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5 Things Every Bride & Groom Needs To Know About Preferred Vendors and Vendor Lists

By SLR Lounge Official on April 11th 2016

The title “Preferred Vendor” garners trust for a bride, groom, or event client. When we hear a venue, coordinator or website use the term Preferred Vendor in reference to wedding vendors, we assume that title was earned. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, and it most negatively affects you, the client.

NOTE: To protect the businesses of those who have provided evidence for this article we are publishing it under the SLR Lounge Official channel and have removed all names/emails and identifying information.

If you are a client or wedding vendor who has been affected by such practices, we ask that you share this article via social media.

Here are a few things you may not know about Preferred Vendor lists and the vendor contracts required to be on them.

1. Being a Preferred Vendor is a Pay to Play Game

Many ‘Preferred Vendors’ lists are a pay-to-play game; If you want to be on the list, you are required to pay a fee to the venue/coordinator/website for the privilege. For wedding venues and coordinators, often times the quality of the vendor is a consideration (after the fee is paid); however, for most website directories the quality of work is not a factor.

There are a small number of preferred wedding vendor lists and directories that are genuinely and strictly focused on the quality of work of those included. Our recommendation is, ask the venue/coordinator/website if a fee is required with the vendor application to be considered a preferred vendor. If so, don’t trust the list at face value; Some of the vendors on the list may still be great vendors, but do your research and due diligence.

Fearless Photographers is an example of a photography directory that’s doing things right. Yes, there is a fee required to be added to their directory in order to submit images for collections, but the directory listings themselves are based purely on merit. The more awards you win, the higher you rank on their list of photographers for any specific locale.

Unfortunately, as of right now the majority of directories and preferred vendors listings are not based on merit.

2. Many wedding/event planners require kickbacks

In an ideal world, a wedding/event planner makes your life better while also saving you money. From design to execution, they are supposed to give you the freedom to enjoy your event whilst also raising the overall production value. In addition, vendors such as photographers and cinematographers, who love working with truly great coordinators and planners, offer discounts which help to offset the cost of the planner.

In reality, many wedding/event planners require kickbacks from their preferred vendors. Anywhere between 5% to 20% of the contracted amount is expected to be paid back to the planner as a commission on the referral.

From the client’s perspective, this is a massive conflict of interest. Most high-quality vendors have no need to pay a commission for a referral; they have enough business on their own merit. High-quality vendors that choose to pay the commission will do it in lieu of offering the client a discount, or even charge the referral fee to the client by building it into the package.

In the end, the client loses by either paying a higher price than they normally would have or by simply having to choose from a preferred vendors list compiled of vendors that are doing sub-par work.

Are you in doubt? Here’s an email from a wedding coordinator asking a 10% referral fee from the photographer stating that these other local photographers are also part of their arrangement.

email-preferred-vendor-lists-wedding-photography

Vendors are welcome to reject such agreements but don’t expect referrals.

3. WEDDING VENUES ARE JOINING THE FRAY, THE FACILITY FEE.

To boost revenues, wedding venues are joining the “referral fee” game by soliciting vendors with “Facility Fee” emails and agreements. These emails and agreements are sent to the vendors after the client has independently booked a vendor not on their Preferred Vendor list.

How does a vendor join a venue’s Preferred Vendor list? They pay money and commissions as per the vendor contract of course.

Clients often decide to independently hire their florist, photographer, cinematographer, DJ and so forth because they want to put together their own dream team of vendors based on quality work.

Once hired, venues often go behind the client’s back to require vendors pay a “Facility Fee” to shoot on their property if they are not on the venue’s Preferred Vendor list.

If you think this is absolutely crazy, you are right; it’s absolutely absurd!

But, in case you don’t believe me, here’s a Preferred Vendor contract from a venue requiring that the vendors pay a 5% “facility fee” if clients hire vendors that are not on their “Preferred Vendor List.”

preferred-vendor-fee--vendor-lists-wedding-photography

4. EXCLUSIVE PREFERRED VENDOR AGREEMENTS

As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, we have now caught wind of a new type of agreement, the ‘Exclusive’ Preferred Vendor Agreement.

This agreement requires that any client holding an event on their property is required to hire from their exclusive preferred vendor list. The cost of being part of such a list? 30% of the gross commission!

Want to see such an agreement? Happy to oblige, take a look at this email:

exclusive-preferred-vendor-lists-vendor-contract-agreement

When we saw this email and agreement we did a double take just to ensure that it wasn’t April 1st. Unfortunately, this was actually a serious agreement.

Most wedding vendors operate with a 30% or less profit on total revenue. For example:

100% Revenue
– Subtract Employee Costs (10% – 30%)
– Subtract Costs of Goods Sold (10% – 30%)
– Subtract State/Federal Sales + Income Taxes (25% – 35%)
= On average 30% of Revenue = Profit

Taking a 30% commission off of the top would put most vendors in the red, or at the point of breaking even. No self-respecting quality vendor would ever be a part of such an agreement.

So what does this mean for the client?

1. Quality vendors who accept these terms join the preferred vendor list and build the fee into your (the client’s) service contract.
2. Low quality or inexperienced vendors who are desperate for work will accept the agreement and be listed as a preferred vendor.

In either case, you, the client, end up paying the price either on the front side by paying more for the services you are contracting, or on the back side by having sub-par vendors and service.

5. HOW DO I PROTECT MYSELF?

First, if you are a client or vendor that has been affected by such agreements and vendor contracts, then we ask you to spread the word. Share this article via social media.

For vendors, don’t be a part of such agreements. These agreements are destroying the integrity of the wedding and event industry by eroding vendor ability to make a profit while providing high-quality products and services.

[REWIND: Wedding Workshop One | Communication, Planning, & Happy Clients: Wedding Workshop Part One Trailer]

For clients, before hiring a wedding/event planner, or booking a venue, ask what preferred vendor policies they have, if any. If planners/venues require fees and commissions from vendors, don’t walk, but RUN THE OTHER WAY. Planners/venues should be out to service you, the client, not their own self-interest.

Articles by SLR Lounge Official are created by multiple authors. They represent official announcements by SLR Lounge.

30 Comments

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  1. Jay Emme

    Now this is a great article. I’m incredibly thankful that the preferred supplier lists I’m lucky enough to be on, *currently* do not require any commission. YET. However, I was dismayed that, when I got married, my venue pushed insanely hard for me to choose one of their preferred suppliers. When I chose my own preferred photographer, the venue kicked up a hideous fuss, and made life hell for the photographers. No client should have to go through that on their wedding day.

    I can see why venues etc request commissions and fees…but geeze, you’d think we’d all want to be a little more supportive without the demands.

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  2. Mark Quinn

    Wow! As a photographer who’s trying to establish himself this makes for worrying reading! It’s difficult enough given the amount of competition without this kind of ‘closed shop’ situation.

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      We would imagine you’ll run into similar issues regardless of your job, Mark … No worries. Just stay true to yourself and establish a rep. as a genuine person … Sincerity and passion go a long ways in the photography world.

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  3. Gareth Wignall

    Just to play Devil’s advocate –

    Its a tough one as most photographers are prepared to pay to be featured on an online directory so why shouldn’t venues charge to feature you on their ‘directory’ list?

    Also at least paying a commission means that advertising channel has been successful in producing a booking.

    How much do businesses spend on PPC adds (Facebook, Google, Bing) that may never convert to a booking?

    Joking a-side – I do strongly disagree with any commission over 2-3%. And even then that as the article says will just be passed onto the client.

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Valid points, Gareth. We would imagine if everyone were upfront and honest with each other, there’d be no problems. As in: we pay to advertise with [insert directory] and also pay to be on [insert venue]’s preferred list. That’s probably where the trouble starts: if you pay to be on a preferred list, then you would probably be upset if non-paying individuals got gigs there … And so on …

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  4. Jeffrey Michael

    This is an Ah May Zing article that needs to reach wedding couples!! The should be educated correctly, and allowed to plan the event they envision!!

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  5. Lee Hickman

    Hi Guys,
    I actually had a good friend that wanted me to shoot their wedding but the church wouldn’t let me because I was not on their preferred vendor list. Now that is CRAZY!

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  6. Juan Calderón

    Superb article . Thank you very much for it. We are sharing it of course and we already linked it to our website and blog.

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  7. robert s

    the power is with the couple. ive had 2 instances where the facility said to them they need to use their photographers from the list and they refused. the place had no say. otherwise the bg would have walked away.
    there are facilities though that require you to sign a contract for work and have insurance. I then send them my contract back saying they will cover and damage or theft to my gear. they quickly cancel their pursue for me to sign.

    all this is nothing new though.

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      We’ve had similar situations, Robert. Our clients were told they couldn’t use us by the venue and had to go with one of their photographers. They told the venue they were walking then. The venue changed their mind.

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  8. Chris Sansom

    Great article, although it’s a shame Fearless is the only directory you chose to highlight, it kind of gives the impression there’s lots of shady ones where, as we all know, most awards go through the exact same process as fearless. That undermines a great article a little for me. Ispwp, wpja there’s LOTS of GREAT directories.

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      A valid point, Chris. There are some more reasonably priced directories that don’t just take photographers, or other vendors, just because the pay to be listed. They actually check to make certain they are (at least in their opinion) quality photographers, vendors, etc. The Daily Wedding is a good example. There are others that will take you if you pay as long as you are a legit business (ModWedding would be an example). Again, doing research as a vendor or a potential client is key.

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      In our experience and opinion of course.

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    • Pye Jirsa

      There are a lot of great directories Chris, another article to highlight them is what’s called for. I think it was avoided to prevent this article becoming a giant list for directories. That deserves it’s own article ;)

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      That would be a good article.

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  9. Sai Saelee

    This is the first that I’ve ever heard of something like this, thanks for the heads up.

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  10. Ralph Hightower

    Wow! That’s chilling. That’s extortion!

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    • Chad DiBlasio

      That’s EXACLTY what it is! They get paid for their services, not from us. If this is a model they feel they need to submit their clients too, they will be open and honest about it with the clients and the extra 10-30% will be added into the final contract ABOVE AND BEYOND normal fees. It’s absolute stupidity if you ask me.

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  11. Joseph Testa

    I refuse to play those games, I’ve had a planner attempt that strong arm tactic, contacted the B&G and explained it to them, they contacted the planner and put a halt to it.

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  12. R Dennis Crawford

    Tremendous article. Like SLRLounge INVESTIGATES! Well done. I have experienced this “pay to play”. It is REAL and it exist.

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  13. Andy & Amii Kauth

    The most important thing is to do your research. With regard to photography, ask to see a full gallery. If they are on a vendor list, ask how that relationship works. We, for example, advertise on some websites and tell our potential clients that we pay to be on there. We are on some vendor lists, but we don’t pay for that or get paid for that (though we do give a discount to the client as a thanks to the venue and the client). So. Yep. Due diligence, friends. Do your research!

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    • Rafael Steffen

      Thanks for sharing you experience on payed blogs and sites. After one year paying, did you find that the ROI was worth it?
      Thanks again.

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Hey Rafael, that’s not an easy question to answer. WeddingWire has been good to us but not so much The Knot. That said, it depends on a lot of factors. You need to research within your market. We know photographers who book 20 weddings/year off The Knot and some who book none. (Similar experiences with WeddingWire). Same with Fearless, ModWedding, and the myriad of others out there. Again, research is key!

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  14. Rohan Mishra

    Thanks a lot SlrLounge for coming up with this article. This is a serious problem! I will be doing my job by spreading it across all social media platforms and would encourage other vendors to make people aware of it.

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    • Pye Jirsa

      Thanks Rohan, appreciate you sharing the word. This is something that is negatively affecting all of us, including our clients.

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  15. Pye Jirsa

    I hope every prospective bride/groom reads this article before hiring any vendors. I have seen so many issues arise from these preferred vendor lists.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      I can´t believe some venues are requestion 30% from the vendors. I think 10% would be more than fair if you really want to work with the venue.

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    • Anthony Sekellick

      No 10% would not be fair either. Photographers should never agree to pay to work at a venue.

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    • Peter Georges

      Are there not anti-competition laws that deal with this kind of thing in the US? I’m sure in Australia our watchdog would be all over this.

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