The Indicator from Planet Money - The Marriage Business

Like all industries that revolve around large gatherings, weddings have been hit hard...but some wedding planners have found a way to adapt. Hint: It involves eloping. | Support The Indicator here.

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NPR

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This is the indicator from Planet Money. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith 2020s. Been a really hard and he really strange year in a lot of ways in the economy. But also in a personalized why do people haven't seen their parents or their family in nearly a year and a lot of friends who live in the same city have essentially been in a long-distance relationship out of weddings, of course got postponed or even canceled weddings are scored a massive multibillion-dollar business in the US and the support a lot of small businesses from dressmakers to florist Jewelers two Caterers to wedding planners who made I've officiated 3500 weddings, this is John Paul Brown peonza Loop Asheville a business based in Asheville, North Carolina much exactly what it sounds like we planned elopement switch sounds counterintuitive.

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It's like a spur-of-the-moment thing. That's the reputation that had for a while what kind of a fly-by-night wedding but we kind of see elopements more of an alternative to the big large traditional wedding elope Asheville helps couples plan elopements. Jon-Paul can take care of everything booking the venue get in the photographer getting the flowers and the cake even planning a few activities.

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At least that was his business like many small business owners John Paul thought everything changed back in March.

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To the indicator. We have been talking to small businesses and all kinds of Industries to see how they've been affected by covid-19.

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John Paul Brown owner of elope Asheville. Thank you for joining us assumed elopements were pretty cut-and-dry like no bells and whistles, but I don't know how many people come to you wanting sort of special beams like in Elvis wedding or a vampire wedding or something like that. Like what kind of business do you get? So every year on May 4th, we have a run on a Star Wars weddings.

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May the fourth be with you. Wow on March 14th. There's always Pi Day weddings. It's always the engineers who get married on that day from my colleagues that there was like this. Sometimes you could special request for like a Princess Bride wedding. I have the pope hat really can you deliver it? Like right now Mal wedge marriage that Western Union within a tween

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Ambrose to that's that's pretty good in my career. How did you come up with the idea for this business? I mean, are you like a super romantic at heart or are you I don't know. I've never actually been to a wedding before my first wedding in the business. You didn't like love weddings. I had no idea what I was doing, but I watched a lot of YouTube clips of wedding rings. And so I just really fake my way through it. I was actually planning my wedding at the time and I really wanted to go to a park and light up the grill and eat burgers and have somebody coming and Marius there in the park while the kids play and all the stuff and nobody was offering that

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You were like, hey, I just want like a sort of a low-key intimate wedding and it's either sort of like tens of thousands of dollars or City Hall thought that I had nose like surely. I can't be the only one in your very the very first wedding elopement that you organized. You married the cups.

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I'm like what you've never been before. What was that? I didn't sleep a wink that whole week leading up to it. I was so nervous and I swore up and down. This is it. I'm not doing another one that sucks. I hate it and I did it and we're waving goodbye like at the end of princess bride wear their he know he's waving have fun storming the castle. That's kind of how we were and then I had that run off like, oh my God, this is great. You know how I want to do it again. That was kind of cool, but I thought for sure when I started this I would be making like vacation money or beer money or something like that. I don't know.

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I didn't even want to dare to think that it would become a major thing like it's turned out to be.

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How much does an elopement cost so we have are very the lowest tier and pictures included the whole thing and it's $400 for that and that's cheap and then from there goes up and it really kind of varies on our location. Where do you want to go? What venue how long of a drive how long of a hike with all the bells and whistles at the most expensive venue? We have you're probably going to spend anywhere from 900 to 1100 Max.

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I think the average American Wedding is like 30 you something thousand dollars or something like the national average is around 36,000. Like what kind of business you doing? How many people were you marrying on on average before the pandemic? We were doing between 350 and 400 weddings a year.

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Yes, I was doing the vast majority of them and I liked it how it sounds like your business is growing. You got a good business like you found the snitch and then the pandemic happens back in in March. We were getting emails multiple emails all day everyday phone calls canceling and we are yeah, we are trying to say, you know, let's not cancel. Let's delay. We were panicking because it's like our whole business was falling completely apart with no money coming in. It was mind-blowing. It was depressing. It was Panic inducing thousands of dollars a month getting the emails. Hey are we had a wedding planned for May and they just called and canceled and we still want to get married. Can we come to you guys? And so that was the theme for the rest of the entire year?

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Every single large wedding in the US pretty much on the vast majority got canceled this year and a lot of people really wanted to get married this year. So instead of doing the large wedding, they decided to elope and kind of do the social distance wedding the zoom weddings became a thing this year of having a phone on a tripod do the zoom thing and suddenly 50 people are there watching from the privacy of their own homes at least 45 if not hire weddings per month a normal October is 60 last year. We had a record 61 and we did a cheer for breaking the record this year this October alone. We did 97 weddings.

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In one month with October 10th being the busiest we had 11 weddings in one day. This pandemic has been a boon for my business, but I can't be happy about that because you know so many I have close friends word here in town who are business owners who are bar owners who have stores and they're closing down left and right. How can I sit there and be publicly excited about having such a big month when three people that I know of lost their businesses in October. So it's it's an embarrassment of riches. It's like I I'm so happy that this is doing well, but it hurts so bad.

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John Paul Brown owner of elope Asheville. Thank you so much for joining us. My pleasure anytime.

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This episode of the indicator was produced by Nick Fountain and fact-checked by Shawn. Saldania. The indicator is edited by Patty Hirsch and is a production of NPR.

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