Vendor Spotlight: Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants

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IndianWeddingSite.com had the chance to talk with one of the country’s premier wedding and event coordinators, Sonal Shah of Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants, LLC.  The company provides planning services to couples nationwide.

How and when did you start Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants, LLC?
We started in Arizona in 2001.  It was an idea that we (my partners and I) had since Indian vendors were so hard to find in Arizona and Southern California.  We wanted to make the planning process simple for the next generation of brides and grooms.  Why should they spend their time doing the endless research when we have done it already? In early 2005, we turned the company into an LLC, moved the company to New York and offered our services nationwide. We have helped countless couples plan the wedding of their dreams.

Did you always want to be a wedding coordinator?
No, my background is in hotel management.  I have my MBA in Finance.  I turned into a wedding planner when I started to see how difficult it is to plan any event.  A bride really feels like she is out on her own doing all the running around and taking on all the stress. Our company was really started to let brides, grooms and parents know that you do not have to do it all on your own.  Why not get a professional team involved to help you?

What services do you provide to brides and grooms-to-be?
We are wedding planners and coordinators.  We can assist the bride and groom with the entire planning process, from the selection of a venue, caterer, photographer and DJ to more fun things like décor, clothing and jewelry.  We can also provide day of coordination for those brides and grooms who come to the realization that that they need the services of a wedding planner but not until after they have already done a lot of the planning themselves. Let's face it, at some point before the wedding you have to find someone who you can trust and say, "I've done the work, now I have to start enjoying the biggest day of my life".  Most couples will never get to this stage without a professional planner.

Why should couples hire a wedding planner?
Many couples we come across think that they can handle planning a wedding themselves since they helped their sister or brother get married; or attended another family member’s wedding.  But they usually have no idea what they are in for.  There are so many details to attend to like vendor meetings, menu tastings, fee negotiations, paying vendors on time, making sure the cake will be delivered on time, lighting to set the mood and tone of your wedding, a million different table linen choices (besides the boring white).  The list goes on and on.  Unless a bride or groom has the time day in and day out to dedicate to their wedding, it is unlikely that their wedding day will go smoothly. Let's just say, there are too many things that can go wrong.

Why do you think so many Indian weddings never start or end on time?
It may be a laughing matter in our Desi community, but is that what you really want your wedding to be remembered for?  No bride wants to be bothered on the day of her wedding wondering who is taking care of the caterer and decorations when she, her mom, her sisters and her bridesmaids are getting their hair and makeup done.  And the more elaborate the wedding, the greater the chance of something going wrong.  Remember, you only get one opportunity to get this day right. That is why hiring a planner is an option more and more South Asians are taking advantage of.

How much can a couple expect to spend when hiring your company?
Our prices vary depending on what the couple is looking for. For example, our prices for research services only differ from our full service planning.  It also depends on how many guests a couple has at their wedding since we bring more staff for larger events. When we first meet with a couple, their initial consultation is at no charge.  We gather the details as to what their overall vision is.  We then quote a fixed amount depending on the level of service and package they select.  We do not charge a percent of the overall cost of the wedding as many other planners do.  A couple can call us to set up an appointment or send us an e-mail and we can quote them a price.

How can you provide your services nationwide?
We personally travel to any city or town to help brides, grooms and their families find local vendors while also trying to bring our vendors from New York or California to an out-of-town event.  The best part is we cover all of our travel expenses. We really do this to make sure that Indian brides in states like Virginia or Ohio or Washington do not feel like only the brides in New York or New Jersey can benefit from our services. Since we started the company in Arizona, we know what it is like to struggle to find Indian vendors.  With our ability to pull vendors from all over the country, we can make any wedding a magnificent event, no matter where it may be.

Do you work with select vendors or are you open to exploring new vendors?
Our company has select vendors, but couples are not obligated to use our vendors exclusively.  If a couple has a great DJ that they have used before and really like, then they can use him. Our vendors do not pay us a commission which is why we can offer the couples an unbiased opinion on who is good and who is great.

How long does it take to plan the perfect Indian wedding?
Indian Weddings are getting more and more detailed. Couples now are more demanding as to what they want.  Also, it is not as it is in India where you have your whole family helping you out and things somehow magically get done.  It takes at least six to twelve months to plan the perfect wedding (with a planner by your side).

What are some new trends you are seeing in Indian and Pakistani weddings?
A hot new trend is fabric, fabric, fabric. Plastic and steel mandaps are out and in is the soft fabric covered mandap with beautiful, romantic draping.  Also out are the sugar-paste flower toppers on wedding cakes. Cakes are all about jewelry toppers like crystal monograms.  Food stations with open seating are a thing of the past as well. If you want an elegant South Asian wedding, formal seated dinners are the way to go (even with 500 people). Also hot this year is hiring lighting experts to set the mood.  No one is using existing hall lighting. It is amazing what lighting companies can do on even a shoe string budget.  And let's not forget candles on the tables - we don't mean 3 or 4 but more like 15 and 20.  It's all about setting the right mood.

What was your favorite wedding planning experience?
We had a bride who called us five weeks before her wedding and she was in a panic. She was a lawyer and her fiancée traveled all the time for work.  She had no idea where the time went, but she just kept putting off planning the wedding due to time constraints and work obligations.  She met us and signed our contract in 15 minutes.  She was so elated to know that she had help from someone other than her parents who really did not understand her tastes, style and vision for the wedding.  We set up all of her vendors, did her budget, provided her with a timeline for all of her events and met with the hotel where she was getting married - all in approximately two and a half weeks!  Our team was at the hotel two days early and stayed overnight to make sure everything was flawless. In the end, the event was fabulous!  There was not one single vendor late, all of the events started on time, and the parents looked like heroes. That was a great feeling.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
We, at Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants, LLC, know that planning a wedding can turn into a full time job.  This is why our company exists. There is no need for a bride and groom to give up their day to day lives and careers to plan a wedding. You still can have the wedding of your dreams without the stress.  It takes hiring a professional wedding planner. If all of us could do everything ourselves, why would we need the services of a lawyer, a dentist, or a mechanic?  We need these professionals because we are not the experts at everything we do - and it is ok not to be. So why not "Leave your worries behind, and the details up to us"?

IndianWeddingSite.com had the chance to talk with one of the country’s premier wedding and event coordinators, Sonal Shah of Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants, LLC.  SJS Events provides planning services to couples nationwide. Learn more about this team here.

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