See which vendors meet BBB standards
See if Chattanooga-area wedding vendors meet the standards of the Better Business Bureau and look for a pattern of complaints at www.chattanooga.bbb.org
Jim Hartley, owner of River City Insurance in Red Bank, knows firsthand that the best-laid wedding plans can go awry.
When Hartley and his wife were married in 1983, they got ripped off by the wedding photographer.
"They went out of business, so they took our money and ran," he said. "I don't have any wedding pictures."
These days, couples can buy wedding insurance from Hartley and other insurance providers to help make sure their big day isn't ruined.
And there are no-cost steps, too, that couples and their families can take to avoid wedding-day disaster — as was the case for at least 10 couples who lost money they prepaid toward all-inclusive weddings at Lindsay Street Hall. The high-profile downtown Chattanooga wedding venue recently was sold at foreclosure auction on the courthouse steps after its owner stopped paying the mortgage and left many of those who had prepaid for their weddings out of luck.
One free thing that couples can do to avoid being stiffed by venues and vendors is to check to see if they are accredited with the Chattanooga-based Better Business Bureau of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, said Jim Winsett, that organization's president and CEO.
"Check the Better Business Bureau web site for its business reliability report on each vendor you have under consideration," Winsett said.
Another easy-to-take safeguard, he said, is to pay vendors with a credit card, instead of paying with a check or cash. That way, the credit card company can assist with disputed claims.
Choosing a larger vendor with a bigger staff makes sense, said Tara Plumlee, who owns a catering company and four event venues in the Chattanooga area — including 901 Lindsay, the downtown building that she bought at auction — because that way a wedding party won't get stuck if the one person who runs a one-person business gets sick.
"We're not a one-man band," Plumlee said.
Vendors and venues that don't perform are the biggest risk to weddings, said an executive at Traveler's Insurance, which is one of a number of companies to offer wedding insurance. Others include Nationwide, Wedsure and Wedsafe.
"Our biggest claims are really venue-related," said Todd Shasha, a managing director at Traveler's, a publicly-traded insurance giant that has about 30,000 employees. "[Wedding] pictures never show up. Your florist does not deliver the flowers."
Insurance typically covers the cost of lost deposits if a venue goes out of business. It also can pay to reconvene the wedding party to retake photos if the photographer doesn't show.
Insurance can cover costs in the case of natural disasters, such as tornadoes, that make weddings impossible, and reimburse in the case of other wedding disruptors, such as the illness of a bride or groom or their military deployment.
"Obviously, you never know when you're going to get deployed," Shasha said.
Traveler's least-expensive policy is $160, Shasha said, and covers such things as $7,500 toward the venue and $1,500 toward the wedding photographer. Traveler's wedding insurance tops out at $1,025, which covers a $175,000 wedding. "The average cost of a wedding, I think it's around $30,000 today," Shasha said. "If you don't have the coverage, you're really putting it all at risk."
Wedding insurance isn't a big product line for insurance companies, though Traveler's spokewsoman Sperry Mylott said its popularity is growing.
There are no deductibles with Traveler's wedding insurance plans, so couples who buy one don't have to pay anything out of pocket.
Hartley said he's only sold two wedding insurance policies.
"It's not popular in this area," Hartley said. "In Tennessee, [many] people go to the JP — justice of the peace."
Cold feet is one thing that wedding insurance is not good for, he said.
"If the bride backs out or the groom backs out — that's not covered," Hartley said.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.
BBB recommends consumers to be very selective when choosing event vendors.
* Research and compare: Like anything else, buy with your head – not you heart. Make sure vendors have a good marketplace record at bbb.org, get references and price quotes from several vendors.* Get it all in writing: The devil is in the details, especially if the details are not in the contract. The contract should contain dates, start and finishing times, any charges for staying longer, penalties for cancellation and specifics about what services are expected. In the case of photographers, make sure you have a firm date for delivery of the final product.
* Consider wedding insurance: While nothing can take the place of a vendor who doesn’t show up, wedding insurance can mitigate the problems, and also cover cancellations due to weather, sickness, or injury, and any problems with the venue that may interfere with your plans.
* Consult a wedding planner: They can do a lot of the heavy lifting and check contracts to make sure your interests are protected.
* Stay on top of vendors: Check-in with vendors in the weeks leading up to the event. Overestimate the time that will be necessary to get your wedding gown, especially at the time of year that salons are booked solid.\
Source: Better Business Bureau of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia
Tips for buying wedding insurance
BBB offers the following advice on purchasing wedding insurance:
* Always research insurance companies first with BBB by reviewing BBB Reliability Reports free of charge online at www.bbb.org
* Shop for wedding insurance before paying deposits on any wedding services to make sure all expenses are covered.
* Comparison shop and pay close attention to the fine print. According to the Insurance Information Institute, insurance will cost between $125 to $400 depending on the amount of coverage. Like any insurance plan, there are limits on claims and deductibles that must be met.
* Avoid purchasing overlapping coverage. Some vendors might already be insured or coverage might be provided by the credit card company.
* Keep good records and all receipts for the insurance company in order to justify any reimbursements.
For more advice on planning a consumer-savvy wedding, go to www.bbb.org.
Source: Better Business Bureau