Many years ago I was on an event when the owner of the estate approached me with a marketing idea. Her great idea included me paying her a percentage each time she referred my business in the future. I remember standing in the wedding hall with a bucket of flowers in my arms and my mouth just fell open.  She said something like "You are not going to cry are you?" I looked at her with all honesty and said, "No, I am not going to cry, but I am also not going to pay you for recommending me." This was a huge insult. I had always brought incredible flowers and had constant rave reviews from the brides. I had also really helped to grow their business, and I had provided flowers for several bridal shows, community events, and I also frequently offered advice and expertise and introduced them to many people in the wedding community.

This was years ago, and I am happy to say although many people did fall prey to this scheme, I was not one of them. All of these years later this story still gets me really riled up. Wedding vendors have many ways that we can support each others' businesses without actually taking financial kick backs. Her idea was this: I simply would just increase my prices and then pass that increase on to the clients. That works out great if you don't mind shafting the brides. Brides at this venue ended up actually paying 10-30 percent more for their caterers, florists, cake bakers and photographers than if the same vendors were used at a different venue. That was a pretty steep increase for the bride and her family to pay. The greed in this situation was appalling to me.

This situation is not to be confused with pure preferred vendor lists. Most venues have these, and they are extremely helpful. The clue in this situation was the clients were actually charged a fee if they went off of the preferred vendor list. This way the venue owner got the extra money either way. I do know of one instance where this is appropriate: several catering firms or hotels work exclusively with certain cake bakers. The idea behind this is that a poor cake is a reflection on the caterer, and if a bad cake is at an event, the caterers are blamed, which could ultimately hurt the caterer's reputation. This makes sense to me, and it offers exclusivity to the baker.

I want to also be very forthcoming with another type of advertising which I periodically do partake in. Large publishing companies offer beautiful glossy brochures to the venues; these brochures are funded by ads that the preferred vendors purchase. The concept makes sense in that it is an ad that the vendors are purchasing rather than actually paying the venue a cash kick back. I like this from the perspective that we the vendors are helping with the marketing. A venue with integrity only asks the true preferred vendors to advertise and does not allow just anyone requesting an ad to have one. The one venue I do advertise with is so solid that they would not let another fellow vendor or friend of mine advertise with them even with my referral because they did not have a history of excellence in working with that vendor. To me, that validated their list, and I was honored to be a part of their advertising campaign. I do know of several venues though that use this type of brochure, and they will let anyone who is willing to buy an ad into the brochure. Because of this, I am still trying to ascertain if I like the brochure concept or not.

Vendors can also purchase badges with magazines like Grace Ormonde and/or blogs like "Style Me Pretty." I advertise with both of these mediums. These badges can look like awards, but it is important that you realize these are paid for honors. Vendors who wear these badges are very heavily screened and validated as true quality vendors. This opportunity is by invitation only, so I consider it to be very valid, and I am very proud to be considered a partner with these industry leaders.

The wedding industry is an interesting world: it is loaded with people who love working together and who commonly recommend each other. In truth, having a team of people that love each other and are happy to be together is hands down the best kind of wedding team. What you do not want is a team of vendors that have all paid to be a vendor at your wedding. Your vendors should be chosen because you have a strong connection with them and because you have remarkable referrals that have directed you to them. There are some vendors I love so much, I am sure I sound like I am getting a kick back–but that love is genuine, so I will totally continue to do that. The truth though is there is a underlining world of referrals, kickbacks and pay to play advertising that is really hard to figure out. I find it not only hard for the brides to understand, often I find it really hard to figure out as a vendor. Things have changed considerably since I started my business 17 years ago.  What I am certain of is a referral from a colleague or a past client is the strongest form of a recommendation.

I want to be referred and recommended because I do a fabulous job and because I respect the estates, hotels and restaurants. I want to be referred because I provide awesome flowers and clever designs. I want to be referred because I spread a positive light through an event. There are lots of preferred vendor lists, and if my name is on them, you can bet that it is because they love me, Holly Heider Chapple, and my flowers. The same holds true to all of the fabulous wedding coordinators I work with: not one of them has ever asked me for a percentage. To each of those people, thank you for your integrity and your friendship.



  • Lisa Green Says: (01.25.2010 | 09:06)

    Such an insightful post on a topic that most people aren’t willing to truly speak honestly about. Gone are the times where giving or receiving a financial kickback is the norm – people are now recommending other vendors based on skill and quality – a practice that I can firmly get behind!

  • AmyJean @RelentlessBride Says: (01.25.2010 | 09:43)

    This is so informative and good to know as a bride. I think that full disclosure can only add credibility to anything a vendor does. And just b/c something is paid/bartered for – doesn’t make the post or recommendation any less sincere – but when its not disclosed from the beginning, personally for me, i feel a little lied to. So i love that you put it all out there and tell it how it is for your business and for you. and you do an amazing job… i think your work does speak for itself, and your passion for what you do is obvious! 🙂

  • Kara Buntin Says: (01.25.2010 | 09:54)

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been thinking about writing something like this on my blog, but I’m just going to link to yours instead! Brides need to know that there are vendors who work entirely on kickbacks out there. Referrals from other brides are the best way to go.

  • OFD Consulting Says: (01.25.2010 | 10:37)

    I couldn’t agree with you more- what a great post. I’m do disappointed in vendors willing to give/accept kickbacks. If anything, you build mutually beneficial relationships with other vendors so 1) you become more of a resource for your brides and 2) you can be confident on a wedding that that you will not have to worry about putting out fires, so to speak, because other vendors are nto doing their jobs.

  • Evan Reitmeyer - MyDeejay Says: (01.25.2010 | 12:19)

    Great post, Holly! More people need to speak up against kickbacks, because they’re bad for our industry and bad for couples. We’re no longer advertising in any of the reception site books either, so many sites are doing them now that we’d have to triple our prices just to keep up. Thanks for writing this!

  • Holly Chapple Says: (01.25.2010 | 06:56)

    I am so glad to have everyones feedback. Writing this post was a little tricky and I will admit I was worried about how it would be received.

  • Melissa Guzman Says: (01.25.2010 | 08:04)

    Thank you for writing this Holly. It is a dirty little secret that mostly goes unmentioned. Unfortunately there are vendors who do “pay to play” and think they benefit somehow. They don’t. We don’t work with those who require us to pay.

  • Samantha Says: (01.26.2010 | 06:58)

    Hi Holly- I love, love, love your new logo!

  • Lisa Schneider Says: (01.26.2010 | 09:42)

    SO WELL SAID!!!!I wish more DC-area vendors felt this way. Will definitely be linking to this post in my Friday FAVORITES.

  • julianne smith Says: (01.26.2010 | 02:48)

    this is so great, thank you for putting out there and for explaining what all of this is really about. thank you!

  • Paige Dunson Says: (02.08.2010 | 03:09)

    Kickbacks are rampant among venues,florists, caterers, event/wedding planners & wedding photograhers. It’s a sleazy little world where they also promote each other on their blogs to the point of it being nauseating. If a floral designer doesn’t play the game, they won’t get referred, which results in no jobs. What I find to be extremely frustrating is the fact that NO ONE will expose the names of the venues & vendors who demand the kickbacks. Names are never mentioned. If there are floral designers out there who don’t subscribe to this highly unethical practice, then start naming vendors who demand kickback fees (coveniently called referral fees or commissions). And the preferred vendor list is the preferred kickback list.
    I was hired by the in-house event planner at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ and was told by him to “pad” the invoice 10%. I never worked for him again. Before he worked for Grounds for Sculpture, he worked for the Nassau Inn in Princeton, NJ, which is famous for playing games with vendors. But venues and other vendors get away with it, because nobody will name names. For the floral designers and other vendors who don’t participate in this unethical practice, starting naming names just as I did. What are you afraid of?

  • RamonGustav Says: (08.24.2010 | 04:42)

    Hi I liked your note, add your site to your bookmarks.

  • school_dubl Says: (12.28.2010 | 10:14)

    Hi Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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