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Why Has The Charleston Wedding Industry Become So Oversaturated

04 March 2020

Today's post has been percolating in my mind over the past several weeks, and actually if want me to be honest, months.  The opinions that will be expressed in this post are not in any way, shape, or form meant to be negative, but instead provide a perspective from one of the top wedding DJs in Charleston, and to raise awareness on this issue.  In raising awareness on this issue (or perception of this issue) to prospective clients, they will be able to make more educated decisions on how to hire to their wedding vendors for their big day in Charleston, SC.  It seems like yesterday that we were battling through the Great Recession in 2008 or 2009. It was a forgettable time as travel, tourism, business investment, and employment were all affected by this very deep recession. According to a November 2017 Post & Courier article, the Charleston Visitor's Bureau invested in advertising in other markets to paint a picture of Charleston being the beautiful city that it is and that it would be a an excellent place to have a wedding.  It was money well spent. Since those dollars were spent on the marketing of Charleston, the city has seen the accolades pile up from the likes of Conde Nast Traveler, as well as Travel & Leisure awarding Charleston the Number 1 U.S city for the 7th straight year in 2019. 

 What does all this mean for one of the top wedding DJs in Charleston, as well as other wedding vendors who have also forged a great reputation in this wonderful city?  The  marketing dollars invested by the Visitor's Bureau  most definitely allowed my business to grow over the years, which allowed me to forge an impeccable reputation of being a top choice among Charleston DJs. At the same time, an influx of new wedding vendors have jumped in to try to seize a piece of the booming wedding industry.  Referencing the Post & Courier article from November 2017, there was a $37 million annual economic impact from weddings in 2010, which exploded into a $197 million total economic impact by 2016. I've personally worked with couples from all over the country, ranging from San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and the Garden State of New Jersey.   When those brides and grooms come to Charleston, they bring with them their families and guests who fill up hotels, eat at the finest restaurants, and spend all sort of money on tourist attractions.  If the bulk of the weddings held annually in Charleston are "destination", then you can certainly see the economic impact caused by the wedding industry boom.

Charleston SC Wedding Destination

The Charleston Wedding Industry Boom Debunked
Because Charleston has catapulted to being the Number 2 wedding destination in the country, it should be no surprise that the city has attracted some of the best wedding planners, caterers. florists, bands, and DJs in the entire country. During the course of this industry explosion, some very reputable companies have come to Charleston wanting to become part of the industry. I've seen firsthand a lot of the work of these very fine vendors, either in person or online and have been very impressed. The influx of these world class wedding vendors coming to Charleston has been well documented in all the leading regional and local blogs, as well as print publications. What has not been documented on the local and regional blogs is all the mom & pop wedding startups that continue to pop up all over social media and the internet.

Capitalism And Entrepreneurship Are Awesome In The Wedding Industry
Thank goodness we live in America and that capitalism is alive and well, and that it's very easy to start a business. There are no licenses or requirements to get started in the wedding industry, although a lot of the great industry professionals have gone to school for hospitality. Since there is no licensing for getting into the wedding industry and since anyone can create a website and add their business to a wedding listing website like The Knot or Weddingwire, I've seen a spike in folks trying to get a piece of the wedding industry in Charleston. But, the question should be asked, are you ready to have a wedding business? What are you doing to be successful in the wedding business? Where is your business going to be in a year or two? Did you get a website professionally designed? Have you amassed a lot of positive reviews? Have you carved out a niche?  

Charleston Wine And Food Festival

Did A Wedding Industry Slowdown Occur In 2017 and 2018?
No one wants to talk about it, but did a recession occur back in 2017 and 2018 in the Charleston, SC wedding industry? Back in the spring and summer of 2018, I noticed a bit of a slowdown in inquiries for Charleston weddings. By mid-summer, I spoke with some of my preferred vendors about this and they agreed with me on this sentiment too. Then, I began discussions with my web developer, who also is contracted to work on my SEO and digital marketing. It was determined that there had been a general decline in web searches in regards to "Charleston" dating back to 2017.  When you pay a premium price for digital marketing, you have this type of information at your disposal. Those web searches may or may not be related to do with weddings, but there was also rumors that travel was down, and some tourists spots like the South Carolina Aquarium had seen less visitors. While it was never discussed what caused this perceived slowness, one thing that did not slow down was the continued increase of more and more different types of wedding vendors continuing to pop up on social media and the internet.

You Need A Marriage License To Get Married
You do still need a license to get married, right? I know what you are saying. Why is he talking about marriage licenses? "Yes, Mike, a license is required to get married."  As the Post & Courier article reported in November of 2017, on any given weekend, there might be at least 100 weddings happening in Charleston at any given time. Back during the late summer of 2018 I began to brainstorm ways that I might be able to gauge the state of the current wedding industry in Charleston. Since a marriage license is required to get married, I decided to reach out to the Charleston County Probate Court to get a number on the amount of licenses issued going back to 2013. 
Charleston County Marriage Licenses Weddings
Data Source: Charleston County Probate Court

These numbers represent the total amount of marriage licenses that were issued. These are VERY raw numbers.  There are numerous factors that should be taken into consideration when trying to determine how much wedding business is actually happening.  The following factors are unknown:
1. Did the wedding get cancelled?
2. Was the wedding a simple elopement? If so, most all of the big budget wedding vendors (Wedding Planner & Wedding DJ)  may not be required.
3. Some modern brides and grooms are ALREADY married when coming here to Charleston, and just want a big party with their friends.

Compare & Contrast:  Wedding Market Saturation By The Numbers
I am a numbers guy. As a matter of fact, when I was in college, I did not mind Calculus at all. :) From a mathematical standpoint, the total licenses issued from 2015 do line up nicely with the statement in the Post & Courier article about there being an average of 100 weddings held on any given weekend, but if you fast-forward to 2019, only 4,650 licenses were issued. Between 2015 to 2019, this constitutes a 10.8 % decline in the amount of marriage licenses issued. 

I'm not sure we've had anyone over the years attempt to track this data, but as a business owner who has worked hard through wedding after wedding and built his business from the ground up with a lot of resources and sweat, I decided to take the initiative to find out what was going on. I don't have an answer for the reason for the 10.8% decline between 2015 and 2019, but if you are a wedding industry professional in Charleston and were curious or had any thoughts that maybe your phone was ringing less, these are some of the hard numbers. But, just wait, my next illustration will definitely drive home the point of wedding market saturation.

100 Weddings On Any Given Weekend In Charleston?
Let's assume that the 2015 license numbers were happening year in and year out and that there was consistently (at least) 100 weddings happening in Charleston County every weekend. While the greater Charleston area also consists of Dorchester and Berkeley counties, it is a very rare instance that I get a booking in those areas. So, for the purpose of illustrating the saturation, we will be looking at Charleston's numbers only.   Let's say you are a modern bride and groom looking to travel to Charleston to get married and you want to be ONE of those 100 weddings on any given weekend.  You've picked out your venue and have begun to do some searches for your wedding vendors. You do a Google search for Charleston Wedding DJs, and on page 1, you see the Weddingwire search result below.

Google Search Charleston Wedding DJs

Weddingwire is one of the leading wedding listing websites.  For Charleston, SC, they have 76 wedding DJs.    If there are 76 wedding DJs to service 100 weddings per weekend (circa. 2015), you can begin to see the wedding market saturaton argument.  But, let's take things a little further. In addition to hiring a wedding DJ, some brides and grooms opt for a band.

Google Search Charleston Wedding Bands
Weddingwire has a total of 52 bands listed on their website for the Charleston, SC area. If you add the number of DJs and the number of bands, you come up with a number of 128 possible entertainment options between bands and DJs for those 100 possible weddings on any given weekend (2015 numbers). So, if you have more choices than there are "actual events", you can definitely see the wedding market saturation. But, let's take things one step further with another wedding vendor illustration.

Google Search Charleston Wedding Planners

It is highly recommended that all brides and grooms should hire (at least) a wedding coordinator or planner.  Click the preceding link for reasons to hire a wedding planner. But, before you check out that link, check out the number of wedding planners that Weddingwire has in Charleston,SC. You've got a whopping 168 choices for who you would like your wedding planner to be.  With 100 weddings held each weekend (2015 numbers), there are many, many more planners than there are weddings.

Do You See What I See With These Charleston Wedding Numbers?
If you've been following along and had to do a double-take at those license numbers, you might have done the math in your head and can see that the past 4 years have not seen numbers high enough to see the 100 weddings (on any given weekend) since 2015. In 2019, there might have been an average of 89 weddings per weekend. But, let's be honest, even though the climate is temperate in Charleston, odds are there won't be 90 - 100 weddings per weekend in January or mid December. So,  if the number of licenses has decreased, but yet the number of wedding business startups has remained steady or risen, you can easily see we've reached a point of market saturation. But it gets even more interesting, please read on.

Wedding Market Saturation According To Population
As of 2017, the population of Charleston County was estimated at about 401,438. The population of the city of Charleston was estimated to be at 136, 208 as of 2017 as well.  Those are nice numbers for a small - medium-sized size city.  But, let's go to the opposite end of the spectrum and look at New York City.

New York Wedding DJs Google Search

According to Weddingwire, New York City has only 148 wedding DJs listed on their website that are saying they serve the greater New York City area. This is almost double the amount of wedding DJs listed on their website in Charleston, SC. But, the population of New York City is close to 16.5 million. I've never crunched NYC numbers, but I am sure with a population that high, there are more than 100 weddings going on every weekend.  149 wedding DJs serving 16.5 million people does not appear to equate to saturation in the Big Apple. Perhaps I should reach out and network up there to see what it truly is like up there. But, let's illustrate one more example about market saturation. You'll want to read on.

Wedding Market Saturation: The Venue Angle
I was talking to one of my preferred vendors recently and we were discussing our calendars over the next few months. We were also talking about the random nature as to how bookings come in and the fact that it sometimes is quite a few months since we've travelled to a venue, and in some cases a few seasons have passed by since we did an event there.

Why would visiting a wedding venue become such a random thing? Well, wedding venues in Charleston are like any other vendor, they need to market themselves in magazines, blogs, wedding listing websites and social media to get the word out.  Wedding market saturation can also be illustrated with the amount of events that a venue can have through out the year. For instance, I remember being at a venue in 2019 and I had asked how many events they were going to do that year and it was told to me that 62 events would be held that particular year. Out of those 62 events, some were weddings, some were corporate events, and some were private parties. 

When you put one wedding venue under the microscope and realize that only 62 events will occur in one year, and add in the 128 possible  choices for entertainment, and the 169 wedding planners / coordinators, you can clearly see market saturation in the Charleston area. You can also see why you might not make it back to a venue with that much competition to choose from. Another even more popular wedding venue would do 110 events in 2019. Even with 110 events, the amount of possible entertainment choices (DJs and Bands) according to Weddingwire, as well as planners and coordinators exceeds the amount of events held in a year. Wedding market saturation is definitely well underway in the Holy City.

Cannon Green Downtown Wedding
For the ultimate in Charleston ambience, check out Cannon Green For Your Wedding
Photo Credit: Molly Joseph

What Does All This Number Crunching Mean?
I wanted to do the legwork to put this post together for two reasons:
1. Provide a little perspective on the current state of the Charleston wedding industry. 
2. Raise awareness to modern bride and grooms about the wedding market saturation.

As you can see, there are no shortage of wedding vendors in Charleston.  If I were getting married today, I'm not sure I would want to scroll through the hundreds of vendors on these listing  websites.  Believe me, that's what they want you to do, but you don't have to. When searching for your wedding vendors, be sure to read over their reviews and their website. Be sure to also check  out their Google profile too. Reputable businesses will have created a Google business profile and have claimed the listing as well. Then, click over to their website / blog and check out their content. Reputable businesses will have an outstanding looking website, and not try to cut corners by running their business from a Facebook page or an Instagram account.   Time is of the essence. You are busy and want to make sure you hire the right wedding vendors for your special day and don't have time to scroll through wedding listing websites.

The Best Wedding DJs Carve Out A Niche With Great Customer Service
In order to stand out in a super saturated wedding market, you've got to remind yourself how you became successful and sell those facts. Personally, I pride myself on the fact that I have no desire whatsoever to ever hire an army of wedding DJs. The strength of my owner-operated DJ service is the ability to provide one-on-one service to my clients at every wedding. They get me for their entire wedding day.  I don't claim to be a jack-of-all-trades, as I've made the decision to focus all my energies on working with brides and grooms to create the best soundtrack for their wedding day.  I don't want to be a jack-of-all-trades, but instead, a "master" of your wedding playlist. You know, when I meet with a bride and groom the first time, I almost feel like giving them a hug! I sit them down and tell them how hard it was for me to find them and I ask them what it was they saw in my image and my brand that inspired them to learn more. And when they hire me, they've got me until the very last song plays at their wedding reception.

Happy Bride At Wedding In Charleston
You'll be very excited when you know you have the best music for your wedding.

And The Cream Will Always Rise To The Top
I've debated for a long time to publish a post like this, so when I put it together I wanted to make sure it was "informative", rather than controversial. There should be no controversy in talking about market saturation. It's something I have speculated about for the past few years and it's clearly occurring, but what can be done?  The only thing that can be done is to keep doing what I've tried to drive home all the these years and to continue to separate myself from my competition by providing the absolute best service possible. 

The Mike Bills Podcast Is Here For You
You'd think that since Charleston is one of the top wedding destinations in the country that we would have a lot of podcasts? Nada. The Mike Bills Podcast was born back in the fall of 2019 out of a desire to provide modern brides and grooms an alternative way to get content on how to do EVERYTHING relate to the music and entertainment at their wedding.  You can learn more about it by clicking this link right here or by heading over to Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or IHeartRadio. At the time of this post, there are 16 episodes available and more will be coming soon. The first 16 episodes are everything you need to get started in not only finding your wedding DJ. but also creating your playlist. And you when you begin to follow me on Spotify for inspiration on your wedding playlists, you can also find The Mike Bills Podcast on Spotify.

Wanna Talk To Mike Bills About Being Your Wedding DJ?
Sorry for being so long-winded in this post, but I hope I got my point across. Market saturation is alive and well in Charleston and the modern bride and groom looking to get married in this beautiful city need to be even more vigilant about who they decide to hire for their wedding vendors. I would love to be your wedding DJ and I hope since you've made it this far down this post, you go and take a look at other portions of my website and blog, read over my reviews, and get to know more about me so that you can make an educated decision on how to hire your wedding DJ. Thank you for stopping by and I hope to hear from you soon.