Secrets of Sacramento’s Wedding Planners


Jennifer Lopez’s character in The Wedding Planner strode around some of the finest landscapes in San Francisco, impeccably groomed and coolly efficient-right down to the high-tech headset on her well-coiffed mane.

It’s safe to say she never encountered a fresh mound of horse manure smack dab in the middle of a path, moments before a bride, her groom and their entire wedding party were to make their way from the ceremony to the reception.

That unappealing task fell to a real-life wedding planner: Laurie Schmalzel, owner of Laurie Schmalzel Events, who helped pull off the recent nuptials at a Solano County ranch. With no time to spare, Schmalzel secured a shovel from a nearby barn, removed the offending pile and raked over the dirt. The bride and groom were blissfully unaware.

“People ask, ‘What do you do?’ The short answer: I do whatever it takes,” says the Sacramento-based event planner who, since 1990, has helped some 600 couples tie the knot. “But do I put on my list of jobs ‘Horse Poop Remover’? Probably not.”

For most brides and grooms, the wedding ideal is a picture-perfect affair, equal parts romance and fun. But to pull the day (or weekend) off successfully can take months of preparation and the marshaling of countless details. But wait! There is help out there, and Sacramento brides-like their counterparts across the country-increasingly are relying on paid professionals to ensure that everything goes off as seamlessly as possible.

“It has been an explosive growth, actually, and the advent of the Internet has helped tremendously,” says Richard Markel, founder and director of the Sacramento-based Association for Wedding Professionals International, which counts among its members some 750 coordinators and other vendors in the United States and abroad.

In years past, he notes, paying somebody to oversee wedding plans was largely the domain of the upper class. But a host of factors, from the time constraints of working women to the planning intricacies of “destination weddings,” has moved the market more mainstream, he says.

Sacramento boasts more than a dozen wedding consultants-the preferred title-and several other event planners who also work in the bridal trade. The Internet teems with organizations and associations that offer networking and training opportunities. And local professionals say it is not uncommon to get a handful of calls or e-mails a week from would-be planners interested in learning about the job.

Lora Ward of Sacramento’s A Day to Remember says the local market is plenty robust. “I always say, ‘Once a luxury, now a necessity,'” she says. “I don’t know how these brides do it without a wedding planner. There is so much information out there. I don’t know how they can distill it down.”

Ward is one of the veteran consultants in the Sacramento region. She started out 30 years ago at Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, working with the congregation’s high school and college social committees.

Soon she was helping with weddings, which typically entailed a ceremony in the sanctuary, a stroll across the courtyard to the social hall, and a light menu of mints, nuts, tea and cake. “The more upscale [receptions] had finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off,” Ward recalls.

These days, “upscale” means much more for Ward and her clients. An admitted Martha Stewart devotee, she clearly enjoys the more sumptuous trappings of today’s nuptials, such as specialty linens and china. One recent wedding she helped plan featured not one but two chocolate fondue fountains (light and dark), his-and-her wedding cakes, three types of limousines (vintage, stretch and Hummer) and a $2,400 bar carved from ice.

An average wedding, with 125 or so in attendance, runs $26,000 to $35,000, according to Markel. Wedding consultant costs can eat up 10 percent or more of the budget, depending on the extent of the services. Many couples hire a planner from the get-go; others put the major pieces in place, then bring in a coordinator to oversee the wedding day. Local rates start at $1,000 for minimal services and top $5,000 at the upper end.

“It was the best money I ever spent,” says Carole Ferrante of Auburn, who splurged on a planner for her daughter’s wedding at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium, which was attended by 280 guests.

“I was a little reluctant at first; I thought I’d wind up doing most of the work myself,” Ferrante continues. “But I enjoyed the whole wedding day. I didn’t worry about the cakes arriving on time or the hall being set up or anything.”

That peace of mind is essential, agrees Jackie Young of Every Little Detail of Folsom. “I think the biggest thing that a wedding planner does is help relieve the bride of stress,” she says. “There are so many little things to take care of, especially the last two weeks. Let the wedding planner handle all of the details, so you can go about enjoying being engaged.”

Young became a full-time wedding planner in 2004 after 14 years with Intel. In the corporate world, she specialized in planning and marketing, orchestrating her department’s quarterly team-building activities and other functions. When it came time to plan her own wedding, Young’s knack became even more apparent. The September 2003 affair in the Napa Valley was for close friends and family, but sizable in details. Young secured two bed-and-breakfast inns for her guests, set up wine-tasting side trips and golf, and held the ceremony and luncheon at V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena.