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Wedding planner leaves nothing to chance

Decatur-based wedding planner Gail Johnson said that people think that wedding planning is easy “but it’s not.”

Gail Johnson got an early start learning the fine art of wedding planning.

When she was 18, she coordinated the wedding of a neighbor’s son. While it wasn’t an elaborate affair (the nuptials took place in a backyard) the mission was accomplished.

Now Johnson, who lives in Tucker and runs her special events and wedding planning business from Decatur, has about 200 weddings under her belt. From her tiny but elegant studio, located off DeKalb Industrial Way, she manages the details of weddings with budget as large as $350,000.

Johnson, a native of Toledo, Ohio, came to metro Atlanta to attend school at Spelman College and Mercer University.

Professionally she worked as a planning manager for an electronics company but on the side her hobby was planning parties and weddings for family and friends.

“It grew into a real business,” said Johnson of the business she started eight years ago.

She learned fast. For her first wedding as a professional planner, she charged the client $500. The amount of work greatly exceeded the compensation and she vowed “never again” to underpay herself

She recalls an oversight from that first wedding—forgetting that an uncle was supposed to light a candle during the ceremony. To rectify it, she made it a highlight of the reception.

Johnson, who is state manager for the Association of Bridal Consultants, said planners add tremendous value to the wedding experience by focusing on details that would often be overlooked or not given adequate attention by well-meaning but unskilled family and friends. Planners often can negotiate better deals and more favorable rates on behalf of a couple. Johnson recalled advocating for one couple and getting a lower rate on a contract they had already signed and for another client she found a wrong date on a contract they had already signed.

“I think a lot of times brides don’t realize we are advocating for them” said Johnson. She went on to say that often people think that wedding planning is easy “but it’s not.”

Johnson, who thoroughly interviews couples before she takes them on as clients, said both planner and client must mesh to work well together. Her initial meeting with a couple involves finding out their vision and budget.

Johnson said watching the love between couples is one of her favorite parts of being a planner. “To me it’s all about the connection between the two of them.”

Asked her view of the many TV reality shows focusing on weddings and brides, Johnson said she’s a fan.

“I love watching them. There’s nothing like watching a beautiful wedding on TV,” she said, adding that the shows often provide the engaged couple with ideas, trends and what to expect.

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