I’m going to take a close examination of a preferred vendor’s list and offer my personal opinion and the pros and cons—as I see them.
Oftentimes, venues will offer their clients, and even sometimes their potential clients, a preferred vendors list. This list often includes contact (and maybe even pricing) information about caterers, bartenders, photographers, planners, florists, DJs and so on. The perception is that this list will save couples hours upon hours of research and planning time. But in reality, it can create even more research and planning time. Additionally, it leaves some couples feeling conflicted because they may already have their heart set on a few of their own vendors for their dream day wedding team.
Preferred Vendors Lists? The truth.
Now the question arises, when should couples use vendors from a preferred list and when should they venture out to find their own?
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Organic Preferred Vendors List
Typically, and most of the time in the past, a venue offers up a preferred vendors list that consists of vendors whom they work with regularly. Vendors do not pay a fee to be part of this list; sometimes they are even unaware that they are on the list.
These are all vendors that the venue manager/owner know, like and trust. They see these vendors treating their respective couples in a like-minded manner consistently and repetitively. They are certain they share a lot of the same core values and business practices.
In addition, they know they can trust these vendors with their own property and that they don’t have to constantly babysit over them during the event. They won’t leave a big mess to clean up and these vendors will treat the venue as if it were their own.
In short, these vendors earn their way onto the preferred vendors list. These are vendors that the venue enjoys working with, are trustworthy, do not let down their couples, show up on time, have fewer problems, and when problems do arise, navigate them more efficiently, professionally and fairly.
In this case, the venue owner/manager worries much less about unprofessional behavior and/or extensive clean-up jobs because they have a strong and favorable working history.
Pros and Cons of an Organic Preferred Vendors List
If couples are either forced to use, or choose to use, the venue’s organic preferred vendors list, these are the pros and cons.
- Couples can save time by lessening their research
- Couples are more likely to receive a stellar experience
- Couples can have peace of mind knowing the venue approves their choice of vendors
- Couples can be introduced to yet undiscovered vendors
- Over time, weddings may tend to look the same since it’s the same team working together over and over again
Paid Preferred Vendors List
On the flip side, there are only so many days a venue can play host to a wedding day. This places limits on their bottom line. Rather than increase rental prices for their couples, they have been taught to find other ways to increase their revenue. One of these ways is by creating a paid preferred vendors list.
In this scenario, vendors pay for their position to be on the list annually. In some cases (okay, a lot of cases), these vendors may even share a commission with the venue when they are booked at that venue—usually about 10 to 15%. The sad thing is that this commission doesn’t come from the vendor’s bottom line, it’s added onto the top of their prices.
Here’s an easier explanation. At Venue A (paid list), Vendor A charges you $2,300 for their services. But at Venue B (no paid list), Vendor A only charges you $2,000.
Frequently, couples are told they are receiving special pricing from the vendors on the preferred vendors lists, but many times that is simply untrue. They are either receiving smaller packages for a slight decrease in price (with room for that venue kickback) or the “special price” is actually higher than their normal prices.
The vendor benefits by booking more couples, and the venue benefits by receiving more income—it’s a financial win for everyone (except in some cases the couples).
[I did read that in 2010 there was a class action suit in Arizona to force venues to disclose whether their preferred vendors lists were organic or paid but could not find any real authority on that matter.]
Unfortunately, these paid lists aren’t always created in the best interest of the couples. Some lists are more about making money and less about providing top-shelf recommendations.
Why can’t a venue just disclose to their couples whether or not their preferred vendor list is considered paid advertising and include fine print on that list indicating there may be hidden fees associated with hiring these vendors?
I will tell you. Because a couple would never trust the recommendation of a venue manager/owner making money from vendors on a list. It wouldn’t matter how stellar any of those vendors actually are or even if the venue believes they are better than any other local vendors. The fact of the matter is that couples want honest recommendations and “pay to play” lists will never be seen as forthcoming.
Pros and Cons of a Paid Preferred Vendors List
- You have some sense of a starting point with which to begin research
- Fees or commissions may be passed on to couples making prices higher than they would have been at any other venue
- Not always created in the best interest of the couples
- You may be forced to use vendors from this list or pay a penalty
- Will never be seen as honest recommendations
6 Tips for Using a Venue’s Preferred Vendors List
- Always ask if the venue’s preferred vendors list is organic or paid.
- Before signing with venue, determine venue’s regulations and policies—are you contractually obligated to use the preferred vendors list?
- Is there a fee/penalty should you use a vendor outside the preferred vendors list?
- Read all of the fine print.
- If you really want to use the venue but are contractually obligated to use the preferred vendors, do your homework regarding those vendors before signing with the venue. Ensure they are vendors that you want to work with.
- Try to find pricing for these vendors at this venue compared to these vendors at other venues—if they are higher, DO NOT USE
Pro Tip: Ask if there is a “not allowed” vendors list. You don’t want to inadvertently hire one of these vendors and then they not be allowed on the venue’s property. You may lose a non-refundable deposit.
Conclusion about Preferred Vendors Lists
Knowing the truth about preferred vendors list and the possibility of some lists being “pay to play,” some couples may be reluctant to book preferred vendors from any list.
As a bride, I’d be way more apt to use vendors from an organic list than a paid preferred vendors list. However, the skeptic in me would always question how the list was actually compiled.
I think in the end, I’d prefer a venue who offered an organic list but ultimately gave me the flexibility to choose the vendors I wanted to create my own wedding day vendor team.
Remember, it’s your day and it should be your way! Nothing—not even a preferred vendors list— should stand in the way of your dream wedding!
**The images contained in this blog post were shot under the direction and for assignment of Straughan Photography. The images are copyrighted but used herein with permission.
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I am a full-time, internationally-awarded and WPPI-C certified professional wedding and senior photographer based in South Texas near San Antonio. I offer a premier and personal service coupled with an unforgettable photography experience. I cater to clients who appreciate quality photography and help them to create family heirlooms that will last for generations.
I started Ata-Girl Photography Co., LLC in 2010. I firmly believe that the unique set of circumstances I have faced in life has prepared me to take a personal and genuine interest in my photography clients. I enjoy documenting the important milestones and captivating moments in people’s lives. I love being a part of people’s journey and consider myself privileged to document their legacies.
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