You just popped the question to your beautiful South Asian bride, and then suddenly realized that you don’t know your Mehandi from your Sangeet. With interfaith marriages on the rise in New Jersey, planning a wedding may be more than just choosing colors and cake – it may be a lesson in the ethnic and religious wedding customs of your bride or groom to be.
So where can you find a pundit (priest) to perform the Pheras (circling of the sacred fire) in Parsippany? Just click on NJWedding.com, a website that features an online directory of wedding-related businesses in the Garden State and surrounding areas.
NJWedding.com was founded by New Jersey couple Erik Kent and Beth Kent and made its debut 10 years ago, on (you guessed it) February 14, in response, says Erik Kent, to the growing need for a website that would consolidate New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania wedding services. The site currently averages more than 500,000 hits per month – and offers search categories including banquet facilities, wedding planners, photographers, limousines, invitations, and chocolate fountains.
Kent speaks on Sunday, August 12, at the Northeast Industry Wedding Regional Conference, a day-long event for bridal consultants that begins at 8:30 a.m. at the New Brunswick Hyatt. Tom Chillemi of Conde Nast will give an overview of the bridal market. Topics include wedding ethics, blogs and podcasts, time management, wedding flowers, and civil unions. Cost: $209. Call Toni Delisi at 201-934-9979 or E-mail to NERC2007@aol.com.
The idea for NJWedding.com was sparked back in 1995 when the Kents were in Boston visiting friends who were planning their wedding in New Jersey.
"They relied mainly on the Internet to find wedding resources," says Kent. "My wife and I immediately registered NJWedding.com. We sat on it for while, but always had in the back of our minds that it was a good idea."
They were right. According to a 2006 survey of 500 couples by TheWeddingReport.com, 77 percent will use the Internet to help plan their wedding. Forty-three percent will use the Internet to research products and services related to their engagement, wedding, and honeymoon. Thirteen percent will purchase products and services via the Internet. With an estimated 2,271,910 U.S. weddings last year – at an average cost of $26,800 nationwide, but $37,500 in New Jersey – the potential online wedding market is a whopping $60.9 billion.
Paying for access to engaged couples. NJWedding.com has tapped into this lucrative market through highly targeted advertising to future New Jersey brides and grooms. The minister who performed the Kents’ own wedding was the site’s first advertiser. Since then the online directory of advertisers has grown to more than 500 wedding-related businesses. Listings start at $375 per year.
The site also provides information on various wedding traditions and religious ceremonies, as well as industry-specific statistics and costs. Visitors can even enter a zip code for the average price tag of a wedding in their area. Additionally, the site keeps up to date on the latest trends, with recently added categories including South Asian weddings, which features a glossary of terms, FAQ section, and a tutorial on what to expect at a traditional Hindu ceremony.
"This is a very popular section," Kent says. It’s no surprise, since the U.S. Asian Indian population (mainly from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) ballooned 38 percent from 2000 to 2005, and one of the top three states in which these new U.S. residents is New Jersey. According to the Census Bureau, there were 228,250 South Asians living in New Jersey in 2005.
Helping with civil union celebrations. Since same-sex unions became legal in New Jersey this past February, the site has received a "an overwhelming" amount of interest both from couples and from those who hope to sell services to them.
"There are many gay-owned and non-gay owned businesses eager to serve this segment of the population," Kent says. Articles and links include a guide to forming a civil union, "6 Steps to Planning the Ceremony," and tips on how to word the invitations. Visitors can even download a New Jersey Civil Union license application.
Beach weddings and destination weddings. The Jersey shore is a hot spot for getting hitched. NJWedding.com helps with the special considerations of planning a sandy ceremony, offering a list of vendors specializing in these events. Destination weddings comprise about 15 percent of all weddings, and typically involve a small group of family and friends spending the wedding weekend together at a resort-style location.
Up on the trend, Kent says that "many brides and grooms are skipping the island destination for one that’s just a few hours from home. It keeps expenses down, while guests still get the royal treatment."
One hundred percent of the site’s revenue comes from advertising, says Kent, so content is free to all visitors. The secret of the site’s success, he says, is its simplicity. "It’s not so content-rich that it becomes overwhelming. You can easily navigate and find the information you need."
Erik and Beth met at Rutgers University, graduated in 1992 and married in 1994. Erik worked at a New Jersey newspaper selling advertising and quickly moved up the ranks to ad sales manager. Beth worked as a bookkeeper in the family business, an advertising agency based in Newark.
The couple eventually left their jobs to start their first venture together, building and maintaining a website for the Town of Cranford, where they resided at the time. (They now live in Belle Mead.) "We did that for a while and were very successful, but we had bigger plans that required bigger ideas," says Kent.
Looking to start a family and still maintain a home-based business, the Kents decided it was time to activate NJWedding.com. Ten years and three kids later, they have a thriving company, and – literally – the perfect marriage of business and family. The couple sold the Cranford website several years ago to focus solely on NJWedding.com.
The couple’s most recent venture is a full-service Business Resource Center devoted to helping wedding professionals build their businesses (accessible from the site or via www.weddingindustry.biz). Topics include information on industry associations and professional development, as well as articles and expert advice on marketing and sales, website development, and search engine optimization.
The Kents also are collaborating on a book with author Sharon Naylor, titled: "An Insider’s Guide to Planning Your New Jersey Wedding." Naylor, who has written more than 30 wedding planning books, has been answering couples questions on NJWedding.com for the past eight years.
Kent said the book will contain long-term marriage and relationship advice, too. "The wedding industry is constantly growing and evolving," he says. "We’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to offer."