Those in the wedding business say one thing is integral to success: building a good rapport with the bride and groom to be.

Jason and Amy Malwitz of Malwitz Photography often start building that relationship in an “engagement session” where portraits of the couple are taken, with the photos often used on save-the-date cards or to be displayed on their wedding website.

“We always encourage them, when it can be done, to do engagement sessions,” Amy said. “It’s such a great relationship builder. We’ve seen a huge benefit in spending time with them when it’s more relaxed than on the wedding day.”

Katie Hayes of Parties & Weddings Plus said they make sure they spend plenty of time when a bride comes in for the initial consultation.

“The relationship with the bride is key. We do a free consultation, and hour or more, to learn what they want and what they like. We give them what will fit in their budget and the look they like.”

Valerie Pearson of Valerie’s Bridal said they spend plenty of time with the bride when she comes in looking for a dress. “Usually mom or mom and grandma or a sister comes along, too. It’s a lot of fun.”

Courtney Malone at Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery is often one of the first people a couple meets with as they start planning their wedding. The winery, near Kasota, offers a variety of outdoor and now indoor wedding venue options.

“We have 2020 and 2021 dates open. We have a few open for 2019,” Malone said of their schedule, which often fills up far in advance.

Capturing the moment

Amy Malwitz was long interested in photography while Jason came into it later. “I was into photography first, but Jason became more passionate about it than me.”

Twelve years ago they started doing portraits of children and families and a couple of years later weddings.

They keep up with the different style trends but often go for “timeless images,” she said.

“There are certain trends now where they pull the color out of images but we don’t go that way. We want them to look true to life but something that won’t look dated 20 or 30 years from now.

“We really love the outdoor images. But there’s a lot who want the at-the-church shots, too. There’s something for every personality. It’s fun.”

Jason said he really got hooked on photography with the advent of digital photography.

“I remember being frustrated with all the film she went through. Then we got a DSLR camera and I caught the bug. I studied anything I could get my hands on and it became a passion quickly.”

He said weddings are the bulk of their business with their busy season from spring to November. “It’s a fun business, an exciting time to be in the business.”

All things wedding

Hayes’ mother, Linda Warren, bought Parties & Weddings Plus in 1997 and they began building it up with a focus on weddings.

“It was a 2,000-square-foot party store,” Hayes said. “Since 2003 we’ve expanded it to a 3,000-square-foot retail space and 10,000 square feet of rental inventory space filled floor to ceiling.” While she focuses on weddings, the business also carries party and paper supplies.

“We have many facets to our business — retail party goods, balloons, chair covers, centerpieces, linen, ceiling drapings, fabric backdrops.”

She said they do full service for those who want them to bring everything to a venue, set it up and then take it down when the wedding or event is over. Or they provide anything the DIY bride might want.

Beyond the large inventory of rental items, including everything from table displays to photo booths, the shop has a wedding consignment section. “So brides bring in things they used and we sell it on consignment for DIY brides.”

Weddings Plus has an in-house florist and a team of designers that work with brides.

“When you hire us, you get a team behind you. We have a lot of people.”

Hayes said they’re always adding to their inventory to keep up with trends.

“I’ve been in the industry long enough that colors popular 10 years ago are back in style.”

“Fresh greens, white florals, brassy gold, cone flower blue are all popular. A lot of brides are using navy and burgundy now, those deep tones. Rustic is still popular because of all the barn venues, but that’s taking a bit of a turn with less burlap and more wood and rustic tones.”

Hayes said brides usually come in with a host of photos — often from Pintrest — showing styles they like.

“That’s very helpful. Visuals are so beneficial in this business.”

The dress

Pearson opened Valerie’s Bridal 15 years ago, starting small and growing to a large operation that has shops in rural Mankato and New Ulm. She also has a prom store, Glitz Prom Shop, in the Belle Mar Mall in Mankato.

“We draw from north Iowa and South Dakota. I just had a girl from Rogers, Minnesota, over the weekend. Word travels. We carry the No. 1 selling designer, Essense of Australia,” Pearson said.

“Lace is still in. It’s amazing. It came in a few years ago and I thought it would run its course, but it’s still strong. We go to market and we buy dresses twice a year, so we stay up with the most current ideas and trends. Every time I go I think lace is going to be out, but no.”

She said colors are in for wedding dresses. “We order hundreds of dresses a year and I’ve maybe ordered five white dresses in the last year or two. We see a lot of ivory over Champagne, ivory over moscato. Not a lot of real bold colors, though.”

One thing she’s seen is the spending increasing. “I would say when we first started the average was $600 to $800 for a dress. Today it’s $1,200 to $1,400 in our area and $1,600 nationally.”

Beyond outfitting the bride, Valerie’s has bridesmaids dresses, dresses for the mother of bride, tuxedos, flower girl dresses and dresses for personal attendants. “A lot of them do everything with us all in one place.”

The venue

There is a large and growing list of wedding venues in the region, from the opulent to the basic. Wineries, renovated barns, historic buildings, event centers and other settings cater to weddings.

Chankaska Creek has hosted outdoor weddings and weddings inside large tents since they opened. Now they are able to host them inside their new event center.

“Our fall is filling up pretty quick. Now that we can have weddings all year long I’m hoping we’ll be busy all year. We have a few booked in December and January, so that’s not bad for our first season,” Malone said.

They host a few weddings during the week but most are on Fridays or Saturdays with a few on Sundays.

Chankaska handles food for smaller grooms dinners, but if it’s more than 40 people, they have preferred caterers that clients can choose from. Absolute and Najwa catering provide services and they just added A’BriTin Catering out of Farmington.

She said their weddings are split evenly between the event center and in the tent. “We offer outdoor ceremonies, too. Some want the ceremony outdoors and then use the event center after.”

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