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Planning weddings, at $500,000 per
Want exotic? 4PM Events can plan nuptials around a tiki barbecue or a trip to Tuscany.
June 9, 2005: 4:00 PM EDT
By Patricia B. Gray, Fortune Small Business

NEW YORK (Fortune Small Business) - Not long ago a wedding was a modest affair: a little lace and a bit of the bubbly were all it took to launch a couple on the sea of matrimony.

These days it calls for much more pomp and ceremony.

How about a three-day bacchanal on the beach in Bali? Or an Egyptian feast with a bevy of waitresses spray-painted gold to serve the champagne? Care to exchange vows in a hot-air balloon drifting over the vineyards of Napa?

Coordinating such an orgy of consumption requires the services of a professional wedding planner such as Tatiana Byron. Her Miami company, 4PM Events, posted revenues of $1.3 million in 2004, triple the amount in 2003, and she says the company is solidly profitable.

She planned about six weddings last year, including one for 40 guests in Tuscany. Byron rarely handles a wedding with a budget of less than $100,000, and on average, couples or their parents usually spend about $500,000.

Byron takes a cut of the budget, with the percentage varying according to the size and complexity of the celebration.

Her weddings typically last for days, with a schedule of activities for guests that may include regattas, tiki barbecues, and spa treatments.

"A wedding is theater," Byron says. "My job is to choreograph the production from the launch of the couple's website until the last guest leaves."

Planning parties comes naturally to the 33-year-old, who emigrated from Russia in 1978 at the age of 6.

While attending Boston University, she worked for nightclubs, using her dorm room to plan events that would draw college crowds. A few jobs later, in 2002, she launched a corporate event-planning business.

But she always had her eye on the big jackpot: weddings. After all, nuptials are a $50-billion-a-year industry. There are 2.4 million weddings a year in the U.S., and the average cost is $22,000, about 40 percent more than five years ago. One out of every three brides hires a wedding planner.

Byron made a splash earlier this year when she staged a wedding for the TV series "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," and prospective brides started contacting her. To keep the customers coming, she hosts two bridal shows a year, in Miami and New York City, where believe it or not couples pay $150 apiece to sample cakes and ogle flower arrangements.

This summer Byron faces her biggest challenge: planning her own wedding, scheduled for March 2006.

And what sort of big-budget spectacle does she have in mind for herself?

"Something very simple, very intimate. Seventy-five people, on the beach in Star Island near Miami. Rose petals in the sand," she says. "I haven't even picked out a dress."

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