Preferred Supplier Lists

Collating an on-brand, reputable and profitable supplier list for an all round win

When running an outdoor venue, you may not have the facilities that your local hotel wedding venue does – you know, the basics, like toilets or a kitchen! That means that either you or your couples are buying these facilities in from outside suppliers.

Some of these suppliers can have a real impact on your estate; marquees means large vans/lorries driving over the ground, not to mention grass yellowing while each structure is up. Caterers also bring vans and lots of staff who need to park, and they work with heat of course so accidents can happen! The best way to avoid too much ‘rough and tumble’ on your land is simply to limit the number of different companies coming in and instead work with just a few who you know and trust, and who respect your site. These suppliers will form your ‘Preferred Suppliers List’ (PSL). But how on earth do you go about putting this list together?

Event table layout
Pic: Getty Images
Step 1: Think business

Before you even begin to research suppliers, think carefully about what sort of business relationship you want with them. In a nutshell, you will allow them to work on site and in fact ‘sell’ them to your own clients as well as undertaking your share of cross marketing. In return, they should undertake their share of cross marketing and pay you a commission for each successful referral.

For a small business simply renting out a field or two for events, this commission model is a key part of your annual income. Ideally, you want the ‘Big 3’ who will have the most impact on your site (marquees, caterers, production companies) to pay you a commission of 10-15% per successful referral. Clients will have to choose from your PSL for these services because these are the ones you really need to trust on site. For other supplier categories (photographers, florists etc.), be more flexible and allow clients to bring in whoever they choose – you just happen to be providing a resource list of great local suppliers who offer goods and services in line with your client’s needs. We’d like around 8% commission from these suppliers please!

Step 2: Think geography

You might think that your venue deserves the absolute best in the business when it comes to wedding offerings, but that simply might not be practical. What happens if the top marquee company or caterer or lighting team happens to be based 200 miles away? Yes, they might be willing to travel if the money was right, but how many of your clients are realistically going to be happy to pay top dollar plus transport costs? Instead, think a little more locally. Start by making a list of all the relevant vendors within each category who fall within a sensible travel distance – say up to 50 miles to start with, going wider if you are super rural and need to.

Step 3: Think budgets

Last month Open Air Business featured an article on the importance of working out your clients’ likely spend on their wedding as a whole. If you take those figures and plug them into any one of the many wedding budget calculator tools the web has to offer, you can get a good idea of how that money gets allocated to the various suppliers a couple might look for (do try out a couple of different budget calculators though to check for accuracy). From the master list you made in Step 1, cross out all the suppliers whose costs fall way above, or below, the figures you have for each category.

Step 4: Think brand

You must know by now how obsessed I am with branding! To build a strong reputation you need to be putting out a consistent message. What is the point in trying to position yourself as a fun, quirky, festival-type wedding location if all you put forward to clients is very standard or very traditional suppliers? Cross out any companies who just don’t fit your brand and/or won’t appeal to your target market (remember that old chestnut!). You might find at this stage that you need to introduce a few select companies from slightly further afield in order to find sufficient brand-appropriate offerings.

Step 5: Think marketing

If you still need to narrow the field, focus your energies on companies with really strong marketing! Whether that is ‘word of mouth’ marketing because the company is a key part of local society, or whether that means a fantastic online content marketing strategy. You are building a large, mutually beneficial network here so you and your suppliers need to be able to ‘piggy back’ off each others marketing efforts.

Step 6: Think networking

Now you’ve discovered a fair number of potential suppliers, reach out to those who fit the bill and introduce yourself. Tell them about you, your business and your venue. Explain what you are proposing in terms of a business relationship (more on that below) and set up meetings with those who are interested. Invite them to meet with you on site before stopping off at a local eatery for a nice coffee and chat. Not only is this great local networking in general but it allows you to get a feel for which suppliers are on your wavelength. You want reliable suppliers who work the way you do.

Step 7: Think legalities

For the love of all that is holy, contract your PSL relationships! The number of venues I know who have fallen out with suppliers because expectations and responsibilities weren’t laid down on paper is amazing!

The goal here is to end up with a list of suppliers you genuinely like and trust. You want enough suppliers in each category so your clients have some variety to choose from, but not so many that it all becomes too difficult to manage. I would suggest up to six marquee companies, caterers and production companies, covering a range of styles, service levels and pricing within your target market’s needs. Three suppliers of other types should be sufficient.

When it comes down to it, it is essential you always have your clients’ interests at heart and that you choose suppliers whose prices match well with their budget since these suppliers are very much an extension of the service you offer.


ISABEL-SMITHAbout the Author
Isabel Smith has 10 years in the wedding industry behind her as one of the UK’s top wedding planners and business consultants to venues and other suppliers. Isabel’s expertise spans marketing, sales and operations as she helps new vendors launch as well as assisting established businesses should they find their sales fallings. www.isabelsmithconsulting.co.uk / www.isabelsmithweddings.co.uk

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