owners and names.

That kind of longevity is rare in the industry. “It’s really a demanding business,” said Murphy, who owns the shop with her sister, Sandy Portner-Quiring. “This is our second home. I think people may just get burned out doing this a long time.”

At the upstart Minnesota Wedding Shop in New Ulm, Draheim thinks the new bridal shop, located inside the New Ulm Event Center, will dovetail well with the center’s venue as a wedding reception site. (The center also hosts a variety of corporate and private events.)

And he’s hoping they can offer a large dress variety and level of service that will set them apart. “We’re aiming to pamper the customers a little more,” with things such as non-alcoholic champagne, a snack bar and a photo area where staff can snap photos of brides and post them to social media.

Draheim, who’s more comfortable selling real estate and overseeing Westwood, won’t be working in the shop. “I’m not a fashion guy. Brittney has taste.”

That would be Brittney Anderson, who is the general manager of the event center and who oversees the bridal shop.

Minnesota Wedding stocks dresses from petite to size 32 (the average dress size in the United States is 14 and about size 16 in southern Minnesota).

Bridal dresses in the shop range from $800 to $3,800.

Anderson spent the winter ordering stock and attending a Chicago wedding market to catch up on bridal trends for the coming fall.

“The hot things are heavy beading and caplets, which are jeweled and beaded shawls almost that goes over the shoulder,” Anderson said.

The shop, which is hosting a grand opening and trunk show on May 17, also carries everything from veils, jewelry, tux rentals, in-house alterations and other accessories and has about 100 bridal gowns and 70 different bridesmaid dresses on hand.

“We’re trying to make it a one-stop shop,” Anderson said.”

Murphy and her sister bought Sisters Bridal & Tux a decade ago and Murphy had worked in the store for the previous owners.

While a full-service bridal and accessories shop, the sisters also sell suits and do lots of work for prom-goers.

Murphy said dashes of color on trim and sashes were big in bridal gowns, but that’s given way to pale pinks, country chic and burlap. Yes burlap.

“Country chic is very big. People are making their own center pieces with Mason jars, having little patches of burlap on accessories, country boots on bridesmaids.

For the guys, the trend has been toward more tailored tuxes. “It used to be a more boxy look a few years ago, now they want them more fitted,” Murphy said. “The Michael Kors tuxes are big now.”

Murphy said most brides spend between $499 and $1,799 on a bridal gown, with the average at about $1,200.

“I’ve done this for 14 years. The prices have gone up and what people are willing to pay has gone up. Even five years ago we were thinking, can we sell a $1,000 dress?”

People decide what they want for a gown and they will cut their budgets in other ways if they have to to pay for it.”

Flower power

A conversation about flower trends with Van Tol at Hilltop Florist quickly turns to burlap as well.

“We’ve seen the burlap and country look for a while,” Van Tol said. “But now it’s moving more toward Victorian/classical.

“We work hard to keep up with the trends, for the regular store and for weddings. Our wholesalers have classes we go to on what’s new and on the mechanics of how to put (arrangements) together,” Van Tol said.

Those mechanics have also gotten more complex, going from simple corsages to complex body flower jewelry with beads and bling.

“Weddings are really specialized and require somebody that’s experienced. We pride ourselves on that. The mechanics are important, you don’t want it to fall apart.”

Hilltop usually has from one to four weddings on any given weekend and business has spread throughout the year. “It used to be a spring thing but now it’s year around. September and October are very popular.”

Van Tol said flower costs for a wedding can range from $200 to $4,000. “The average is from $800 to $1,500, depending on the number of bridesmaids they have and whether they do fresh arrangements for center pieces,” she said.

“We work with the couples on the price ranges because it’s very individualized. I had a bride in a few days ago where they’re doing it very simple and going to a Justice of the Peace on Monday morning.”

Bridal businesses have seen more interest in creating “guest experiences,” whether it’s hosting themed parties for guests a day or two before the wedding or giving party favors to guests. Some couples even send “care packages” to the hotel rooms of guests who arrive from out of town.

“We have sent flowers to the hotel rooms of guests,” Van Tol said.

The hottest flower right now is the peony, followed by the hydrangea. Hilltop grows a lot of their own flowers inside their massive greenhouses and try to buy as many as they can from suppliers in the five state area. Still, many have to come from further away, depending on the time of year.

“Peonies are available year around but only for a very short time in any place. Sometimes we get them from Alaska, sometimes Chile or Colorado. Hydrangeas, you can get some locally, but usually they come from Holland or California.”

Jamaica the spot for beach vows

During her 11 years in the travel business, Lillo has seen a steady growth in destination weddings.

“The most booked and easiest to do is Jamaica. It’s absolutely gorgeous, there’s more options for adults-only properties and they have less restrictions and paperwork for the couple.”

Lillo said the hassles for the couple getting married in a foreign country include doing some types of blood work tests and in some countries even chest X-rays. “Each country requires they arrive at least 72 hours before the ceremony and some places its five days before.

“Brides and grooms find the destination that appeals to them the most and if we’re doing our jobs we give them all the information up front about what they’ll need to do. Sometimes that changes their minds when they find out all the testing and paperwork that needs to be done in some countries,” Lillo said.

While the Caribbean is clearly the destination of choice for most, Lillo also has booked weddings in places such as Ireland. They also book some cruise weddings. “People can have the weddings on the ship. But there are limited ports that will allow you to (go ashore to) get married.”

She said a few people choose an American destination wedding, but the deals are generally better in the Caribbean.

“If you go to do it in Miami you’re going to pay more than, say, Jamaica where they have the all-inclusive resorts and they have a basic package for booking a wedding that’s included in their cost.

“For the bride and groom, the basic package at an adults only is about $5,000. But if they want to add more flowers, live entertainment, sit-down dinners, the price can go up to $20,000 to $30,000.”

Lillo said the size of the wedding parties that go on destination cruises varies widely. “We have some very small and some with four or five couples and some as large as 80 to 150 guests.”