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Preferred Vendor List Or Paid Vendor List. Which Is It?

by Maureen Thomson

So, you have the ring, set the date and have located the picture-perfect venue for your wedding ceremony and reception.  You’ve even started writing your vows and have found a wedding officiant that will be a perfect fit.

Phew! But faster than you can say, “I do” there are, it seems, a million and one other wedding vendors to line up for the big day.  Photographer, Cake-Baker, Videographer, Florist, Caterer, DJ, Invitation-Engraver. Wow! Throw in a chocolate fountain-provider and it’s enough to make your head spin!

Assuming you haven’t done the getting-married thing before (or even if you have, we figure that you don’t do it with any great frequency), where does a couple turn for information and referrals for all of the above?  It’s natural to seek the assistance of the staff at your wedding venue, of course.  After all, with all the wedding vendors with whom they work in the course of a year, who better to refer you to quality wedding professionals?

Shazamm! Out comes the Preferred Vendor List.  Also known as the PVL, it is handed to you with a flourish.  All of you wedding vendor problems are obliterated!  Simply pick one from the list, right?  A venue manager would not grace just any old vendor with the highly coveted-gold seal-USDA Grade A stamp of approval unless they had tons of prior experience working with that vendor, or one would think.  If you’re good enough to qualify for the PVL then you must be a standout supplier.  Yes?

Well….the answer to that question might not be as clear cut as you think.  Most couples would assume that when a venue manager provides a Preferred Vendor List (either in writing or on the company web page) it means that the vendors listed have worked with the venue manager on a repeat basis, have had their work reviewed against an objective set of criteria and have passed muster.  And this is the case with many venues, but not all.

Unfortunately, sometimes things are not as we would assume.  The sad truth is that in some cases, PVL should stand for Paid Vendor List.  No, Dorothy, you are not in Kansas anymore.  Some venues might insist on a quid-pro-quo financial arrangement to place a vendor on the Mythical Approval List.  This might be in the form of a direct cash payment to the venue or a requirement to attend a bridal show managed by the venue or similar arrangement.  The bottom line is that cash flows from the vendor to the venue in expectation of future referrals from the PVL.  That would be fine if the venue clearly labeled the PVL as being a fee for service arrangement with the listed vendors.  That’s called advertising. Nothing wrong with that. It ranks up there with the likes of T.V. infomercials, glossy magazine spreads, radio spots and sites like theknot.com. All perfectly above-board and perhaps even a handy resource to the engaged couple.

However, advertising or a PVL cleverly disguised as an info-mercial is not even close to being the same thing as an unbiased (read “not pay for play”) Preferred Vendor List. (emphasis on preferred).  Here’s the reality, if a venue requires an up-front cash payment from a vendor to place said vendor on the PVL, then it’s advertising, pure and simple.  In spite of any protestations to the contrary, (“Oh yes, we do charge a fee for the privilege, but believe you me, we thoroughly check out any vendor on our list and if they don’t make the cut, they’re outta here.” Yeah, right!) these venues do not turn down cold hard cash from a willing vendor.

Personally, I think that trying to pass off a Paid Vendor List as a Preferred Vendor List is an abomination.  It’s one of the things that gives the wedding industry a bad name.  A Preferred Vendor List implies a recommendation.  A Preferred Vendor List infers that the one who created it endorses the vendors on the list. Period.  The manager of the list has worked with the listed vendors and has had the chance to evaluate their performance based on direct observation, not conjecture or guess and they are willing to risk their own reputation on their vendor’s performance.  In other words, it’s a merit based system where the best rise to the top and the poor performers are culled out.

Do you hear my voice getting high and squeaky? Sorry about that, but as you can see, paid vendor lists are a pet peeve of mine. In short, the Preferred Vendor List should not be akin to the Yellow Pages!

Keeping the system clean and free from conflict of interest is pretty simple, assuming venue management is willing to place their client’s interest ahead of their own.  When you receive a PVL, ask how vendors qualify for placement: is it a merit based system or a paid list?  If it’s a paid list, don’t necessarily discount it out of hand, just see it for what it is, advertising, and act accordingly.  Also, don’t assume that the absence of a vendor on a paid list makes them unworthy of your consideration. Many vendors (like Lyssabeth’s) refuse to be placed on paid lists as a matter of principle and ethics. (Ergo, you might want to use a paid vendor list as a source of vendors with whom you wouldn’t want to do business.)

And another thought to ponder. Since there are so many quality venues who do have genuine Preferred Vendor Lists (i.e. unpaid), why would a wedding vendor pay to be on such a list? Hmmm…maybe because getting on a true preferred list is difficult.

Why would that be, do you think?

Maureen Thomson is a wedding officiant and owner of Lyssabeth’s Elopements, providing intimate elopement and destination weddings in California, Colorado and Oregon.




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