Making dreams come true

Aug. 17-30, 2006
Making dreams come true
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Liverpool parishioner provides wedding consulting services

With today’s hectic lifestyles, many couples and their families are choosing to entrust the detailed work and planning of a wedding to a bridal consultant.
Jo Kowalewski, a parishioner of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Liverpool, is a master bridal consultant and owner of Elegance … by Jo, a bridal consulting/coordinating firm in Liverpool. She has assisted couples and their families with their wedding plans for the last 13 years. “I have a passion for putting things together,” said Kowalewski. Retired from a career in the corporate world that included the responsibilities of event planning, Kowalewski is familiar with organizing the details of a special occasion.

Kowalewski became interested in the wedding consulting field after planning a wedding for one of her daughters. “I had such a ball putting that together,” she said. “I plunged into the business and it just evolved.” At the start-up of her business, Kowalewski applied for membership with the Association of Bridal Consultants. Through a series of educational courses and proficiency exams, she progressed through three levels of bridal consulting — novice, professional and accredited, to the level at which she is currently — master.

As a novice, Kowalewski completed courses under the Professional Development Program to earn the designation of professional bridal consultant. The courses are designed to increase understanding of the wedding industry and the emotional situations many brides and their families find themselves in during the wedding preparations. The courses of the program are etiquette, sales and marketing, wedding day, related services and planning and consulting. Kowalewski said that there are five components to a bridal consultant’s job. Consultants serve as advisor, coordinator, supervisor, financial planner and mediator.

Kowalewski said she averages consulting six weddings per year. She doesn’t book weddings between January and March. Although 95 percent of the weddings she plans are Catholic, she has recently taken on more ethnic weddings. When Kowalewski meets with a couple for the first time, they discuss a number of things. Topics include the ceremony and reception sites, budget, wedding cake, photographer, music, flowers, food and drink and transportation for the wedding party, among other things.

After meeting with the engaged couple, Kowalewski files all the information about the wedding into a binder. Into the binder goes information about the colors of the wedding; correspondence from the bride and contracts from the vendors she is working with, such as photographers and floral designers.
Then she sends a copy of the schedule of the events to every vendor that has been engaged in the wedding. “It’s a timeline of everything so that everyone knows when and where they are supposed to be,” Kowalewski said. “It creates a smooth flow.” She also devises a letter of agreement, which outlines what the couple expects of her, and at the same time, what she expects of them.

Kowalewski then visits the venue the couple has chosen for the site of their reception. “I look at things such as the color of the carpeting and the shape of the tables,” she explained. “I’ll design a plan — I’ll do five or six table settings with my linen samples – the final decision is theirs. The possibilities are endless. I try to make the wedding a reflection of the bride and groom’s taste. Then I give them a list of vendors so they can interview them. If the bride is from out of town, which a majority of my clients are, I set up the appointments for them.” Kowalewski also helps the bridal couple order their wedding invitations. She offers invitations for purchase at wholesale pricing as a service to the couple.

Another facet of her job is meeting with the floral designer to put together a proposal of the bride’s wishes. After the bride-to-be examines the proposal and makes any necessary changes, the floral designer creates a sample floral centerpiece for her approval.

She is also in contact with a representative at the reception site because she sometimes has to order specially-sized tables from them because the tables have to fit the size of linens the couple has chosen. Kowalewski and her husband usually deliver the linens for the tables to the reception site the day before the affair. Kowalewski attends the wedding rehearsal, noting the order of things, in case anyone in the bridal party forgets and needs to ask her about the procedure.

In her attempt to make the wedding day stress-free, she usually brings an assistant along with her. For extremely large affairs, she will bring four to five assistants to help with setting up the tables for the reception. Kowalewski said she carries an emergency bag with her to the wedding ceremony. The contents include stain remover, breath mints, drinking water and a sewing needle and thread.

Current trends include the use of bold colors and long tables in the décor at the reception. Also, Kowalewski said brides are choosing wedding gowns that are not as elaborate as they were in the past. Brides are also becoming more creative, designing their own wedding programs and table number signs. As Kowalewski remains behind the scenes assuring that things run smoothly, she manages to “keep her cool.” She explained how she does it. “I just keep thinking of the finished product and it keeps me going. I want to make this bride and groom very happy so it will be a day they will never forget.”

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