Maybe you’re shorter than average or taller? What if you’re gay? Does the wedding industry assume all couples planning a wedding are heterosexual? As our industry looks for ways to improve our customers’ experience, there’s an opportunity to audit our products and services for those “assumptions” we’re making. Assumptions that may discourage gay patrons from buying from our bakeries.
If you’ve never thought about gay consumers before, then the first thing to keep in mind is that you no doubt already have many gay customers already. Surveys often cite numbers anywhere from one per cent to the often quoted 10 per cent of the Canadian population being gay. People sometimes don’t really want to give personal information on surveys, so the figures are hazy.
But given the number of people who buy from you in any given month, it’s a sure bet that you already have gay customers. As Pierre Trudeau famously once said, “The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.” And neither do retailers. Customers are customers and their personal life is no concern of ours. All patrons generally want to get great-tasting products from businesses that treat them well. However, the bakery industry is one sector where some lines must be crossed. You see, weddings are by nature a celebration of the couple’s relationship and so the question of “Who’s the lucky … ?” is bound to come up.
In 2005, Canada became the fourth country (after the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain) to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, and the first to do so without a residency requirement. Obtaining data on the number of same-sex marriages in Canada is difficult because some provinces do not report data related to the gender of the couple. However, in British Columbia, “More than half (55.9 per cent) of the people who entered into a same-sex marriage were not residents of Canada. On the other hand, only a small proportion (4.8 per cent) of people marrying someone of the opposite sex in that province did not reside in Canada. In 2003, Canada was the only country in the world that allowed same-sex marriages between people who were not residents of its territory.”
Clearly, this presents an opportunity to cater weddings for couples from other nations with less progressive marriage laws. For many gay couples, the dream of ever being allowed to marry was not a part of their formative years and this is one area where a same-sex wedding may differ from a gender-mixed wedding.
“I do find that same-sex couples often need to be taken through the wedding process in more detail than gender-mixed couples,” says Kyla Eaglesham of Madeleines, Cherry Pie and Ice Cream in Toronto.
“When you think about it, many little girls grow up thinking about their wedding day – dreaming about the dress and every detail. They’ve read the magazines for years, so by the time they actually plan the wedding, they’re well-versed in what’s involved. For gay couples, the notion that marriage could be a part of their lives is relatively new, so they haven’t studied ‘wedding 101’ for years.”
Those brides who’ve booked their dream venue even before they’ve met the partner of their dreams are familiar with wedding-related costs, but those who are thinking of getting married for the first time in their lives may be in for some sticker shock. Make sure you review the costs clearly with couples who are new to the wedding game.
It’s also a great idea to audit your wedding-planning process to make sure any assumptions regarding the gender of the couple are removed from forms, pamphlets and other literature.
“Simple things such as listing ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ on the forms may prove to be too specific,” Eaglesham says. “Indicating ‘names of couple’ with two blank lines will work just as well.
“When meeting a wedding customer for the first time, I ask lots of open-ended questions. I ask them to tell me about their partner and generally a few minutes into the conversation they’ll reveal the gender of their partner. I often find there’s a big age difference between the partners in a same-sex couple. For my business, it’s not unusual for the ages to range from 28 to 48.
“I would say about 20 per cent of my wedding business involves same-sex couples. Often those attending the wedding will themselves be getting married down the road and they come back to me because they liked the wedding they attended.”
Eaglesham raises a good point about marketing to the gay community. It’s not about big rainbow logos on your door – it’s about providing a great consumer experience. Period.
Whether it’s women, ethnic groups, religious communities or the gay community – walking the talk is the best marketing strategy you can have. People tend to socialize with folks who think like they do, so by servicing one segment well, word will get around. Some businesses advertise on websites or in publications specific to the gay community as a way to let people know they can be comfortable approaching them about a wedding. By treating everyone respectfully and staying open-minded in your business practices you’ll be able to market to many segments of the
population. / BJ