feature story

Contracts 101: Keeping your Bridal Customers Faithful

How to create a wedding contract that will protect your shop as well as your clients.

by Chris Gigley

Carla Emert realized she needed a bridal contract for her flower shop when brides began asking for one. Frankly, she recalls, they expected it.

“Every other vendor involved with weddings has a contract for brides to sign—the food-service people, facilities managers, event planners,” says Mrs. Emert, who owns Troy Flower Shop in Troy, Mo., with her husband, Steve. “Florists are among the few groups who don’t always have a contract to fill out.”

Mrs. Emert says she created a wedding contract about eight years ago, and the perception of her shop changed when she did. “The brides are thankful to know they’re getting a contract,” she explains. “They see it as something of value. The wedding contract also has helped our shop project a more professional image.”

how to go about it
Troy Flower Shop has never had a problem with weddings nor does it do high-risk, expensive weddings. Even so, Mrs. Emert says developing a wedding contract was one of the best moves she has made, and it wasn’t difficult to do.

“We took a template given to us by my son-in-law, who works in the insurance business, and customized it to fit our business,” she says. “Then we ran it by our attorney to make sure everything was correct.”

A bridal contract is also a relatively low-maintenance document. Mrs. Emert says her contract hasn’t changed much. She added new language when the shop started renting out related wedding equipment, but that’s it.

Of course, florists can always hire an attorney to draft a wedding contract for their businesses, which is the option with which larger florists and those who do large events might be most comfortable. Other options include consulting with other florists who have contracts; collectively hiring an attorney as a group, such as a florist association; and downloading basic contracts off the Internet.
 
  contracts online
 
Check out these sites as well as your favorite Internet search engine for more
information about creating contracts:

www.allbusiness.com/legal/1531-1.html
www.allbusiness.com/forms/forms_index.asp
www.businessnation.com/library/forms
www.businesstown.com/legal/contracts-overview.asp
www.findlaw.com
www.legaldocs.com
http://business-law.freeadvice.com
http://smallbusiness.findlaw.com/business-forms-contracts

 


what a contract should address
Your wedding contract should include these basic elements:

• Client information. This information should be as comprehensive as possible, including the client’s full name, address and contact information plus an alternate contact such as the fiancé (groom) or wedding planner. Also include the locations, dates and times of the ceremony and reception as well as any other related events, such as a rehearsal dinner, that you are handling. You might consider preparing separate contracts for each event, particularly if they are on different days.

• Vendor information. Remember, such contracts benefit both parties, so be as comprehensive here as you are with the client information. Include your business name and address as well as contact information for the client’s main wedding coordinator at your shop—the person (or people) in charge of handling each ceremony and reception—including cell-phone numbers for the day of the event.

• Products and services. Outline the type and description of the products and services you offer, including as many details as possible. Read between the lines, and don’t assume anything. Include the date and time the client can expect delivery of your products and services. And be sure to add a stipulation that if the client needs to make changes or acquire additional services after the original contract is signed, an addendum must be signed by all parties.

• Payment information. List a schedule of payments, including deposit and final payment dates and amounts as well as acceptable forms of payment. Also, spell out any overtime charges, cancellation charges and your refund policy. This is particularly important to protect your business in the event of unforeseen circumstances, and you can always forgo these stated policies if you choose, depending on the situation, which can make you a hero in the client’s mind and generate lots of positive word of mouth for your business.

You might recall the situation that happened to Christopher Davidson of Christopher’s Tuxedo & Bridal in Gainesville, Ga., who was the florist for 2005’s infamous “runaway bride,” Jennifer Wilbanks. As we reported in our September 2005 article, “What About the Flowers?” (Page 85), Mr. Davidson requires deposits that cover the estimated cost of the flowers and supplies he orders for weddings and events; however, in this case, Mr. Davidson’s wholesaler, Craig Belden of Reeves Floral Products, also in Gainesville, was able to sell all of the flowers that were ordered for that wedding during the following week, so the expense to Mr. Davidson was minimized.

• Rental items. If you rent out candelabra, archways, centerpiece props or other related equipment, specify the quantities and descriptions of such equipment, the exact time and date the client will receive the items, how and when the client needs to return them (or when you will pick them up), and whether the client will receive a deposit refund if the items are returned in proper condition. If you do require a deposit and offer a refund, indicate how and when it will be issued.

• Setup. Write into the contract the dates and times both the client and you will have access to the ceremony and reception venues, when you can deliver any rental items, when you will arrive to set up for the event and when setup for each event will be complete. Be sure to do site inspections of the venues ahead of time so you will be familiar with them, including unloading areas.

a lesson learned
“A contract basically clarifies everything for both the client and the shop,” assures Mrs. Emert. “It lays out everything for the bride so there are no surprises when the big day comes.”

In a perfect world, that would always be true. But surprises do occur, especially with emotionally charged events like weddings, and a solid bridal contract should neutralize any potential problems that could arise. Ian Prosser, aifd, aaf, learned that even the smallest detail in a contract can make a difference.

Mr. Prosser owns Tampa, Fla.-based Botanica International, which handles about 150 weddings a year, most of which range between $8,000 and $10,000. But occasionally he’ll have a much bigger wedding job, and it was one of those in 2005 that caused him to revamp his bridal contract.

“It was a wedding with flowers that totaled $102,000,” recalls Mr. Prosser. “In our contract, we requested a $10,000 nonrefundable deposit, which we received. A month before the wedding, we required another $20,000, but the contract didn’t specify that it was nonrefundable. Three days after the client made that payment, the wedding was called off.”

Legal wrangling ensued for several months, before the client’s credit-card company finally gave her back the $20,000. “They had no regard for the fact that I’d spent 87 hours working on the wedding and the other expenses I incurred,” Mr. Prosser says. “Just the hours I’d put in totaled about $8,700. I also had incurred expenses for airline flights and hotels to go to a gift market as well as all the deposits I’d paid for materials. I probably lost another $8,000 there.”

Following that experience, Mr. Prosser immediately had an attorney revise his wedding contract. “You need to lay out a payment plan, and make the client start making payments further in advance if the wedding is in excess of $40,000,” he advises. Mr. Prosser requires three payments from clients who don’t pay the entire bill up front. “We now require the second installment three months in advance, instead of one, because couples don’t normally get cold feet that far out.”

Mr. Prosser says he hasn’t had any problems since. Like Mrs. Emert, he says brides have been conditioned by other vendors and expect to have to sign a contract. As long as all the legal language is solid, enforcing a wedding contract is easy, and having one can save your business from a possible financial disaster.

Chris Gigley is an author, speaker and freelance writer. He resides in Greensboro, N.C. You may contact him at cgigley@yahoo.com.
 

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