Lovely v. Luxury v. Ultra-Luxury

Have you heard the term “lovely” to describe a lower level of luxury in the wedding industry? 

I first heard it back in 2016. I thought it was condescending then, and I still think it is today.

I didn’t grow up in the South, but calling someone’s $150,000 wedding budget “lovely” feels a lot like saying “bless your heart.” It’s like “you idiot” when someone makes an honest mistake. It’s like saying “oh honey, that’s last season’s dress” when they show up to the gala. It’s like telling someone their Mercedes isn’t luxury unless it’s a G-Wagon.

When did $150k or ONLY $1,000/person become too little money to do anything original? Or creative? Or worth your time? 

Don’t get me wrong, I think you should go after the highest budget possible for your services. Both because you deserve to get paid based on the value you create, and also because the bigger the budget the more creative freedom you’re likely to have.

But let’s be serious: $100-$200k (the total budget most wedding pros I know who use the term “lovely” define it as) is plenty of money to throw a celebration of a lifetime. 

And most wedding pros I know would be absolutely thrilled to be a part of an event with that kind of budget.

If you’re not, if you’re in the $200k+ camp, congratulations. You’re now in the ultra-luxury market. With ultra-affluent clients. 

Yes, it’s true, within the luxury segment you’ll find a few different tiers to separate those with wealth. I’ve heard the “lovely” crowd called “aspirational luxury” or “mass affluent.” These seem less critical and more accepting of their true position. 

Many people who buy luxury goods and services often spend more in some areas of their lives than in others.

I was recently in LA with my brother and sister-in-law. We went out to dinner at a swanky restaurant, which wasn’t in Beverly Hills but instead at a mini-strip mall across the street from a mechanic shop and next to a convenience store.

Inside, the restaurant was nicely decorated with servers in black shirts and pants with full aprons. I wore a pair of jeans and button-up because my brother told me a tie or jacket would be “overdressed.” He wore trousers with a polo, and my sister-in-law a simple but pretty dress.

We ate at the chef’s table watching the culinary team prepare prime wagyu beef. We ordered 2 dozen oysters, three appetizers, cocktails, a bottle of wine (“anything under $150 is what we told the sommelier”), and a smorgasbord of the best steaks in the land. 

The highlight of the dinner was picking out our unique, one-of-a-kind steak knives. I got the one made out of a hand-carved elk antler. I don’t know if the blade was super sharp or the beef incredibly tender, but when I cut my beef it was like a hot knife through butter.

We walked out of the restaurant after paying our $900 tab, went to the convenience store for a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel and a pint of local ice cream, then walked home with full bellies.

I don’t care much for LA, but one thing I do love is the lack of pretentiousness in the restaurant scene. It’s very different than, say, NYC to Dallas, where it’s all about “see and be seen.”

We spent a ridiculous amount of money (and our only night out with the nanny at home watching the baby) on what was important to us. Incredible food, a relaxed atmosphere, and two hours to talk about how amazing every bite tasted.

Incidentally, my brother and sister-in-law celebrated their wedding in a similar way. It was a three-day experience for 100 of their closest friends and family in Mallorca, Spain at the Belmond property. We feasted over locally caught seafood and delicious wine – and simple table settings with minimal floral arrangements. The people and food and location made it memorable for us, and them.  

This was back in 2017 before full-weekend weddings were all the rage. But that trend isn’t going anywhere, especially for luxury couples. 

And what we’re seeing is that they’re spending their wedding budgets like they’re buying in other areas of their lives:

Experiences, not things.

Because ultimately that’s what luxury is. An experience. A feeling. Something to enjoy for a lifetime.

And if you want to book more clients at luxury (or ultra-luxury) price points, well, you have to stop looking at tangible markers for success and put the focus on what kind of joy you’re creating for your couples and their families.

Unless you’re the caterer, do you really care if they get Veuve Clicquot instead of Dom Perignon? Or the NV instead of the 2008 vintage? 

If you’re the stationer, do you really care if the roses are from Japan or Holland, or Ecuador?

If you’re the floral designer, does the party need to be led by the hottest band in the market? Or is a really great entertainer good enough if they pack the dance floor? (Besides, most people are too drunk to care by the time music is playing.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that there’s a level of luxury that’s reached when these things do matter, but it’s only for the top few percent of weddings every year. 

These ultra-affluent buyers want a certain kind of experience that only top dollar can buy. But it’s hard to book the one-percenters, and, by definition, there aren’t that many of them.

My advice? 

Three things: 

  1. Don’t be condescending to “only a budget of $150,000.” Do you have that kind of money to spend on a weekend for your closest family and friends? So respect those who do. Many (most?) of your wealthy clients worked hard to earn their money, or they created their wealth with original ideas and inventions, and they want to be recognized for their efforts, not ridiculed behind-their-backs.

  2. Focus on 2-10%-ers in the luxury space. You can earn a lot of money for your own net worth if you appeal to the aspirational affluent who are interested in indulging in high-end experiences for their friends and family. If you get a one-percenter, amazing. But for all but a handful of wedding pros out there, it’s a hard way to grow a business.

  3. Know the unique motivations for affluent v. ultra-affluent. I learned about the d
    ifferences between the two when I was Director of Operations for Todd Events, as well as in my work with clients who serve the two and the research I’ve done on the subject. The nuances between the two segments are subtle – and important. 

As always, one of the best ways to pick up new insights is from those who’ve successfully transitioned from luxury to ultra-luxury. They know the path. Learn from their mistakes (and successes) and you’ll save time by not learning through trial and error.

This week on Own Your Business, I talk with James Christianson and Otto Schulze, two of the savviest business people I know in the wedding industry.

In the 5 years I’ve known them I’ve seen their business move from luxury to ultra-luxury, and they haven’t skipped a beat in remembering what it is that their clients want most from them.

In this week’s episode, I dive deep into James and Otto’s artistic education and individual careers to learn how their unique approaches make for a successful partnership.

During the conversation we dig into:

  • How complementary skills and mindsets create a well-rounded business

  • Why their clients get more with four expert eyes instead of only two

  • What steps they took to grow – and how they put in effort every single day

This episode will provide a peek behind the curtain of how to look 5-10 years down the road, rather than just next year. And you’ll see how seeds you plant today need to be fed and watered and fertilized for years before they’ll bear fruit.

Enjoy the insights into how they think and why they’re so good at what they do.


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