Does your farm have what it takes to become a wedding venue?

20 March 2020

Consulting, Wedding venue marketing

Consulting, Wedding venue marketing

You’ve already taken great leaps to diversify your family farm’s income streams. You’ve perhaps converted cottages into self-catering holiday homes or created a glamping site on your land. But how do to turn your farm into a successful wedding venue?

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 wedding venue?

Somewhere special 

First up – there’s no ‘one size fits all’ in the wedding market in 2020. The wedding biz 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 especially if you have something special. But, you do have to have something “out of ordinary” and 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, 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 or farm into a wedding 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 the 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! 

Bridal couple looking out over a sunset lake
Image by: Victoria Somerset

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 tipi tent for example seasonally (with relevant permissions) and testing the market demand and the business model before investing in renovation projects such as wedding barn refurbishment would help to turn your farm into a wedding venue.

Bear in mind though that the more you can provide, the greater your value. 

What Wedding couples value and 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 2020. 

Sunset over a late with teepees on the bank
Image by: Through The Woods We Ran

A license for civil ceremonies is not essential to host wedding celebrations. However, with 67% of the wedding market opting for a civil ceremony, it’s a sizeable chunk not to be ignored. 

Multiple places/spaces

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 approx 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 2 undercover spaces are recommended. Aim to make an appealing wedding offering, that’s weatherproof, allowing for guest movement and turnaround.  

Accommodation on-site

26% of couples in 2019 reported that their wedding lasted for 2 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. Offering accommodation for a portion of the wedding party is a big plus and reason to be selected. This ultimately increases your value. 

Whilst something is better than nothing, your optimum accommodation capacity would be around the 20-50 guests accommodated 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, team, energy and long term investment of both money and time. 

It’s a people business that is about dealing with customers direct, customers seeking something special and near perfect.

Whatever model you choose you’ll either need to seek out, sell and then liaise with those customers and help them plan the details of their celebration. Planning will need to be done by yourself or outsourced to paid teams (who can help you get there). Whether event management specialists, caterers, marketing, digital, web and social media experts and more.  

Bridal couple kissing in a green field

How might this impact on your other business activity? Do you have the time and resource it needs? 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 1-2 years ahead. 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 to running a successful wedding venue. 

Bridal couple standing hand in hand silhouetted in sunset
Image by: Winter Sanders Photography

But for the right location and right team –  rewarding it certainly can be in all senses.

Weddings have been my career home for almost 20 years and I have been involved in creating wedding celebrations, shaping event management teams, launching wedding venues and growing wedding venue successes. 

So, what are the next steps?

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, then take a look at my Prepare to Shine consulting service.

Created just for landowners and rural entrepreneurs committed to successful diversification and investigating or making early steps into the wedding industry. 

Credits: Victoria Somerset // Through The Woods We Ran // Winter Sanders Photography