Sunday Series - Part One: YWbL
The COVID19 pandemic is, without a doubt affecting every person on the planet right now. As a wedding photographer, I can’t help but think about all of the other incredible vendors I am privileged to work with each season, and wonder how it’s affected their businesses. Enter the “Sunday Series.” I have created this blog series in hopes of allowing people to share their stories and to talk about how the pandemic has changed their outlook on how they run their business.
Part One of this series starts with Lauren Schaefer of Your Wedding By Lauren (YWbL)
In 2015, Lauren coordinated a friend’s wedding. The venue asked if she had a website, and the rest is history.
With 11 years of industry experience and at last count, over 2,000 events completed ranging from private dinners, concerts, conferences, academic lectures, funerals, graduation ceremonies, red carpet galas, and of course, weddings, Lauren is the Month-Of Coordinating force behind the “by Lauren.”
She is coordinating weddings in both Nashville (where she currently resides) and New York (where she lived for eight years and owed lots of Frequent Flyer miles to), Lauren has seen and done just about everything when it comes to weddings.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
Hey! I’m Lauren. I’m originally from Knoxville, Tennessee. I went to college at Indiana University and then moved up to New York. I spent eight years in the events industry in New York working at Columbia University and the New York City Ballet before launching my own wedding business! Now I live in Nashville (or as I put it, my bed is in Nashville) and I travel between Nashville, New York, and Chicago coordinating weddings.
Your Wedding by Lauren (YWbL) stemmed from my being too frugal to buy my friends’ wedding gifts, instead of donating my time to help them coordinate their weddings. From there, it began to snowball beyond friends. I quickly realized though that what I loved about weddings was all the “nitty-gritty” stuff; timelines, load-ins, rooms flips. People love to think about the pretty things when planning their weddings, but no one wants to think about end-of-night trash pick up (except me, because I’m a freak.)
That’s how I came to realize that Month-Of Coordination was my sweet spot. I saw there was a need for these services as an affordable alternative to full service planning with more investment than just day-of coordination. After launching the business as a part-time side hustle in 2015, it quickly grew just beyond myself, incorporating the YWbL Managers so YWbL can be at more than one wedding on one day. I became the behind the scenes leader of the business and my managers led the day-of charge. In 2018, I went full-time with YWbL and seeing a need for month-of services outside of the 5 boroughs (and wanting to bring my business to my home state) YWbL expanded to Nashville.
We now have five managers in New York, four in Nashville and we’ve expanded to the Chicagoland area as well. By the end of 2019, YWbL coordinated 68 weddings and had big, big plans for 2020!
How has the COVID19 pandemic changed your life? How has it changed your business?
It’s been a damn rollercoaster of emotions. 2020 already was off to a rough start for me and YWbL as tornados ripped through Nashville, destroying large swaths of my neighborhood. The storm missed my home by a mile. The town was in mourning over the devastation and lives lost when our first COVID19 case was identified and a week later we were all quarantined.
So with that, COVID19 felt like an extra hard hit emotionally. On the other hand, I was already in fighting mode, ready to protect my clients and business. I immediately went into crisis mode, working at turbo speed to work with my clients both in Nashville and New York, postponing that weekend’s wedding and upcoming weddings. After about two weeks of overtime, once the first waves of postponements were handled and I looked at my calendar and didn’t have any more clients in my current portfolio- that’s when it finally sunk in and I felt the weight of the pandemic: YWbL has had 3 cancellations and 18 postponements (as of right now).
At the time in which I was finally able to recognize the monumental impact this pandemic will/has had on my industry, I found out both my stepmother and father got COVID19. With all of this on my shoulders, I checked out emotionally and stayed checked out for about two weeks.
Luckily, my father and stepmother have both fully recovered and I’ve been able to think (relatively) clearly. Now in the acceptance phase of mourning, I’m realizing how both myself and this business have changed:
- I’ve taken a hold of my finances more than ever before. I’m fighting for my business by registering for every damn grant/loan/thing possible.
- I’ve sucked up my pride more than ever, acknowledging that I am not superhuman and that everyone needs both emotional and financial help sometimes.
- Being a planner, specifically a short-term month-of planner, my MO is getting things done and checking it off the list. But now life, in general, is not fun. I’m missing my favorite part of my job, the part that motivates me. Clients!
- I’m realizing while I am a social butterfly, seeing people on screens hurts my heart sometimes more than not seeing them, and I can only handle so many Zoom calls in one day.
- I’ve learned the joy of to-go alcohol.
- I feel immense amounts of pride for my wedding industry community and my small business community. I feel that we are stronger than ever.
- But most importantly, I’m reminded how much I freakin’ LOVE my job. I love weddings, parties, and sweaty dance floors. You know the phrase, “you don’t know how much you love/miss/appreciate something until it’s gone?” Well, I’m grateful for this time to love, miss, appreciate my job, knowing it is only temporary. We will get sweaty again. It might be different, but it will happen, damnit.
- (Oh- also, not to mention, I’m a single gal and quarantine sucks in a special way for single folks. I’m ready to get my date back on!)
How have you been able to adapt your business to the new “way of life?”
“Pivot” seems to be the word of the year. For the first few weeks, I was really resisting, as YWbL’s place in the industry is so specific. I didn’t want to start doing something that felt unnatural for our brand. But after weeks of postponing weddings, I finally realized we could provide a service to fill a need.
Of our 18 postponements and 3 cancellations, we were unable to send out every email to every vendor for these clients, as not all 21 clients were within our 30-day contract for month-of coordination. It killed me that these couples were having to send these heartbreaking emails on their own and juggle all of the vendor schedules and new contracts – for what should be a celebratory occasion. Therefore, I’ve now launched our “Covid Coordination” package – which brings us on earlier into the process (or works for folks that aren’t our clients at all,) to help navigate the safer-at-home orders, discuss postponement options, find a new date, reschedule vendors, gather new contracts and all the other heartbreaking work that our clients need to be done. It’s not a job that we want to do forever, but we know it’s a lot more manageable for us than our clients.
While this new service doesn’t pay the bills (we don’t want to profit off of a pandemic), it’s provided motivation to get up in the morning, and brought us back what we have missed so dearly, our clients!
Will you start doing business differently, once the pandemic is a distant memory?
I think that the wedding industry as we know it has changed. Our society has changed. Folks will have pandemic PTSD after this time and we can’t discredit that and how those feelings will be brought into large gatherings (like weddings) in the future.
That’s one of the items I’m discussing with my Covid Coordination clients. When there wedding DOES happen, HOW it will happen. It won’t be the exact wedding they planned to have on their original date. It just can’t be with our new society. So how can we make the wedding of your dreams in this new reality?
From now on we will all be thinking about sanitation, closeness, and how many people have touched surfaces. The way that food is served at weddings will change. The trend will be for dance floors to be bigger and guests counts to be smaller. I don’t think I will see a receiving line at any wedding for at least years if ever again. And for a while, the budgets will be tighter.
But just like other wedding evolutions, YWbL will continue to evolve with the industry.
Have you felt your community rally around and support your business or similar businesses?
I’ve never felt closer to the wedding industry than I do right now. More than ever, people are more willing to exchange ideas, trade services, vent, or mourn together. For anyone reading this, that is in this boat – I’m here for you too!
As an entrepreneur, I’ve never been more proud to own my small business. I’m competitive and stubborn. And damn, I am a fighter and I’ve found so many like-minded people in the small business community. We are all fighting together!
YWbL can be found at the following links:
Check out the wedding at the JW Marriott Essex House we worked on together here!
Are you a vendor who would like to contribute to the Sunday Series? Reach out and we will send you our questionnaire!