The Wedding Bell Agents

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Wedding bells have a particularly nice ring to Patricia Lombardo.

Ten years ago, a love of travel led Lombardo and her husband, John, to open an agency in suburban Cleveland. Lombardo Travel and Tours was a combination business and leisure affair that was going to specialize in honeymoons.

As the agency grew, the Lombardos began looking for ways to develop "products and services that we could count on to bring in income when things were a little bit slow," she said.

The answer was matrimonial management.

"Since I was 18 I'd wanted to be a bridal consultant," Lombardo said. Her uncle, a wedding photographer, suggested she expand her business to include wedding services. After all, the honeymoon market on its own is a $4.5 billion-a-year business.

And so the Lombardo agency decided to establish something akin to a one-stop shopping center for those ready to tie the knot. The bride-to-be can book the honeymoon, register the gifts and select wedding- day accessories -- all in one place. Great for her because she saves an awful lot of time. Good for Lombardo because it geometrically increases commissions.

Although she won't talk about gross billings, Lombardo said half of her shop's earnings come from the sale of nontravel products. Gifts for the bride and groom encompass things such as china, linen and flatware. Wedding day accoutrements include everything from toasting goblets and cake tops to the ringbearer's pillow and lucky garters. The commission on this kind of stuff adds up. Fast.

Here's how the synergy works. "We advertise as honeymoon specialists," Lombardo said. The Yellow Pages are an important marketing tool. Once a week, she also clips the engagement section from the local paper and does a mailing to brides-to-be.

Lombardo's pitch is that the company can take the hassle out of what should be one of the most exciting times of a couple's life by planning the honeymoon, setting up a streamlined bridal registry and assembling all their wedding-day accessories.

The bridal registry is the big moneymaker. At the shower, an announcement is made as to where the bride has registered her gift preferences. Instead of a department store, it's a travel agency. "From the convenience and privacy of her home, the bride can choose what she wants from a catalog and submit that list" to the agency, Lombardo said. Correspondingly, the agency sells smaller catalogs -- predicated on the size of the gift they can afford -- to the folks invited to the wedding.

Here's where the math becomes interesting. Lombardo said some 200 people attend the average wedding. One hundred of them give gifts, and 70 percent of those "will follow the bride's selected registry." Figure the average gift is $50, and that's $3,500. Here's the capper. Lombardo Travel & Tours "gets 25 to 50 percent commission, depending on the product line," said Lombardo.

Typically, once the wedding-day accessories are figured in, Lombardo said the agency grosses approximately $5,000 per nuptial. That's exclusive of the honeymoon, which usually costs the client about $3,000. Calculate at least 25 percent commission on the merchandise, combined with 10 percent on the trip, and the return is somewhere north of $1,500. Sure beats selling airline seats.

The trick, of course, is attracting the clientele. The Yellow Pages are a start. Targeted direct mail, gleaned from wedding announcements, also helps.

But the real payoff comes from networking. Lombardo said party centers and wedding photographers are excellent conduits in establishing links to would-be clients. She said owners of party centers and wedding coordinators "will be happy to tell the potential bride-to-be: 'We have something else to offer you. We have someone who can help you with your bridal registry, your honeymoon and your wedding-day accessories.' "

If all of this sounds pretty labor-intensive, Lombardo insists it's not. "It's less work than doing an [Airlines Reporting Corp.] report," she said. "The way we have set it up, it's so streamlined, it's as easy as processing a bottle of wine we're going to send to somebody on a cruise ship."

In Lombardo Travel's seven-agent shop, one person handles the weddings: Patricia Lombardo. "The owner or manager is going to be the one who helps the other agents generate income through this," she said. "We don't want to take away from travel agency sales. We want to use this as a tool to increase them."

This article was adapted from TravelAge magazaine.

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