A lot of people put a lot of trust in Shelby Looker and Kaitlyn Spinney to pull off a live wedding show complete with wedding crashers, multiple vendors, designers and a couple willing to tie the knot in front of a crowd mixed with strangers.
Looker, conference sales and marketing manager, and Spinney, director of conference sales and marketing, both at the Alerus Center, brought more than 300 people together for a live event that allowed each to showcase what they—and the Alerus Center—had to offer for wedding-focused people. From the beginning, Looker and Spinney aimed to showcase the untapped potential of the Alerus Center, while giving regional vendors the opportunity to try new things, show new products and help possible clients understand and explore the glorious options available to make every wedding at the Alerus unique.
A self-admitted wedding and event planner enthusiast, Looker had seen other venues attempt similar live shows and she knew Grand Forks’ Alerus facility could provide a great canvas. Looker and Spinney pitched as many vendors from the region as possible about the idea of participating in an event that would put on a live wedding where everyone in attendance could see firsthand what a florist, photographer, designer, dress provider, entertainment act or chef could offer. “In our early conversations,” Spinney says, “we had to explain why we wanted to legally marry a couple in front of a crowd of strangers. But it didn’t take long for everyone to see the point, that they could showcase their work in real-time.”
The pair decided to leave no option off the table. Each vendor was given their own space or time or place to showcase their work. A certain number of tables were given to one floral vendor, a certain set of tables was given to another. Different designs were used throughout the ballroom. The Alerus chef and his team tried new dishes not on the normal menu. Dress providers donated the all-important garment along with the matching wedding day jewelry.
“We essentially gave them all a blank canvas,” Looker says.
Finding The Perfect Couple
Although garnering live wedding event buy-in from vendors required a bit of explanation and time, eventually everyone bought in and in the end, Looker says, they exceeded expectations. Finding the perfect couple (that would get a free wedding out of it all), was the most rewarding, Looker and Spinney agree, but also the most challenging.
Spinney had three criteria for the winning couple. One, they had to agree to let Alerus use the photos from the wedding so that Spinney and Looker could showcase the event to others with the hopes of doing it all again. Two, as crazy as it sounds, the bride and groom had to give control of the planning to Looker and Spinney. And three, the couple had to be available on November 8, 2019. Open dates are hard to come by at the Alerus.
The team created a Google survey form that asked a series of simple questions that essentially hit on one subject: Why do you deserve to be a part of this live event?
73 nominees submitted answers. “We were worried about the right couple being in there,” Spinney says, noting how different and potentially difficult it would be for a bride and groom (including both of their families) to give up control of a wedding. After closing the nominee process, Looker and Spinney created a spreadsheet and marked three colors: red for no, yellow for maybe and green for yes. In the end, they marked only one green. According to Looker, the call to the winning couple was nerve-wracking. She knew they would be perfect for the event, and more importantly she says, they deserved everything Looker and Spinney could provide. The couple was young, too busy and working with new jobs to plan something elaborate. You already know what their answer was.
Memories Created Live
Despite the number of entities involved and present on the day of the wedding, both Looker and Spinney say it wasn’t that hectic. The vendors set up tables on the outside of the ballroom. Throughout the night, the M/C gave shout-outs to the vendors there. At one point, the father of the bride gave a speech that included a long passage thanking the Alerus and their team for giving the family such an elaborate wedding.
For Looker, the day was more than a success. “This was my top career accomplishment,” she says. “Getting to plan an entire event like this is a big deal. I was able to show my own family that event planning is real.”
Spinney takes great pride in being able to execute on Looker’s vision. Before the event even took place, her and Looker were recognized by the corporate higher-ups with an award for their work on the event. Everyone trusted the process Looker and Spinney had envisioned, she says. Because of that, there could and should be more "To Have and To Hold" events in the future. Not only was the return on investment great (they booked two weddings from the event), the long-term possibilities of weddings at the Alerus were expanded. “We showed that ballroom weddings are back,” Spinney says. “When you are selling a bride, you are selling a feeling, and that night felt great.” G
// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here
From Issue 1, 2020
PHOTOS BY: Fernweh & Liebe Photography + Schrage Photography