Summary:

Bridal Brokerage, a startup out of the University of Virginia’s business school, is looking to disrupt the wedding industry by buying and re-selling canceled weddings, a huge financial opportunity in the United States where most couples write wedding checks far in advance of the big day.

Couple wedding dress
photo: Flickr/epsos

When high school sweethearts break up, they might have the unpleasant task of returning favorite CDs. But when engaged adults with already-planned weddings call the relationship off, things get dicier. And much more expensive.

With the average American wedding costing $27,000 in 2011 (and up to $65,000 in New York), it’s easy to understand why people try to avoid canceling plans for the big day. In addition to the obvious emotional distress involved, most vendors require half or full deposits as far as six months in advance, meaning even if the event never takes place, the couples still pay.

Lauren Byrne, a self-professed “professional bridesmaid,” who’s participated in 17 weddings, said she recognized the business opportunity in talking with a friend who’d already purchased a plane ticket, dress, and hotel room for a friend’s now-canceled wedding.

wedding reception dinner table napkinsWe started talking about how great it would be if another friend who was also getting married at the time could just use her wedding,” Byrne said. And with that, Bridal Brokerage was born.

Founded in May, Bridal Brokerage pairs couples who’ve called off their engagements and are looking to sell wedding reservations with couples looking for discounted venues, caterers, and the like.

Byrne, who is a second-year student at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, launched the company this summer out of the school’s incubator program, and has already seen more than 100 couples sign up to either sell or buy a wedding, with demand from both sides increasing. The company recently added a CMO and COO to handle the growing business while Byrne finishes her degree.

Bridal Brokerage uses a database to pair couples looking to find or get rid of a wedding based on location and wedding size. Byrne said that right now, they sell weddings as complete packages, so you can’t purchase just a discounted cake or flowers — you get the whole thing. And they do not re-sell wedding dresses or rings, although brides have asked. Currently, Byrne said the demand for weddings outpaces the number of people selling, an imbalance she didn’t expect.

“It’s interesting, because the initial feedback we got was that people wouldn’t want to buy someone else’s wedding,” she said. “But that’s not the case.”

The amount a couple pays for a wedding through Bridal Brokerage depends on how far in advance they purchase and the size of the event, but Byrne said typically, they purchase weddings three months in advance of the day and get 1/3 to 1/4 off the true price. With the average cost of weddings sitting at at $27,000, that would put purchases around $18,000 to $20,000, but it depends on the situation. Bridal Brokerage takes a fee from the sale, although it depends on the size of the wedding and how much work is required to switch contracts from one couple to another.

While the back-end of the site is currently managed by Byrne and her employees, she said it’s possible that down the line, the site could look like AirBnB for weddings, where prospective couples could search weddings for sale on the site. She says they sell all kinds of events, from a wedding for 45 in a Manhattan restaurant to a bash for 400 in Miami.

Most importantly, Byrne said buying a wedding from Bridal Brokerage doesn’t mean you’ll show up feeling like you’re at someone else’s wedding. Flowers and cake can usually be changed before the big day through the vendors, and and party favors or table arrangements can still be custom-made for the bride.

“So many parts of a wedding can still be homemade,” she said. “But every caterer tastes the same. Couples are seeing the wedding bill adding up, and usually it’s not the fun stuff that’s costing money.”

And at the end of the day, Byrne said she hopes the business makes things a little easier for people going through a tough time.

“I have a friend who got married and who then got divorced three years later,” she said. “I was talking with that friend who said, ‘If I had thought my parents could have gotten some of their money back, I might have called it off.’”

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