Michigan bridal industry preps for overdue wedding season
LANSING — As COVID-19 spread through Michigan last spring, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a series of executive orders aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. Among them: no nonessential business, no large gatherings and no unnecessary travel.
That effectively ended wedding season before it began.
A year later, some bridal businesses are seeing revenues return thanks to a backlog of postponed weddings on the horizon, according to the Lansing State Journal.
“For the year that everything was shut down, we lost a good amount of revenue because the reality is, we felt it was necessary to completely reschedule the weddings so that people could have the day that they dreamed of,” said Daryl Evans, owner of Pure Enchantment Photography.
In the immediate aftermath of last year’s shutdown, most local bridal shops temporarily shut their doors, experiencing a sharp decline in revenue. Some declined to reopen when restrictions loosened in late May. Hawkins Photography and Haltam Jewelers in the Meridian Mall closed for good.
For those businesses that did reopen, wedding preparation looked a whole lot different.
“We definitely wondered how we’d survive our industry coming to a complete halt,” said Phebeit Ingram, owner of Eleven 11 Events, which rents tables, chairs and other wedding decor. “After the initial shock and ‘woe is me’ thoughts, I shook the dust from my feet, put on my thinking cap and prayed to God for witty invention.”
Some bridal shops, like Becker’s Bridal in Fowler, were able to stay afloat through curbside pickups. Vice President Alyssa Pung said employees worked feverishly in the months following the shutdown orders to get brides and wedding parties outfitted for their ceremonies.
Fantastic Finds, a prom and bridal shop in Lansing Township, was less affected than some by the shutdown, owner Sue Rosenberger said. She attributed a steady stream of business to couples who changed the format of their weddings — or postponed them — but hung onto their gowns, tuxes and the like.
Now, with positivity rates in check and vaccinations on the rise, a more normal wedding season is on the horizon, Rosenberger said.
“Last year, we were in recovery mode once we opened back up in the end of May,” she said. “This year, I would say that we are pretty on par with the year before COVID. We are where we should be even in times not considering the pandemic.”
Wedding industry preps for a new normal
Wear a mask and stay socially distant.
As ever, those are the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services rules for stopping the spread of COVID-19.
In intimate settings like a wedding or bridal fitting, those rules can be hard to follow.
Evans, of Pure Enchantment Photography, said his photographers are taking extra care now to keep their distance while shooting wedding ceremonies. They use telephoto lenses to capture candid shots from across a room. Over a dozen contracted photographers work for Evans, and all are required to wear masks.
“When we’re getting those candid, emotional shots, we’re using longer lenses anyways because we don’t want people to have a feeling that there’s a camera in their face all of the time,” he said.
Some couples, he added, rescheduled weddings several times after Michigan’s COVID-19 numbers spiked in the fall and last month. That hurt the company’s revenue, but they supplemented lost wedding business with other contracts.
“We have contracts with different entities where we go out and take pictures of the city, the state and certain buildings,” Evans said. “We have contracts with real estate, car companies and what we will do is ramp up those things.”
Some bridal shops are implementing virtual consultations and fittings.
“It was really taking a look at what everyone’s saying, what’s the recommendation, how do we still make this work because we knew in our hearts that weddings would go on,” Rosenberger said. “We would walk alongside that bride and say, ‘We’ll figure it out with you.'”
Fantastic Finds currently allows couples to bring along iPads to fittings so they can video chat out of state or at-risk family members. Larger parties can break up fittings into smaller groups, as only three guests plus the bride or groom are allowed in at once.
For now, Pung is also seeing clients by appointment only.
“We’ve had to do cleanings in between appointments, asking for (clients) to be kind and stay (as) close to the appointment time (as possible) to get things cleaned up and ready, and to see as many brides as we possibly can,” she said.
Both bridal shops and Pure Enchantment Photography are still working through a backlog of rescheduled 2020 weddings.
“We were really encouraged by the spirit of the brides who said, ‘My wedding’s going to happen no matter what, it might just be a different time,’ (and) we said ‘We’re here with you, what can we do to help you?'” Rosenberger recalled.
Ingram, the event planner, is still operating under indoor capacity limits of 25 people. To keep her business festive, she’s decorated her showroom for different types of events each week, from birthdays to weddings to Christmas parties, which she documents on Facebook. She’s also started offering virtual consultations and curbside pickup for decorations and rental equipment.
Supply chains have been an issue in the bridal business. Before the pandemic, several local bridal shops relied on a manufacturer based near Wuhan, China, causing problems with imports, Pung said. Since manufacturing has returned to normal, her shop has purchased a number of dresses from stateside designers to ease their reliance on international vendors.
Above all, Ingram said, this season will be about improvising.
“I have always said people need to be celebrated,” Ingram said. “What it teaches me is to think outside the box and find a way to do this.”