Here Come the Brides Same-sex marriage ices the cake for some small businesses in the wedding industry.
(FORTUNE Small Business) – Same-sex marriage may be controversial, but one thing's for sure: It's good for a lot of small firms. With an average individual discretionary income of $38,000--35% higher than the national average--gay Americans are expected to add a nice chunk of change to the $120-billion-a-year wedding industry. "This is a whole new market, a wonderful chance for large and small companies to make a big step," says Todd Evans, CEO of Rivendell Media in Mountainside, N.J., a company that places ads in gay publications. "If you're smart, you will jump on the bandwagon."
Nancy A. Levy, owner of event planner Weddingtown USA in Garden Grove, Calif., agrees. Last fall--before the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom made headlines performing gay wedding ceremonies--Levy suggested to her vendors that they target gays and lesbians. "The money is the same," Levy says. She even organized a gay and lesbian wedding expo in Orange County and has two others planned for this year. Parker Communications, a gay-owned publishing firm in Alexandria, Va., and Pride Productions, a Las Vegas wedding planner, have also thrown expos.
Some business owners and their clients, however, object to gay marriage on religious grounds. The Wedding Chapel in Galveston used to perform gay and lesbian weddings, but it stopped a year ago when new owners took over. "We don't believe in it," says current co-owner Nathan Gratch, who says that because many of his customers feel the same way, gay weddings are bad for business. "People are very spiritually oriented, and they are concerned." And the tenuous legal status of same-sex marriages--the Massachusetts legislature recently passed an amendment banning gay marriage--suggests that the new market may face setbacks.
Still, many companies are tailoring their offerings to meet the new demand. Here's a sampling.
Jamie Lynn / Cake Toppers
Firms have sold same-sex cake toppers online for a while. But when one of the nation's top wedding-accessory companies gets into the game, you know a major shift is underway. Chicago-based Jamie Lynn offers a line of interchangeable cake toppers--which allows couples to mix and match brides and grooms of different genders and ethnicities--that has become a top-ten seller for the company ($55, jamielynn.com). "We purposely made it so that you can have two brides or two grooms together," says Steven Kahn, vice president of the privately held company. "We don't want to offend anybody, so we don't advertise it outright, but people are pretty quick to realize that's what we did."
OutVite / Invitations
Last summer a few gay and lesbian employees at online-invitations firm eInvite drew up a business plan for a separate division of the company that would cater to the gay and lesbian market. The result: OutVite.com. So far OutVite receives five orders a day, much more than the couple of orders a week the privately held company had anticipated. "We had noticed on eInvite over the years that a lot of gay couples were doing commitment ceremonies," says Micah Chase, the 38-year-old president of OutVite, based in West Boylston, Mass. "Now all the political activity has made business pick up." Among the most popular designs are the Two Tuxes and Two Gowns invitations ($189 for 100, outvite.com), and the His Towels and Her Towels shower announcements ($119 for 100).
I Do Too Bridal & Formal / Women's Tuxedos
People should be able to wear what they want and be themselves," says Jill Story. So she opened a bridal store a year ago in Huntington Beach, Calif., to cater to what she calls forgotten brides--those remarrying, pregnant women, and lesbians. "I'm floored nobody out there is really doing this yet," she says. Her shop offers a wide array of dresses, but Story also customizes women's tuxedos, sometimes adding ruffles or embroidery ($150 to rent, $250 to $500 to buy; idotoo.com). She hasn't advertised her wares yet, but Story has already worked with six lesbian couples. She expects same-sex marriage to be a "real boon" when she launches her online and television advertising campaign in June.