Nicole and David chose Sanford-based Vision Events and Nicole Smith to plan their 2017 wedding in Cary. Photo by Creative Silence, courtesy of Vision Events.

Nicole Smith compares a wedding planner with the conductor of an orchestra. There are so many moving parts to every wedding, and that conductor is needed to keep everybody on the same beat and to make sure nothing is off key. While they’re not necessarily playing the instruments, the planner is making sure every musician (or vendor) is playing their role.

“We’re puppet masters. We’re playing Tetris, making sure the pieces fall into place,” says Smith. “There’s all sorts of things I can compare it to, but what it comes down to is if a couple tries to do all of this themselves, there’s going to be mistakes. There’s going to be frustration. There are going to be additional costs. And we never want to see any of that happen. That’s why couples put their trust in us.”

Smith is owner of Vision Events Wedding and Event Planning, which has conducted weddings large and small and other events from Pinehurst to Sanford to Raleigh for over 15 years. Smith, a senior certified wedding planner and The Bridal Society’s 2019 Planner of the Year, started her career as a banquet server at The Sanderling Resort and Spa in Duck, North Carolina, and moved up to sales manager of the wedding market. She then spent seven years directing large scale events for a Marriott resort before starting her own business in Sanford.

Vision Events oversees roughly 20 weddings a year, and her 2021 has been extra busy with several couples pushing their weddings back in 2020 or waiting longer due to the pandemic. While most of her weddings are held in central North Carolina, she’s also a partner with Sandals resorts and has planned several Caribbean weddings in recent years.

Oakland Farm is one of a growing number of wedding venues that requires a wedding planner for all wedding events. Photo by Alicia Hite

Wedding planners, she says, were once considered a luxury — and their portrayal in movies like “The Wedding Planner” with Jennifer Lopez or “Father of the Bride” did little to alter that mindset. But Smith says more than half of today’s weddings involve planners, and part of the reason for the climb is many venues are starting to require it.

The reason? Planners just make for a smoother event, she says.

“I had a mother of the bride email me recently, and she told me everybody was still raving about the wedding,” Smith says. “She said the bride and groom had been warned by everybody to prepare, because something always goes wrong at a wedding. And nothing went wrong at this one. She said it was absolutely perfect. And I told her it’s because you had a planner who was there from start to finish. Our clients make the decisions — from colors, the feel and vibe, to the cake and all of that — but we execute it. We pull in all the moving pieces.”

While many think the venue should be the first choice a couple makes for their big day, Smith believes the planner should be the first big decision (they often can suggest the right venue for the size and style of a wedding). Cost for the planner varies — The Knot suggests the average cost is $1,500 to $1,800 (up to $4,000 and $6,000 for high-end weddings) — but typically, the planner takes in a percentage of the wedding budget. The number can range from 10 to 15 percent, or higher depending on the planner.

“For us, it’s more of a percentage,” Smith says. “We’re hired out a year in advance, and I’m with you from Day 1, designing the Save the Dates and invitations and helping choose floral designs, linens and more. Often, your wedding is on my list for a year, and in that year, we’re emailing, calling each other, setting up meetings and appointments and visiting vendors and venues over the course of that year. These planner costs might seem large, but if you break it own to the amount of hours they work for you, it’s not as bad as it looks.”

Planners can actually be cost effective, she says, saving brides and grooms money on other portions of the wedding because of their relationships with local vendors and others who can save a couple a few hundred bucks for their services.

Oakland Farm is one of a growing number of wedding venues that requires a wedding planner for all wedding events. Photo by Alicia Hite

Saving money is one of the many reasons more and more couples are choosing Sanford for their wedding venues, Smith says. While she’s from here, based here and lives here, in the past, a small percentage of the weddings she planned were actually held here. That’s changing, thanks to venues like Oakland Farms, a venue that requires its couples to hire a planner.

“Raleigh is just so saturated, and often you’re fighting for a date up there,” Smith says. “There’s more venues in Sanford, and there’s more availability. So people are coming here from Raleigh, Cary and Fayetteville, and they’re getting high-quality venues and they’re often getting the dates they wanted. That’s especially huge today, because so many 2020 weddings were delayed, and now there’s just so many being planned. Nobody wants to wait anymore.”

Plus, she says, Sanford has a charm and a look that couples aren’t finding in larger cities.

“You’re going to get a unique experience here,” she says. “You can bring people to our city, and they can make a weekend of it. Sanford has a lot to offer, and people are just now starting to discover us.”


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