Canceled Weddings Into Cash?

By SHANA DRUCKERMAN and EDWARD LOVETT

For wedding mishaps - cake falls on ground, bride and bridesmaids break bed, wedding party falls into lake - there's YouTube. For canceled weddings, there's BridalBrokerage.com.

The start-up company makes a market between previously remote parties on the wedding continuum: couples who've decided not to marry who want to sell the wedding goods and services they've bought, and couples keen to buy a "prepackaged" wedding and save money at the same time.

Founder Lauren Byrne had the idea three years ago, when a friend of hers who was to be in a wedding on St. Johns had to eat her ticket and dress when the wedding was canceled. When Byrne started telling people her idea, some were skeptical.

"We got a little bit of pushback in the beginning that people wouldn't really want to buy someone else's wedding, and that's not the case at all," Byrne said. "There's over 2 million weddings a year in the U.S., and we're seeing a lot of customers coming to us and saying they'd love to buy a prepackaged wedding."

Byrne cited a few reasons. People are busy. Event goods and services are notoriously marked up just because they're for weddings, a premium many struggle with in the current economy. If it's a second wedding for either the groom or bride or both, "they don't want to go through [a big wedding] again, but their family and friends still want them to have a great party, and they want to have a celebration," Byrne said.

Couples planning weddings go to the site and enter things like what time of year they want to wed, how far from home and how many guests. This information goes into a database to be matched with the canceled weddings - 250,000 weddings are called off annually in the U.S., Byrne said - that Bridal Brokerage has bought from brides, their parents, whoever.

Andrew Rivlin, 31, is a landscape architect living in California who said he heard about Bridal Brokerage on NPR around six months ago. Two months ago he got engaged to his girlfriend of five years. He and his fiancee explored Bridal Brokerage because they were paying for their wedding themselves and had a limited budget, they wanted to marry quickly. They traveled often, making planning and scheduling hard.

Rivlin found a May wedding in California mentioned on Bridal Brokerage's Facebook page and has agreed to buy it. The company is working out the details of transferring the contract with the venue, he said. He and his fiancee are excited they found a wedding that worked for them in California - where wedding costs are "outrageous" - and planned to add their own touches - flowers, music, etc. - to make it their own.

"It's a win-win for everyone," Rivlin said. "It stinks that someone can't have their wedding, but they don't lose everything, and we get to have our special day."

Bridal Brokerage also provides an emotional and financial out for uncertain brides or grooms, Byrne said, many of whom go through with it just because of all the money that has been spent.

"I have a friend … and she said that she knew walking down the aisle that she shouldn't do it. But her parents had spent so much money on it that she didn't want to see them take that loss and that if there had been a way to get out of it, she would have," Byrne said. The friend got divorced three years later, costing her money and pain she wishes she could have avoided, Byrne said.

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