WASHINGTON – The venue, caterer and dress were paid for and ready for the big day, even if the bride was not.
Still, she said her vows – and ended up divorcing her husband three years later. She later told her friend, Lauren Byrne, how she wouldn’t have gone through with the wedding if she knew her parents could get some of their money back.
Byrne has been in 17 weddings and seen how wedding costs can deplete savings. She thought there had to be a solution so people like her friend could call off a wedding and be saved from a miserable relationship, as well as a very large expense.
Byrne, a 31-year-old graduate student at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, launched the startup in May with three friends who also attend Darden. The group matches couples looking to sell a wedding with those wanting to buy one and then takes a cut depending on the date, cost and location of the wedding.
“People come to us knowing that they may not get exactly what their dream wedding is, and they’re willing to make that sacrifice to be able to get it at a discount,” Byrne says.
So far, the venture has attracted about 675 couples interested in buying a wedding. The bridal brokers say they have been contacted by lovers who will happily say “I do” in two years or two months and are willing to travel anywhere across the country for the ceremony.
The only problem is demand outweighs supply.
Heather Gates, 32, Bridal Brokerage COO and Byrne’s roommate, works with the buyers and sellers to make the transactions. Though a wedding has not been officially sold, she says four couples have contacted Bridal Brokerage about selling what would have been their big day.
The experience has been surreal for Byrne, who originally pitched the idea at a Darden entrepreneurship competition. School officials liked it so much they let her develop the business this summer in lieu of taking a traditional internship.
In September, Byrne submitted a video pitch to The New York Times’ “Make Your Pitch” contest, which features entrepreneurial ideas on the Times’ You’re the Boss blog and provides professional feedback. Byrne was the only female entrepreneur selected.
In her video pitch, she mentions that weddings make up a $40 billion industry in the United States, and more than 250,000 canceled weddings a year feed into that price tag. The point of Bridal Brokerage is to help couples lessen the blow of their financial loss.
Though elated to be chosen, Byrne says business strategist Carol Roth was a bit “harsh” in her criticism.
“Ultimately, I would not take a second meeting on this concept, but I do think Ms. Byrne could bolster the pitch and remove a lot of risk by proving the concept,” Roth writes on the blog.
Byrne says she understands Roth’s points.
“Her feeling was, ‘Who wants to buy someone else’s wedding?’ The funny thing is we’re seeing a lot of people want to buy someone else’s wedding – a shocking response actually,” Byrne says.
The average cost of a wedding is $27,000, according to a 2011 study of 18,000 brides surveyed by The Knot. The most expensive place to get married is Manhattan, N.Y., where the average wedding expense is $65,824. Washington D.C., northern Virginia and suburban Maryland came in 10th at $34,203 per wedding.
Bridal Brokerage COO Jeff Smidt, 27, says he views the startup as a means to make weddings more affordable.
“I think I’m ultimately helping a lot of dads who spend billions on weddings every year,” he says.
Aimee Hardenbergh, a professional bridal consultant and founder of True Wedding Events based near Leesburg, Va., says buying and selling weddings could theoretically work if all the pieces fell into place, but there are a lot of event planning “nuances” that make the concept more complicated.
For instance, couples looking to sell their weddings within a few weeks should not expect to save much, she says.
“You will have paid most, if not all, of your costs already, and it will be non-refundable,” Hardenbergh says.
She explains most vendors have clauses built into contracts that require couples to pay in full depending on how close the cancellation is to the day of the event.
“If it’s a hotel in particular, their attrition clauses and cancellation clauses are going to be much more strict than perhaps, let’s say, a private venue,” she says.
Bridal Brokerage would not give names of potential clients for interviews, saying they want to protect client identities because calling off a wedding can be an emotional experience. Byrne describes one groom who contacted Bridal Brokerage, desperate to cut his losses.