We pick the brains of Melanie Egan of Bellissimo Weddings about how a venue management service works.
“Venue management can offer an essential service to owners of venues,” says Melanie Egan of Bellissimo Weddings, a specialist in running venues on behalf of their owners. “It is certainly something to consider when investigating the potential of your land, house or other space as a venue for weddings, parties and business events.”
The service is comprehensive and can cover branding, marketing and social media, enquiries and show arounds, the all important bookings and looking after customers from booking up to and including the event itself.
“Venue management is perfect for owners that want to diversify into events but don’t have the expertise, time (or inclination!) to manage the extra work. Our clients are often busy running their existing core businesses and cannot dedicate the time to promoting their venue. They often don’t want to employ someone full time or in house because the quantity of events planned (particularly in the early years) might not justify the commitment of a salary, so it’s a great idea to look to outsource this.”
Having been in the wedding planning business for over a decade and establishing England & Wales’ only beach wedding venue (located in Bournemouth), Melanie and her team have now taken on the events side of five other venues around the Dorset area, from rustic marquee locations to grand historic houses.
“We are lucky enough to work with a variety of venues ranging from open land for marquees to grand country estates,” she says. “Our relationship usually begins with a consultancy service to help launch a venue with ongoing management thereafter.”
What do I need?
While venues may be completely different the essentials needed to make them work are similar. Parking, organised pathways, lighting, power, toilet facilities – all the important back ground elements, not just the stand out features and great photo backdrops. “Working out the basics are part of assessing a venue’s viability,” says Melanie, “and deciding on which part of the market it should be pitched at informs the style and quality of these elements.”
If you own woodland or a field in a beautiful setting, then pitching to the growing demand for mid-range, rustic events could mean some basic infrastructure additions, whereas turning an historic house into a high-end, luxe venue may involve serious investment in high quality indoor toilet facilities and the provision of parking on hard standing.
“Part of deciding whether to hire your property out for events will be looking at the investment required. That’s why we also offer a venue consultancy to help assess the viability of a project and use our experience to help an owner decide which part of the market they should pitch to and what the necessary investment would be.”
Bellissimo has recently acted as consultant to two new emerging venues – Came House, on the Came Estate near Dorchester, which has successfully navigated its first wedding season, and Hale Park, a stately home in the New Forest which is now operating as a high-end wedding venue. “The owner of Hale Park came to us offering part of house for events so they could continue to live in the other part. It has the most beautiful drawing room which is a major feature and we spent time looking at the style and quality of weddings the venue would likely attract and the improvements necessary to maximise bookings.
“The owners have extensively improved the routes around the grounds to make them easy and more enjoyable for guests and created bespoke toilet facilities to avoid mobile loos coming for each wedding. We helped with advice on style and décor and have had lots of discussions on the journey which the eventual bride and groom will take for their wedding. It was quite a journey and we were delighted when the first wedding arrived on the 15 June this year.”
The business model
Venue management fees are usually tailored around the level of service a venue requires. “Some of our venues prefer to conduct their own viewings or qualify their own enquiries,” says Melanie. “Once the viewing has taken place they pass over to us to manage things from that point. Others prefer that we handle everything for them from the intial enquiry through to the finish of the wedding day.
“We charge on a per wedding basis so that when each booking comes in our fee is incorporated into the venue hire. This usually ranges at around £1,700 – £2,000 per wedding depending on our level of involvement. For management outside of the actual events (such as marketing, show rounds etc.) a client would usually pay an hourly rate of £75 per hour or a monthly retainer for the consultancy service.”
How much a venue can expect to make from weddings and events varies greatly and will depend on location, local competition, what’s being offered and which part of the market it is aiming at. “It will also depend on the standard and facilities at the venue: will you offer accommodation or somewhere for the bride to get ready on site? Will you offer kitchen facilities for the caterer to make use of?”
Things to think about
“The disadvantages to venue management are few and far between,” says Melanie. “One limitation of opening your property for events is that most weddings are at weekends and, should your property also double up as your home, it may mean it is occupied during peak days during the summer season. Having your property taken over can take some getting used to.”
A good venue manager can help you deal with some of these initial changes, and of course the level of involvement an owner wants to have can be discussed. “At English Oak Vineyard (Open Air Business, Issue 27), owners Andrew and Sarah live and work on site making wine. This is their core business but they like to have an involvement with the events side and many customers like this personal touch. They will take on smaller, more casual events themselves, particularly on the business event side of things, but they happily hand the weddings over to us, along with anyone that requires a bit more TLC!”
Melanie and her team do the same with marquee venue Wilkswood Weddings located in the beautiful Purbecks between Corfe Castle and Swanage. “The operators of the land had been running things themselves but decided to outsource the management so they could concentrate on their own marquee hire business.”
The arrangement works really well, especially in terms of servicing the all important enquiries. “We have staff in the office from Monday to Friday, and are able to monitor all places of enquiry, from phone calls and emails, to WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram messages. Clients use all manner of ways to get in touch and, when they are planning to spend a lot of money, expect a timely response. Today’s bride won’t tolerate being kept waiting!
“And at the end of the day, the last thing a large estate with 100s of acres to manage, tenants and agricultural issues needs is 20 couples firing questions off about potential bookings, then the 100s of questions confirmed couples will have in the lead up to their wedding! We make sure that our venues only ever hear from us (if they want to work this way) and I make it a priority to keep thing clear and concise – I am a fan of bullet points! We can schedule twice annual meetings pre and post season to run though everything and see where things can be improved or changed going forward. Each venue is organic and things will develop and grow as time moves on.
Benefits of outsourcing
“The number of venues approaching us each year is testament to the advantages of outsourcing the management of a venue,” says Melanie. “In addition to regular income from events with someone else doing all the administrative and practical work for you, venue managers have a wealth of knowledge and can offer advice on all aspects of operating the business – from planning and licensing through to wedding day management and logistics.”
Melanie’s team sits down with new venue clients to assess their ideas, business plan and projections. “We know exactly what works and exactly what will attract business and can advise on business models from dry hire to exclusive use. The promotion of a property can also be managed on all social media platforms to reach out to a wide range of potential clients.”
And it’s not just weddings a venue can pitch to. “Those wanting to monetise their venue mid week can easily do so for corporate events. At Came House we carried out around 18 months of consultancy work for the wedding side of things before the venue properly launched and they now are looking into other ways of holding events on the estate including further corporate and non-wedding use”.
A good service provider will work hard to build a relationship with the venues they represent, after all the symbiotic nature of the arrangement means the closer venue and management team works the more profitable both businesses. “We develop a close relationship with our venues and help them grow their operations to complement their properties, owners and what they are trying to achieve from their projects,” says Melanie.
“We have to be careful to select partners who are not in competition with each other and have turned down several venues this season as they are either too close in location or in type to others we already look after. I enjoy the long term arrangements we have with our owners and get great satisfaction in seeing all the months of hard work pay off, the bookings start to come in and that the first events are a success. Following that, it is so exciting to plan ahead and see where that same venue can be one or two seasons down the line.”
About the Author
Melanie Egan is a national award-winning wedding planner and founder of Bellissimo Weddings, which was established in 2008. Having launched her own venue and managed it successfully for eight years, Melanie went on to develop a consultancy and venue management service within her business following many requests from other venues for help. Melanie and her team of dedicated planners are based in Poole, currently managing five venues in Dorset and Hampshire. 01202 533014 / www.bellissimo-weddings.co.uk