More Than Flowers With The Aleit Group – South Africa’s Leading Wedding...

More Than Flowers With The Aleit Group – South Africa’s Leading Wedding Planners

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Aleit Swanepoel

Vital Stats

If you have been anywhere in the vicinity of a bride lately (or better still, her father) the entrepreneur in you may have reached the same conclusion that Aleit Swanepoel did – weddings are big business. The wedding coordination industry has experienced a boom in the past few years but Swanepoel’s company, The Aleit Group, has been a pioneer from the word go.

Swanepoel took a circuitous route to the wedding industry, working in hospitality as a restaurant and conference centre manager at Oude Libertas, and then as the national functions and events manager for Distell, South Africa’s largest wine company. This experience honed his organising skills.

“I realised I was organising people’s weddings at the venues I worked at, free of charge really. In 2001 I must have co-ordinated in the region of 250 weddings,” he recalls.

It was something he enjoyed and was exceptionally good at so starting his own business was a natural course to follow.“The company I was working for was wonderful, allowing me to coordinate weddings in my spare time as long as it didn’t interfere with my formal job. My goal was to get 20 weddings and then resign to start my own business, but after three months of working till four in the morning on two jobs, I eventually started with 18 weddings in the bag,” he says of his early days.

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The hard work was worthwhile as doing two jobs meant he could finance the growing business with his salary. “In the beginning, there wasn’t a great deal to finance. I needed a kick-ass website and then I’d subcontract service providers,” he says, adding, “By the time we needed things like offices later on, the business was able to carry itself.”

wedding-planners

When Aleit was formed in 2002, the South African market was not much in the habit of using wedding planners, which makes his foresight in starting the company even more remarkable. But the size of the local market was largely irrelevant; what Swanepoel saw was a niche in the lucrative international visitor market and that’s where he set his sights.

“South Africa was voted as the number one international wedding destination in the world for UK couples,” he points out, adding that 60% of Aleit Group’s clients are international.

This is where that “kick-ass website” comes in. Marketing your services to people in another country is difficult at the best of times, but it becomes doubly so when you’re trying to persuade them to trust you with what is probably one of the most important days of their lives. The Aleit website is slick and professional, conveying just the right blend of style, personality and attention to detail that epitomises the high standards set by Swanepoel.

He points to media as another important tool in establishing the company as a high-profile player. “Then of course, there’s word of mouth,”he adds, “If people have a great experience at a wedding we coordinate, they will tell at least three other people, and these referrals help to build the business.”

In five years, the company has grown and diversified into five service arms, drawing cleverly on cross-selling opportunities. Aleit Wedding Coordination is the core business while the Aleit Collection encompasses 10 exclusive weddings a year, personally arranged by Swanepoel himself. The Aleit Shop is a virtual shop that specialises in wedding gifts. Aleit Music and Entertainment provides live music and DJ services to all types of events and Aleit Event Projects serves the corporate sector.

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This growth has not been without challenges. “It’s always a challenge to get the right people to share the vision and excitement,” says Swanepoel. He hand-picks staff very carefully and engages them in constant training. Emails are copied to all staff so that an informed back-up person is available if something should happen to a coordinator. Differentiating the company in such a competitive market also requires faultless service.

“We get clients very involved in the process and match choices to their personalities very carefully. Attention to detail is everything. And clients don’t just get one coordinator, they get a team that stays right to the end of the wedding,” he explains. It’s a formula that proves that while not every marriage is made in heaven, there’s no reason why every wedding shouldn’t be.

Juliet Pitman
Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.