How are you feeling right now about your 2023 calendar? Or 2024?
Many (most?) wedding pros I talk to feel a bit worried about what’s on the books.
Or, more likely, what’s NOT on the books. Enough clients.
Today, I want to share insights to help understand what’s going on – and steps you can take to ease the anxiety you might be feeling about your business.
Short-term pandemic effects
Let’s start by returning to the pandemic because, as you’ll see, it’s still impacting your business – and will continue to do so for a while.
COVID affected every business differently, but most in the wedding industry had to push pause for a long time before being able to work again.
The pause created postponements, which backed up like water behind a dam.
Then, mostly in May/June of 2021, restrictions across the country eased. Vaccinations became widespread, and social gatherings were not only legal, but people felt more comfortable getting together with friends.
Weddings came back. The dam of demand broke open and the floodgates released all those postponements.
In addition, a lot of the couples who’d been engaged during the pandemic – but had not yet started planning their wedding before the world hunkered down for 18 months – started looking to (finally) do their wedding.
The confluence of these two massive channels of demand – 2020 postponements and couples finally ready to plan their wedding – created a compound effect on the market. Available dates and vendors looked like the toilet paper aisle at Costco in the early stages of the pandemic. We experienced a run on the wedding industry like never before.
Thus, the 2022 wedding boom and the high-water mark for business over the past…well, forever. It’s never been busier for weddings. Postponements, new demand, lots of savings, and a desire to celebrate being out of the pandemic and connect with family and friends hit the industry hard.
Many pros were inundated with business. You had 2020 and 2021 clients (finally) getting married. Plus 2021 and 2022 holdouts (finally) starting to plan their weddings.
If you’re like any normal wedding pro trying to do 35 things at once for their business, you were in the weeds. Big time.
This is when negative impacts on your 2023 calendar started to occur.
Long-term pandemic impact: Part 1
You were simply too busy with 2022 clients to do the work to book 2023.
A normal wedding peak season is hard. But when three peaks were rolled into one it was too much to handle.
And because you can’t not show up for the wedding this weekend or next weekend, you cut out the least “on fire” obligations: marketing and selling for future clients.
I remember talking to one of my clients who confessed (after a glass or two of wine) that they weren’t even responding to inquiries anymore, because they were already full for the current year, 2022. Most of the inquiries were “in the year, for the year,” but there were also a lot of inquiries for 2023 mixed in.
Another side effect of being too busy is you get tired, even burned out. I remember this time last year that’s all anyone was talking about. How to survive how busy it was – at the time.
When you get burned out you don’t want to pile on more work for the future. Even if you had the time and energy to field new inquiries and book them, you wouldn’t want to!
The result is a decrease in future business (2023) because you were too busy at the time (2022).
Long-term pandemic impact: Part 2
But there’s a less-talked-about, hidden reason you might be struggling with bookings – and it relates to something called “hedonic adaptation.”
Basically, hedonic adaptation is how you respond to positive growth in your life by becoming accustomed to it over time. You win the lottery, and in the short-term you’re very happy with all the new things money can buy you.
But over time, you adapt to the “new norm,” and it doesn’t provide the same thrill, because you’re used to it. You’ve adapted to the joys (hedonic comes from the Greek word meaning “pleasure”) so much that it’s what you’ve come to expect.
And so we want more. And more. And more…
Think of it like an addiction: You do a little and it feels good. But after time, you need to do more of it, or more often, to feel the same rush of pleasure you felt in the early days.
How is hedonic adaptation playing out in your business world right now?
The 2022 boom year was like winning the lottery. You had it all:
- Motivated buyers (finally able to connect with friends and family, or simply legally gather)
- Couples willing to spend (savings from not going out or traveling during lockdowns, as well as bursting investment portfolios)
- Decreased competition (many left the industry or were already full with postponements)
- Price increases (hello inflation and willingness to risk higher fees because, well, why not?)
If a couple (in 2022) booked at those higher prices? Great. If not? No biggie. Afterall, you were busy anyway, and there’s a long line of people waiting to take that date and pay higher prices.
Like all booms, though, the external circumstances changed. However, you got used to the good life.
You might’ve felt overwhelmed in the midst of the 2021-22 dam breaking, even underwater. But you liked the money you had coming in. And the comfort of an inbox full of inquiries. And the relief you felt at not having to create urgency or strong desire for couples to book your services because they already felt it.
As hard as it is to say, 2023 is turning out to be a bit of detox for many in the wedding industry.
Long-term pandemic impact: Part 3
To make matters worse, the external forces have conspired against us. And much of it relates to the lingering effects of the pandemic.
The economy is uncertain, and has been for over a year. Inflation’s stuck around. Investment portfolios are down. Layoffs and bank closures headline the news. Supply chain issues are largely resolved, but demand is down because of historic interest rate increases.
No, unfortunately weddings are not recession-proof. All you have to do is look at numbers between 2008 and 2015. It took eight years to get back to pre-Great Recession levels for number of people getting married.
And wealthy consumers aren’t recession-proof either. In fact, they’re experiencing what the Wall Street Journal calls the “rich-session.”
In a word, it’s a mess out there.
Here’s another, perhaps even more-important factor playing out in the wedding industry specifically.
Engagements are down. And it appears to be a very large amount. Maybe as much as 20-30%. Read this article for more insights on bellwethers in the engagement ring industry.
Why? The pandemic, of course. People didn’t go out. They didn’t hook up. They didn’t move in together. They didn’t start or advance their relationships, because they couldn’t.
Couples often meet at school or work, which were done remotely for a long time. Friends went out together less, so you can take drinks and dining off the list of places you’re likely to begin or progress a relationship. Parties didn’t happen frequently until vaccinations were widespread more than a year after the first lockdowns occurred.
While the current, acute dropoff in engagements is tied to early isolation, it’s likely to stick around for a while. The average time from “Do you want to go out with me?” to “Will you marry me?” is a little over 3 years, which means we’re about to see the ripples of fewer new relationships.
And it could be a big deal.
Who knows how long it’ll take to get engagements back to pre-pandemic levels. The biggest engagement ring retailer says it could be years, not months. Yikes.
I also wonder how cultural shifts will impact people meeting – and getting engaged and married – in the future.
Remote work appears here to stay. That means fewer office romances.
Online education or even skipping out on school is up too. The number of graduates in our local school district who are attending college immediately after high school is down significantly from pre-pandemic numbers. Many are taking “gap years” to explore the world. Hallway crushes are taking a leave of absence too.
People are eating out less and ordering in more. Ask any restaurant or bar owner and they’ll tell you how hard and long the recovery’s been.
Less people are going to church, another popular place to meet others.
We can blame isolation, loneliness and depression on social media, but everyone in the wedding industry will see the effects if people aren’t happy and connected to other humans. It’s what makes our businesses possible.
What can you do?
I want to be clear. I don’t think the sky is falling. And I don’t want you to, either.
Millions of couples are still getting married. And spending a ridiculous amount of money on their weddings. We currently have tons of clients still seeing wild success with their businesses. They’re not just surviving, they’re thriving – even with all of this going on.
And you can too, if you’re currently behind where you want to be.
But all signs point to the wedding industry not going back to the old normal. And it’s certainly not going to be like it was during the 2022 boom, no matter how much you might wish for those busy days again if you’re slow now.
Even if the economic outlook improves – and alleviates the short-term pinch on the wedding industry – the long-term forecast appears to be murky. Maybe for a while.
The pandemic was a once-in-a-generation moment, and we don’t yet know what the long-term impacts will be. Educators lament a lost year. Commercial real estate is facing a new reality. Retailers are adapting to online purchase habits. Restaurants are focused on takeout or delivery.
What will happen in the wedding industry? How will we respond?
It’s wishful thinking we’ll go back to the golden years between 2010-2019, when the tide was rising every year for the industry as a whole. The pandemic was not just a ripple in that growth. It created a tidal wave with aftershocks still hitting us.
The first thing to do is be realistic with yourself and your business. Reset your expectations, because it’s not 2022 anymore. Your business can grow, but it may take a while to get back to the high-water mark.
And you have to do more than ride the tide. I cannot stress this enough, and it’s the biggest takeaway I want you to get from this newsletter. Going with the flow is not the way to go. You have to take control of your business.
You must proactively work against the external forces conspiring against your company. Those who wait for things to get better, or don’t alter their strategy will struggle the longest and hardest.
If you’re seeing success in 2023 it’s likely because you’re already doing the activities you need to get the results you want. Keep doing them.
If you’re not, now’s the time. Expand your brand awareness. Reach out to past and current referral partners. Blog. Learn to leverage Pinterest. Create interesting content for perfect buyers. Update or overhaul your website. Optimize your sales process. Improve your sales skills. Hone your messaging and refresh your collateral. These are all things you can do today.
You don’t get a say on viruses or vaccinations. Or company policies on remote work. Or what teens do after high school. You can’t force people to go out to restaurants and bars.
But you can control your own expectations. And what you choose to do with your time.
Get your mind in a good place. Stay busy doing the right activities. Eventually, you’ll see the outcomes you want.