While elopements have become more common because of the novel coronavirus, Just Elope's owner/creator Jennifer Allen and her team have been planning COVID-19 packages since the company's launch in 2017, specializing in elopement and intimate weddings.
"We are not a company that threw something together because of COVID-19. The majority of our weddings were just a handful of people from day one," Jennifer says.
When Just Elope was started, it was important for Jennifer to create a business that could accommodate those who wanted a full-scale wedding experience on short notice.Ultimately, she wanted to help the couple seeking a middle ground between city hall and running off to Vegas.
That's exactly what Just Elope does.
While the nation is seemingly moving backwards during the pandemic, Jennifer offers fellow wedding planners and other business owners some key jewels:
Make adjustments that cater to your audience and the current situation
While the company was already built to handle a pandemic, a few minor accommodations have been made since COVID-19. But, customers can be confident they are getting the same quality experience. We [virtually] sat down with Jennifer to get her take on elopements during this time.
"We went in and stripped the packages down to their bare necessities to give our couples a curated experience that reminds them that this day is about them. The vows are custom, and we work with them to create the perfect ceremony.
We still offer beautiful locations for them to choose from. However, we took away the reception piece because most people don't feel comfortable mingling with folks outside of their house, and we don't want to charge for a reception where there truly isn't one. It is not the vibe you envision, even on a small scale, so we stopped offering it."
Just Elope also cut out refreshments like cake, tea and punch as a safety precaution. Couples who want to have something light available for their few guests are welcomed to bring to-go treats like cookies that are individually packaged so no food is left exposed.
The usual two-hour Just Elope packages have been scaled back to one hour, saving customers time and money while receiving the same value. We also offer a couples-only package amidst the virus.
This truly allows Just Elope to put the focus solely on the couple and provide them with an unforgettable experience. Jennifer says they are “very picture heavy” and with these intimate packages, “it's all about us getting these pictures with the couples.”
She states that when they explain that to clients, it’s truly an aha moment. “You may think that your auntie is super cute and of course you love her, but you weren't going to hang a picture of her on your wall, were you?”
At Just Elope, they really focus on what Jennifer likes to call “wall hanging moments” because when all is said and done it’s about the two people saying I do.
Begin to set your expectations for the new normal
The trauma that COVID-19 has caused with people being afraid to gather and having family members falling in that high-risk category is really going to change the dynamic of things. Nonetheless, people still want a large wedding so they’re shifting and adjusting with time.
Wedding dates are being pushed back further and further. Some states are still allowing weddings with 300 people as long as certain guidelines are followed: it must be outdoors, no buffet style meals, seats must be socially distant and the list goes on. These restrictions can cause couples to almost double their initial wedding cost.
“If your desire is a large wedding there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with you changing your date. If you want to wait it out to see what's going to happen, that's totally fine. What I don't encourage during coronavirus is saying something like ‘we’ll go to city hall now and have our big wedding later.’ That’s what I did, but 10 years and two kids later, we still have not had a post-courthouse wedding.
My best advice to couples is once you get married you're married, you have lost your ‘wedding virginity’ and you can’t get that first time back. Don’t sell yourself short. While there has been an increase in elopements (and now zoom weddings), there is still a desire for a traditional wedding. That leaves our expectations in limbo as to what the new norm will be regarding holy matrimony.”
Be prepared for a mindset shift
“More so than anything what I'm seeing is couples having to shift their mindset from what a large wedding would have looked like. Our business is very turnkey. If you booked your wedding and you want to get married tomorrow or six months from now, your experience with us would be exactly the same. So, couples that were already in the mindset of picking linen, colors and seating arrangements have found it hard at first to shift over to our elopement model.
Sometimes they have this reservation and feel like they should be doing more. I often remind them all you have to do is show up; literally, you just have to walk through the door. Occasionally there are couples that find themselves still anxious about this and are thinking about how they should pick the photographer or the officiant. They don't, we do.”
Jennifer emphasized that she can empathize with all brides right now because after never actually having her wedding, she and her husband started planning their 10-year vow renewal one year ago for June 2020. That was cancelled due to COVID-19. So, she gets it.
“We are accustomed to one set of brides who, even if coronavirus never happened, this is the route they wanted to take. They wanted something stress-free, hassle-free and a large wedding was never part of the plan.
On the other hand, we have the bride who had a planner, toured 40 venues and had the whole overwhelming experience. And now, they don't have to go through that and it's like ‘well what do you mean?’ It’s like when you meet a good partner after being with one that’s toxic. With Just Elope, there’s no ‘struggle love’ phase in order to make it to the other side. We are going to treat you right and make the process painless. We are intentional about the things we want you to experience.”
Quality isn't about cost, it's about value
Imagine your favorite chain restaurant or grocery store. No matter where you travel you get the same experience. At Just Elope, the guarantee is no matter what has happened, you will get the same quality experience. There isn’t a lot of room to decide you don’t want a certain feature of a package in order to adjust the cost.
“When you go to an all you can eat buffet that costs $15, they’re not going to charge you less because you’re vegetarian. You will still pay $15 even if you don’t touch any meat in that restaurant. Just Elope has the same policy.”
Another example is the company does not do in-person venue tours (this was part of their pre-COVID operations).
Jennifer goes on to explain, “If you were going on vacation to Mexico, are you really going to fly there to visit this island and that resort, fly back home and decide you want to see that resort again and fly back to Mexico? Or are you going to trust the online pictures, videos, and reviews to make a decision?”
In addition to virtual tours, the company will show you elopements they’ve curated in the venues, share client ratings, and walk you through picturing your vow exchange in the location. Just Elope offers custom pieces for every ceremony that are tailored to each couple, but are consistent in the policies they set in place affords them the opportunity to keep their rates low and keep customer experience at an A+ grading.
“I don't consider myself to be a wedding planner. I am a marriage planner. We offer premarital counseling and marriage coaching, and I wrote a relationship workbook. At Just Elope, we believe you need to put as much into planning your marriage as you do in planning your wedding. Unlike traditional wedding planners, I am not done with you after the wedding. We do monthly and quarterly check-ins with couples because just like a car needs maintenance, so does a marriage.”
Pop-ups aren't just for shops
Just Elope has a pop-up model that hosts elopement tours throughout the country.
“We make announcements that we will be in Chicago or New York or Miami for two days only at a particular venue and list the available time slots.”
The team finds themselves marrying a number of couples during these pop-up visits, so if you’re interested in having them in a city near you, contact them to get a city near you added to their elopement tours.
Don't stop. Get it, get it!
Jennifer says her ability to adjust, be unconventional and stay consistent is what makes her a Mogul Millennial. She recalls having the vision of booking weddings, sending invoices, and planning entire weddings via text in 2015…and people thought she was crazy.
She kept the words of the great Uncle Luke “don’t stop, get it get it” in mind and carried out her vision in 2017. “123 weddings later coupled with TV news specials and an Essence & xoNecole feature, and now I’m considered a Mogul Millennial.”
Yes, you are sis!
Feature photo source: Jennifer Allen