Saturday, April 17, 2010

Referrals: The real “something borrowed”

 bride and groom Marissa Spinelli and Paul Riario coming down the aisle arm-in-arm
           Marissa Spinelli and Paul Riario

By Erika Martinez

Rings, dresses, flowers, invitations, favors and seating arrangements -- the laundry list of things a bride must juggle and choose from while planning her big day can prove stressful.

That’s when the insight of trusted family and friends who have already taken the plunge becomes invaluable. In addition to emotional and moral support, they can pass along the names of their DJs, florists, photographers and caterers.

“With such a dizzying array of vendor options, referrals stood out as candidates, which does help with the hiring process,” said Elaine Flores, a media professional who tied the knot with husband David, also a media professional, in 1996. “Depending on their relationship with the person who recommended them, you may get a higher level of service because they want to keep both the couple and the reference happy.”

Sounds like common sense, right? A bride will feel more comfortable putting her big day in the hands of a tried and true professional than an unknown.

“The idea of knowing that people I trust and are very close to me used them and were happy with them caused me not to have to stress out. Referrals made it easier to check those things off my list,” recalled insurance agent Maria O’Flaherty, 43, who used the DJ, dress shop and photographer/videographer that friends recommended when she wed ironworker Andrew, 36, in 2006.

During the hectic, stressful days leading up to a trip down the aisle, referrals can be a life -- and time -- saver for a couple planning a wedding on short notice.

When Marissa Spinelli Riario, a 31-year-old associate client marketing manager married Paul, 42, a magazine editor last August, time was of the essence. She relied on suggestions from friends and family to book her florist, DJ and photographer, as well as find her dress and invitations.
“Since I planned the wedding in five months, the referrals came in handy because I did not need to waste time with endless research,” she explained.

Aside from gaining some piece of mind, Riario also discovered several tangible benefits that using referrals can garner.  

“The invitation shop gave me a free box of Vera Wang stationary,” she said. “My DJ charged me the same [low] rate he charged my friend for her wedding and my florist discounted the price slightly due to the referral.”

It’s great when a referral is a home run, but occasionally they can fall flat. That’s when things can get sticky.

Elaine found herself in such an awkward situation while shopping around for her nuptials.

“A co-worker referred a musician, of whom it was claimed, ‘Turn your back to him and you'd swear it was Sinatra.’ We went to see him as a courtesy. We turned our backs alright,” she cracked.

Elaine added: “If, as in the case of ‘The Next Sinatra,’ you decline, you have to employ more tact than you would in dealing with other rejected vendors. And it's a good idea to find a gracious way to tell the reference that you really appreciated his or her help, but are going in a different direction. You certainly don't want to make a critical judgment about her taste... or lack thereof.”

Naturally, brides are not the only people who benefit from referrals.

Wedding venues, DJs and other vendors find the word of mouth recommendations especially helpful in bolstering their business.    

Alyssa Craparo, associate director of convention services at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich, said once a couple books their affair, the staff offers them a list of 10 to 15 vendors to work with.

The florists, DJs and photographers suggested by Craparo and the Hyatt staff have done business with the hotel for years and have a keen understanding of the venue’s layout and capabilities.

According to Craparo, it’s a win-win situation for the betrothed and the hotel.

“Brides love it," she said, "because they trust us and it’s one-stop shopping.”

If a couple decides to go with endorsed vendors, the hotel’s event planners will act as a buffer between the bride and the service company.  

“I would call the company beforehand and say, ‘this is the date, this is what they want and this is their budget,” Craparo explained. “It just makes this emotional time less stressful and easier. They need to trust the person and make sure the quality will be accurate. That’s where we come in.”

For Westchester County-based DJ Joe Shane, referrals are a necessity. The owner and operator of All Digital Mobile Music DJs, he estimates about half of his business is based on word-of-mouth and favorable reviews.

“I try to do the best for my clients. Without referrals I don’t think you can maintain a longstanding business,” Shane said.

He should know -- he’s been emceeing weddings and special events for three decades.

“Referrals are easier to book, especially when the market is slower than usual," he said. "That’s what is keeping us afloat.”

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