BERLIN — The places sound exotic: a mansion in Manor by the Lake in England, a romantic estate in Scotland, or a big bash in Las Vegas. But Lili Huber (not her real name) isn’t looking for a great place to vacation. She’s browsing through the www.abgesagtehochzeiten.de (Canceled Weddings) website.
A few days ago, she and her boyfriend decided to get married, but they want to spend as little money as possible on the wedding.
Huber heard from an acquaintance about the portal, which mainly sells canceled weddings in the United States and the UK. And because she preferred to marry as far away as possible from where she lives — Berlin — the tip was just what the doctor ordered.
The market for canceled weddings is still very small in Germany, but it’s booming in the Anglo-Saxon world. That’s also because weddings there are often very opulent and correspondingly expensive. In the United States, a wedding costs on average $25,000 (around 20,000 euros). And that’s not counting the engagement ring or the honeymoon.
In Britain, couples spend on average 36,000 pounds (over 40,000 euros). The American wedding industry alone is worth $51 billion and employs 800,000 people. The entire English-language market turns over around $100 billion. According to a study conducted by The Wedding Report, some 13% of all weddings in the U.S. are canceled, and some 40% to 50% of the costs of these weddings have already been paid.
The market potential of all this was a pot full of gold that Peter K. Ulrich wasn’t about to ignore. He’s the figure behind CanceledWeddings.com, the umbrella brand of AbgesagteHochzeiten.de. He came to the secondary market in weddings by chance, having been in sales of exclusive yacht weddings.
Last year he launched the CanceledWeddings portal — and within a few months developed into a world market leader with an expected turnover of $50 million in the first year.
The platform is based on a brokerage system internally called "MatchMaker." This program searches relevant offers for potential buyers and brings the parties together — anonymously — via CanceledWeddings brokers. On the website and its Facebook page, there are also last-minute offers.
"It sounds totally easy when you say ‘let’s buy or sell a wedding,’ but in reality it’s very complicated," says Ulrich. Because when a canceled wedding is sold, all the rights and obligations are transferred from one couple to another.
The new contractees have to agree with the choice of subcontractors such as catering companies, venues, photographers. "You need to be a dab hand with contracts to push all that through," says Ulrich.
Dearly beloved ...
Transparency is the main priority, he explains, so that there are no ugly surprises. For one event the platform is currently selling, an average of 100 couples are interested, all wanting as much information as possible, all with questions that have to be answered so that the list can be narrowed down to serious potential buyers ready to assume somebody else’s rights and obligations.
Ulrich launched the service in Germany in August 2013. So far, only the home page of AbgesagteHochzeiten.de is in German. Customers are slowly getting interested in the new market. Ulrich says early adopters are a "special target group."
"We still have to reach the mass market," he says. "It’s a process." Compared to the U.S. or UK markets, the German market is small. So far, Germans have mainly been going for what are known as destination weddings, which is to say those in faraway places such as Croatia, Italy, Bali, or the Caribbean.
But the first offers for Germany are filtering in. In May, for example, they bought the services of a photographer who had originally asked for 2,500 euros and had received a down payment of 1,000 euros. The photographer was willing to renegotiate the price. Still, "At the moment, AbgesagteHochzeiten.de is mainly a great site to buy cut-rate weddings abroad from," Ulrich says.
That popularity could be down to the fact that German couples tend to spend less on weddings. But there is a small new up-market group willing to spend between 10,000 and 25,000 euros, creating a potential market for canceled weddings.
Cancelation fees in Germany amount to between 30% and 50% if a big event is canceled months ahead. "It’s often couples that want to get married between May and September who book everything a year ahead," says wedding planner Amrei Plettke.
Payments for photographers, DJs and venues are generally due two months before a given wedding date. Should the cancelation happen in that time frame, wedding planners try to sell as much as they can. "We work together, and we might try to repackage the event — for example, as an engagement party," she says.
Most weddings are planned around 60 to 100 guests a year ahead of time, "and brides want to be a part of a relaxed planning experience," she says.
Plettke believes that over the next few years a market for canceled weddings could break through, particularly for couples like Lili Huber and her boyfriend, who want to save money but still have a dream wedding. Meanwhile, the wedding brokers have sent Huber some offers, and she’s in the process of negotiating a small romantic wedding near Rome.