Features: Sector spotlight: Wedding industry
- The average cost of a wedding is £21,307
- Bristol hosted 1,479 weddings in 2015/16, 4 per cent of which were same-sex marriages
- Bristol has 17 per cent fewer weddings than the average for England
Even if Ashton Court Mansion is closing its doors to the city’s brides, victim of Council savings (“carrying out events at Ashton Court is no longer financially viable,” said a spokesperson; “we will of course honour any current bookings”), the city is awash with glamorous venues to stage your nuptials. From Goldney Hall – the setting for John Watson’s onscreen wedding in Sherlock Holmes – to Arnos Vale, weddings are big business for Bristol venues, an industry that is worth an estimated £10 billion to the UK each year.
Mercure’s Bristol Grand, the Harbour Hotel and the Doyle Collection’s Bristol Hotel, and At-Bristol all provide large, and popular spaces for wedding celebrations, along with the suite of event spaces managed by the Compass Group – including M-Shed, Bristol Museum and Bristol Zoo. The Zoo hosts around 60 weddings a year and staff have noticed an increasing trend for technology and informal celebrations.
“We are definitely seeing technology coming to the fore in the wedding sector,” says sales coordinator Liz Taylor. “This could be from programmes that help with wedding planning and managing guest lists through to how couples handle social media on the day. It is becoming more and more commonplace for couples to request ‘no un-authorised social media posts’ until they have chosen their ideal shot and posted later in the day.”
But boutique and quirky venues are proving popular with couples too.
Quarter Events has three venues in Bristol – No. 4 Clifton, The Square and Racks. “We had 98 couples with us last year across all three of our units with The Square hosting the most (41 couples),” says group event manager Julia Loveless, whose team is 40-strong.
She believes there’s plenty of opportunity for wedding businesses, even if competition is increasing. “The wedding sector of a city is as big as its eligible population and the pull it has for brides outside of its borders – and I really believe Bristol is one of the best cities to get married in for the South West.
“The competition in Bristol is heating up – a lot of brilliant venues are establishing themselves across the city and new photographers and suppliers cropping up. It’s healthy to have a bit of competition around, but it’s always going to be a challenge to let your voice be heard.”
The segment is vital to business at St George’s, which is undergoing a £6 million renovation set to bring new spaces and a modern bar in time for the 2018 season. “While weddings make up a very small percentage of the events we host annually (just 13 of 332 events last year), as an independent music venue and a charity, the income generated from weddings and other private events is absolutely essential to our business,” says sales and marketing manager Hazel Hatton. “Couples love that we’re different from most venues.
“We tend to attract the more ‘DIY’ couple, but we have an experienced events team, and work with a fantastic freelance wedding planner so there’s loads of support available.”
PLANNING AND DÉCOR
Keen to set their day apart from the crowd, couples are opting to differentiate their weddings with personalised touches, giving rise to a growing styling industry.
Steph Allison is a freelance wedding planner through her company Sweet & Pretty. She coordinates between 10 and 20 weddings each year, providing tailored support to each couple. “There’s easily hundreds of wedding suppliers based in Bristol as well as many catering companies and venues who offer wedding services.
“In the last few years people have become much more detail-focussed due to social media and want their weddings to be more personal and to stand out. They are using more planners and stylists to really add lots of creative inspiration to their day and are seeking suppliers in more areas than before, such as hiring different chairs, nicer cutlery or table linen or props rather than making do with the standard items.”
She says the value of her role is more and more recognised: “More people are realising the benefits aren’t just for celebrities and the super rich. Actually, a DIY wedding in a village hall would benefit more from a planner than a fancy hotel as there’s much more to be set up and coordinated.
“The biggest challenge is finding the best way to market my business and to price services to attract the right clients.”
Enchanted Weddings is an £80,000 business in Brislington employing six people. It supplies 210 weddings each year, providing wedding decorations from balloons to flowers, stationery and draping. Owner Carollyn Magic says the wedding business is booming and she has to turn business down.
“I provide a really bespoke service for couples,” says Elizabeth Wong of Elizabeth Weddings: “creative styling and décor. My service ranges from design of the décor and handmade stationery, right up to the set up on the day.”
“Every year is a challenge as you rarely get repeat business in the wedding industry unless you look towards expanding into events, but it is growing every year.”
Olivia Mills owns Host Event Management, supplying five weddings a year with a full planning service. “I have just launched a new online service – www.theonlineweddingplanner.com – which bridges the gap between couples hiring a one to one planner and planning the wedding themselves,” she reveals. “It covers everything the couples would need to know with video tutorials, downloadable action sheets and more. I would like to be in a position where my online business is thriving combined with my one to one service.”
She says the industry is always growing – “I don’t see this decreasing in the future” – but has noticed couples booking more last-minute weddings. “People are very money savvy and will look for any deal to be had,” she say; “I think that goes for consumerism in general though.”
With the average bridal gown costing £913, not to mention an average spend of £61 on lingerie, £88 on shoes and £55 on a headpiece, there’s a strong industry around wedding couture. And that’s without starting on the floristry.
Clifton Brides has been trading for 28 years at the top of Blackboy Hill, and is one of the city’s most recognised boutiques. The Mews Bridal in Clifton specialises in French bridal fashion, promising gowns that are “unique yet effortlessly beautiful”. After establishing in Clifton Village, it expanded to second and third boutiques in Notting Hill and New York respectively.
Allison Jayne set up shop on Clifton Triangle from its Welsh roots, while in Keynsham, mother and daughter Carol and Becky Pincott established bridal boutique Lace and Grace where gowns can be professionally altered in-house.
Elle Hitchens provides make-up artistry to brides and members of the bridal party on their big day. Based in Easton her business is worth £65k annually, supplying 70-80 weddings.
She says the wedding industry is “very big, and growing all the time with new venues opening like the Bristol Harbour Hotel and Backwell House”.
She says a shift to online has been the most noticeable change in the last 10 years – “It’s now huge. It’s gone from there being very little online presence to now being the main place people search for suppliers, dresses, venues and style inspiration” – and hopes to continue growing her business to build a team. “Demand is high and I can only take on one wedding per day!”
For many couples, photography is one of the most important factors of the day. It’s a competitive field in the city, with a range of photographers to suit all tastes. Through the Wood We Ran is a photography company from a Bristol-based Australian couple specialising in whimsical, modern images. A Boy Called Ben, Natalia Smith and Isabelle Maria are two names out of a hoard of others offering photography services in the city.
And with the advent of drones, wedding videos are back in vogue. Liam Turner, owner of Ivory Cloud Films based in Victoria Street, films around 20 weddings a year and says though not as competitive as the photography market, “the video market is on the rise, probably down to ease of online sharing”.
The challenge remains in keeping pace with the technology: “Drones, Gimbles, 4K and slow motion are the latest innovations in terms of kit; technology is moving fast. The lines between amateur and professional standards are continuing to blur, making it harder to produce work that stands out dramatically online.”
Read more: The wedding flowers