Have dreams of being your own boss? Whether you have past experience in the events industry or you just want to tap into your entrepreneurial side, then the thought of opening your own wedding venue has possibly crossed your mind. While it’s a huge commitment, it’s also a safe industry to bet on.
Couples continue to splurge on venues for their big day (the average cost for a wedding venue in 2017 ranged from $9K to about $15K), and when you own a property that gets rented out for private events, like weddings, your real estate investment can potentially pay for itself in a short time.
We talked with Danielle Hansen, owner of Duncan Estate in Spartanburg, S.C., about the experience of opening a wedding venue and how she’s turned it into a success.
Research competitors in your market
Before making the decision to open a wedding venue, research local competitors. How many wedding venues are there in your area? Are there any venues that offer what you want to offer? If there are, figure out how you can give your clients a one-of-a-kind experience. “Be unique,” said Hansen. “There have been a lot of barn venues and warehouse venues opening in my area in the past few years, and I can’t see how they differentiate themselves from each other. Be different and offer couples something they can’t find anywhere else.” For example, if you own an apple orchard, offer fun activities that will keep their guests entertained the whole weekend, like fishing or apple picking.
Take a look at your finances
Envision what you want your wedding venue to look like, and then assess your current finances. Do you want to build a new property or take over an existing space? Are you able to put down a down payment or do you need financing? Should you consider investors? The answers to these questions will help you figure out what type of small business loan or business line of credit you need to apply for. “If you can, make improvements [to your venue] in stages as you earn income from the business,” Hansen said. “I didn’t secure any financing other than my mortgage — I just kept reinvesting my income.”
Choose a location
If you’re taking over an existing space, your location is already picked out for you. But if you’re building your own wedding venue on a plot of land, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to the location. Do you envision endless rolling hills in the countryside as the backdrop for wedding ceremonies or do you picture your clients saying “I do” in the hustle and bustle of a big city? “I stumbled upon this historic, 120-year-old mansion one day on the way to go grocery shopping,” said Hansen. “I thought it would be a great place for weddings, and somehow I got approved for the mortgage.” The mansion that Hansen bought had always been a private residence, so there were a lot of renovations to be done to turn it into an event space. Her biggest challenge? Navigating local zoning laws and building regulations.
Prioritize renovations and repairs
It’s tempting to wait until you finish all of the repairs and renovations before you open your doors. But if you’re under financial constraints, that might not be possible. Figure out what the highest priority is and what can wait. Things like bathrooms, catering space, and parking are important main elements. Once you come up with a list, work with a contractor to figure out how much these initial renovations would cost. Remember that you can always improve as you start to book more clients and bring in more income.
“I did minor renovations to the house, including updating the kitchen to make it more friendly for caterers, adding an additional bathroom downstairs, and turning a bedroom into a bridal suite,” Hansen said. “Outside I created a three-tier garden for the wedding ceremonies, removed some landscaping to open up a great back lawn, and cleared a lot of bamboo to make a parking lot. The rest of the outside renovations happened throughout the years as I identified my needs and wants.” She also added a tented area with a brick floor, fire pit, and outside lighting.
Set up a reliable network of wedding vendors
Once you’ve come up with an airtight business plan and a good location, it’s time to start building up your portfolio of wedding vendors. Creating a strong network of professionals in the wedding industry before your venue is open will help it flourish. “[I came up with my vendors through] trial and error,” said Hansen. “If a vendor did a good job, I recommended them. If they didn’t do a good job, I’d try not to have them back. We have an open vendor policy but I do have a preferred vendors list.”
Open your venue for business
So, you’re ready to start booking? Hosting an open house will help you meet new professionals in your industry and get the word out about your venue. You can also offer discounts to the first few couples who book weddings with you. “I kept my prices low in the beginning to get more bookings,” said Hansen. “I also booked some weddings while we were still under construction, so I had to be ready to open by the first wedding date. Those last few weeks I felt like I was on one of those high-stress home renovation shows. Our stove got delivered three days before the first wedding!”
Market your new wedding venue
One of the top resources that engaged couples use to find wedding venues are venue directory websites (like VENUES by Tripleseat and EventUp). Another essential marketing tool for wedding venues? Social media. And don’t forget about how powerful in-person networking can be for your business. “With my background in marketing, I didn’t want to pay for traditional advertising,” Hansen said. “I donated my venue for community events and networked with local bridal dress shops. I used their photos in all my social media and requested online reviews. Eleven years later, we still don’t pay for advertising!”
While Hansen did have a background in event marketing, she had never planned a wedding when she decided to open up her own wedding venue on a whim. Since then, her Spartanburg venue has hosted more than 350 weddings over more than a decade. It can be a big undertaking to start your own wedding venue, but with the right planning and execution, you can create a space where engaged couples would love to say “I do.”
Manage your wedding bookings with the best hospitality industry software
Once you open your venue and start booking weddings, Tripleseat can help you manage and streamline every detail. If you’re a Tripleseat user, log in and start using our features to capture more event leads. Need help? Contact Tripleseat’s Support team by submitting a request online, sending an email, or calling our Help Desk at 978-716-2862 between 9 am and 5 pm EST Monday through Friday.
If you’re not a Tripleseat customer and you’re interested in learning more about Tripleseat’s features, schedule a demo at your convenience to take a closer look.