Outdoor wedding venue
Kim Hawkins, president of discount wedding vendor EventsWholesale.com of Watkinsville, Georgia, switched gears weeks ago when the coronavirus outbreak hobbled production at overseas factories where she’d sourced merchandise. In early March, with its busy spring season quickly approaching, her online business had found new suppliers and was placing large orders to stock up on best sellers.
Before month’s end, though, the firm, along with its industry, sustained a jolt on the demand side as the virus spread, prompting families and companies across the United States to suspend celebrations and conferences amid broader shutdowns. Hawkins recently estimated 95 percent of events have been canceled industry-wide and among her clients.
Special event planners and vendors, among those hit early and fast by coronavirus disruptions, may serve as a gauge of the pandemic’s effect on small business – in terms of current difficulties, adjusted strategies and recovery outlook.
Marie Danielle Vil-Young, founder and creative director at À Votre Service Events, a New York-area wedding, event and floral planner, noted the rapid changes that have unfolded this month.
“Initially, it appeared that larger corporate events and conferences, especially those that included travel, would be impacted, but then as the virus continues to spread, weddings too had to be downsized from 250 to 50 to 10, and now we’re at ‘shelter in place’ scenario,” she said.
“When it comes to my company as a small business, we have never experienced a time like this where everything is at a standstill. We had some aggressive goals for 2020 and we were well on our way meeting those goals, but now,” said Vil-Young, who has studios in Manhattan and New Jersey.
Some clients have postponed weddings to later this year or 2021, while others with nuptials planned for the first half of this year haven’t decided what to do, she said recently. Wedding planning under normal conditions can be “very emotionally charged,” and is especially stressful given the coronavirus outbreak, Vil-Young noted.
“Imagine all the planning that goes into coordination with the venue, photographer, videographer, floral designer, entertainment, bridal salon, transportation, lodging, tent, rental and lighting companies, hair and make-up artists, other vendors such as rigging, flooring companies, etc, making arrangements for guests, logistics and of course the financial impact,” she said.
(The nonprofit Wedding International Professionals Association has expanded its online education “to address ongoing challenges,” and the National Association for Catering & Events has posted resources for members on handling finances, business and securing relief during the crisis.)
Despite the sudden brakes on events, neither Vil-Young nor EventsWholesale.com’s Hawkins have cut back on their small employee teams.
Hawkins’s company, which employs seven people, specializes in wedding centerpieces, decorations and event props, selling to wedding and corporate event planners, caterers, venues, the hospitality industry and the public.
“A few customers are still planning future events and weddings. We are taking this downtime as an opportunity to update our products and add new products for the future. Hopefully, life will resume as normal soon, and our customers will be planning ‘coming out of quarantine’ parties in the near future!” she said via email.
Indeed, while the pandemic has upended multiple industries, small business owners look forward to activity picking up again once the crisis subsides.
While forced to postpone client events for now, Vil-Young also has fielded inquiries for new jobs in 2021 and 2022. Meanwhile, she’s pivoted and is working quickly to offer goods and services through a new e-commerce site to launch by mid-April. To help support the floral industry and farms, she plans to add a new line of edible, organic floral products.
“I am of course very concerned about all the unknowns at this time, but if all works out, that will keep my team busy,” said Vil-Young. “I figure I can sit at home at this time, scared and worried about the future, or I can take action, continue to invest and trust in our ability to keep going forward.”
This is one in a series of stories about coronavirus outbreak effects on small businesses.