Lisa Manning

The Wedding Planner's Wedding

Ever wondered how a professional bridal consultant gets hitched? Does she use her many years of wedding planning experience to create a masterpiece for herself and her betrothed? At least in the case of Lisa Manning, one of only 22 accredited bridal consultants in the national 4,000-member-strong Association of Bridal Consultants, that wasn't how it happened. In fact, she and her intended practically eloped.

"I guess I live vicariously through my brides the rest of the year, so it was nice to do something low-key," said Lisa, who recently earned the Association's title of "accredited," the second-highest rank in a system that goes from novice to master. Her intimate ceremony took just three days to plan.

Lisa, who owns her own company, Southern Weddings, has been in this business for over 13 years. But her story began much earlier when she planned her first wedding for a friend in 1985.

"All my friends would call me and ask me to help them with their weddings," said Lisa, who figured it was because of her organized, take-charge personality. "You know how they say 'always a bridesmaid, never a bride?' Well, I was never a bridesmaid, always a wedding manager."

In 1995 she moved to Hilton Head, back when there were just two other wedding planners on the island. It was a tough business to break into, she says, but she did it from the ground up before all the glamorization brought about by reality TV. As far as melodrama, Lisa's seen it all-frantic brides, angry parents, hospitalized grooms, disgruntled food and beverage managers who quit hours before the wedding-but she's learned to handle just about any situation.

"Sometimes I'm in total turmoil on the inside, but I have to stay calm and upbeat," she said. "It's all worthwhile when the bride and groom come up to you afterwards and tells you how much they enjoyed their wedding."
Lisa met her husband, Stephen, at a bridal show she planned 11 years ago when she asked him if he could help out by modeling tuxedos. At the time, Stephen had just moved to the area and he worked for Adventure Radio, which was doing live coverage of the event. The two had never met, but he agreed to help, no doubt with the thought that putting on a slick tux might help him pick up chicks. By the next day, they were fast friends and three months later he proposed. Lisa said yes, despite feeling "shell-shocked," and when Stephen started telling all their friends they were getting married, she looked at her calendar to pick a date. Dismayed because every single weekend that year was either booked with a client's wedding or inconvenient to friends and family, Lisa threw up her hands and put together a wedding for that very Friday. And her dress? It had been unknowingly picked out by Stephen during that same bridal show where they met, when he became fascinated with a particular gown that was being modeled. Lisa surprised him with it when she came walking down the aisle.

"I know how special it is to have all the elements in place," she said. "I guess because of that, I put a lot of heart and soul into the small weddings I do, the ones where they spend $2,000 or less because that's all they have. Those mean a lot to me."


Hometown: Columbus, OH
Mother Of: Mackenzie, 4Ω and Natalie, 18 months
Hobbies: scrapbooking, reading, rollerblading, spending time with kids
Favorite Book: the Bible
Retirement Dream: buy an RV and see the country