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Wedding planners cry foul as The Knot adds startup Simply Eloped to online empire

The Knot has quietly acquired a startup called Simply Eloped and the deal is stoking concerns that the controversial firm is seizing too much control over the wedding planning industry, The Post has learned.

Simply Eloped which says it connects couples with preapproved vendors such as officiants, videographers and photographers for intimate ceremonies of 20 guests or less will join an online wedding planning empire that that already includes The Knot, WeddingWire, WeddingPro and Hitched, among other sites.

Janessa White, Simply Elopeds cofounder and CEO, recently sent an email informing vendors that the startup had been acquired and joined The Knot Worldwide family, according to a copy of the memo viewed by The Post and two sources with knowledge of the matter.

The transaction closed as The Knot attempts to move past allegations that it used shady sales practices to secure ad dollars from vendors who lack alternatives for advertising their services, as The Post reported last summer.

Lauren Jackson, a California-based wedding photographer and onetime Knot advertiser, is among those who sees the Simply Eloped deal as a bad sign for vendors.

I highly doubt they will have any transformation for the better, said Jackson, who started a petition earlier this year that criticized The Knots tactics.

The petition accused The Knot of radically raising prices for industry monopoly, sending advertisers fake leads and ignoring contract cancellation requests, among other claims. To date, it has amassed nearly 600 signatures.

The Knot Worldwide downplayed the petitions claims in a lengthy statement, noting that claims of wrongdoing raised by ex-employees, as previously reported by The Post last summer, were “thoroughly investigated, including by federal regulators.

All claims of widespread misconduct were found to be unsubstantiated, a company spokesperson said in a statement. We remain committed to driving value for the vendors within our global marketplace and we determine business priorities based on their feedback.

The spokesperson also defended The Knots tactics toward its vendors.

Our local advertising contracts allow vendors to cancel their services at any time after an initial period of no more than 12 months, the spokesperson said. Since most of our vendors have been with us for over a year, they have the ability to cancel their contract for any reason or no reason at all just by reaching out to us.

Like all technology businesses, we can be targets for spam or bots on occasion. Our team puts the highest attention on detecting, preventing and remediating any spam or bot issues through third-party systems and filters, the spokesperson added.

Jackson said she was spurred to action after seeing other vendors post about their experiences on Reddit and other online forums.

Its been extremely disheartening to see others be taken advantage of, Jackson said.

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The Knot Worldwide confirmed its acquisition of Simply Eloped was finalized on May 20 and said the company had planned to announce it publicly on July 17. Simply Eloped will operate as a separate entity and its day-to-day operations will remain unchanged.

We acquired Simply Eloped to broaden the services we provide to couples and connect them to wedding professionals no matter what type of wedding they choose to have, the company spokesperson said. Were excited to strengthen our offerings for engaged couples who seek elopements and microweddings to celebrate their big day.

White also confirmed the deal and said it did not result in any layoffs. The acquisition will allow Simply Eloped and The Knot to serve more types of weddings, no matter the size or location, she said.

We know that couples have a ton of choices when it comes to planning their weddings, and were hoping they continue to see Simply Eloped as a unique way of planning and executing their wedding, White added. I am confident in The Knot Worldwides integrity and business practices, and Im glad to be a part of the team.

The Knot informed employees about the acquisition in May, one source with knowledge of the matter said. The deals financial terms could not immediately be learned.

As [The Knot] is already the 800-pound gorilla in the wedding/home/baby/lifestyle advertising trade, acquisition of even more outlets is, of course, concerning to this consumer advocate, one California-based wedding officiant said.

Nevertheless, the Simply Eloped deal is unlikely to attract much attention from federal regulators unless consumer protection issues emerge.

Under Federal Trade Commission rules, private businesses arent required to disclose deals valued at less than $119.5 million. Simply Eloped was valued at $8 million as of 2021, according to a report at the time byentrepreneur-focused outlet Bootstrappers.

They are trying to buy up as much of our industry as they can, a concerned wedding industry consultant and former Knot advertiser who requested anonymity to discuss the situation told The Post. It seems they want to control the narrative and that is always a scary feeling.

Idaho-based Simply Eloped oversees a network of vendors who sign up for free through its recruitment program. The sites staff helps eloping couples connect with specific vendors who work in their preferred destination. The site has planned more than 13,000 elopements and works with more than 800 vendors, according to White.

In the memo from Simply Elopeds White, vendors were informed they will receive payment from a Knot subsidiary called Something Green LLC moving forward.

Were excited to share with you that Simply Eloped was recently acquired and weve joined The Knot Worldwide family! the message read. This change doesnt impact you or your relationship with Simply Eloped, and you can continue to expect the same level of care youve grown accustomed to.

Privately-held The Knot Worldwide and competitor Zola are arguably the two most well-known platforms in the online wedding planning industry. Formerly known as XO Group, The Knots parent company merged with key rival WeddingWire in a nearly $1 billion merger in 2018.

The Knots flagship site lets vendors sign up for free, but charges them a fee if they want increased visibility. Couples reach out to the vendors they want to hire.

The merger cleared federal regulatory scrutiny at the time and was much larger in scale than the Simply Eloped deal. Internal documents obtained by The Post reveal that the companys leaders fretted that the feds would torpedo the merger.

In a September 2018 memo to employees, XO Groups legal team detailed talking points for its sales team to use if vendors asked questions about the merger.

One talking point said the deal was not anti-competitive because the combined entity would continue to face intense competition from numerous competitors, e.g., Google, Facebook, Zola, WeddingSpot, Honeybook, etc.

Employees were warned specifically against mak[ing] comments about or suggest that a combined company would dominate any market or foreclose any competitors. They were also told not to put any communications with vendors in writing, the documents show.

This transaction was subject to standard regulatory review as is typical with similar transactions and was approved by regulators in 2018, so there would be no reason for concerns you referenced, The Knot spokesperson said regarding the past merger. We firmly believe that there is a place for everyone in the wedding industry and diversity of choices is best for couples and vendors.

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