These aren’t strictly preferred suppliers as there aren’t any options for you to choose from. But it’s worth noting the way this might work as it can mean that the supplier you meet during a showround, consultation or sampling isn’t the same supplier that would work your wedding. With a local barn venue for example, the catering staff (chefs and front of house) are provided as part of a catering contract which will be revised every few years. The venue will ‘go out for tender’, basically inviting all contract caterers to pitch for the contract. They’ll choose their preferred supplier and this company will solely be responsible for delivering catering at the venue. 99% of the time, the actual cooking team will stay the same, but there is always a short period of handover between contract companies, which isn’t always seamless. You have to use this supplier as they are the only caterer allowed at the venue, and they are basically an internal team. In the rare likelihood that there is a change of contractor and you weren’t happy with the new one, you wouldn’t have any other options.
Pay to List A.K.A. The Wedding Supplier Directory
This is the most straightforward paid list. A supplier pays an annual fee to be a ‘preferred supplier’ at a certain venue. It could be a small amount e.g. £20 or a substantial amount e.g. £200. Suppliers don’t necessarily have to meet any other requirements (e.g. recommend reciprocally), they are essentially advertising with the venue. Their name goes on the list, whether that’s a PDF, webpage or otherwise.
This type of list is the best paid option for suppliers, as there’s less risk. If they get bookings from couples at the venue, they pay a % or set £ amount of the booking value. Otherwise, they pay nothing. However, this does raise the question of ‘where does the money come from to pay the commission’ – are the supplier’s costs inflated to account for commissions they may pay, do they take it out of their profit, or do they just accept a lower rate? The payments could be called ‘kickbacks’, ‘commission fees’ or ‘finder’s fees’. They could be paid monthly back to the venue or could be used by the venue to redeem against their own future bookings. Alternatively, the venue/supplier might agree a price that the couple pay e.g. £250, as well as the commission e.g. £25 / 10%, and the couple will pay the venue, who then pay the supplier less the commission, so £225. This is also one way things work for suppliers who provide part of a package for the venue.
I haven’t seen it done yet, but another great option would be for the supplier to donate to a relevant charity. So long as every supplier donated the same amount, and the charity was relevant to the venue, this would be a nice way for a sustainable or ethical venue to give something back through their supplier list.
In theory, this isn’t the worst approach. Imagine a venue recommends 5 really good cake suppliers who all would have to pay £20 if the couple booked. It’s a reasonably fair market, and all suppliers are really good so the customer still gets a good supplier even though the cake designer paid the venue a ‘finder’s fee’. That works: the venue earns a small amount of money for their time sharing recommendations, the cake designer makes an extra booking, and the couple still get a good cake. In reality, some commissions may be higher than others, and it’s the venue that benefits from the relationship. The UK Association of Wedding Planners disallow their members from accepting commission payments because they recognise it shifts the dynamic. This is good news if you’re working with a UKAWP planner, because it’s unlikely they will have any financial incentive to recommend certain suppliers.
Contribute to Costs
This is a common ‘workaround’ to the ‘pay to list with us’ approach and I would cynically say that it’s for 2 reasons. 1. Suppliers don’t want to pay to be on a list because it feels a bit disingenuous and they’d rather spend their advertising budget elsewhere. 2. When asked if suppliers pay to be on the list, the answer is ‘no’. The description of this method is, ‘we don’t charge you to be on our list, but we do expect you to pay £xx to be in our brochure’. With this approach, venues can cover some of the costs they might have in recommending suppliers e.g. fancy printed brochures, and suppliers feel like they’re getting something for the money they have to pay. Again, in theory, this doesn’t sound unreasonable, but like most things, some people take this to extremes.
I have personally spoken to one Berkshire wedding venue who were more than happy to add me to their supplier list (even though I’d never delivered a cake to their venue, nor spoken to them before), so long as I paid £300 to be featured in their brochure. Another venue that I spoke to in Hampshire, again who I hadn’t worked with before, would consider adding me, so long as I committed to attending at least one wedding fayre a year at a cost of £100. Depending on how many suppliers they showcased on the day, let’s assume 16, that’s a ‘budget’ of £1600 for them to host an event where they get visitors to their venue, they manage the sign-ups/contacts of visitors on the day, and it makes them look better to have the venue decorated with all of the possible things a couple may want to see at their wedding. Of course, there are advertising and printing costs for the event, no question, but venues will always need to print brochures for their couples and host open days. So the question is, does the event add an extra £100 per supplier to the venue’s costs for the day? Or does it represent a fair proportion of the whole costs for the event? If not, there’s certainly an element of a ‘listing fee’ which is a bit more complicated and tips into a greyer area.
Provide Perks to Our Couples
I personally really like this approach. It’s very focussed on the supplier relationship improving the deal for customers, rather than benefitting their own pocket. Almost like the business is using its purchasing power (i.e. buying bulk) to reduce the price for each customer. Some venues ask suppliers to give a discount, or a free added bonus e.g. free delivery, free consultation, or something completely different. This is the other way that things might work for suppliers who provide part of a package for the venue. There are a couple of venues that I know of who opt for this method.
If you recommend us, we’ll recommend you. Or similarly, if you link to our website, we’ll link to yours as this is great for both of our Google rankings. This is a simple one. There isn’t any money involved, but there is a small incentive which can affect the suppliers’ decision to recommend a supplier or not. If the relationship is solely based on this, i.e. I don’t care who you are, but if you put us on your website, we’ll put you on ours, then it certainly misses out on what I personally feel the point of a preferred supplier list is. However, when two suppliers really like working with each other, and think one another is a great supplier, this will naturally happen anyway.
Be a Great Supplier
This category is how most couples think a ‘preferred supplier list’ works, and for 2/3 of venues, this is absolutely true. The venue will look at the suppliers who are regularly visiting the venue that they think are doing a good job and couples say they are happy with, and put them on their list. The only downside of this approach is that sometimes venues don’t proactively look for new suppliers, so their list is compiled of the first 5 people who ask to be on the list. It isn’t perfect, but these lists are generally a good sign that the suppliers are reliable and trustworthy. There’s no incentive for the venue to recommend the supplier (because no money changes hands), so in most cases the venue truly believes the supplier will do a good job for the couple. If the venue ever has an issue with the supplier, they’re likely to be removed from the list.
This is how I manage my Surrey and Hampshire wedding suppliers’ list – there isn’t anyone on it that I’ve worked with less than x2, and I genuinely think they are a professional, honest, talented bunch of suppliers. No-one pays to be on my list, nor offers any other incentive for bookings made. It’s also the way that the Aviator in Farnborough runs their Hampshire wedding suppliers’ list which I really respect.
Which way is right? Honestly, that’s down to your personal preference! But I think most people would be happiest if they knew that the foundation of every recommendation was ‘they really are a great supplier’. Beyond that, people aren’t generally too worried, and it’s the same for most respectable suppliers. However, money and all of the other things on this list definitely make things a little bit more complicated, which is why it’s an interesting topic to talk about!