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Making a success of your wedding or hospitality business

Successful rural wedding (and private/corporate hospitality) venues can be extremely lucrative if set up and run well. Their number is increasing all the time, but like any business sector, if you have the right resource with a significant USP in a good location, then provided your quality of product and operation is in the top quartile (or preferably decile)  of the market, you will win and sustain enough market share to be a profitable business.  Also the trend is always towards doing something more unusual and it is unlikely that general trend will vary in the future. It is of course one of the most important days of a couple's lives and it has to be right!

We spent a lot of time researching the market to identify excellent operators who could work with us and our clients to get the product right for this specialist market (they are doing it every day all year long!), so we work with them from day one. The key criteria are:

 Resource/USP – can you produce a venue with that special 'stand out' factor? If not, then unless you are in an area with a high balance of demand over supply, it is probably not for you. The most recent example we have is 'Bressingham Hall and High Barn', which is near Diss. The population criteria does not score highly, but it sits in 17 acres of stunning gardens that the famous Bloom family open to the public, under their control. This sets the backdrop and provides great photo opportunities for the wedding couple and party. There is a beautiful Georgian Hall, a very handsome barn and a high quality marquee to give flexibility for ceremony and reception in separate areas. We have planning consent for a new building to replace the marquee once the business is up and running. The photos show the results, it has just opened and bookings are coming in fast!

 The ability for the wedding party to stay overnight in decent accommodation within the venue ownership/area is also important, although not critical for all clients. Preparation areas for the wedding couple, direct party and key guests are of course also important.

Finally, if there is a bookable church nearby, that is good for church weddings, although the majority of weddings are now civil ceremonies. Clearly the ceremony license for this is critical.

We have also arranged for Bressingham Hall to be let out, when not required for wedding parties, as a high quality 'group party/holiday venue'. This can bolster the income nicely, especially during the quieter months for weddings. Again, contacts with specialist quality operators in this field are critical to an efficient and profitable operation.

Location – If you have the right resource, the next factor is the client draw, so population within about 30 minutes drive of the venue, or further if your USP scores really high, like Bressingham. It is quite easy now to research numbers of weddings in a particular area, then to assess the current supply of venues, what cost rate they are at, what the average spend is etc. Accessibility is also important and if this makes for an attractive arrival route, all the better! The other factor for location is having a decent number and range of overnight accommodation within a few miles.

 Context/Surrounds – noise and disturbance for neighbours is an important factor, as of course is peace and tranquillity for the wedding party! Ideally you will have no neighbours within at least 500 metres, preferably half a mile or more. Acoustics are critical and will be an important factor for the Local Authority Planning and Council Environmental Health departments. The nature of the building for the wedding reception is important as it is the amplified music which is of course the noisiest part. This will also be an important factor in obtaining the necessary 'Entertainment License'.

Nos and timing – The average wedding size now is about 80 seated guests for the ceremony and reception, with more joining usually after the meal. Numbers of course range, but if you can accommodate up to 120 people seated then you will cover the majority of weddings. Privacy for the wedding couple and guests is an important factor to bookings and level of hire charge, so Unless you have a lot of space, keeping to one event at a time is important. However the demand for week-day weddings has increased significantly, so a venue that is set up right can do a number of weddings a week in high season. Venues we have developed or are working with hold anywhere from 50-200 weddings a year and other events.

 Planning – this must be thought through right at the start of the project, including highways, listed building issues, environmental etc. – it is a complicated process and we have specialist planning consultants and architects to deal with this, working with us as strategic consultants - a generalist agent/consultant can miss important issues/tricks.

Costs, income and funding– Another immediate factor after the first three above is the cost of development of the venue and the balance against that of net income. Borrowing may well be necessary, so a good business plan will be important. Barn conversions can be very expensive, especially if the structure is not in good condition. Good structural and building surveyors are another critical part of our team, assessing and advising on the big issues and costs right from the start. Venues can cost anywhere from a few £100k up to £2m or more to prepare, depending on all sorts of factors. However net returns can also run in to many  £100ks per annum if the above criteria  are all positive. Grants have been available in some instances. Weddings are very good for cash-flow, as bookings are usually 12-24 months in advance and all of the hire fee is usually paid  9 months before the wedding.

In-hand or contract out – this is an important decision and not to be taken lightly!

There are many more factors and issues to thrash out, but these are the main points to start with. A discretionary site visit or brief desk-top investigation can be carried out if appropriate.




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