South West WA wedding industry battles to keep up with changes

Wedding DJ Ryan Cope on the decks during a wedding at Knee Deep Wines in the Margaret River Region. Photo: Supplied

Wedding DJ Ryan Cope on the decks during a wedding at Knee Deep Wines in the Margaret River Region. Photo: Supplied

As the Australian government's vaccination program begins to reach WA regions and restrictions around the country begin to ease, brides and grooms are rushing to secure dates to hold their postponed nuptials.

Many wedding vendors and event service operators around the Margaret River region say they have battled through their toughest times ever, and while business has begun to pick up, it is a long way from 'normal'.

"The biggest challenges have come from uncertainty and the stress involved with needing to reschedule at short term a large number of weddings," explained Ryan Cope of The Wedding DJ.

"We have actually had a small increase in business, particularly over the winter months. In part due to rescheduled weddings, but also new bookings have had to choose winter or midweek to make sure they can get a venue."

Mr Cope said he was forced to reschedule more than 45 weddings, and with rescheduling occurring up to 18 months later, he is loathe to pass on his increased costs to customers.

"For example, there is a difference of over 3.5 years for one booking that has had to reschedule twice, from when they originally booked to when they will be having their wedding date."

Tom Pearsall said at least 10 percent of his 2020 weddings were cancelled and 70 per cent postponed. Image courtesy Tom Pearsall.

Tom Pearsall said at least 10 percent of his 2020 weddings were cancelled and 70 per cent postponed. Image courtesy Tom Pearsall.

He said budgets had also decreased, and weddings that would have previously averaged 80 guests were now seeing around 50 attendees.

Southern Light Events owner Jane Ashton said rescheduled weddings had meant she and her employees were having to set up and pack down many more per weekend than in the past.

"Where we would usually have had two, we have four, so we're starting much earlier in the week to prepare for those weddings," Ms Ashton told the Mail.

"I've got one bride who is on her fourth attempt [at holding her wedding], she's had to cancel three times so it can be really stressful for the families, it's an emotional time for them."

Ms Ashton said the region's housing crisis combined with a lack of certainty over her calendar for the future meant sourcing employees was even more difficult.

Southern Light Events owner operator Jane Ashton says business is down to less than half of what a 'normal' year would bring.

Southern Light Events owner operator Jane Ashton says business is down to less than half of what a 'normal' year would bring.

"I've got a great group of people who are really understanding and they are flexible, but it's tough when we go into a lockdown and I have to say 'sorry, all the work I had for you is gone'."

Her partner and long time local sound engineer, John 'Soundy' Strickland has been without a permanent home for over 18 months and the pair have had to juggle business and home locations to keep their businesses afloat.

"JobKeeper was a massive help, and that saw us through some tough times, and Soundy's work has been pretty consistent with the venues around the region, but you've still got venues closing their doors a few days a week because they just can't get the staff. It's all connected."

Jane Ashton (left) and partner John 'Soundy' Strickland (far right) have had to navigate housing stress and sourcing employees as well as a drop in business. Image courtesy Southern Light Events.

Jane Ashton (left) and partner John 'Soundy' Strickland (far right) have had to navigate housing stress and sourcing employees as well as a drop in business. Image courtesy Southern Light Events.

Margaret River based photographer Tom Pearsall said the initial wave of COVID-19 cancellations was "devastating".

"Most bookings either postponed to an uncertain future or cancelled altogether," Mr Pearsall said. "I would say at least 10 per cent cancelled and 70 per cent postponed in 2020 after COVID-19 hit.

"Being such a stunning destination venue there are still many weddings from overseas, or with overseas guests that have postponed indefinitely. It was devastating for the clients as well of course. I was really impressed with how my couples handled the disappointment."

The award winning photographer managed to change his focus to adapt to the coronavirus climate.

Tom Pearsall said at least 10 percent of his 2020 weddings were cancelled and 70 per cent postponed. Image courtesy Tom Pearsall.

Tom Pearsall said at least 10 percent of his 2020 weddings were cancelled and 70 per cent postponed. Image courtesy Tom Pearsall.

"The silver lining was that it forced me to reinforce other avenues of my business," he said.

"I was managing a few local businesses social media and content creation at the time. Mainly in hospitality which, after the initial uncertainty, boomed.

"Recently my wife Amalie and I created 'Marlei'; a digital marketing company and fortified that aspect of the business."

The pair worked to attract a variety of local and national businesses, helping them define their brand, and establish their online presence.

"Working consistently with the same businesses gave us security and them the time to focus on their operations in a wildly changing landscape."

Mr Pearsall said the pandemic disruptions were a stark wake up call.

"In hindsight it was probably a bit short sighted to think things would just grow from year to year, forever.

"I'm sure I'm not the only one who got shocked into having a really good look at how to diversify their business to hopefully withstand future challenges.

"Digital marketing is now at least an equal focus to weddings so it's caused a huge shift to what is essentially a non-contact business model.

"We also work with a variety of local restaurants and wineries regularly on a retainer basis to deliver them consistent content unique to their brand guidelines.

"I am super grateful to be working with such a diversity of awesome businesses and couples.

"I hope the majority of the community have come out on top so far in these uncertain times."

Wedding DJ Ryan Cope said his team were also required to monitor and communicate COVID-19 regulations during weddings on behalf of the venues. Image courtesy Ryan Cope.

Wedding DJ Ryan Cope said his team were also required to monitor and communicate COVID-19 regulations during weddings on behalf of the venues. Image courtesy Ryan Cope.

Mr Cope said as well as finding dates for couples to reschedule, new weddings were always being planned and the pandemic brought more complications.

"It has been a very unsettling time filled with many challenges and also in some ways some benefits," he said.

"As you can imagine a bride who has had to cancel last minute due to a lock down is highly emotionally attached to the change and they then need to secure a minimum of 3-4 vendors - in some cases up to 10 - in a very short term and have them all settle on a new date.

"In many cases the DJ is the voice of the venue, communicating compliance during weddings. It's not always an easy task asking guests to wear a mask when not eating or drinking, or reminding guests to remain seated as well as ensuring staff are kept safe at all times."

This story Parties put on pause in wake of pandemic delays first appeared on Augusta-Margaret River Mail.