How to be added to venues’ preferred vendor lists
Today I’ll share some tips on how to be added to preferred vendor lists at venues in your city or the geographical area that you serve (in case of destination weddings, for instance).
This is certainly something that we all want to happen because being on a venue list helps us get exposure, referrals and, as a result, get business with limited or no financial investment.
Imagine this: a couple gets engaged, they select a date for the wedding and they start looking for a venue. When they visit potential locations one of the most common questions they ask is: “Can you recommend any vendors?” That’s when the venue manager shares their preferred vendor list and adds her / his personal recommendations. The couple starts contacting those vendors; they probably have never been in this situation before (meaning, planning a wedding) and, with the saturated market in the wedding industry, brides and grooms can easily get overwhelmed by the infinite choices. That’s why couples rely on these lists and the venue contact guarantees they’re reliable and professional. Basically, the venue has done the job for them which is a preliminary pre-screening.
Many new planners and vendors think it just takes a call or a visit to connect with venues and you’re in. Well, it’s not that easy. I discuss this often with my coaching clients: venues are not willing to add you to their list if they don’t know you because their reputation is at stake. For this reason, you have to follow certain steps in order to win their trust and generate a winning partnership.
The venue representative (whether you’re talking with the catering manager or the sales manager, or the event coordinator, or their wedding specialist, or maybe the venue owner) must know you, not only by name or by your company name, but also as a person. In addition, you should have worked at the venue at least once or maybe a few times before they will be willing to consider you as a wedding partner.
DO NOT contact the venue representative out of the blue with an impersonal email asking to be added to their list. This doesn’t happen to venues only, I receive emails like this all the times from vendors who want me to consider them for my clients. Example: “I just started planning weddings in town and I absolutely love your venue! Here’s the link to my website, I hope you will add me to your list of vendors. I will do an excellent job in taking care of your couples!” Do you think a venue will connect with you when they receive this? Not really. That type of contact won’t cut it.
Here are some tips that you should consider before you reach out to a venue.
1. Go above and beyond and do the following:
A. Call them (or e-mail them but a phone call is more personal) to introduce yourself and schedule a meeting for a tour of the venue. Show interest in the location for your clients, you want to start recommending the venue to your own clients. You want to meet in person and get to know each other
B. Ask a lot of questions during the tour if you are a planner. This shows you’re knowledgeable, experienced, and professional because you want to cover all the bases when it comes to planning. Questions may include things like knowing where their loading dock is, restrooms, parking options, etc. The venue representative will feel you will make her / his life easier at the event because you’re in control of everything and this will definitely help you get on their list
C. Follow up with the venue right after the tour thanking them for the time. A handwritten card works great but you can also follow up via e-mail; that way, they can save your information in their contact list. If there was a good connection the venue representative might ask for information about your services. Your follow-up e-mail can be a good way to send them a link to your website and maybe your pricing information if you have any, or maybe a description of your services, or pictures of your products. Some venues ask for references with contact information, make sure you provide them in the follow-up as well.
DO NOT stalk the venue representative with e-mails and phone calls trying to get on that list! It will only damage your reputation and brand. You have to be patient and build that relationship over time
2. Organize one or more events at the property
This doesn’t have to be a wedding, maybe you don’t have a client for this yet however, you can plan a get together for wedding professionals in your area. A colleague of mine started working with a venue in town many years ago because she was organizing monthly meetings there for her husband who owns a mortgage company. If you belong to a local chamber of commerce, suggest that property as the hosting venue for the next meeting. Show the venue that you want to do business with them and start a relationship.
DO NOT try to plan those meetings for free where the venue has to sponsor!
By organizing events at the location you will show the representative how you work under pressure, how you work with the client. It is very important that you provide a smooth experience for the venue and the client – communications are critical for events. Venues look for allies at events and weddings and this is the perfect opportunity to show that you’re good at it.
A couple of years ago I had to deal with a forced change of location at an upscale hotel where the bride had set her heart on a beautiful pepper tree as the backdrop for her ceremony. Unfortunately, the pepper tree died about a month before the ceremony and some of its branches had to be cut. Needless to say, it lost the charm that the bride remembered. When we did the final walk-through at the site she saw the dying tree and started crying. I took her to a nearby lawn with a beautiful rose garden and I suggested that we move the ceremony over there. She hugged and told me “Actually, I like this setting even better! Thank you!” The Director of Catering was there and he really appreciated my efforts in making things easier for everybody in the team.
~ Tip ~
Treat the venue staff with respect at the event! Only because your contact might not be at the event, that doesn’t mean you can be mean and disrespectful with the banquet staff or the day-of manager. You will score big by being flexible and offering your help to solve any problem or unexpected last-minute changes on site. It’s all about teamwork! These people will send a report to your venue contact at the end of the event and that will have a big influence on the decision to add you (or not) to their list.
Another thing to keep in mind is, never complain to your client about the venue even if they didn’t do things right. This comes from a personal experience a few years ago at a beautiful resort in San Diego. The couple sent a long list of complaints to the venue after the wedding asking for a refund and I found myself in the middle trying to mediate. The couple was exaggerating on some complaints and I felt in a very awkward situation: support the couple (my client) or the venue? It was a very tough choice and, at the end I decided to support the venue and try to explain to the client that their complaints were unfortunately caused by a series of misunderstandings and circumstances. Why did I decide to side with the venue? Because it’s a wonderful venue, it serves my target market, I’ve been on their list for a long time, and I work with them often. Would you give up on that precious relationship?
Don’t forget to thank your venue contact at the end of the event. I usually send a handwritten thank you card to express my gratitude in working together and for making the event a success. Also, every year I stop by at the properties with goodies (the holiday season is always a good excuse), and they’re always appreciated!
3. Put together a dream team and work on a styled photo shoot
This has multiple benefits:
A. It shows your design capabilities and creativity
B. It shows leadership by selecting the right vendors and coordinating with them (we go back to the concept of teamwork)
C. It gives everyone involved with the shoot (you, the venue, and the vendors) great materials for your marketing (pictures from the shoot, or maybe a video) and that means exposure in the industry (blogs, magazines, social media, TV, etc.)
~ Tip ~
If you are a photographer, offer to create a photo album for them. Schedule a time where you can go to the venue and take pictures of their meeting space, their ballroom, their courtyard, their ceremony site. After that, you will hand deliver a beautiful photo album with your name and logo (for free, of course – that should be an investment) that the venue representative can display in the meeting office. Think about it: every couple sitting down with the venue contact will see your album, your name, and your logo. It’s an excellent exposure!
As an alternative, if you have done a wedding at the venue offer to print some of the images on large canvas that can be displayed in their meeting office. Again, add your name and logo to the prints and you’re being seen by many clients visiting the venue every day. Whether or not you’re on their list, this is great exposure!
Another thing that you can ask the venue representative if you have a wedding there is to find out whether they need special shots for their website or brochure or wedding kit. Right after the wedding, send them a few shots with your watermark that they can use on social media (and ask them to be credited with your name and website link).
Last year I did a wedding with a wonderful photographer, pretty new in the industry but very talented. I introduced him to the venue manager and the photographer (very smart guy!) asked her “What can I do today for you? Is there an area at the property that needs new shots?” And she said “Well, actually we’re changing our menus for the new season and we’d like to send out an email blast to our mailing list but we don’t have images yet. By the way, the new menu is being served at the reception tonight.” The photographer took several images of the dishes being served at the reception and they turned out amazing: we had specialty linens with sequins, specialty napkins, lots of florals and beautiful ambiance an the guest tables thanks to candlelight. What do you think happened after that? The photographer was added to the venue list in two weeks – without him even asking for it!
4. Volunteer at the venue’s events, open houses, etc.
You can offer your design skills for the décor or maybe be in charge of one aspect of the event (registration or volunteers, for instance). That will help you deepen the relationship and get closer to that preferred vendor list.
How many venues should you contact?
Technically, you can contact as many as you want however, always make sure they are a good fit for your brand and your type of client. You don’t want to ask every venue in town just because, do your research and select the four to six that best represent your brand. Are you going after the luxury market? Identify the most prestigious and exclusive ones. Are you into rustic, outdoor celebrations? Target farms, barns, and other similar locations. Remember that you also have to keep in touch with these venues: if you are on eight lists or more it will take you quite a while to engage in authentic relationships on a regular basis – you might simply not have the time to dedicate to all of them. I would suggest, select a few but give them undivided attention.
If you are providing a photo album as I mentioned earlier, that might be a big investment if you select eight venues or more. But if you only select three venues the investment becomes reasonable, especially if you’re just starting out in the industry.
On the other hand, being on multiple preferred vendor lists amplifies your exposure. Wedding couples usually take a look at three-five potential locations for their celebration and they will schedule a tour with a meeting at each venue. What happens is, the wedding couple will read your name on multiple venue lists, they will hear your name mentioned by the venue representative, and will see your photo album or pictures in different places. That will increase your authority and they will be more willing to get in touch with you.
So, find a balance when it comes to selecting the venues of your choice.
There is a possibility that the venue has a limited number of vendors per category (three or four, for instance) and they’re not planning to change or update the list for another year. If that’s the case, stay in touch with the venue and follow up with them on a regular basis (every quarter or so if you don’t work with them often). Not only in person, via email or by phone: find them on social media and engage with them on the platforms they use. Also, try to meet them and mingle with them at industry events. Invite them for coffee or lunch at a new, trendy restaurant (“Hey, there’s a new place in town, would you like to try it with me?”) It is imperative that you attend networking meetings, open houses, and association meetings regularly. You have to be out there. Venues will notice and they will realize you’re a true professional interested in these relationships and wanting to learn from other professionals. Remember, it’s always all about building personal relationships!
~ Rant ~
Have you ever been invited by a local venue to be added to their list for a fee? I find this very deceiving because, as with wedding shows, a vendor can just pay and he’s in, regardless of their experience of professionalism. This is completely unacceptable to me! Brides and grooms are exposed to these vendors without realizing they might not be the right choice. I was asked several times about that and I always refused for the same reason: I don’t want to be associated with vendors who might not be the right fit at that venue. And, it’s not an honor to be on that list because it shows the mutual relationship, it’s just paid advertising. Brides and grooms think they can rely 100% on these lists but they don’t know it’s, again, just paid advertising…
This is so wrong because it leaves out talented, experienced and knowledgeable professionals who either don’t believe in advertising (like me) or they already reached their marketing budget for the year and, even if they’re the perfect fit for that venue, cannot be represented and / or promoted.
Some other venues require that you give them a commission (or kickback) when they refer you to a client, and that’s also something that I won’t accept.
In my opinion, a venue list should be an organic list of professionals who have created strong relationships with the venue, are familiar with it and they worked together for a long time (in the case of caterers, for instance, they know how to handle the kitchen, they know about trash, they know about the restrictions, etc. – If they’re a photographer or videographer and they work at churches, they know about distance from the altar, restrictions for flash photography, etc.)
So, inform your brides and grooms about paid vendor lists or vendor lists with commissions and offer to review those lists so that you can help them identify who’s a good vendor and who’s not the right fit. I only recommend the right vendors to my couples based on their needs, budget and vision. There is no commission involved. It’s an honest and transparent recommendation because I want my wedding clients to get the best service at the best value. I’m on eight vendor lists and they’re all non paid.
OK, you’re in… Now what?
Now comes the hard part… And you thought it was hard to get in, huh? It’s the hard part because at this point you have to show that you are indeed the best fit and they did the right thing to add you to their list.
Being on the list doesn’t guarantee you will be recommended every time. Catering and venue people have their favorite professionals for several reasons and you have to be in their memory all the time.
You have to become their advocate, their ambassador, their promoter, bring business to the venue as much as you can. Always make sure that you stay in touch with your contact at the venue, you don’t want them to forget about you. A good excuse is to send them updates about your business (a new award, a new styled shoot, new pricing packages, etc.)
Who do you think they will recommend to their clients when they ask for a planner or a photographer or a DJ if they have just spoken with you on the phone, or they received a nice card in the mail wishing “Happy Spring”? Yes, they will recommend you!
Another thing to keep in mind: People move, they come and go. You might hear that one of your dear contacts at a particular venue left, and a new person will step into that position. This happens all the times! You will always need to re-introduce yourself when there’s a new representative. This can be a bad thing but also a good thing. Every time there’s a new manager you will need to re-introduce yourself and work on a new relationship however, you can follow the manager who left that property to the new location and you will have easy access there thanks to her / him. That happened to me many times without even investing time!
~~~ TAKE ACTION ~~~ Do your research and identify a few locations that match your brand. Contact their representative and start an authentic relationship BEFORE asking to be added to their list
~~~ LEAVE A COMMENT ~~~ Are you on any preferred vendor lists? What strategy did you implement to be added?
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Holistic Precision Life Coach, Brain Wellness Coach, and Life-Work Balance Strategist for busy professionals. I blend well-being principles with epigenetics, neuroscience, positive psychology, and mindfulness techniques to implement effective behavior changes.