Sue Neely knows that the road to the “perfect” wedding day is not always paved with perfect bricks.
The Montgomery County consumer fraud investigator has assisted hundreds of brides when things did not quite go right with bridal dress shops, florists, photographers and other wedding vendors.
Her office launched a probe when Dayton Bride closed in 2003 leaving about 50 brides without their dream gowns and when SharNett’s Bridal and Prom abruptly closed in 2009 leaving about a hundred brides high and dry. Her office fielded a few calls last year when Bridal-n-Tux went into receivership and closed.
No criminal wrong-doing was discovered in any of the cases. Some brides never were compensated, but several received dresses or refunds.
Neely, the Better Business Bureau and wedding specialists say there are ways for couples to protect themselves as they decide on wedding vendors and services.
Use credit cards
Neely said those who purchased dresses or placed down payments using credit cards fared better.
Most credit card companies have policies that refund disputed transactions within a certain period of time, typically 60 or 90 days.
“If someone demands you pay with cash, that should be a huge red flag because you can’t dispute it (through your credit card company),” Neely said. “Make sure you are within the window of whatever your credit card requires.”
Remain calm and do your homework
John North, president and CEO of the Dayton Better Business Bureau, said that many brides get swept up in the wedding excitement.
He encourage couples to step back and remember that weddings are big business.
“Don’t let your excitement get in the way,” he said. The average amount spent on weddings was $24,066 in 2010, according to the Wedding Report, an industry research company. The average cost for the first two quarters of 2011 was $18,859.
North encourages couples to research all of their vendors online and with the Better Business Bureau. Take your time, he encourages. The BBB offers business rankings and offers a free research service.
He also encourages couples to look at online reviews and consider recommendations. Comparison shop various vendors, getting estimates from at least three vendors per service, he said.
When it comes to contracts, he encourages seeking advice from parents or others with contract experience. Ensure that every verbal agreement is included in the written contract, North said.
“You want to feel comfortable with your decision,” he said. “You can only do that if you have information.”
Know the rules
Kathy Piech-Lukas, owner of Your Dream Day wedding planning service, said couples should remember that many deposits related to the wedding industry are not refundable or are on a schedule.
This is particularly true during popular wedding months such as June, July, August and September, she said.
“They turned down a lot of perspective business to have you on the books,” Lucas said. “The more in demand a vendor is, the less likely you are to have some of your deposit returned.”
Understand the deposit policies before signing the contract, look for hidden charges (some reception venues charge extra if the wedding service is held there) and make sure you book the venue for the hours you will need for the reception as well as set up and tear down.
“(Many give you) one hour for set up and one hour for tear down,” she said. “Every other hour you are there, they will charge you. It is important for the bride to understand just how much time she has booked.”
Check with each of your vendors to see how much time they will actually need, she recommended.
Calculate the cost
Lucas said that it is critical to understand the minimum in food purchase that vendors expect for food and beverage. Brides should also be aware that many venues only accept certain caterers. Couples will be charged more, in some cases 15 percent, if they use caters not on the venue’s preferred list of caterers, said Lucas who will manage the soon-to-be opened Venue on Paragon in Centerville.
As far as the dress is concerned, Lucas said it might be priceless to the bride, but the true value of this custom-made wonder is limited.
There’s no value to the retailer once the dress is sold to you.
“As soon as they place the order for the dress, that money is un-refundable,” he said. “If you call off your wedding and you have a wedding dress that is paid for, you can not return that dress.”
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2384 or arobinson@DaytonDailyNews.com.