"I actually rented a video down at the courthouse library that talks about how to file a small claims court lawsuit and we both sat down and watched it and figured out what we needed to and went through the process,” said Merrick Kelly.
Tanya Hendricks, with Southern Charm Events is now helping one former Alpha & Omega bride pick up the pieces by turning her matrimonial misgivings into magic.
"I explained to her that I was a member of the ABC -- the Association of Bridal Consultants -- and after going through everything and letting her talk and letting her know that I was going to take care of everything,” said CEO Tanya Hendricks. “When we got done she hugged me. And it wasn't a wimpy hug, it was a bear hug. And she got tears in her eyes and she said 'You're an angel.’”
The president of the Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida, Tom Stephens, says the troubles couples are talking about haven’t turned into many complaints with the BBB. In fact, it’s B+ rating is based on four complaints over the last three years.
“The red flags really weren't raised up. There wasn't enough activity to make a red flag go up and say we need to look harder at this company,” said Stephens. "To our knowledge this company has not had any serious problems in 3 years up until right now."
So what can you do to ensure your walk down the aisle is a stress free one?
Hendricks says you need to do your homework both online and in person.
"You need to look on two sides. There’s reviews out there from other brides. But you need to ask vendors,” she said. “And make sure the planner is licensed and certified.”
Hendricks added, "The Association of Bridal Consultants holds us to a code of ethics. And one of those codes is that we do not take percentages of a budget.”
Before you sign anything, Hendricks recommends you read over all of the contract terms to evaluate the company’s refund, exchange and cancellation policy. It’s also important to clarify what happens if the company does not hold up their end of the contract.
“Any planner worth his or her salt should be able to give you a list of 10 satisfied customers in the last year or last year and a half,” said Stephens. “If they can't do that, they're not doing much business and I probably wouldn't be interested in talking to them much further.”
Once a wedding planner is selected, Hendricks and Stephens say couples need to document everything, pay with a credit card and consider wedding insurance. Vendor no-shows, bad weather, medical emergencies, travel delays and more are covered and can potentially save you thousands of dollars. They also recommend you speak up if your nuptials don’t go off without a hitch.
“If these people had complained to us, they would've had more complaints on their record. And people would've known about it," Stephens said. "If they would've posted things on Facebook or on wedding forums or wedding boards warning other people about what happened to them, that could help warn people away.”
One question we had while investigating this story was about research: Did people who chose to hire Alpha & Omega do any background checks?
All of these brides tell us they did their due diligence and researched the company, starting with the BBB. Some went off referrals or the company website testimonials and Facebook page comments.
We also reached out multiple times to the attorney for Alpha & Omega -- Regina Wright -- asking for the other side of the story and proof that counters these claims of wrongdoing. She called the allegations lies but didn't give any specifics to back up that assertion.
When we called her again Monday she told us: "It would be a waste of time to give you a statement."
Tuesday night -- about one hour before this story was to run on television and be posted on the web -- I received a complaint showing her intent to file a defamation lawsuit against the station.
It's still unclear if any of the other brides we talked to will pursue legal action. Many say they either can't afford to or simply don't want to throw any more money at the problem.