“No, we are not okay”: Wedding industry vendor shares the pain of 18 months of business annihilation

In The Booth Kate Austin Steve Austin

In The Booth owners Kate and Steve Austin. Source: supplied.

On Friday I read this article about supporting small businesses and local communities in SmartCompany and it bought me to tears for all the right reasons. 

My husband Steve and I own In The Booth. We’re a photo booth hire company with franchise locations Australia-wide. We started in our garage in 2009; we worked hard and it grew. 

In mid-March 2020, an atomic bomb called COVID-19 landed, and I’ll be brazen enough to say there were few as close to the epicentre than the wedding and event industry. 

Eighteen months ago with our industry in instant turmoil, the majority of suppliers postponed our customer’s events with no fee to the client. Customers stating “we understand it’s not your fault but it’s not ours either” was a conversation we had hundreds of times over as deposit refunds were demanded because “we haven’t even done their event yet”.  

To explain our industry a little, date availability is king. A couple selects the date for the wedding, books their venue and corresponding suppliers. We then hold that date upon receipt of their deposit and take final payment prior to the event. Nothing ground-breaking there. 

Enter COVID-19 where bookings are rare, postponements often, income non-existent and customer support requirements high. On any given day, a wedding and event supplier receives dozens of calls or emails from highly stressed couples needing urgent answers regarding date changes and refunds. We have had no choice whatsoever but to strip back our team to the bare bones, keep caring for our customers and franchise owners as best we can, and keep telling ourselves ‘this has to end’. 

An industry rendered inoperable

But it hasn’t ended. As of last week, it’s got much worse. I personally spoke to a bride who had her hair and makeup done when the Brisbane announcement was made. I spoke to a bride this morning who is due to get married in a week, who has already postponed once and is very upset she is unable to have a refund. 

It is beyond distressing for our couples. For suppliers, we are living an un-ending nightmare with no government support worth a mention since the end of JobKeeper. We work the weeks assisting customers. On the weekends we attend the remainder of our bookings under ever-changing and confusing square metre rules and unhappy people who have forged ahead with their events in the most stressful of circumstances.

“But what about state-based support?”, we’re often asked. Some state based support has been offered when states are locked down, yes. The problem is, weddings and events are affected by each and every state lockdown. A wedding business in Melbourne loses bookings when Queensland locks down because guests from Queensland can’t get to the Melbourne wedding. A wedding business in Perth (virtually unaffected by lockdowns one might think) loses business when the bride’s family can’t get into the state for her wedding due to the New South Wales lockdown.  

A lockdown in any state means the next two months (at the minimum) of customers panicking and calling to postpone their events. The entire conversation starts again between a dozen event suppliers, trying to work with their couples to find a new wedding date. 

This last months’ worth of state announcements has destroyed the recovery work we have painstakingly rebuilt. We have pushed the ‘postpone’ button more times than we can count, which is into the thousands. We have couples on their third and fourth ‘go’ to hold their weddings. As an industry, we have thousands of future events on the books desperate to celebrate with their friends  and family. 

I’ll go as far as to say our industry is inoperable right now. Yet, those of us that are left are doing what we can to keep our lights on and answer the phone for the thousands of customers we have postponed in our booking systems. 

This line from Eloise Keating’s article struck home, hard: 

“Small business owners are exhausted. They’ve adapted and pivoted and pulled out all the stops over the past 18 months simply to keep their heads above water.” 

And this: 

“They sponsor sporting clubs and events. They fundraise for local charities. They team up together when the chips are down.” 

This is the event industry to a tee. Not a day goes by where we don’t receive requests for charity events, local school support and countless other fantastic causes.  

These events need companies like us to happen. We create incredible celebrations for a living. One of the best parts of life is celebrating — our weddings, our milestone birthdays, our corporate achievements. These celebrations are the reason our business exists, yet for 18 months now has been deemed ‘non-essential’ by our government. 

In the Booth Kate Austin Steve Austin

In The Booth owners Kate and Steve Austin in happier times. Source: supplied.

We are not okay

I have started to see the well-recognised ‘R U OK?’ day information appearing for the next R U OK day on September 9. I know I can speak on behalf of the entire event industry to our collection of federal and state governments when I say no. No, we are not okay. In fact, many of us are in dire straits and haven’t received anything resembling a pay cheque since March. 

All we want is to be able to get back to work and to have some confidence returned to our market. If we are going to continue to be told we are forbidden from working, we need support — proper support — and we need it now

I personally can’t watch the press conference when new restrictions or lockdowns are announced anymore. Weddings and events or ‘gathering’ are usually one of the top bullet point-restrictions, yet not a single government package has been tailored to our industry? 

That’s the thing, our industry really is ‘small business’. We’re not Qantas or the construction industry. We’re stylists and DJs and hire companies and musicians and photo booths and videographers and venues. We don’t fit into a government category and we get that. But we think that 18 months of business annihilation is worthy of a category being created. 

I come from a network of family and friends with small businesses. Throughout this time, I have seen many of those businesses flourish, which is beyond fantastic. My family and friends in trades such as air conditioning and building especially have seen phenomenal growth. I am genuinely thrilled when any small business owner does well — it’s what our country is built on, as Eloise stated: 

“It’s true small businesses are the backbone of the economy, employing millions of Australians and  contributing significantly to economic activity.” 

Unfortunately, my article today isn’t penned due to a story of COVID success. It’s from one of shock, exhaustion and complete dismay that nothing seems to be changing. How long do we need to hang on? 

Thank you again for the article last week. In this darkness it helps greatly to know there’s still some people out there who get it. 

COMMENTS

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
22 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Roland Lever
Roland Lever
1 month ago

If your horse dies … get off!

Steve
Steve
1 month ago
Reply to  Roland Lever

When someone murders your horse, you usually get some justice and even compensation…

Kate Austin
Kate Austin
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve

Thank you for your support Steve. We’d be happy with just being able to start the re-build with the knowledge it won’t be knocked down at the next press conference.

Greggy
Greggy
1 month ago
Reply to  Roland Lever

Ok boomer. Weddings will never “die”, they’re asking for some support throughout the storm. Your comment reflects the Government’s response to those in this industry so well done.

Kate Austin
Kate Austin
1 month ago
Reply to  Greggy

Thank you for your support Greggy, it is appreciated.

Kate Austin
Kate Austin
1 month ago
Reply to  Roland Lever

Our horse didn’t die Roland, it was shot out from underneath us. We’ve been trying to buy a new horse since, but horses have been deemed non-essential.

Roland Lever
Roland Lever
1 month ago
Reply to  Kate Austin

I didn’t say the horse is dead. I said “If your horse dies … “.
Certainly woke a lot of maggots.
You guys will learn many good things in the next few years, and I wish you well.

Jac
Jac
1 month ago
Reply to  Roland Lever

Spoken by someone who clearly isn’t in the wedding and event industry and doesn’t understand being passionate about their ‘job’.

Nathan Chilo
Nathan Chilo
1 month ago
Reply to  Roland Lever

Roland,
I’m interested to know how many horses you have seen still standing after they’ve died? I hear you answer “none”, that’s correct Roland, well done, your analogy sucks. To carry on with your analogy, I would suggest that most jockeys would be seen falling to the ground with their horse if it were to suffer a medical event mid-race. I would also suggest that the jockey would then tirelessly render first aid to their beloved horse and dedicate their efforts to rehabilitate the horse back to the race winner it once was. I can hear all the good stuff right there; getting back up after you’ve fallen down, not giving up on your dream and passion, and having the strength to fight back. But no, not you Roland. You’re the type to walk away from your broken horse once you’ve both hit the ground. A “giver-upper” is a term that comes to mind. So, why the long reply? Because you have no clue what someone else’s situation is. Your comment was ignorant and oozes a type of “I know best” arrogance. Go home, Roland. You’re a knob.

Kate Austin
Kate Austin
1 month ago
Reply to  Nathan Chilo

😂

Rupert
Rupert
1 month ago
Reply to  Roland Lever

What’s the point of comments like this Roland. These people are honest and vulnerable and you try and turn it into a metaphor to make you look smart? You’re not smart, you’re a coward and a troll.

The horse just needs a vet to get it through. It’ll be strong as it was before after this.

Kate Austin
Kate Austin
1 month ago
Reply to  Rupert

That means a lot during these times Rupert, thank you.

Susan
Susan
1 month ago

My photo booth business is fledgling, my side hustle really while I try to build a name and work full time as a Remedial Massage Therapist. So not only is my side hustle in a constant state of non operation, my full time job is one of top things on the list to shut down yet almost always the last to know. The event industry is uncategorised, and the massage industry sits between two categories; we’re not quite health industry, but we’re more than the beauty industry. So I feel your pain as you fall between the cracks of support and recognition.

Kate Austin
Kate Austin
1 month ago
Reply to  Susan

I’m so sorry to hear that Susan. It is unimaginable for all and getting tougher and tougher the longer we seem to fall on deaf ears. Take care.

Jac
Jac
1 month ago

Completely understand Kate. Good people who are great at what they do are leaving the industry because they can no longer survive in it. Well written article and something needs to be done. We are working harder for less money and are completely drained. There’s only so many times we can keep coming back up after we’ve been knocked down. Keep your chin up x

Kate Austin
Kate Austin
1 month ago
Reply to  Jac

Hi Jac, thank you kindly. Speaking with industry friends, I’ve realized so many of us are nearing breaking point. We’ve been positive for our customers and ourselves and our families and our businesses that were ‘wanted’ 18 months ago and will be wanted again. But we all have our limits eventually, don’t we. Thank you so much for your thoughts. Take care.

Greg Wahlsten
Greg Wahlsten
1 month ago

If you have never built up and run a successful franchise business from scratch, why would you think you had anything valid to say to someone who, through no fault of their own finds themselves on their knees after several hard gut punches?? Just scroll past🤦
We’re one of the lucky ones, based in the west and building slowly while hanging onto our day jobs….. I hope all you big full time operations can bounce back quickly when our collective leaders can get their act together.
Wishing you some relief soon Kate and Steve

Kate Austin
Kate Austin
1 month ago
Reply to  Greg Wahlsten

Thank you for your kind words Greg. We know there are plenty of people out there who ‘get it’ – which we forget when we become focused on the mainstream media and government’s endless pointless narrative. Wishing you every success in your business.

Kacee
Kacee
1 month ago

Deleted

Last edited 1 month ago by Kacee
Karen Sargaison
Karen Sargaison
1 month ago

Steve and Kate, my heart goes out to you both, I have met you both many times at Bridal expos’ as I used to run a wedding hair and makeup business. I made a very hard decision last March to close down my business as I didn’t think I could sustain expenses with such as rent and insurances and advertising etc I would go to the wall. I didn’t know what was ahead of us, and that it would be still effecting us all now. I and was heartbroken by my decision as not only was our business our income but it was something we created and I so much enjoyed our lovely Brides and our amazing artists. I know what it is like to receive those phone calls of heart broken Brides. My husband also is in his own business and lucky for us we could keep going with his business eventually. You are both so amazing and I wish I could do something to help you both. Take care:)

Kate Austin
Kate Austin
1 month ago

Karen, thank you so much for your kind words and so lovely to hear from you. I’m so sorry to read your story and the devastating efffects on your business. Who of us could ever have forseen this? No amount of business planning could have avoided what we’ve all lived and are continuing to endure. I am so happy to hear your husband’s business has been able to continue. You have to have been in the industry yourself to truly understand the kind of hard working, awesome people that are apart of it, don’t you? It is heartbreaking not only for us but to watch so many friends lose so much. Look after yourself and thank you again for your kind comment 🙂

Matt Butterworth
Matt Butterworth
28 days ago

Kate and Steve, thank you so much for sharing your story of bravery, its one that is common from the heros throughout the wedding industry. For 18 months you’ve been the rock for so many distressed couples and eventually the lack of leadership from our government, both state and federal takes its tole. Stick in there, you guys have an amazing business and we likely have 4-5 months to go and we’ll see weddings back bigger than ever before.

And WTF is that comment about a horse. Real business leaders do not run from adversity when times are tough, you continue to support your community, your people, your clients and you continue to have resilience and determination to ensure that the many years you put into building something with every once of energy you have is rebuilt better than it was before.