Kelly Chandler outlines key consideration before starting a wedding venue.
You may have already taken great leaps to diversify your income streams as a landowner. You’ve perhaps created a glamping site on your land or converted cottages into self-catering holiday homes, but how do you start a wedding venue? And what do you need to consider first?
You may have been approached to use your land or buildings for the wedding of a friend. Or perhaps you’ve just hosted your own family wedding which has opened your eyes to the wedding world.
But you want to know – do you have what it takes to host weddings on a bigger scale? Do you have the raw ingredients of a successful and profitable venue?
First up – there’s no ‘one size fits all’ in the wedding market. The wedding sector is an incredibly diverse, vibrant and trend-led industry. It is also one where the emotional stakes are high.
This means that there’s good opportunity to do well by starting a wedding venue on your land, especially if you have something special. But, you do have to have something “out of the ordinary” as the days of identical weddings are over. Couples have choice and range absolutely at their fingertips in terms of what’s out there and there have never been so many venues on the wedding market.
The number of couples marrying is slightly declining each year and the volume of venues opening for weddings has exploded. So, competition is fierce and character very important.
You need to have the hallmarks of somewhere special or be able to invest in creating something special. Whilst that’s open to interpretation, always be thinking of beautiful views, attractive intimate settings, peaceful locations and interesting landscapes. Water and lake settings are often a winner as are views, hillside locations and interesting heritage buildings and courtyards.
Ultimately, a field as a field is not enough. You need to stand out and have something remarkable and appealing in order to successfully turn your space into a venue.
Always be thinking – would you want to celebrate a very special occasion in the proposed location or would the noise from local traffic be off-putting, for example? Would working farm activity be an issue?
Former industrial buildings aren’t immediately a no-no and there is many a successful farm that’s diversified into weddings using more modern farm buildings. However, you’ve got to work harder on developing those unique selling points, investing in interesting internal features that create an appealing party space and creating a story that stands out!
Property features and logistics
Moving onto the specifics… you don’t have to have a permanent built structure to host weddings and lots of rural entrepreneurs do start as a temporary structure kind of location.
Installing a seasonal giant tipi for example (with relevant permissions) and testing the market demand and the business model before investing in renovation projects, such as a wedding barn refurbishment, is a great idea. Bear in mind though that the more you can provide, the greater your value.
What couples spend on
Wedding couples value and spend on ‘All in One’ locations. Places where they can get married, have their drinks, wedding meal, evening party and often accommodation overnight for a number of their guests. Privacy and exclusivity of that venue is a virtual pre-requisite rather than a luxury in today’s market.
A license for civil ceremonies is not essential to host wedding celebrations. However, with 67 per cent of the wedding market opting for a civil ceremony, it’s a sizeable chunk not to be ignored.
Wedding days usually run to a good few hours so having alternative spaces for different parts of a day is a key consideration. Aside from the ceremony itself, you need to think about approximately 100 people standing up to have drinks. The largest space required being to sit and eat the wedding breakfast, with an area for an evening party.
Often spaces are reused throughout the day and a minimum of two undercover spaces are recommended. Aim to make an appealing wedding offering, that’s weatherproof, allowing for guest movement and turnaround.
26 per cent of couples in 2019 reported that their wedding lasted for two days or more (according to the Bridebook UK Wedding Market Report 2019). The weekend away wedding or mid-week break wedding has been and continues to be on the up (mid-week weddings are likely to be plentiful this year due to all the 2020 postponements). Offering accommodation for a portion of the wedding party is a big plus and reason to be selected, and ultimately increases your value.
While something is better than nothing, your optimum accommodation capacity would be around the 20-50 guests mark. Clearly, if you have glamping or cottages on-site already, then so much the better.
It’s not a side hustle!
Weddings are often seen as a great and easy way to make good returns from land or buildings and it can be a lucrative business with good per day/per weekend rates, but (and this is important) it requires commitment, a team, energy and long term investment of both money and time.
It’s a people business that is about dealing directly with customers, customers seeking something special and near perfect. You’ll either need to seek out, sell and then liaise with those customers and help them plan the details of their celebration yourself or outsource to paid experts – event management specialists, caterers, marketing, digital, web/social media experts and more. How might this impact on your other business activities? Do you have the time and resources? This needs a lot of consideration before launching into creating a wedding venue.
You’ll also need to think carefully about the risk of hiring your land for private events directly to individuals – relevant insurances and health & safety requirements are absolutely key.
The reality of the wedding industry
Weddings, by nature, are detailed and considered. No longer does a typical urban 30-year-old planning their wedding want an “off the shelf” wedding package.
They want choice every step of the way and for their wedding to show personality. They want to put their stamp on your land or venue, often needing support to create that day. It is not a quick return kind of business.
Weddings book typically one to two years ahead, and bear in mind that phased payments are usual. It is a long term business model with patience required on cash flow.
It’s also not a repeat booking business model. There are no repeat contracts here. You can certainly work to guarantee strong recommendations from wedding customers but not a booking the following year! So, constant and effective marketing machinery is key.
Planning and permissions
Finally, one of the biggest areas of challenge can be planning permission and premises licences. Often access issues and particularly noise issues, with objection from local neighbours, are integral to whether and how you move forward.
Seeking out support from experts early on to help you on your journey is vitally important, helping you avoid mistakes and progress your business plans effectively.
If you’d like to turn your farm into a wedding venue or have expert eyes on your potential wedding offer and whether it has legs, take a look at Kelly’s Prepare to Shine consulting service.
Created just for landowners and rural entrepreneurs making early steps into the wedding sector. Visit www.kellychandlerconsulting.co.uk/prepare-to-shine for more.
About The Author
Kelly Chandler Wedding Consulting helps unique places and spaces to thrive in the modern wedding market via a range of specialist one to one consulting and group training programmes.
Kelly has a wealth of specialist wedding industry experience through more than 15 years leading her award-winning independent wedding planning business, The Bespoke Wedding Company, together with a directorship at industry body, the
UK Alliance of Wedding Planners. Kelly is proud to eat, breathe and sleep weddings – setting standards, inspiring, mentoring and motivating others. She is a well-respected go-to expert in the business with a unique grasp of both modern bridal expectations and a venue’s commercial needs. www.kellychandlerconsulting.co.uk