Published June 3rd, 2022 at 6:00 AM
It’s wedding season, and this year is set to be the busiest in a long time as couples who postponed their ceremonies and receptions over the last two years because of the pandemic finally set the date. There will be about 2.5 million weddings across the country this year, the most since 1984, according to trade group The Wedding Report.
In Missouri, small businesses that provide flowers, music, photography and other wedding services are welcoming the surge after a tumultuous two years for event planning. When the pandemic hit in 2020, most large gatherings were canceled, so businesses that relied on weddings for a majority of revenue had to pivot, or face shutting their doors.
Dennis Cox had to make that call in 2020 – a time he describes as “scary.” He’s the co-owner of Spark Events in Springfield, which offers photo booths, videography and DJs for events. He remembers asking customers to consider postponing rather than canceling altogether.
Now, it’s the opposite story. He says his event calendar is jam packed, even outside of the weekends.
“We’re seeing a lot of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday weddings,” he said. “Any date people can book, they’re booking it.”
Cox has hired more people to his staff of 38 to keep up with the event demand. He also pivoted to offer new services, such as live streaming.
“Training is a huge thing, working with our staff is a huge thing, and really going with the changes of the industry, going with the changes of clients, brides and grooms,” he said.
It’s a similar story for St. Louis catering company Butler’s Pantry. The pandemic hit the business hard – its leadership had to cut its staff to about 30% and move to providing at-home dinners to keep some revenue flowing in, its Chief Operating Officer Maggie Barton said. But things, too, have grown much busier last year and this season.
“Can you see the bags under my eyes?” Barton joked.
Last year, Butler’s Pantry catered 600 events and brought in about $7 million in revenue. Now, it’s expecting to cater 1,000 events this year and do about $10 million.
“I mean, it is just so busy,” Barton said. “The amount of inquiries coming through is wild.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, some couples shifted to “micro-weddings,” or smaller gatherings of close friends and family. This kept some wedding business going for florists, many of whom also pivoted to offer floral arrangements outside of large events, such as for funerals or Mother’s Day.
These smaller weddings also created some new challenges.
Typically, wedding flowers are booked months in advance, said Betsy Ford, the co-owner of Lily Floral Designs in Kansas City. But in the first year and a half of the pandemic, Ford and co-owner Lily Williams said that they often received calls weeks and sometimes days ahead of an event.
“A lot of people [came] to us, like, ‘Hey, we’re getting married in two weeks, can you make this happen?’” Ford said.
Many couples rescheduled their larger weddings for 2021, and business was good for many florists. That demand turned into $375,000 in revenue for Lily Floral Design last year – more than double the goal the women set when they opened their storefront weeks before the pandemic began in 2020.
Williams and Ford have both been in the floral industry for years prior to opening their business, so they know the current market isn’t typical. They don’t know for sure what business will look like for Lily Floral Designs outside the parameters of a pandemic.
“Moving into this year, we don’t really have anything to, like, look at as far as what’s normal for wedding season,” Ford said. “So we have no true data on where we should lead yearly growth.”
Lisa Molitor, the owner of floral shop Belli Fiori in St. Louis, has also been slammed with events as new weddings go on the books alongside the rescheduled ones. Her final rescheduled wedding is planned for this June.
“Where I would normally do between 80 and 90 weddings in a year, we did about 110 (last year),” she said. “That was quite an increase for us.”
The uptick in events resulted in a revenue jump of almost $100,000 for Belli Fiori last year, bringing its total revenue to about $625,000, Molitor says. But this year she decided to cap the number of events she and her team of four will take on to about 100 to relieve some of the stress on her staff.
“My existing staff, I just don’t want to put that kind of pressure on them,” Molitor said. “And because I’m not really sure, you know, if we go into a recession, or something happens in the next couple of years, I don’t want to grow my staff and then not have enough events to cover it.”
Other shops have made this call, too, as they navigate the abnormality of this season. Flower shop The Cottage Rose in Lee’s Summit began requiring minimums and cut by half the number of events its staff took on this year after being so busy last year. Still, the business continues to get requests, owner Ferrell Richardson said in an email.
Barton at Butler’s Pantry is grappling with the same questions. The catering company has about 275 employees currently, but wants closer to 350, Barton said.
“(The demand) is such a great positive thing, but seeing this is met with relief and worry at the same time,” she said. “As we continue to grow back and build the team back, everybody is faced now with these labor shortages and supply chain issues.”
Businesses have also had to navigate the supply chain hold ups and rising market costs. At Spark Events in Springfield, Cox says the price of real print film has increased by 800%. Flowers have gone up in price for many reasons including travel restrictions and increased gas costs.
As a result, these wedding businesses raised prices recently to avoid major hits. It’s shocked some customers, but mostly people have been understanding, the owners said.
“I think sometimes they don’t think about that until they see a proposal and they’re, like, ‘Why is it so high?’” Molitor said. “Because everything has gone up. I mean, look at the price of bacon, for crying out loud.”
Most of the business owners are expecting demand to return to normal soon as postponed events get into the books. But some are expecting the surge to continue into next year.