Making plans of her own

Wedding planner moving company to larger site

She received award, grant

Holy Matrimony to carry specialty items as well

Howard County

April 07, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Vicky R. Johnson is into dreams - as a wedding consultant and owner of a bridal services firm, she works to make them reality for others all the time. But now Johnson says she is living a dream of her own.

After just a year in business, her company, Holy Matrimony, is expanding. Johnson recently received an Entrepreneur of the Year award with a $1,500 grant, and in a month, the company will move to a new space in Ellicott City, where it will carry a line of gift items for all occasions, Johnson said.

While Johnson seemingly has her hands full with brides - sales for last month were up 40 percent compared with the same time last year, she said, and she is booked through October - she said the retail store is the next step for her business. The Entrepreneur of the Year award she won last month from the Entrepreneur Foundation of America was based, in part, on her plans to expand.

"It was in our plans to do something, we just had no idea we'd be moving this quickly," she said. "From a business standpoint, we've taken a retail business to offset some of the lows and downs of the wedding planning business. In our research, these two businesses would complement each other."

Holy Matrimony is designed to provide a group of services typically ordered from several different vendors - site design and decoration, invitations and other paper products, flowers and party favors. Johnson also does wedding consulting at an hourly rate, but most of her business is from online sales, she said.

But with a new store, Johnson also hopes to become a destination for specialty gift items. The store, on Old Frederick Road next to the post office parking lot, will have two floors of gift items for weddings and other occasions. Johnson said the gifts will not have themes - a blanket would not have a baby on it, for example, to indicate it as a shower gift. But she plans to stock high-end specialty items - such as cashmere blankets, artwork and decor.

"If you're going to a shower, you can come in and pick up a very unique gift," she said. "We've spent a lot of time [picking items] that will help you find something that fits the person you're giving it to, while also giving an almost luxurious token of affection."

The top floor will be used as a consulting area for brides and as a studio where Johnson can put together her latest order of party favors or design invitations.

Though her bridal service business is supporting her now, it is wise to offset the wedding work with her retail business, according to Shelby Tuck-Horton, coordinator for the Maryland chapter of the Association of Bridal Consultants.

Tuck-Horton said the wedding business runs typically from March through November, and during the winter months, consultants plan holiday parties or move to selling stationery, invitations and holiday cards.

"Those other little profit centers help," she said. "She can have that money coming in all the time."

Although the concept behind Johnson's wedding business is not entirely new - many service providers in the wedding industry bundle services, such as florists who also coordinate weddings - Tuck-Horton said Johnson has built the company on a group of services that are a good mix for brides and wedding coordinators.

"A lot of times people want to deal with as few people as possible," she said. "Those are some of the things that the bride looks for that it's good to get from one person. That only leaves your major components to talk about."

Johnson said she had about 600 clients in her first year of business and provided consulting services for about a third of them. She is a link to more than 3,500 vendors of novelty items, paper products and decorative ideas and this allows her to offer her services anywhere in the country, she said.

Because she shops bridal shows all over the country, Johnson said she is able to pick up items that might not ordinarily be found on the East Coast.

"Our biggest advantage has been to ... find those products that not everybody is buying."

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