Savannah has long been a mecca for weddings, both local and destination. The impact that the weddings have on small businesses, such as event planners, rental companies, caterers, photographers, and musicians, is significant. It is also these small vendors and the variety of styles they provide that can make all the difference couples who plan ahead.
Susan Mason has been in the catering business in Savannah for 30 years and about 40 percent of her business, she says, is from weddings.
“I drive the boat, my clients shoot the duck,” said Mason of her business style at Susan Mason Catering. “A lot of my success is attributed to the consistency of my staff; they know how I like things done. I always feel it’s better to work with what you have than to start over.”
While Mason says her “bottom line” cost can sometimes deter out-of-town brides, if she meets with the bride and groom in person, she usually gets the job. “I like to get the bride and groom in front of me. I want to find out what’s important to them before I throw out a proposal. If I get them face-to-face, I’ll usually get the job.”
Susan Mason Catering also offers an added value for weddings. “I’ll hire the bar, the florist, the rentals, and I don’t charge extra for that. I love working with an event planner, as well. If you’re having a major wedding, you need an event planner,” explained Mason.
Mason said she likes to try out different recipes and be creative, though she’s known for perfecting certain items over the years. “I’ve had people say when Susan Mason caters a wedding, you don’t have to worry about anything. I put on a pretty dress and my jewels and go out front to make sure everything is okay,” Mason said.
“I love the interaction with the wedding party and the guests; it’s a big part of my whole life to be in the business. I love this business for so many reasons. Truthfully, I’ve had wonderful clients over the years. They’ve been really great people,” continued Mason.
Bonnie Kaar, owner of another local vendor in Savannah, launched her event planning company, First City Events in 2003. Kaar said weddings have a huge impact on the Savannah economy.
“I believe weddings increased here when the economy went down: a lot more destination weddings came to our area,” Kaar said.
As an event planner, Kaar said one of the important vendors at a wedding is the rentals company.
“It depends where the wedding is in Savannah. A popular place to have a wedding is in one of the squares. One of your really important vendors is the rentals because you don’t have a lot of time to set up and you’re outdoors. You need your rental company to be on the ball and working with you about back-up plans,” Kaar explained.
The right stuff
Savannah Special Events by Ranco is a one-stop shop for event rentals based in Savannah and Augusta. The firm’s director of sales and marketing, Kendall Wayner, said 80 percent of the Savannah Special Events’ business is renting to wedding parties.
Wayner and her team are working on ways to build new business in the destination wedding department.
“We use social media to draw new business,” Wayner said. “Our brides have been a lot more social media driven, so we make sure they see pictures of our events. We’ve gotten a lot more business this way.”
Because many brides come from larger cities, Wayner adapts to her target audience’s needs and wants. “We’re a small city but we try and give brides from bigger cities what they’re used to! We want to give them the kind of rustic elegance they expect in Savannah,” said Wayner.
Savannah Special Events by Ranco offers specialty items that are, according to Wayner, cutting edge. “We also like to offer things that other companies don’t have, such as lounge furniture, mahogany Chiavari chairs, and Chloe chairs.”
In addition to the rentals company and catering, another key vendor is the right photographer.
“The photographer helps with the memories after the wedding,” the event planner, Kaar, followed up.
Former news photographer Rich Burkhart launched his photography company, Photos by Rich Burkhart, which focuses mainly on weddings.
“Savannah is a great market, but it’s very competitive,” said Burkhart. “There are so many photographers that come into the area from other places. A lot of people think it’s just SCAD students- it’s not. Folks move here because of our wedding business.”
Burkhart continued that many people identify Savannah as a growing wedding market and set up businesses here because of the lucrative industry.
“There are between 200 and 400 people that consider themselves professional photographers in Savannah. That shows you how many weddings there are for people to come from all over.”
In Savannah, there are two wedding seasons, rather than one: the first is March through June, and the second is September through November.
“We’re picking up off-season weddings because venues offer discounts for off-season bookings. For instance, some people come from Boston and think Savannah’s weather is great in February. It’s all relative,” Burkhart explained.
Burkhart’s company photographed 45 weddings in 2016. The majority of those weddings were out-of-town weddings.
“This is the bulk of my business,” said Burkhart. “A lot of times, we don’t meet the couple until the day of the wedding. We do most things online, on Skype, for instance. A lot of these people are planning and doing their weddings from out of town. I shot one wedding on New Year’s Eve with a couple who had never even been to Savannah until the day of their wedding!”
The right recipe
Ohio-Native Meghan Hartley bought Savannah Rum Runners Bakery seven years ago. Today the business has been around a total of 20 years. The company handled 170 to 190 weddings in 2015 and then again in 2016, according to Hartley.
“We became more of a wedding cake bakery than just a birthday cake bakery,” said Hartley. “We also do wedding cakes, petit fours, cupcakes, mini pies, mini cookies, and dessert trays, among other things.”
The majority of Savannah Rum Runners Bakery’s business happens during Savannah’s two wedding seasons.
“We do five to six weddings per weekend, depending on the style of the wedding,” said Hartley.
With so many weddings happening in Savannah throughout the year, Kaar said that the wedding industry doesn’t just impact the local vendors, but also other tourism related spots, like the restaurants in town.
“People come in for weddings and spend their money while they’re in town. Our clients come from many places, such as Canada, England, Atlanta,” said Kaar. “They come, they love it, and they spend their money here, and they give good reviews about Savannah.”