Until it’s time to plan a big event like a wedding, there’s little reason for most people to know about the existence of vendor lists: the directories of caterers, florists, event planners, DJs, and others who work with venues. work to organize events.
They can be a great time saver: Instead of building their own team, brides and grooms and their families can rely on a list of preferred contractors. And for those who get on a list, inclusion can help provide steady employment.
But for the most part, the lists are not public, and the process of getting a spot on one is rarely transparent. Because vendor lists are used by venues large and small, including hotels, inns, galleries, sheds, museums, and libraries, they can mean a permanently closed door to those excluded.
“The original idea comes from a good angle,” says Eliana Nunes, who has worked in the event industry for ten years, first as a florist and now as head of a production studio. Event spaces “try to avoid vendors in their location who are not professional” and “make sure everyone knows what they’re doing and is licensed,” she said.
But the playing field is rarely even. Andrew Roby, a planner in Washington, DC, who has worked in the events industry since 2005, said a major problem is that some venues charge for listing, which is a pay-to-play structure. The fees can range from several hundred dollars to tens of thousands, according to wedding industry insiders. Some payments are expected annually, others are collected as a percentage of the cost of an event.
“It’s a huge problem in our industry,” said Sonal Shah, an event planner in New York City. “If you’re new, where do you get $20,000? You should spend on Instagram, on Facebook, on marketing. It’s basically like the veterans are on the list, and they always will be. How do the newcomers get in?” (Although Ms. Shah has been in the industry for 20 years, she said she’s not on many supplier lists because her company mainly produces South Asian weddings.)
A second problem with supplier lists is that they often lack diversity, said Mr Roby. Last August, Mr Roby, who is Black, and others formed the National Events Council to fight for greater diversity and inclusion in the event planning industry.
“After George Floyd died, we had so many people going to Instagram,” Roby said. “So many people in the industry used those black squares as a sign of support. That’s kind of weird. If you look at your Instagram, they’re all whites. If you look at your supplier lists, they’re all whites.”
The layers of barriers to getting on supplier lists are an open secret in the event industry. Access to them is crucial because in some cases customers are not only asked to use preferred suppliers, but are required to do so.
“You don’t know how people get on it, and it can make or break your business,” Ms Shah said. “We want to have a fair, competitive market.”
Elizabeth Austin-Davis, who works out of Atlanta, has been included in lists of the best wedding photographers in the United States and in the world by publications including Brides and Harper’s Bazaar. Her work has appeared in Martha Stewart Weddings, The Knot magazine and Style Me Pretty.
“I wish I could tell you that after all I’ve accomplished, I’m on a supplier list, but I’m still not on it,” she said. Instead, she established contacts with planners in the Atlanta area, who put her on their lists. (Being added to a planner’s list is helpful, but compared to venues, planners tend to host far fewer weddings.) She’s also done other types of shoots at venues she wants to work with. “Brides want to see someone who has worked there before,” said Ms. Austin-Davis.
Ms. Austin-Davis’s experience is not uncommon for people of color in the industry.
“It’s this unspoken thing,” says Sojourner Auguste, who has owned a wedding production company in New York since 2010. like, two great events in one location before asking, ‘How do we get on your list?’ I’ve just been ignored before. It’s very disappointing.”
William Gilbert, a Los Angeles DJ known professionally as DJ Will Gill, said he focuses on building connections with planners who have their own lists. “When I do events, I kind of crush it,” he said. “When they’re ready, the wedding planners come over to me. “I’d love to work with you.” Locations never approach me after that. I talk to them, yes ma’am, yes sir and everything. I then follow to ask. I have never been put on the preferred list of a location.”
Following the protests against police brutality following George Floyd’s death in June 2020, DJ companies called Gilbert to ask about collaboration and media outlets asked him to contribute guest posts, he said. But it still hadn’t been added to a location’s supplier list.
During the pandemic, Mr. Gilbert decided to change his strategy. He optimized his online presence for search engines and sought work as a virtual DJ. “While it would be easy and great to be on the lists of all the venues and all the planners, I have the brides and grooms Googling,” he said.
Jennifer Price, who runs Events Shoppe Chicago, has been working in events for 15 years. She has produced galas and fundraisers at luxury hotels in the city and averages about 30 weddings a year. So far, she said, her company is not on any preferred supplier lists.
“When we first started out, I was going around and trying to chat with people,” Ms Price said. “Now it is no longer part of our strategy. Instagram has become a go-to.” In addition, she is part of an informal group of planners in Chicago who share progressive politics and recommend each other for jobs.
She believes that a pay-to-play structure “excludes a lot of smaller mom-and-pop stores, a lot of colored businesses or businesses in minority groups,” she said. So she keeps her own list of nearly 200 suppliers from which customers can choose.
“Our clients come from so many cultural backgrounds – Taiwanese, Polish, Nigerian American, Black American,” she said. “They can’t all use the same caterer.”
Industry professionals may feel sorry for keeping up with supplier lists, but they said confronting venues with their lack of transparency often feels pointless and carries a risk. “We cannot create bad blood,” said Ms. Austin-Davis. “This is our livelihood. That’s why many people of color don’t make an issue of it.”
About locations, she said, “They have access to what we need and they can keep us from working.”
NewsMadura approached more than 80 locations across the country with questions about their supplier lists: how often they are updated, how many suppliers they contain, how those suppliers are chosen, and whether the suppliers have to pay fees. Six locations responded. The lists that these six locations maintain have only eight sellers and a whopping 67. One location updates its list annually. Others said they review them monthly or when they work with someone they like. Two said their lists are public.
Ellie Tumlinson is the catering director of one of these locations, the Alida Hotel in Savannah, Georgia. Ms. Tumlinson said she currently has a list of 67 suppliers, which is available on the hotel’s website, and updates it whenever she works with someone. she thinks it’s a good match.
When she adds a contractor to her list, she said it means “you’re great at what you do and I’m comfortable proposing to you for the biggest day of their lives.”
Cera Stan has owned the Stan Mansion in Chicago for 15 years; she doesn’t charge her “dream team” of salespeople to be on her proposed list because she believes the costs will be passed on to her customers. But she understands why some locations do that. “We spend a lot of money on advertising, and that’s probably something to offset their costs,” Ms Stan said.
Ms. Stan checks her supplier list once a year, but if she really likes someone’s job, she sometimes adds them right away. “I’m following the recommendations,” Mrs. Stan said. “I Google them. I also call other locations. ‘How do you prefer them? Will they arrive on time? Are they polite?’”
She touts different backgrounds among event contractors and takes that into account when hiring. “We live in a country where everyone is welcome and you have people from all over the world,” Ms Stan said. “They want to change this special date. You have to offer that opportunity.”
In addition to individual change or intentions, there are a few broader efforts to address the supplier list system.
The National Events Council has launched a diversity survey, has called on major companies to take action to commit to a promise that 20 percent of the people they hire for events will be black, indigenous or people of color, and has begun work on a mentoring program.
The Knot Marketplace, a list of contractors, began offering diversity-based filters in its vendor list in January. For example, companies can identify themselves as owned by Black or Female, making it easier for interested users to find them.
Ethos Collective was founded last June with the goal of elevating the profiles of black wedding and event professionals. Those who wish to join can apply during open call cycles.
Ivory Perkins, a makeup artist in Washington, DC, has found a more informal solution: a group chat with about two dozen people passing business on to each other. “It’s comforting for people of color to see other people of color,” Ms. Perkins said. ‘You go into a room, you go looking for your people. It is part of us to seek out and support each other. When we are not in spaces where we are welcome, we create our own. We have allies in those spaces.”
While these initiatives certainly help, customers can also make a difference with a crucial force: the wallet.
Rhianna Green hired Mr Roby, the Washington-based planner, for her April 2022 wedding. emphasize and support,” said Ms. Green. “Keeping that money in the black community is also very important to us.”
dr. Meera Shah, the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood in New York’s Hudson Peconic region, said she wanted her wedding, which will take place this month, “to celebrate our cultures, but I also want to make it about commitment and equality.” and an extension of our values.”
dr. Shah teams up with Jove Meyer, a New York City planner who promised an ally that he asks every salesperson he works with to sign and shows on his website. All the salesmen he sells for Dr. Shah has suggested were people of color, identified as women, or came from a historically marginalized group. dr. Shah will have a female Hindu priest as her officiant. “She’s one of a kind,” said Dr Shah.
According to the vendors and planners interviewed for this article, eventually the wedding industry can only change if people who have weddings ask for it.
“Push back to the location,” Mrs. Price said. “Say, ‘I’ve noticed there’s no one on this list who looks like me or has my moral compass. I can’t tell if these vendors are LGBTQ friendly. How do I know and how can you guys add more so I can feel comfortable?’ Your purchasing power has a very strong voice.”