It's rare that you feel good about paying a wedding vendor. Trust me, one of my vendors accidentally sent me her profit margin spreadsheet for my wedding instead of the final quote, and the cost differential between the two was... well, let's just say: yikes. When you're planning a wedding -- especially a three-day Indian monster with a 412-person guest list -- it's no surprise when you're pushed and shoved over budget on a weekly basis.
There are, however, a few vendors to whom I feel OK paying a premium. Not because they carry special meaning to me, but because (being the nerd that I am) I appreciate how they have identified specific needs for a demanding demographic, and have stepped outside their comfort zones and crossed cultural lines to fulfill them.
My favorite example: Billy, from Maharaja Farm, a stable in the suburbs of Chicago. Before our first conversation, I was positive that Billy was the Americanized nickname for an enterprising immigrant named Bhavesh. But no. Billy is an average, midwestern dude who sounds alarmingly like Mike Ditka, and who recognizes the importance of the baraat for an Indian wedding.
The baraat is the groom's procession at an Indian wedding. In India, the groom often arrives at the wedding venue on a horse (or an elephant) accompanied by a small Indian marching band, with his friends and family dancing alongside him, lighting fireworks along the way, and being met by dancing hijras who threaten to curse the impending marriage until they are paid off. There, this is a common occurrence. Here, it's a little bit more complicated, what with limited access to animals, illegal explosive fireworks and their pesky city permits.
Billy, after having been asked to loan out his horse for some of these events, discovered a need for his horse that fell way outside that of mainstream America -- a profitable need that wasn't being met by anyone else. He rebranded himself as Maharaja Farm (translates to "Great King" Farm), and now offers full-service baraat coordination that can't be found anywhere else in Chicago. He outfits his horse and his handler in traditional Indian attire, and offers his customers the option to upgrade to a package with a red carpet lined with display fireworks.
For comfort, he brings a canopy-covered table for guests to take refreshments and leave their bags. He partners up with a couple of mobile DJs and drummers, and he recently even added a smoke screen to his repertoire -- not even something commonly found in India! He's usually double-booked on weekends during wedding season, and at a base rate of $425 a trot, that means he's found more than a few parties willing to pay over $20 per minute for his services. I don't know about his football coaching skills, but talk about harnessing an opportunity.
Another component of an Indian wedding where I discovered this brand of entrepreneurship is with American décor companies and their creation of mandaps (Hindu wedding canopies, similar to a Jewish chuppahs). I've looked through these companies' sample books, and suffered from more than my fair share of mandap-envy at photos of stunning, traditional Indian wedding canopies -- accompanied by price tags upwards of $40,000. That's nearly $450 per minute of use during the ceremony!
As an Indian-American, you're often saturated with information about Indian-owned businesses that were created to satisfy the masses, but you rarely hear about non-Indian run businesses that solely exist to satisfy our small (but growing!) population.
This is the kind of innovation that can't be outsourced. And it's the kind of innovation you like to see in a tough economic climate. Even if you don't understand their culture yet, try to figure out what people want and give it to them. No guarantees on the success of a unionized hijra dancing service, though. The tradition of strangers cursing a marriage unless they get paid is one I suspect most Indian Americans are happy to leave behind.