Get me to the consultant on time

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Get me to the consultant on time

A wedding manager, Kang Yoon-jung helps couples prepare for the biggest day of their lives

Bae Se-hwan, 26, fidgets with his car keys as he waits for his fiancee at the Wedding21 studio in Apgujeong-dong. Fifteen minutes later, Lee Gang-suk, 26, enters, looking decidedly shy and nervous. She is greeted by the booming voice of Kang Yoon-jung, 33, an effervescent wedding manager in charge of helping the couple prepare for their Dec. 22 nuptials. It is the first encounter between Ms. Kang and the couple, but the wedding manager treats the pair as if they were long lost chums.

"It's high time you came in to see me," she beams, and sits down with the couple to discuss the details of the plans for their wedding. "We've talked on the phone several times," she tells me. Ms. Kang, who bears a vague likeness to the American talk show host Ricki Lake, asks how the couple spent the Chuseok holiday and relates a small joke about newlyweds in order to lessen the uneasiness felt by the timid bride. Soon enough, the couple roars with laughter as Ms. Kang chatters on excitedly about odds and ends. Ms. Lee soon becomes upbeat and relaxed, like her groom.

Smiling constantly, Ms. Kang takes out a wedding checklist and gets down to some serious discussions. "This afternoon I have made plans for you to visit the bridal dress shop in Cheongdam-dong, but first let's discuss the time line. Since the wedding is three months away, you should have gotten three things done by now," says Ms. Kang. She asks the couple numerous questions about whether they would prefer outdoor or indoor photo shoots, and advises them to opt for a video recording of the ceremony because, Ms. Kang says, "trust me, when you're old and gray, it will come in handy." They chuckle.

She then shows a few albums with sample wedding photos by recommended studios. Ms. Kang asks the couple, "Which studio do you like the most?" The groom-to-be, Mr. Bae, an IT engineer says, "It's up to the bride." Ms. Lee laughs and says, "Men say that to defer responsibility."

For nearly an hour Ms. Kang patiently explains to them what they have to prepare for and what she will do for them, asks them questions about their budget and talks about the items they can cover within the scope of their budget.

For the honeymoon, the couple says they can manage five or six days at the most. "For that I recommend Southeast Asia," Ms. Kang says, "because you need at least a week for Europe due to the distance and time." Ms. Kang speaks assuredly and distinctly, and her speech is as smooth as a news anchor's. She advises the prospective bride about shopping for honsu, household goods for the married couple usually provided by the bride's family. "When shopping for honsu," she says, "you ought to go to your mother." She tells Ms. Lee to buy big items such as furniture first, and when time permits shop for kitchen utensils and bedsheets.

One would think that someone who speaks with such knowledge and sagacity could have singlehandedly planned her own wedding. However, that's not the case. "I am still single," sighs Ms. Kang. "I never had the time."

Afterward, the party drives to the wedding dress shop about three blocks away. Here, the bride-to-be puts on dresses and head pieces while the groom tries on the tuxedo. "This dress suits your facial features," the wedding manager says. But Ms. Lee disagrees. "It looks too gaudy on me," she says.

When asked what the groom thinks of the outfit, he looks up and jokes to the bride, "Who are you?"

Ms. Lee tries on other bridal dresses recommended by the shop owner and Ms. Kang. In between takes, Ms. Lee tells me, "I first got to know [Ms. Kang] through a relative. Before we met, she called as often as she could to ask me what I liked, what I wanted, et cetera, and made me feel like she really wanted to take care of me."

The director of Verona studios, Jeon Byeong-jun has dropped by the dress shop and exchanges pleasantries with Ms. Kang. "[Ms. Kang] is a true professional in this field," he says. "Unlike other wedding consultants or managers, she's a no-nonsense person when it comes to things like keeping to the schedule and making sure that clients meet all their payment obligations. Not to mention the fact that she's also good at keeping business relationships going," says Mr. Jeon.

After a few trials and errors, Ms. Lee says she wants to visit other dress shops before deciding. Ms. Kang tells her that she will set the time for the next round of visits, and the couple leaves contently.

Ms. Kang has been providing counseling for betrothed couples ("Those who have actually set the date," clarifies Ms. Kang) for more than two years now. Prior to her role as wedding planner/manager/consultant, she worked as a secretary at mid-sized businesses, a tour leader at a travel agency, and a general manager of a computer supplies company. After four years at the latter post, she decided to search for something fun to do rather than "dealing with printer cartridges all day."

For fun she decided to take a one-month course on wedding management, offered by SBS television. "It was a pure fluke that I became a wedding manager," giggles Ms. Kang. She found the vocation to be new and exciting and decided to venture on. Soon she worked as a wedding manager at Woman OK Wedding Club, an affiliation of SK Corp., and later joined Wedding21 Consulting, a wedding management company owned by the Wedding 21 Magazine, a monthly bridal publication.

During the height of the marriage preparation season, which is December to February and all of the summer season (which are both two to three months before weddings actually take place) Ms. Kang meets up to 40 couples a day. About 80 percent of her clients come to her through online registration, while the rest visit her through word of mouth. She has successfully managed the marriages of nearly 200 couples since she came to Wedding21. She was so successful in her position that she became head manager after only six months into her profession.

"Marriage can be a grueling process for anybody," Ms. Kang says, "and my job is to help make the anxieties and jitters go away." The marriage process involves setting a venue, deciding on the dressmaker, photo studio and makeup artist, arranging the honeymoon, buying traditional Korean clothing and wedding gifts for the in-laws, and even choosing an obstetrician. Ms. Kang makes sure that the couples are fully aware of the time, effort and financial requirements needed for a smoothly run wedding and the aftermath. She tells prospective brides such as Ms. Lee what some of the newest trends in presents for the in-laws are and why the inner cover of washing machines should be aluminum rather than plastic ("plastic will last no longer than two years").

During weekdays, Ms. Kang is preoccupied with what she calls "telemarketing," which is calling up co-op companies such as bouquet shops and household appliance stores to make arrangements for couples to visit. She manages the couples' schedules, calls up clients and tells them what they have to get ready for as they approach the big day. And every now and then, she hits the road with the couples, basically following them as they try out boutiques. Weekends are most often spent "hitting the road" because, "these days, both the bride and groom work full-time so they can make time on weekends." Ms. Kang wails and says, "I only get Monday off!" But when wedding season ends around November, she and her staff take a weeklong vacation, after attending a slew of wedding ceremonies -- her clients'.

The consulting services provided by wedding managers are free of charge for the couples. Instead, managers receive a commission (up to 3 percent of total revenue) from the businesses that the couple use. "These days, many dressmakers and studios are losing their walk-in customers," Ms. Kang says, "so they rely on the wedding managers such as us to introduce them. Many are rushing to make affiliations with us because we have a great database of clients."

Besides managing the wedding process, Ms. Kang also provides emotional support to brides. There have been cases where couples who broke up just weeks prior to walking down the aisle. "In all the cases, it was the parents' meddling that resulted in the breakup," Ms. Kang says, shaking her head. "Parents expect too much from their in-laws and people can get so greedy at times."

When asked if any siblings of the couples have ever asked her to do matchmaking, Ms. Kang laughs and says, "That's a whole different career."

by Choi Jie-ho

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