A lot of landowners overlook the enormous potential offered by the wedding industry, writes Isabel Smith.
Gone are the days when a wedding reception was simply hosted by the nearest hotel or local pub. Modern couples want something different that will wow their guests and look great in photographs – and they are prepared to pay a lot of money for the right venue. The fact is your summer gardens, rolling farmland or family home could easily be transformed to wedding heaven, and you will have the joy of hosting couples on the happiest day of their lives.
However, if you’ve never worked in the wedding industry before the idea of suddenly pitching yourself as a wedding venue might seem a little intimidating. After all, you have to market yourself somehow, apply for umpteen licences and face the prospect of dealing with demanding bridezillas! The good news is that it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it first sounds. Running a wedding venue is nowhere near as difficult or scary as you might imagine. All you have to do is choose the business model that suits you best and follow a few basic rules. The trick is to make your venue work for you. Here’s my guide.
MODEL ONE: Dry Hire
This is the best business model for beginners. You simply offer your space to brides and grooms and then work with a select group of external suppliers who will do all the hard work to make your venue wedding-ready. To get started, simply set up a website with some key details about your property (photos, availability and contact details). Then get in touch with your local wedding planners and marquee companies and let them know that you are in business. As time passes you will be able to update your facilities (eg. adding an outdoor power supply or water source) and you can build a preferred supplier list that your clients can use. You can then gain extra revenue by charging your suppliers a commission for each successful referral!
- For: There is very little initial investment needed and you can scale up your business over time.
- Against: You will need to market the business yourself and there will be a certain amount of administration work involved when it comes to scheduling, arranging site visits and drawing up contracts.
MODEL TWO: Dedicated Contracts
If you really don’t want to deal with multiple brides and suppliers then this option might suit better. Rather than publicly advertising your venue, you sign an exclusive contract with one of your suppliers (usually a marquee company or a caterer) and hand over all sales, marketing and operations to it. In return, it pays you per event for use of the space.
- For: This is a simple, stress-free way of making money from your land on your terms.
- Against: By offering a more limited service you won’t be able to charge as much. You may also deter some clients if you are unable to offer the sort of flexibility that modern brides crave.
MODEL THREE: Full Operations
In this model you will become a full-on wedding venue. You will undertake all your own marketing, sales and contract work and you will work closely with suppliers – even creating a bespoke menu and wine list with them. On the day itself you will probably need to be there to oversee everything and make sure the bride and groom are being looked after, and you may need to hire extra staff to provide the best possible level of service.
- For: This model definitely offers the greatest opportunity for money making since you are managing everything yourself. As your reputation grows you can start to charge more for your services.
- Against: There is a huge amount of work involved. However, you can hire an experienced consultant to guide you through this process to help avoid expensive mistakes, learn the skills you need and streamline your marketing activities.
If you are already using your venue as a wedding location there are a few things you might consider in order to further your wedding-related income.
Products and services: this can be something as small as offering table centrepieces, lanterns or fairy lights for the evening. Or it may be a big-ticket item like an ice-cream tricycle or a petting zoo for the kids.
Partnerships: if you are looking to diversify within the wedding sector you need to keep your eyes open for new networking opportunities around your area. For instance, make links with transport companies, spas, accommodation and nearby activities. These relationships allow you to go the extra mile for your guests and take a commission from referred sales.
Shoots: either for the weddings themselves or for photo-shoots within the wedding industry. This is a visual industry and people are fighting it out for great spaces where they can photograph their designs.
Alternative wedding plans: there is no such thing as a traditional wedding any more. Couples want to put their own stamp on their big day and it can really pay to be flexible and open to alternative ideas. Consider offering full weekend packages, camping facilities, festival-style receptions, a late licence for evening events or ceremony-only deals.
Five Rules for Success
- Do your research
This may sound obvious but it’s worth stating. The wedding industry is full of its own quirks and foibles, so take your time and get to know it before diving in. Visit a few other venues, ask plenty of questions and introduce yourself to as many suppliers as possible.
- Be honest about your target market
Of course, you want to attract the rich and famous but your venue may be more suited to local weddings instead. By trying to woo higher-end clients you could end up alienating your real customer base and, ultimately, go about losing money. Start small and gradually grow your business – word of mouth is the best marketing tool of all.
- Work with your council
No matter what sort of venue you’re running you’re going to need permission from the council. For a start, you have to have an entertainment licence, otherwise there will be no dancing late into the night! You might also need to apply for a licence to serve alcohol or for planning permission to expand your venue or change its use.
- Get insured
Public liability insurance (for you and all your suppliers) is a must. You might also need to take out extra insurance policies to cover natural disasters (such as flooding) or power outages (which could lead to food losses or cancellations).
- Choose your suppliers with care
No matter which business model you choose, the suppliers you work with will be the key to your success. Make sure they share your values, respect your property and sign formal contracts for every eventuality.
About the Author
Isabel Smith has 10 years in the wedding industry behind her both as one of the UK’s top wedding planners as well as a business consultant for venues and other suppliers in the wedding industry. Isabel’s expertise spans marketing, sales and operations as she helps new vendors launch as well as assist established businesses should they find their sales falling. www.isabelsmithconsulting.co.uk / www.isabelsmithweddings.co.uk