In recent years, I’ve had a few experiences that raise the question of how vendors should handle First Right of Refusal. With schedules to mesh, budgets to consult and research to be done, inevitable lag-time occurs when booking vendors for your clients...which can ultimately mean they end up losing their dream venue if they don’t act quick enough. Today, then, we wanted to break down this tricky occurrence and offer up some tips for avoiding it at all costs.
What is a First Right of Refusal?
Essentially, a first right of refusal is a contractual understanding or agreement that requires an owner of something (a wedding vendor, in this case) let the first interested party (i.e. the couple who first expressed interest in their services) know if other parties/couples are interested in booking their services on that same date—allowing the first interested couple to either book that vendor (in order to avoid someone else scooping up their dream venue or florist, for example) or decline to book, releasing that vendor and their services to the other interested parties.
How do vendors typically handle this?
When a client or planner inquires with a wedding vendor to see if they are available for a specific wedding date, oftentimes the vendor will pencil in the date for that inquiry—holding it as a tentative booking, essentially. Typically, the vendor will reach back out (following a sort-of First Right of Refusal protocol, if you will) should they receive another inquiry for that same date.
What problems occur when booking a vendor?
As a planner, it’s likely that we reach out to 2-3 (or more!) vendors in each category to present to our clients. It often takes a few days to hear back from the vendor as well as to gather information on packages, timing and pricing. We then organize that information and present it to our clients, explaining why we think certain vendors are an excellent option for consideration. On the client’s end, we might not hear back for days or weeks, as it can take them time to read through the options and talk to their fiancé, parents and, sometimes even, friends. Finally, by the time we have an idea of which vendors the client would like to set up a call or meeting with, we reach back out to the vendor.
Most of the time, the vendor is excited and happy to set up the meeting; however, we sometimes run into the major problem of the vendor being booked for that date (they didn’t want to wait around to hear back from your client and ended up giving away their wedding date to another eager, interested party who was willing to sign on the dotted line). On the rare occasion a vendor says they’re no longer available, it puts you, as the planner, in a super tough spot—it can make it look as though you didn’t do your leg work when you have to turn around and tell your clients “Nevermind—they’re all booked up now!” Plus, it leads to disappointed (and sometimes angry) clients.
Is this the vendor’s fault?
As a wedding planner with 12 years of experience, I can see both sides—there’s the ever-excited client who wants to do their legwork before booking a vendor to execute their dream vision. They’re spending tons of money and, if things go right, they’re only throwing a wedding once—so they don’t just want to jump into a contract with a vendor on a whim (totally understandable). Then, there’s the vendor whose livelihood depends on bookings and who, rightfully so, doesn’t always have the time or financial freedom to wait around for months to hear if that one interested couple from way back when will actually book them (also totally understandable). So, should vendors let you know before giving away your client’s wedding date to another interested party? I think so—but common courtesy isn’t exactly law set in stone, so it’s not surprising when some vendors choose to give away you client’s wedding date (to secure income) without letting you or your clients know.
So, how can you avoid a vendor booking another client while your client is still deciding?
There are a few ways vendors, planners, and couples can all work together for a better, more seamless experience for all:
Open communication with vendors: As the planner, always ask the vendor if they allow First Right of Refusal for interested parties. Oftentimes, all it takes is a little communication. Let them know your client is super busy but is also super interested and ask what the max time is they’ll do a soft hold before giving away your clients’ wedding date to another interested party. Or at least ask to be notified if anyone else inquires for the date. Also, send your vendor semi-regular updates as that date nears. A quick email or call to let them know you haven’t forgotten about them and that you’ll be in touch with a final decision soon is key.
Open communication with clients: Next, deliver this information to your client in a clear and concise way. Especially if your clients are busy people, make sure they hear this piece of information loud and clear. That may mean writing an email including a line that reads “IMPORTANT: Must Book this Florist by May 1!” or including this information as part of the vendor research you give to your clients. Highlight it, bold it, ALL-CAPS it if you have to—just make sure they know what the final deadline is for booking each of their vendors. If your clients want to meet with the vendors before booking, you’ll also need to back-track from the vendor’s “book by” date to work some time in for any consultations they may want. (I.e. “We need to book by May 1, so we should schedule a consultation by April 20 at the very latest.”)
Remind, remind remind: Send your client calendar reminders, alerts or texts as the looming “must book by” date gets close. Don’t worry about bothering them—trust us when we say clients would way rather hear from you too often than not hear from you at all and end up losing their dream venue or dream photographer to another couple. The trick, though, is to remind your clients without pushing them into something they’re not ready for (you want the planning process to be an enjoyable one for them, after all). Be clear and firm with the “book by” date (so that, if they miss the date, they know the person to blame isn’t you!) but if you feel they’re getting stressed or irritated with reminders, give them their space as need be.
Overall, meshing schedules, keeping excited clients on track and keeping vendors happy as they wait for final word can be tricky responsibilities to juggle (to say the least). But, open communication with both vendors and clients as well as sending clients clear reminders—letting them know what’s at stake without rushing them into a decision or trying to push a certain vendor on them—will help you avoid that dreaded moment when you call a vendor to say “Ok, we’re ready!” and she responds with “Ah, too late!”