Erik and Beth Kent were practically newlyweds when on Valentine’s Day, 1997, they launched www.njwedding.com, one of the longest-running wedding planning sites in New Jersey.
Married at Rutgers University’s Kirkpatrick Chapel in 1994, they planned their entire wedding the old-fashioned way: thumbing through the Yellow Pages, asking lots of questions and writing lots of lists. The next year, while visiting friends at MIT and watching as they researched things on the Internet, the Kents had an “a-ha!” moment.
It was a like a light bulb went on: “We realized that pretty soon, when the Internet was more public, people would be using it to search for local services and products,” Mr. Kent says.
And so was born the idea for one centralized resource. At njwedding.com, brides and grooms search for bakeries and bridal gowns, bands and florists, photographers and videographers, ministers and civil officiates, multi-cultural wedding planners, reception halls and destinations, and much more.
To say the site has come a long way from its early days is like saying everyone focuses on the bride on the big day: an understatement of epic proportions.
“We wrote to about 50 people we knew connected to the wedding business – most were people we’d worked with for our own wedding – and explained what we were doing, and the only person who saw the potential was the minister who married us,” Mr. Kent says. “He became our first advertiser.”
The first site was HTML – “just links on a page,” as Mr. Kent says – with new information uploaded as it became available. When the Kents found someone who could do computer programming, they automated their systems.
Today, the site gets about 500,000 hits per month, compared to about 25,000 per month in the early years.
There might be larger companies in the region, but none are as thorough, or as focused on relationship building, Mr. Kent says.
“Anyone can easily create a site that can be shared online,” Mr. Kent says. “We’ve made connections, built relationships. That’s what we’ve done so well over the years. We have a presence in major search engines, at bridal shows throughout the Garden State, in local newspapers and magazines, and in local wedding groups and associations.”
Mr. Kent, who lives and works in Montgomery Township with his wife, enjoys meeting with brides and grooms at bridal shows to get “an understanding of what they’re looking for when it comes to their wedding plans.” And, as a spokesman for his company, he can also steer couples toward particular members and services.
Some trends Mr. Kent has noticed: a shift away from clubs and toward “fun” outings – golf, cooking classes, hot air balloon rides – for bachelor and bachelorette parties, uplighting at wedding receptions, dancing “in the clouds” a DJ puts on the floor, photo booths, and honey jars created by local beekeepers.
It’s been a nice way to make a living, Mr. Kent said, as it’s given both him and his wife the opportunity to work from home and watch over their three children, ages 13, 10 and 8.
(Reposted from the May 2013 edition of PM Fine Living Magazine / Packet Publications (see Pages 8 & 9 where NJWedding.com was featured along with Mary Harris of Mary Harris Events). Photo of Erik Kent by Bryan Madrid Photography)