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Business Feature

Here comes the bride


Melissa Alger, the owner of Weddings by Design & The Tux Shop in West Des Moines, says her business focuses on making the experience of buying a wedding gown a memorable one.

When it comes to the holiday season and Valentine’s Day, love is in the air — and warm, fuzzy feelings abound. No wonder then that the number of engagements spikes. As most of us begin looking forward to the warmer days ahead, the betrothed dive into planning for the day they will begin their lives as a married couple.

For traditional weddings, the planning process may take one to two years. Those in the wedding industry recommend a couple begin by locking down their venue, as that choice often impacts those that follow. Next, they say to line up a caterer before reaching out to the smaller vendors such as a DJ or a photographer to find ones available on the big day.

As far as the finer details, such as linens and decorations, some will hire a wedding planner to sort it all out. However, in this age of DIY and Pinterest inspiration, a lot of couples are taking it upon themselves to do the planning.

Regardless of the approach couples take, they have many decisions to make and vendors to choose. And each comes with a price tag.

Kendra Kasischke, right, owner of Country Lane Lodge, Adel, says many of the weddings held there involve the couple and their friends and family pitching in for duties such as decorating. Molly Claman, left, is the event manager at the venue.

The venue

The days of the church wedding with reception following in the church basement are mostly gone. Today’s wide selection of venues provide couples an opportunity to select one that sets the tone and allows for the amenities they want for their wedding and celebration.

One of the metro’s highly sought-after wedding venues is Country Lane Lodge near Adel. A scenic gravel drive opens up to an 8,000-square-foot wooden lodge with enough space to host 400 guests. In her fifth year of business, owner Kendra Kasischke has hosted hundreds of wedding couples at her venue and says weddings account for about 55% of her business. Events such as business gatherings and fundraisers account for the remaining 45%, she says.

The 40-acre property, nestled into the wooded hillside, offers an escape to peace and quiet. The lodge is secluded enough that traffic sounds are unheard, and the deer and wild turkey are undisturbed. Kasischke’s favorite feature is the drive up to the lodge. 

“That kind of sets the tone for the property,” she said. She hinted at the casual and unexpected elegance that Country Lane Lodge, with its chandeliers and fireplace, provides.

As with many wedding venues, the lodge also provides many services to make sure the day goes off without a hitch. 

“We’re not full service, but we do a lot of different things,” Kasischke explained. For every wedding, Country Lane Lodge provides a staff member on site; creates the custom floor plan, organizing tables and chairs; provides basic linens and décor; and offers day-of coordination.

Kasischke finds that about 80% of the couples who use Country Lane Lodge do not use a wedding planner.

“Usually they have a wedding planner if it’s an off-site wedding — getting married at a church, or if it’s a little more high-end,” she said.

Country Lane Lodge usually hosts two weddings per weekend May through November. Sometimes, they will even see three or four weddings on weekends in June, September and October. Booking for the property is currently going into 2023, and there has been some interest in 2024 dates. One couple even inquired about 2025. Kasischke says booking farther in advance is a current trend for more sought-after venues.

Another trend she notes is that Country Lane Lodge is becoming a prime spot for “destination” weddings. She says an increasing number of weddings held there have not been for local couples. 

“They’re from Kansas City and Minneapolis, meeting halfway; they’re from Omaha and the Quad Cities, they’re meeting halfway.”

Kasischke says couples take a lot of the preparation into their own hands, bringing DIY projects and decorations to create the day of their dreams. Couples often get creative and involve their relatives and friends in decorating the venue before the wedding and reception.

Billy and Deanna Faubus, owners of B Fabulous Catering, started with catering barbecue; however, to keep up with the culinary requests of their clients, they expanded their menu offerings and include gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Feeding the guests

To feed and please guests of their wedding, many couples enlist the expertise of a caterer. From the smallest to largest gatherings, the food is often a topic of conversation.

A caterer capable of feeding up to 550 guests, B Fabulous Catering is a popular choice for Des Moines metro weddings. Billy and Deanna Faubus have owned and operated the catering company for more than 11 years. Their business is located in Slater, where they also operate a restaurant that is open five days a week.

Most of the couples B Fabulous serves opt for full-service catering. This includes the catering staff coming to the wedding, setting up the buffet line, serving the meats, and sticking around to clean up. They also offer drop-off catering, which entails B Fabulous simply delivering the food, which is more common for smaller weddings and rehearsal dinners. Unlike other catering services, B Fabulous does not offer any plated meal options.

“We do have BBQ — that’s how we started, but we quickly found that people wanted more options,” said Deanna Faubus. The menus offered now accomodate a variety of diets. A majority of the menu is already gluten free, which Faubus finds is the most common request. The vegetarian and vegan market has also expanded, and B Fabulous offers those options as well. Often, the couple will inform B Fabulous about a handful of guests who need another option, and they will accommodate those requests.

Because of the pandemic, B Fabulous had many weddings from 2020 rescheduled. As a result, 2021 was their biggest year with 64 weddings. The average for the company is about 50 weddings each year. They can do, at most, three weddings on a Saturday.

Typically, the company caters weddings within 45 minutes of Slater. 

“But we have an equation that we use which is, the round trip mileage needs to equal the guest count,” Faubus said. On average, the company will see 200 guests per wedding.

“With a venue, you may find that you are restricted to who you can choose for catering, Faubus said. For that reason, she advises to determine the venue first and caterer after that.

As with other caterers, B Fabulous offers a free tasting for two when deciding on the menu. Faubus suggests doing this about a year out from the wedding date but says she will see couples come in for a tasting anywhere from a couple of months to 18 months before the wedding.

Dressing the bride

Shopping for a dress can create life-long memories for any bride-to-be. It can also be overwhelming with hundreds of styles — and dozens of bridal shops — to choose from.

“The way brides shop has changed,” said Melissa Alger, the owner of Weddings by Design & The Tux Shop in West Des Moines. Much of this change, she said, is a result of the Internet. Online shopping and even virtual fittings are on the rise, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. But Alger caters to those who want their dress shopping to be about the experience.

Weddings by Design & The Tux Shop specializes in specially ordered wedding gowns. All of the gowns in the store are samples used for fitting. After a bride finds the right dress, the store orders it with the correct measurements. The dress is then made and shipped from China to West Des Moines. The cost of Weddings by Design’s average dress ranges from $1,500 to $1,700. In the back of the shop is a selection of bridesmaid dresses and dresses for the couple’s moms and family members.

In addition to gowns and dresses, the business also caters to the groom and groomsmen. The Tux Shop has its own separate entrance and separate area of the store.

The experience is what matters to Alger. 

“We try to enhance that experience — really make it special, comfortable, fun — so that the word of mouth gets out.” Her target customer is the woman who is still looking for the entire dress-shopping experience. At Weddings by Design, it all starts with an appointment, typically booked two weeks out. The one-and-a-half-hour appointments are limited to five people because of COVID-19 mitigation. Each group is matched with one consultant to help them through the process. The full-service rooms are outfitted with comfortable seating, with access to a hospitality bar with coffee and wine.

Kendra Plathe, owner of KMP Photography, says the wedding photography industry is becoming increasingly creative.

Alger said the average bride will go through 10-15 dresses before she finds “the one.” After the sale is made, it takes about four or five months for the dress to be made and shipped to the store.

Alger said the shop’s busy season is right after the holidays and Valentine’s Day — right after peak engagement season. But she also sees a busy fall shopping season, too. Most brides will come in a year before their wedding date, she said.

Capturing the moments

Kendra Plathe works full-time as the owner of  KMP Photography and has done so for three years. She specializes in weddings and senior photography, but 75% of her business is from weddings. Her experience photographing weddings has shown her firsthand the shift from traditional wedding photography to a more creative approach.

KMP offers a variety of photography options based on time and number of photographs, ranging from a courthouse marriage taking only a few hours to photograph, to eight- or 10-hour sessions for larger weddings. Plathe said she will research the venue beforehand if it is nearby. Otherwise, she will arrive a couple of hours early to plan out the day.

“I always tell people, when you get engaged, don’t waste any time before contacting your favorite vendors that you want because some people will book very, very quickly,” Plathe advised. Some couples are already reaching out to Plathe for their 2023 weddings.

Although the traditional family and couple photos at a wedding are still must-haves for many couples, photographers are getting increasing creative to provide that image the captures the feel of the wedding, such as this photo by Kendra Plathe, KMP Photography.

After initial communication with the couple, Plathe says it is important to hop on a video chat.

 “You can love somebody’s photos, but, if you’re not connecting with that person — or like, vibing with them — you’re in for a really long day.” After that, it is on to paperwork and invoicing, then setting a date for an engagement session. For each wedding package, an engagement session is included for the couple. Another meeting is held with the couple to fine-tune any last-minute details, and then it is the wedding day.

Plathe is working to be more of a “fly on the wall” during a wedding. She wants to capture those special moments as they unfold. However, she recognizes the importance of structured photos like those of the family, bridal party and couple.

Plathe said she takes anywhere from 600 to 800 photos per wedding. Within a week, she promises to send out a sneak peek of the photos to the couples. After that, it will take her about two months to finish the rest of the portfolio.

Never too early?

If you want the wedding of your dreams, one thing seems certain: You’d better start planning early. Your preferred venue may already be fully booked for months — or longer — into the future. Experts agree that the venue must be determined first, then the other vendors can be lined up for the big day, starting with the caterer. The list of tasks and decisions is long. Most couples arrange for flowers, formal wear, a photographer, personalized invitations, centerpieces and decorations, music, and much more. So, if you have a wedding in your future, get to it. And remember to have your checkbook ready for each step along the way. n

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