Here’s an alternate ending for 27 Dresses: Katherine Heigl is fed up with the bridesmaid schtick. But instead of letting that take her down a vulnerable path to love, it takes her down a path to a self-sufficient business plan.
Perhaps that’s not a recipe for box office success. But it’s Jen Glantz’s story. She started her own company, Bridesmaid for Hire, after she realized just how much time and energy it took to help plan her friends’ weddings. Why not get paid for it?
The normal boundaries of business don’t apply. Often, because she’s an unbiased party and not a close friend, brides feel more comfortable telling her things, like doubts about their weddings. Then it’s her job to coach them through it (that is, once she learns the fiancé’s name) and handle any dirty work on the big day. “It’s like a friendship on an accelerated time frame,” Glantz explains. She travels to weddings across the U.S. — all expenses paid by the bride, of course, who will often keep Glantz’s true identity a secret — and racks up a lot of dresses in the process, which she stows in her tiny New York City apartment.
Based in: New York City
Graduated from: Studied English poetry and journalism at University of Central Florida
Previous jobs: A lot of mistakes. I worked for a sorority after school, traveling around as an education consultant. I worked at a magazine as an assistant, I worked in PR, I worked as a copywriter. That was the last full-time job I had before I did this new business full-time.
Where the inspiration came from: About three years ago, all of my friends suddenly got engaged, and I was not prepared. Two girls asked me on the same day to be a bridesmaid. In passing, my roommate said, “Oh, you’re a professional bridesmaid.” That triggered the idea that I could get paid for doing something that I’d been doing so many times for my friends.
There’s not exactly a precedent for a business model for the job. I had no business experience. I didn’t tell a soul, but I decided to put the idea on Craigslist, offering my services as a professional bridesmaid. I wrote a funny ad and put it up on a Friday night, and two days later, it went completely viral. So I said, OK, we’re gonna make this a business somehow.
Were people actually responding to the ad and wanting that service? Within 48 hours, I had hundreds of emails and requests from brides, mothers of brides, guys who wanted to marry me. [Sighs.] Oh, Craigslist.
Did you quit your day job right away? Not right away. But a lot of times, when you have a business idea, you spend months and years trying to plan it. I did the opposite; I just put the idea out there and built from there, seeing what the need was and creating packages [for brides] based off that. I used my PR and writing background to launch it [in June 2014]. As for pricing, there was no model to go off of. I saw the maximum and minimum people would pay me, and I tried to meet them in the middle.
Which was what? When I first started, I went on TV and said it was a free service. I didn’t know what I was doing. Now I see a business coach on a regular basis. The virtual package — where I’m just your wedding coach — ranges from $300 to $1,000. An actual bridesmaid package, where I am your bridesmaid, starts at $1,000 and can go all the way up to $4,000. That price includes sessions before the wedding, and then they pay for my dress, travel and accommodations. It’s full-service.
Logistically, how does the bridesmaid package work? Are you involved in all the planning and preparations? I have a team of women who work for me, so sometimes brides will say they need three bridesmaids, and I’ll have women to come with me. I work with brides from anywhere up to a year before their weddings to three months before their weddings. We get to know each other and build a relationship so there is a friendship. Then, on the actual wedding, you are a bridesmaid: You walk down the aisle, you stand at the altar, you give a speech. You are 100% there for that person.
How many times have you done that? In the last year, about a dozen. I worked with almost 40 brides and maids of honor last year.
The idea of hiring a stranger to be in your wedding party, on a day when you want to be surrounded by your closest family and friends, is kind of a strange concept. The point of hiring a bridesmaid is not because you need an extra friend to fill out a number; it’s because you need the support. Of course, I get requests from people who want the extra body there, but that’s not what this service is. It’s a relationship business, which is what we do before the wedding. A friendship on an accelerated time frame. Often, because I’m not a longtime friend, brides feel more comfortable telling me things — like doubts about their weddings — than they would telling their other bridesmaids. I can be an unbiased third party.
How do the bride’s parents and friends respond when they find out why you’re there? A lot of times, it’s a secret; the bride isn’t telling her fiancé or anybody else in her life that she’s hiring me. So we create the background story, and then I’m truly just learning facts about the person so I don’t show up and say, “What’s your favorite color?” or “Wait, you don’t eat fish?”
But there must be a best friend or mom who approaches you and says, “I’ve never seen you in so-and-so’s life before. Who are you?” Yes, they want to know how you know the bride. I’m not a good liar, so I usually just say “we’re friends” and change the subject really quickly. It’s never really been a big issue before. Think about it: Even at my friends’ weddings, I’ve often never met their parents before, so it’s not as strange as it may seem. Sometimes, I haven’t met my friends’ fiancés before, either.
What about the other bridesmaids? Maybe I’m just thinking of the Bridesmaids movie here, but I have to imagine they get territorial. Oh my goodness, of course. Once, I was warned before I went to a wedding that the bridesmaids will hate me because they wanted to know why I hadn’t been to the other events. The bride told me: “Just so you know, they’re not going to be very nice to you.” I don’t always attend the bachelorette parties for these women, so I needed to learn to walk into a situation where everyone hates you. A lot of the job is being able to work with multiple personalities and people you might not really connect with.
Is it weird to build a friendship that has a clear finish line? Do you keep in touch with these women after their weddings? I latch onto people, and I have problems letting go. [Laughs.] And I am in some of the wedding photos! So a lot of times, I do stay friends with them. Of course there are brides who I’ve never spoken to again after their weddings, but I have relationships with a handful of them now. We get dinner together and text all the time. They’re actual friendships that they’re not paying me for.
You mentioned that you have women working for you. How many? I have a team of about five women who I send with me for weddings when multiple bridesmaids are needed, but I won’t let anyone go without me. I’ve had 8,000 women apply to work for me and haven’t been able to review all the applications.
Do you still make time to be a bridesmaid for your actual friends? That’s the most awkward part. In April and March, I was a bridesmaid for two friends, both in Florida, and I didn’t want to overstep anybody. I wasn’t the maid of honor, so I kind of sat back and relaxed — I said I was an off-duty bridesmaid. It reminded me of how expensive the whole thing is.
Has a bride ever asked you to fill in last-minute if another bridesmaid drops out? The first bride I ever worked with, Ashley from Minnesota, fired her maid of honor about three months before the wedding, and that’s how she came to me. It wasn’t even that weird to me, because I’ve been in weddings where the bride and bridesmaids never spoke again after the wedding, or the bridesmaids didn’t show up for the wedding. So it wasn’t that strange to me that a friendship would go up in flames because of a wedding.
Have you been hired to be the maid of honor in other instances, too? Yes. In one case, I even had to give a speech, but I didn’t know it until that very minute.
What did you say? I just spoke about what I learned about love through knowing the bride. But it was very scary when the DJ handed me the mike. I had two weddings that weekend, so in my head, I was like: Call her Michelle, don’t call her Erica. It can be hard to keep all that straight because I work with a lot of brides at once.
Number of weddings you attended last year: Close to 30 in 2015.
When you’re meeting new people, how do you describe what you do? I’ve learned to be proud of my very out-of-the-box job and tell people that I have my own company called Bridesmaid for Hire. That quickly turns into a five-minute Q&A session. I don’t mind answering questions about the business, but after a while, I try to change the subject. I don’t want a first date to turn into a TV interview.
All photos courtesy of Jen Glantz.