After a COVID-19 backlog, NC wedding planners are booming

Trent Crumpler (middle) ties a corsage for the mother of the bride before the wedding of Cassidy Taylor and Gregory Hoffmann at the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel on Oct. 8.

Trent Crumpler (middle) ties a corsage for the mother of the bride before the wedding of Cassidy Taylor and Gregory Hoffmann at the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel on Oct. 8.

UNC Media Hub

The wedding was set to start in 30 minutes. Trent Crumpler had been going up and down the elevator all morning, moving from the bridal suite to the groom room and back to the reception area to keep everyone on schedule. Now, there was an emergency. The bride’s mother’s zipper was caught.

No need to panic. Crumpler is used to this. As a wedding planner, he attends each event armed with an emergency kit and plenty of flexibility. He ran to the storage room, grabbed the safety pins, and the show went on.

Crumpler is one of the founders, along with his best friend Ashley McElroy, of Something Fabulous Weddings & Events, based in Cary. Something Fabulous offers wedding services ranging from day-of event management to full-service planning.

McElroy and Crumpler consider themselves something of “power planners.” Where Crumpler is interpersonal and outgoing, McElroy is attentive to detail and focused on the logistics. In the past year, they’ve handled alternative wedding formats, postponements, cancellations and now, their busiest season yet.

Weddings postponed or canceled

In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, 54 percent of weddings across the country were postponed or canceled according to wedding resource The Knot. For Something Fabulous, between 60 percent and 70 percent rescheduled, McElroy estimated.

But as mass gathering limits were lifted, the duo found themselves in high demand. From the end of August to Dec. 31, Something Fabulous will have planned 31 weddings. And that’s not including the weddings planned out to 2022, 2023 or even 2024.

02_20211008_Sartin_WeddingPlanners_800.jpg Trent Crumpler cuts the end of the aisle runner for the wedding of Cassidy Taylor and Gregory Hoffmann. Emily Caroline Sartin UNC Media Hub

They have at least one wedding and sometimes several on most Saturdays this year. Ceremonies are also spilling into non-traditional Friday and Sunday dates.

But through all-nighters in McElroy’s living room, late night coffee and lots of laughs, Crumpler and McElroy aim to make every couple they work with feel like the only couple they work with.

‘It’ll be something fabulous’

Crumpler and McElroy went to high school together in Pikeville and became best friends while working together at Old Navy. After college, they always knew they wanted to go into business together.

Originally, they planned to open a boutique, an homage to their shared start in retail. As they started to brainstorm potential names for a store, McElroy said, “Well, whatever it is, it’s going to be something fabulous.”

And they took that literally. After they planned McElroy’s own wedding together — in which Crumpler served as her man of honor — Something Fabulous Weddings & Events was born.

03_20210929_Sartin_WeddingPlanners_040.jpg Trent Crumpler (second from right) and Michelle Doeberiener (red shirt) discuss the proposed floor plan for the wedding of Doeberiener and Helen Mercer at Chatham Station in Cary. Emily Caroline Sartin UNC Media Hub

At the start, Something Fabulous had two paying clients for the year. The next year, 13. Momentum picked up when the company was included on a preferred vendors list for a venue. From there, they experienced “exponential” growth, McElroy said.

Their first assistant was McElroy’s mother, Michelle Jones. With a background in planning baby showers for friends and coworkers, Jones credits herself with McElroy’s penchant for events.

“Some of this had to come from me,” she said.

Going into 2020, Something Fabulous had more than 50 weddings on the books.

“Then March came and attacked us,” McElroy said. “And COVID just never went away.”

For their couples that did not cancel, Crumpler and McElroy had to manage shrinking guest lists and changing government mandates. They grew closer to other vendors in the business as they worked to make each individual event COVID-safe.

“There were a lot of relationships because of that,” Crumpler said. “Even if it was like we suffered together.”

04_20210929_Sartin_WeddingPlanners_199.jpg Trent Crumpler, Helen Mercer and Michelle Doeberiener, from left to right, look over the floor plan for Doeberiener’s and Mercer’s wedding. Mercer is more than ready for the wedding celebration that was rescheduled from March to October. Emily Caroline Sartin UNC Media Hub

They saw all manner of alternative wedding formats, such as backyard ceremonies, “micro-weddings,” and even an occasion with two exchanges of “I do” — one on Friday in front of family and one on Saturday for friends.

In 2020, Something Fabulous put on around 20 weddings. But relative to the current fall season, it feels like nothing in hindsight.

“We didn’t have much to do then,” Jones said. “And we’re making up for it now.”

Crumpler and McElroy are feeling the effects of a nationwide pressure on the wedding industry, a wedding boom, as Shane McMurray, founder of the market research firm The Wedding Report, said.

In an average year, about 2.2 million people get married, McMurray said. In 2021, the Wedding Report forecasts 1.9 million weddings, with most occurring from June on. Then in 2022, he estimates the total number of weddings will hit about 2.5 million, a number not seen since the 1980s.

But rather than representing a period of growth in the wedding industry, this surge represents a period of pent-up demand.

“I think by 2024, it’s going to be back to normal, provided nothing else happens,” McMurray said.

05_20211005_Sartin_WeddingPlanners_053.jpg Trent Crumpler and Ashley McElroy of Something Fabulous Weddings & Events meet at Starbucks. Crumpler and McElroy stay organized through weekly business meetings and a shared, color-coordinated Google Calendar. Emily Caroline Sartin UNC Media Hub

This boom is also leading to increased prices across the nation, McMurray said. According to the magazine Heart of NC Weddings, in North Carolina, the cost of a day-of event coordinator ranges from $1,500 to $2,500 and between $5,000 and $15,000 for a full-service planner.

Something Fabulous’ event management services start at $1,800 with add-ons for each client to customize. The company aims to increase its prices once a year, in line with the company’s growth and the Triangle-area market. But for couples that first booked with Something Fabulous prior to the pandemic, their rates locked in at the company’s earlier prices.

“What kills us a little bit on those types of dates, they booked us probably two years ago — our prices have drastically changed since then,” Crumpler said.

“But we didn’t want to upcharge, COVID is out of everyone’s control,” McElroy added.

“So now, we’re making double, sometimes triple, what they are paying us, than what we could be booking,” he said.

A week in the life

During the work week, Crumpler and McElroy field new requests, run planning meetings, send emails, construct timelines, interact with clients and more.

At their weekly business meetings, they start by listing out short-term and long-term action items on one large spreadsheet. In just one meeting, they listed 52 to-do items, all as Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” played overhead. A romantic song providing the soundtrack for one of the most unromantic parts of the process.

Those action items represent all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into their bright tone and cool confidence during client meetings.

Helen Mercer and Michelle Doeberiener hired Something Fabulous’ help for their Oct. 15 wedding. The two were engaged in 2012 and officially got married in March with just two of their closest friends. But they always knew that they wanted the full experience: walking down the aisle, declaring their vows in front of all their friends and family and dancing the night away at a champagne-filled reception.

06_20211008_Sartin_WeddingPlanners_079.jpg Trent Crumpler (middle) checks on bride Cassidy Taylor and discusses table numbers for the reception. Emily Caroline Sartin UNC Media Hub

Part of the planning process is a final walk through the venue space. On Sept. 29 at Chatham Station in Cary, Crumpler balanced his laptop in the crook of his elbow, translating the floor plan on his laptop screen, full of circles and squares, to the features of the room. He ran through the event hour by hour, explaining expected traffic patterns and sequences of events, sketching an outline of the day to get Mercer and Doeberiener’s approval.

Before the big day, each couple must fill out the wedding packet, a multi-page document with a detailed list of questions, ranging from exact order of the wedding procession to family traditions that the couple does, or more importantly does not, want to transpire at the event.

“These are questions I hadn’t even thought about,” said Cassidy Hoffmann, who hired Something Fabulous’ event management services for her October wedding.

Then finally on the weekends, McElroy and Crumpler will likely be found on the scene, ensuring each white-veil occasion goes as planned, or rather, as close as possible to as planned.

Going to the chapel

Cassidy and Gregory Hoffmann were married on Friday, Oct. 8, at the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel.

On the day of a wedding, Crumpler is always in motion. Setting up a table for the guest book, laying down the aisle runner and adorning the floor with rose petals.

Crumpler’s home base is the vendor room, a space for decorations, storage and most important, the home of the emergency kit. Resembling a square black suitcase, inside are zip ties, at least three lighters, ribbon and more. The front unzips and unfolds to reveal eight sets of drawers, full of safety pins, bobby pins — anything that might be needed in a bind.

“There are certain things that are always forgotten that we always try to have — for some reason, people love to forget a cake-cutting set,” Crumpler said. “We always have one, just in case.”

With less than 30 minutes to go before the Hoffmann ceremony was set to start at 3 p.m., that kit saved the day. In addition to the mother of the bride’s stuck zipper, one of the grandparent’s corsages came undone. So Jones got the glue.

The morning was full of small fixes: finding a missing table in the reception space, rearranging chairs to match the floor plan, even answering a phone call from a frazzled tent vendor over a mishap for the next day’s wedding.

Then with just 10 minutes to go, the vendor room became a holding area for Cassidy and the bridal party. As guests milled about the reception area, slowly meandering into the ceremony room, just a hallway away there was singing.

“Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get ma-a-a-rried,” Cassidy’s mother started.

07_20211008_Sartin_WeddingPlanners_909.jpg Michelle Jones and Trent Crumpler open the doors for bride Cassidy Taylor to walk down the aisle at the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel. Emily Caroline Sartin UNC Media Hub

Finally at around 3:15 p.m., Crumpler opened the doors to the ceremony room, beginning the procession. And then, his job got a whole lot easier.

“Once I get people down the aisle … then my day kind of slows down,” he said.

Crumpler was at the Sheraton from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The following day, he did it all over again for a big engagement party.

It was a long weekend, with long hours.

“Welcome to the wedding industry,” he said.

Crumpler aims to take Sundays and Mondays off from work. But in the last few months, the workload has rendered these built-in breaks impossible. Halfway through October, they still have more than 15 ceremonies to go.

“We just keep going, we just can’t stop,” McElroy said. “We are so far into it, like we are in the thick of it, that we can’t burn out right now.”

Already, they are looking forward to January. The week of Christmas, culminating in New Years’ Eve, is the busiest of all. Then, they plan to take an entire month off.

When one wedding is over, Crumpler’s first thoughts are simple. Food, then sleep. All so he can do it all over again the next weekend.

Later, he’ll debrief with McElroy, talking about what went well, what didn’t and what lessons they will take away for next time. Then, he will touch base with each couple.

“I’m sure there were things that happened that we don’t even know about,” the Hoffmanns said to Crumpler.

“You have no idea,” he said.

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Maddie Ellis is a reporting intern with CharlotteFive. She studies English and journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.