My take on Shepstone Gardens asking a referral fee

I am not the ranting kind. In fact I try to be positive as much as possible in my life and business and it works for me. But today I feel like moaning. My issue is with wedding venues that ask referral fees from other suppliers in the wedding industry in exchange for being put on their “preferred suppliers” list. Now in principle you might think it is a fair transaction and I am sure that there are many companies in many industries operating that way. But the wedding industry probably has the most fierce competition of all. This means that in order for brides to notice you, you have to spend thousands of rands in marketing and work very hard at optimizing your website (SEO) so that it ranks high in the search engines. And then along comes a very popular venue that is making a killing in terms of venue hire and they take advantage of entrepreneurs like photographers trying to make a living in this tough industry.

My beef is specifically with Shepstone Gardens – an absolute stunning venue in a price class that is out of reach for most brides. And it also happens to be a venue that photographers love shooting at because it is just so beautiful and versatile. They have now emailed photographers who have shot there in the past informing them, should they want to be on the Shepstone Gardens preferred supplier list, a photographer must pay the venue 15% of the package that the couple has chosen for their photography! And while I think there will probably be a few very good photographers on that list that are willing to scratch a back or two in exchange for a similar favor I have to wonder how brides would react if they knew the full story? I might be wrong, but somehow I don’t think a wedding coordinator at a venue is going to tell a bride: “And these are our preferred suppliers. Yes they are very good. And by the way they are paying us to say that”. I am not saying that this is an unlawful practice or even unethical. I am merely stating the fact that I am opposed to it.

So now you know. Make an informed choice when you get to a venue and are presented with a preferred suppliers list by asking how that list is compiled and if the venue is getting a referral fee from those suppliers. Don’t bargain on a honest answer either. And then go do your own research and get the suppliers that YOU think will make your special day perfect!

And now you also know why I am not, and will never be, on Shepstone Garden’s preferred suppliers list 😉

  1. excellent post Hannalee, even though I am not a wedding photographer, i do agree with you on all the points you’ve raised here.
    This is a tough industry to be in.. we should be supporting each other.

  2. Angel says:

    Hang on a second. The photographer has to pay the venue to photograph a wedding they have been hired to do? Is this for every wedding they do at that venue *once* they manage to get onto the preferred supplier list?
    I think its ridiculous. The venue fees are far from cheap no matter where you go, and venues benefit tremendously from being mentioned inside wedding photographer’s blogs- and they don’t pay the togs for that service.

  3. Heloise says:

    Well said! I am getting married later this year and had I known “preferred supplier” does not necessarily mean the venue rates them as a good supplier but merely one who pays their ransom, I might have chosen differently 🙁

  4. James Dekker FOTOMAN Photography says:

    Excellent point and well put.
    I was just thinking that the new Consumer Protection Act requires everyone to now make available all the special deals and arrangements that may form part of the actual quotation one would present the couple.
    I wonder how a copy of the agreement between said venue and photographer would go down as part of the quotation to the bridal couple.

  5. Very well put Hannalee, I support you all the way on this one! I think service providers should stick together, and refuse to pay the fee in order to re-allign the market, and the ridiculous “agreements”.

  6. Sharon says:

    I agree with you on this. I wonder how Shepstone Gardens would react if you approached them with the same offer? They pay you 15% for every bride that books them because of a referral from you. I somehow doubt they would be amenable to this arrangement, which makes me mad.

  7. Nets says:

    I feel your pain regarding Shepstone Gardens!! From the first moment that I saw pictures of this place I was IN LOVE!!! I dropped very not-so-subtle hints to my then boyfriend that even though I know we cannot afford to get married there it will be a dream to get engaged there. Well guess what!! They told my poor BF that unless he puts down at least R20 000 we will not step foot in that place.
    In the end we found a venue to get married at that is not trying to rip us off and photographers should also stand together against such money-crazed venues. In any ways, when it comes to the important things such as wedding photos, don’t just select a photographer based on “preferred” lists, their work should “click” with you.

  8. Ian Cooper says:

    Hannalie, I cannot agree with your more. This is getting out of control and make I it known to the client when I speak and meet with them who and where they got hold of me. What I have done with the co-ordinators at the majority of venues is not to give them a flat % of the package as then I am paying them from my costs. I have agreed an amount equivalent to the following:
    Full costs (fixed and variables) – profit = X. I then give them a token of appreciation from X.

  9. Emm says:

    I am not saying that this is an unlawful practice or even unethical.

    But it is unethical, horribly so. It is misleading and as you say, it is doubtful they are telling the brides the full story. Unless there is full disclosure that contractors are paying to be on that list and are expected to pay 15% of their final package value to the venue, then it is unethical.

    By the way, just found your site by Googling “Shepstone Gardens”. I’ve been out of Jo’burg for four years and hadn’t heard of it before.

  10. Monique says:

    Well Said Hannalee!

    I might add that we attended the Bridal Expo at The Midrand Conference Centre – Bridal Village ( or whatever ) and they too had their preferred suppliers – only the best in the industry, they said!

    I was walking past a well-known stationer’s display, picked up a card – untied the ribbon to see the inside of the card – and a rude lady came screaming from the very other side off the hall “MY DISPLAY!!! LEAVE MY DISPLAY! YOU BROKE MY DISPLAY!!!!” Very shocked i handed her the card and just mumbled in afrikaans (which she stated very clearly she didn’t understand) and walked away

    What I am getting at is that – these suppliers were only at the expo because they paid to be there – not because they are the best! Definitely the most rudest old lady i have ever seen!

    I phoned the venue the next day informing them. With a ” thanks for your feedback ” reply and that’s about that!

  11. Paul Pearce says:

    Gosh!! This trend seems to be picking up with all these venues. They are even asking the photographers for a fee to shoot an engagement shoot there. How much of a foot print can be left behind by three people. The future clients looking for venues will be many times more enquiring to book from the blog links. I say that it all amounts to bribery and corruption. Lets say that a jury member says to a lawyer that for my vote pay me 15% of your clients fees. Same principle, different example. To the fellow photographers, I think we can now also add to our about pages that we do not condone paybacks to suppliers or venues. We are ethical and honest photographer. We should call the SEPA, (Support Ethical Photographers Association).
    Anyway my 2 cents, same on the venues and shame on the Togs would pay the blackmail money!!

  12. Karin says:

    Hi, i enjoyed this post.
    I have a small business myself (Guest House) and i understand the concept of paying for advertisement and so forth. But…i don’t like the idea of venues using the term “preferred suppliers” when in actual fact, it has nothing to do with preference and everything to do with money. A completely useless photographer can now just pay them…they refer them, and the bride gets stuck with the terrible experience and photos.
    The idea with blogs and reviews on a blog is suppose to be actual preference and actual taste…!

  13. I have just read another post on this topic and just did a general Google search for more info and your page came up. I cannot see anything as such in competion law on this but I think brave photograhers like you who speak out will really help educate brides 🙂

  14. Claire says:

    Very eye-opening post – thank you for the information!

  15. Robyn says:

    I recently went to see Shepstone Gardens, it really is stunning venue but if you cant afford to pay R26,000 to have your guests walk on their grass made of gold then dont bother. There prices are inflated so that they make a profit on everything. Its really disgusting. So if you’re not one of the few who inherited the family business then they will turn you away. So sad yet so TRUE.

  16. Joanne Danvers says:

    R26 000, I wish! I was quoted R40 000 for an August wedding! This exclude food, drinks, decor etc

  17. Anonomys says:

    Shepstone garden is over priced. Beautiful but way way over priced and service is horrible and deceitful. We paid close to 100k for the venue, coordinator, staff and some chairs. The service was horrific and the entire function a flop. The only thing good was the pictures – that’s about it.