One of the most popular electives at my law school is Interviewing, Negotiations, and Counseling (INC). Students learn the basics of interviewing parties, negotiating agreements and advising clients on their best options. It also has no final exam. I always wanted to take this course but something always got in the way. Either it wasn’t offered or I had other requisites taking my time.
So, I’m taking the alternative route to INC: planning a wedding. Sure, it’s not in the academic context, but its lessons are just as useful. If we are dropping large sums of money on attire, venue, flowers, and so forth, then we should take extra care in finding the right vendor. We have one day to make a great experience, and we are relying on many people to make it happen.
I visit most vendors before I consider their proposals, and I plan beforehand my questions. I learned from my clinical experience always to plan an agenda before meeting my clients. For example, before I met potential florists, I listed what I needed to know: depth of expertise, creativity, and delivery/setup process. I wrote my list in a small notebook and took it with me to every appointment so I remember what questions to ask and to take notes. In my notebook, I also had a list of what items I would need: 4 boutonnieres, 4 bouquets, 10 centerpieces and a couple ceremony arrangements.
Negotiations is an inevitable part of planning a wedding. It’s almost like buying a car; vendors will spend most of their time describing how awesome they are. They may even take you out to lunch, give you a free tchotchke and highlight how you’re like one of them (“We need to support our (fill in the blank) community”). After all of this talk and near the end of your consultation, you get the big question — the cost? Some will ask you outright, “What is your budget?” Some will skip it and say, “We’ll give you a proposal and wait for your feedback.”
When I last had to negotiate, it was for my car. It was one long day of skipped meals and waning patience. I got a good deal, but that was two years ago. I asked my mentor, who actually teaches INC, what I should do. Should I be the first to say how much or should I wait for the vendor to give a number. She replied, “You first. If you’re going to dance around a number, it’s better to dance around your number.”
She also recommended that I research before my consultation and determine the market value. “Look up how other people will charge for their services and then come up with an estimate you’re willing to pay.” The more you know about the market, the better you can negotiate a fair deal. If a vendor proposes something above and beyond what you expected, then you have a standard to compare. When something is above the market norm, ask why. If a vendor cannot adequately explain their above-the-market prices, then you can either negotiate a lower price or move on to another vendor (there’s always another vendor).
For what we wanted, I expected between $1,200 - $1,500 (including delivery, rental and setup).
While shopping for a florist, I met three vendors. Our first vendor never asked me and my fiancé about our budget. She heard our ideas, established a good rapport and told us we would quickly receive her quote. The consultation was pleasant, but the quote shocked us. It was a whole $1,000 above our budget. There was a $75 Sunday fee and a $250 fee for staff to stay through the ceremony and setup the reception (I only have 20-25 min. for the entire ceremony).
The second florist gave us a grand presentation (with tchotchkes!), showed off her awards and then quickly asked, “So…how much are we working with?” I replied my amount and she replied, “Okay, we can work with that,” and explained how I would receive a line-item proposal within 24 hours.
Sure enough, I got her proposal that evening. It was only a couple hundred dollars above my budget. It’s still high, but I could narrow down my wants.
The third florist wasted little time. In less than 20 minutes, she heard what I wanted, nodded with my ideas, and then asked, “What is your budget?” When I gave her my amount, her face twisted in repulsion. It was like I asked her to work for free. After a deep sigh, she murmured, “Well, I guess I can’t do too much.”
Her proposal was $500 higher than my budget with a steep deposit (more than twice the other two florists’ deposits combined). Yet, even if the third florist’s proposal matched my bottom line, I still didn’t feel comfortable working with her.
Which brings me to my third point – counseling. I haven’t planned a wedding before, and I’m working within a budget. (Regardless if you have $100 or a $100,000, you should always have a budget). I am relying on my vendor to make my day special. If I don’t have a good connection with a vendor, then I’m not giving that vendor my business.
Florist #1 helped me and my fiancé pick out flowers, suggested different ideas for centerpieces, and described which flowers would be in season. My fiancé appreciated her patience. Still, I wish I knew about the $75 Sunday fee during the consultation (of note, no other florist had that fee).
Florist #2 talked for 45 minutes. She had her opinions, some of which came off a little pushy. However, she didn’t hold back. When I asked about a painted rose, she was upfront, “Oh no hon, you wouldn’t want that. The dye will run and it won’t survive the day intact.” And, she made sure I didn’t leave empty handed. I left with a calendar, pen and business card. Granted, I didn’t need any of it, but I appreciated her hustle. She wanted my business and I wasn’t just another customer.
Florist #3 had high praises from my event manager. However, when my friend and I visited her shop, we felt we didn’t belong there. Notwithstanding the quickness of the consultation, it was the reaction to my budget, the inattention to my friend, and the nonverbal cues screaming, “You’re too po’ for me!” I knew my place , and it wasn’t in her shop.
I’m going with Florist #2.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun