Courtesy of the relationship and romance experts at PYMNTS, here is one of the few obvious statements that still manages to convey deep and eternal wisdom: Weddings are not for the fainthearted. Unless you like the task of finding, paying and keeping track of multiple vendors — unless you like all those sleepless nights and those quickly depleted bank accounts — the process of planning a nuptial celebration can feel like a slow-moving nervous breakdown. No doubt that has held true since even prehistoric times.
We don’t mean to get all cynical about weddings, and acknowledge that even the painful planning processes tend to produce memorable and loving family events. The point is that when it comes to wedding planning — especially those put together by millennials, who are finally coming into their own as important consumers — there is always a better way to go about things.
In the latest edition of the PYMNTS Matchmakers interview series, Sam McElhinney, co-founder and CEO at Mayflower Venues, discussed with Karen Webster about how a digital, marketplace approach can smooth the planning process — and even help spark economic activity for rural areas.
An Idea is Born
McElhinney, a Google alum, began to form the Mayflower concept while a grad student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management — nothing says lifelong romance like a few terms at an elite business school. Dumb jokes aside, the student population largely consisted of men and women in their late 20s and early 30s, people who, if not on the verge of getting married (or married already), were probably thinking about the prospect.
As well, these were people who wouldn’t be satisfied with traditional, even banal weddings that seemed to come out of a box. As McElhinney told, these younger consumers — reflecting larger consumer trends — wanted weddings that not only expressed their individuality, but took place at venues different from those used by their parents and grandparents.
“I heard so much about the challenges of wanting to have a wedding that would represent them,” McElhinney told Webster. “On their wedding day, they really wanted to make it feel like it was theirs.”
At the same time, there was this general movement — sparked in large part by younger spouses-to-be — to find venues a bit more creative than the traditional banquet hall. Indeed, owners of farms, orchards, summer camps and other rural locations were already making their own efforts to land wedding business. But as McElhinney told it, many of them quickly gave up after dealing with the anxieties and frustrations of insurance issues and the complexities of marketing, scheduling and logistics. “It’s not like we created the trend,” he said.
So about two years ago, McElhinney and colleagues started scouting and signing up venues most of whom had, he said, already dabbled in weddings. The use of GPS and other technology enables Mayflower to accurately map out venues so that clients and vendors would have a hyper-accurate sense of space possibilities and limitations — so many married couples (including McElhinney and his wife) can still recall the minor nightmare of having to do such work with manual tape measures.
The vending part was almost important — the idea was to have couples choose vendors digitally, and without making dozens of phone calls. At the beginning, that was a relatively laborious process, but as more vendors were added to the Mayflower system — and as it becomes more clear, with each wedding, how specific vendors fit with specific venues, that work becomes more efficient, he said.
Payments, too, is a standard guest at pretty much every wedding. Traditionally, couples would put down half of the venue cost right away, and then the other half about six months out, McElhinney told Webster. That reduced the case left over for vendors, and could present a risk were that venue to be sold or close before the wedding. The Mayflower solution? Payments are spread out and kept in escrow until the wedding day. Not only does that allow more flexibility and security, he said, but it reflects the fact that millennials, as a group, are carrying significant debt and might have cash flow problems.
As far that money, a large part is going to rural venues, and McElhinney sells that as a positive. “All this new revenue is going from the cities where most millennials live to the countryside,” he said.
So far, the company is working with some 150 venues, and more are to come, as well as, eventually, geographic expansion. “There’s a huge value to going deep before we go broad,” he said.
Digital technology and different payment processes cannot guarantee that some drunken relative or incompetent vendor won’t ruin a wedding. But such tech can certainly increase the chances of a fun, problem-free party.