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The business of marriage

Denise and Mark Duffield-Thomas pose after renewing their vows for the 79th time at Daydream Island Resort in Australia

By Philippa Busby and Sarah Treanor
BBC Business Unit

Catering, crockery, cutlery, glassware, lighting, flooring, venues, marquees, florists, dresses… the list of possible wedding requirements goes on and on.

For some, the modern wedding represents excess and extravagance. BBC Radio 4's Thought For The Day back in August 2010 caused a stir when Reverend Dr Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, called for spending on weddings to be cut as, according to him at least, extravagance and vanity had overtaken the meaning of the day.

THE BUSINESS OF LIFE

Indeed, the statistics appear to speak for themselves. Despite the number of weddings recently falling to lows not seen for more than 100 years, the cost is going up and up: £20,000 plus for the average wedding, according to many.

And that's just for the couple, never mind the guests and their presents, new outfits and hotel bills.

Figures from to the Office for National Statistics show that, in 2008, there were 232,990 weddings. This currently represents the lowest number of marriages in England and Wales since 1895.

Wedding flowers
Local wedding businesses often pip big business to the wedding day

People are also getting married later. And that may explain the rise in expectations about the ceremony, as John Lewis gift lists bear out.

"People are often getting married later in life, or they're remarrying and therefore they already have a home and they're just adding things to a list that they want to replace or refresh or update," says Rachel Wardell, selling operations manager for the firm's Oxford Street store.

"We see things now like Mulberry handbags, Wii consoles and recently we had a dartboard."

According to John Lewis, the wedding list market is worth £260m, of which it enjoys a 25% share.

But, while the wedding list is the domain of the big players, the event itself means jobs and profits for many independent, local companies.

"The value to the economy is impossible to estimate. It's in the many billions. There's a whole economy in and of itself which exists only to support the wedding day," says Neil Saunders from Verdict Research

He says that the list of businesses, including caterers, florists and photographers, is one which is difficult to quantify.

You're a shoulder to cry on when they've put on a few pounds.
Wedding planner, Mark Burton

The services for the day itself are the territory of the small businesses like photographer Rik Pennington.

"I think there is a perception that wedding photography is expensive, but there's a lot more goes into the day than just one days work. I guess to some people it does represent their best chance of making a consistent living," he adds.

Interflora is one big company which finds it difficult to break into the wedding market, because it requires a local individual touch.

"On average people are spending £450 on flowers: that sets the market somewhere close to £120m," says Michael Barringer, Interflora's marketing director.

"The nature of the way people now look for advice and information is very internet based…(but) we would right now direct them to a local florist."

Meanwhile the recent phenomenon of the wedding planner has spawned a whole new industry.

The Wedding Planner School in Bristol teaches pupils the skills needed for the profession, including how to negotiate contracts with suppliers.

Engagement ring
Jewellers are a major beneficiary of wedding day generosity

Senior tutor Amber Hunter says there are still fewer than a thousand wedding planning companies in the UK.

"The potential is huge. We estimate that about £55m a year is spent on wedding planning services. And it's growing every year."

The wedding planner school says planners cost about £2000 out of a £20,000 wedding and for that they'll organise 50 to 60% of it.

Mark Burton, the wedding planner for London's Tower Bridge, has an almost endless list of services he can arrange including "catering, crockery, cutlery, glassware, lighting, flooring, DJ's, balloons - if they want balloons - florists, if they want florists, wedding dresses.

"I've been on shopping trips with brides to choose wedding dresses and shoes, and tiaras… I can dress the room," he says.

And it doesn't stop there. "Yyou're a shoulder to cry on when they've put on a few pounds and they can't fit in the dress that we've chosen and you can just help them with the right diet plan."

Expensive? Unnecessary? Perhaps. But, for the thousands who work in the disparate wedding sector, it's simply good business.


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