‘Never did I wish that for the Whitsunday wedding industry’
THE former director of a major wedding planning company that shocked the Whitsundays when it went into sudden liquidation late last year has spoken publicly for the first time since the business collapsed.
The shock closure rocked the Whitsunday wedding industry and left 39 couples stranded as well as employees and 65 small businesses owed $305,000.
Speaking to the Whitsunday Times this week, former director of The Wedding Planners Whitsundays Jessica Lawrence, who founded the company in 2014, said losing the business was like losing someone she loved.
The company acted as an intermediary, receiving instructions from couples intending to get married and then booking suppliers on their behalf.
Ms Lawrence said its collapse was “complicated” and claimed it stemmed from an accounting formula provided by an accountant, which she claims demonstrated the business was cash positive when it wasn’t.
“I was being told the business was making money and I would expect to see continued growth,” she said.
“That meant I could continue to grow the staff and the business – if someone is telling you you were making this much a year, you’re not going to question them.”
Ms Lawrence said this led to overspending on business overheads bit by bit over several years and accumulated the “hidden” debt, which ultimately resulted in liquidation.
“‘I don’t want to make excuses, but I was busy with everything else in the business and if someone is saying you’re making money, you trust them,” she said.
“But as director of the company, it is completely my fault, though. It ultimately does come back down to me, which is a hard pill to swallow.”
Ms Lawrence said she worked with “almost everyone” in the Whitsunday wedding industry, which made the company’s insolvency even harder.
Under legal advice given by the liquidator and solicitor, she was unable to speak publicly during the liquidation process.
She said the business was one of the biggest parts of her life, with most of her friends made through her line of work.
“The region and the impact that it had – everybody here is a small business, everyone is doing the best that they can – it was devastating,” she said.
“Never in a million years did I wish that for the Whitsunday wedding industry.
“I was so involved because of the type of business that I had, I knew everybody in weddings because I had to work with them all, the people here are incredible and the work they do is incredible.
“I was, and still am, the biggest advocate for weddings in the Whitsundays.”
Ms Lawrence said she had been asked why she didn’t wait until the end of the wedding season to liquidate.
However, she said it would have been an offence to trade insolvent once she was aware of the issue.
“Once it began to unravel, it happened very quickly,” she said.
“Even once the numbers started coming back I couldn’t believe that it was the case.
“Until September, I planned to fulfil all the weddings on the books for 2020 myself, with no wage or profit, and then shut the doors.
“But everything escalated quickly, and once I was made aware the business was insolvent, I had to stop operating as it would have been illegal and a criminal offence if I did not.”
Ms Lawrence said if she had her time again there would be many things she would change.
“I followed the rules given to me but if I could re-do it, I would have helped couples and suppliers throughout the process and spoken sooner,” she said.
“I understand suppliers and couples went through their own process, whether that be anger or disappointment.
“I truly think the Whitsunday wedding industry is amazing and I hope to see them flourish after all of this is over.”
Fish D’Vine director Kevin Collins confirmed in November last year his business would conduct an early takeover of the company that included the rights to The Wedding Planners Whitsundays IP and website.
The takeover honoured about $100,000 in lost deposits to couples affected by the closure.
The Wedding Planners Whitsundays has since been rebranded as Weddings of the Whitsundays.