Reno-Tahoe’s $438 million wedding industry faces uncertain outlook in pandemic
By the start of spring, Erik Riekenberg, owner of Reno-based Epik Weddings and Events, typically has a work calendar booked through the fall.
This year, however, is shaping up to be anything but typical for the wedding industry.
As the coronavirus pandemic keeps much of the nation indefinitely shuttered, leaving countless couples wondering if their big days need to be changed, the 2020 wedding season across the nation faces the threat of sheer postponement.
And, depending on how long the pandemic lasts, there’s a world in which the wedding season could be outright canceled.
Not only would this impact the would-be brides and grooms planning to tie the knot in Northern Nevada, but also the region’s small businesses that rely on weddings to meet their bottom lines.
“About 80% of our business revenue is tied to weddings,” says Riekenberg, whose company provides DJ, photography, videography and photo booth service for weddings across greater Reno-Tahoe. “This has been a shift, where normally we’re expecting revenue in certain months … and that’s not happening.”
Riekenberg said his company lost $4,000 in revenue in March and will lose about $6,500 in April. If the COVID-19 crisis lingers into May and June, then the revenue losses “will be really tough,” he said.
“If we lose May, that will be $19,000 (in lost revenue),” said Riekenberg, who’s had five clients reschedule to later this year and one cancel so far. “I haven’t looked at the numbers for June yet, but that could be probably closer to $40,000.”
With a mountainous backdrop, endless sunshine and a breathtaking alpine lake, Reno-Tahoe is one of the most popular places in the world for couples to exchange their vows.
In fact, Reno-Tahoe ranks 26th out of 932 metropolitan areas in number of weddings each year, according to The Wedding Report, a research company that collects and forecasts statistics for the wedding industry.
In 2019 alone, there were 14,850 weddings in the area, with an average cost of $29,554. Based off of last year’s numbers, the wedding industry in Reno-Tahoe was worth more than $438 million.
“If this impacts the next 12 months, I’m probably going to have to put the business on hold and find other sources of income to be able to make payments until we can get back to large gatherings,” said Riekenberg, who last week applied for a potential $2 million Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) from the U. S. Small Business Administration. “Without being able to have large gatherings, there’s not much we can do to perform the services that we have.”
‘A SCARY TIME’
Reno-based photographer Jeramie Lu is in the same boat. As a self-employed wedding, event and portrait photographer, Lu said it’s “scary” not being able to book clients during this uncertain time.
“All meetings for weddings have halted — meaning, bookings have as well,” Lu wrote in an email to the NNBW. “This is the time we book the most weddings throughout the year and rely on this time of year for the rest of our season.
“Being a one-man business that provides for his entire family is a scary time now.”
To that end, Lu said he lost about 75% of his revenue for March and is tracking to lose 100% of his revenue for April. Each year, Lu books about 35 weddings, which account for about 40% of his annual revenue.
As of April 1, he’s had five clients postpone and two others that are “uncertain.” And the couples that have postponed, he said, do not have a new date in mind.
Considering the possibility that all of his clients move their dates to the fall, Lu said he’s worried he’ll lose some business to a bookings crunch.
“I am concerned dates will overlap and I am out one or two weddings simply because of availability,” he added. “This also limits future bookings for this year, as well.”
Lu said he’s also applied to the SBA’s EIDL program and filed for new unemployment, adding: “I have heard nothing from any of them at this time.”
‘IT’S ROUGH FOR EVERYONE’
Ken Allen, owner of Reno-based Amplified Entertainment, also has his business on pause due to the current public health crisis. Allen said he lost about $12,000 in revenue in March and forecasts losing between $15,000-$20,000 in April.
“During this time, it’s just rough for everyone,” said Allen, whose company DJs everything from weddings to corporate events to city festivals. “For us, I would say we’ve had at least 30 postponements. And it’s tough to reschedule something when you have a fear of the unknown.”
With a dozen DJs on staff, Allen said the lack of bookings has “affected every single” member on his team.
Though, he noted that each of them has other means of income through different fulltime or part-time jobs.
Still, as the team leader, Allen said he is staying in contact with his staff and spreading positivity, adding: “You can’t pass on positivity if you don’t have it coming from the top.”
Since the wave of COVID-related postponements, Amplified Entertainment has stayed heavy on social media, posting things like memes of positivity and short clips of Allen (aka DJ Kentot) spinning records (and sometimes dancing to MC Hammer) inside his home.
‘ACT OF GOD’ CLAUSES
Notably, all three business owners interviewed by the NNBW said they have a type of “act of God” clause in their contracts — and the COVID-19 pandemic would fall in that category.
For example, Epik Weddings’ contract includes a non-refundable 50% booking fee, but it allows clients impacted by COVID-19 to move the booking fee to a new event any time within 12 months of the original event date.
Lu’s clause allows clients to reschedule or be refunded. So far, he said clients aren’t asking for a refund because they “still want to get married and still want me.”
Allen said Amplified Entertainment’s clause says if a client can’t reschedule an event — “like a birthday party,” he said — they work with individuals to get their deposit back.
He added: “We want to be there for the community, so we’re more than happy — if they’re in super hard times and must cancel — to work with them.”