FAQ #8: How Do I Find a Good Vendor?

Here is one I think we should talk about: Finding Vendors

“I’m planning my wedding myself. With so many vendors out there, how do I find the ones that are really worth their cost??”

I get this one a lot. As a wedding planner, I have a list of vendors I like to use because they have established their reputation with me personally. Everyone from florists, to venues, to transport, to napkin folders … If I put a vendor on my list, they have earned a spot on my list.

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That being said, there was a time at the beginning that I didn’t have that list. All I had were phone numbers. I had to weed out the bad ones and focus on finding good ones. It’s takes time and it’s frustrating, and hopefully, you can learn from me and not make the same embarrassing mistakes I’ve made.

I’ve created a system that works well for me when finding new vendors or while I’m researching vendors my clients have chosen. As a side note: When I’m hired as a ‘Day of’ wedding planner, I don’t have control over the choice of vendors. That being said, as soon as I know who the vendors are, I make it my business to check them out, that way I can anticipate an possible issues that might arise. This little step has saved a couple of weddings of mine.

Before we go onto the system I have for finding vendors, let me just say: ALWAYS CHOOSE VALUE OVER PRICE. We’ll talk a little more about that later.

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The System

When looking for a new vendor, the thing that I look for first (ALWAYS FIRST) is reputation. Word of mouth goes a LONG way in making my decisions on who to interview (yes, interview). A good recommendation is great, but that is never my sole decision basis. It takes a lot but it’s worth it because this is your day. Not just a picnic in the park.

Step 1: Research

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Really, it’s all about research. But you’re not just researching their price tag, that comes later. You’re researching their reputation. I got onto Yelp, FB, FourSquare, and Twitter to get a feel of what actual people are saying about this company. I will look at 800 if that means finding the right one. Notice I’m not making calls. I’m not on their websites, I’m just looking up the impression that this company has made on real people.

Make sure that you’re following your personal criteria for vendors. Personally, I like to use small businesses whenever I can. I’ve witnessed that the small businesses that I hire have consistantly out performed the larger companies. I like the idea of using a company where they make every client feel like the only client. It makes a big difference to me. Let’s say you only like to use vendors who start with the letter F. Maybe they have to have a purple logo or you’re just not into it. Whatever your deal is, keep it in mind during your research.

The reason we check reviews is you want to know what red flags are out there for this vendor. There is always going to be a complaint on a company. That’s just a fact. What you’re looking for is a pattern of problems. If you notice there are quite a few issues, pass them by. If they seem like you really want them involved in your wedding, inquire with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if there are any pending issues, past issues, and how those past issues resolved.

Weigh the complaints you do find as you merit. If the complainer is coming off as unreasonable, it may be that they are exaggerating just to give the business bad press. If you see the same problem though over and over, chances are there is a habitual pattern here and may be a reason to keep looking. Make sure you keep a list of all the vendors that you seem to like after the research is complete. We are going to refer to this as The Master List.

Step 2: The Website

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Take your master list of vendors from the first step and visit their websites. We didn’t do this in the first step because their websites are posting their best foot forward. This is where they show you want they want you to see. It’s most definitely biased because they want you to hire them.

Review the website thoroughly. Note their posted pictures and their prices. Most vendors will post their prices. While keeping your budget in mind, delete from your master list the vendors that are outside your budget. There’s no reason to waste you or their time. If there are no prices posted on their website, I could make an arguement either way on whether or not to keep them on your master list. I’m wary of companies that won’t agree in writing their prices from the beginning. However, especially with those higher end vendors, sometimes they do that to encourage contact. Use your descretion if you want to keep them on the list or if you want to cut them.

Step 3: The E-Mail

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There are a lot of people who would say the first step is to call. I don’t call until step 4. Remember: Our primary goal here is to find the best for the cost. The best, for me, isn’t just the cheapest. It’s not the most expensive. It’s the one that does what they say, when they say, how they say, for a value in money.

My third step is to write an email. I can’t think of one vendor that doesn’t have an email or contact option that is electronic. The reason I move forward with email and not calling is this: Anyone can be nice on the phone. A phone call gives a sense of urgency because you are on the phone. An email is creates much less pressure on the vendor. They are able to respond in their own time and in their own way. Be very polite. Awknowledge they are busy vendors and that their response is appreciated. Then wait.  And you do this to every vendor on your master list.

Any vendor that doesn’t respond within 1 business day gets cut. This is a big deal to me because this first impression of the first direct contact with this potential vendor you want to give money to, and they can’t get back to you within a business day? Seriously? If you’re not a priority when you’re not putting pressure on them, what are you going to have to do to to get them to deliver once it comes down to your day? Cut them.

Also, let’s say they do email you within that time, but they’re rude or snide or just rubs you the wrong way … Cut them. No, just cut them. You’re not crazy. Trust your gut. Don’t force an interaction that starts off with shittiness.

Step 4: The Phone Call

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The Master List has now been whittled down from 800 to closer to 10. Once you get a response email, call them. Let them know that you want to meet in person to interview them. Make it clear that you have a few that you need to interview and you will be making your decision after all the interviews are complete. This cuts off the high-pressure sell that they do at in-person meetings. Also, knowing there are others who are interested in you, that can help to ‘sweeten the pot’ in your favor.

This one again, if the person is curt or rude or rubs you the wrong way: Cut them. On the phone, you can get a feel for the company’s values and how they treat their clients. There are a bazillion vendors, you deserve one that will treat you with respect.

Step 5: The Interview

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When I say ‘interview’ I really mean audition. You are auditioning your vendor. This isn’t just for bands. This is for every vendor. I will say that again: Interview Every Vendor. Ask the vendors every possible question you might have for them. Get creative, maybe even ridiculous. Watching how they handle you during the interview will tell you a lot about how they  will perform during your wedding.

Also, certain vendors will allow you to visit an event they are working on as a demonstration of their performance. Vendors, DJs, Florists etc. Other vendors like caterers, wineries, and bakers, will let you taste their food/wine before hand (there’s a cost for the sampling by many caterers and wineries). It’s better to be sure.

If you get any questionable fees, or weird complicated issues that don’t add up to you: Cut them. Why deal with the headache?

If they’re rude or disorganized: Cut them. Just do it.

If there is anything else that turns you off to that vendor, just cut them. You can’t force them to work well for you. You’re going to be getting married, it’s not like you’re going to be available to micromanage them. Save yourself the grief. Cut them.

Step 6: The Decision

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Your Master List should be about 3 or so vendors left. You love all three. They are all in your price range. This is the MOST difficult step. It’s going to take both of you, wine, and a bright red pen. Just hash it out. Make your decision. Then stick with it.

The Aftermath

You’ve made your decision. What else is there to do? This isn’t the easiest step but it’s necessary: Advise the Runner’s Up, they didn’t make the cut. Don’t let them just dangle about whether or not to choose them. Almost every vendor not only will appreciate the gesture, it gives them the opportunity to ask why you chose someone else. It will help them to improve their game, if it’s possible. Really, it’s an important step.

When It’s All Said and Done

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The only thing left to do is sign the dox and pay the deposit. Congratulations! Now, grab another glass of wine, only 653 more vendors to find. Good luck!

Quick little side note, I think I’m going to make this into a flow chart for easy reference. Once I get it done, I’ll post it for everyone to use. Take care everyone!

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