There are now hundreds of weddings venues scattered across the UK, each bidding for the attention of the thousands of newly engaged couples all of whom are looking for that special something for their big day.
From a business point of view, there is undoubtedly a ready market for those looking to venture into the wedding venue industry, but how do you remain competitive in such a crowded marketplace while continuing to offer and deliver what couples want?
We caught up with Olivia Hine, accommodation and marketing coordinator for Heaton House Events, an on-farm, award-winning wedding, corporate events and luxury accommodation venue, to find out just this.
Where did it all begin?
For decades, Heaton House has been, and still is, a fully functioning farm. Handed down through generations of farmers, the 1900’s saw the Heath family take on its ownership.
Alongside running a 110 cow dairy herd, sixth generation farmers Mick and Margaret Heath loved giving back to the local community and often hosted concerts to raise money for charity.
It was after one of these concerts when a couple enquired about hosting their wedding at the farm that the Heath’s realised the farm could be used in this way.
This one enquiry was the start of the diversification. Twenty years later, the venue is hosting an average of 125 weddings a year.
Tell us a little bit about your wedding venue
Making the difficult decision to sell the dairy herd in 2003, the profits from this were used to convert all the cowsheds into beautiful wedding barns, creating separate areas for the different aspects of a wedding day.
To date, we’ve created one barn with a permanent marquee lining, another with a fully licensed bar, and a gorgeous oak barn full of rustic charm.
We’ve also converted the milking parlour into a restaurant which has created a homely setting for wedding parties to gather the morning after the big day, as well as a great meeting place for company ‘away-days.’
We also realised that our wedding guests needed somewhere to stay, with many looking to make a full weekend of the celebrations, so we’ve also converted other existing farm buildings into luxury accommodation.
There are several different business models wedding venues can choose. What model have you established and why?
We offer an exclusive venue with venue hire, but this includes a lot more than a regular dry hire. Our rate includes an event coordinator, honeymoon suite, a dancefloor, lighting, tables and linen alongside various other extras that most venues will often charge an additional cost for.
We’ve gone down this route; one because we wanted couples to have the best experience possible that puts their needs first, and two, it is as transparent as it can be. We like our couples to know exactly what their money will buy them and there are no hidden costs.
Out of the three main diversification projects, which would you say is your main ‘money earner’?
The weddings held at Heaton House Farm are what bring in the most money. With over 120 weddings due to take place in 2019, around 130 weddings booked in for 2020 and bookings already coming in for 2021 and 2022, this is definitely the project that keeps us the busiest.
How have you gone about pricing the wedding venue?
We spent a lot of time researching the local area and evaluating the tariffs that nearby wedding venues used to create our own pricing structure.Assessing the costs was an important aspect as we had to ensure our tariff would cover wages, insurances, maintenance and other expenses involved in operating a wedding venue. It’s not just a simple case of opening your doors to couples, a lot also goes on behind the scenes and this must be factored into the price you charge.
What would you say makes you different from other wedding venues?
There are a couple of factors that really make us stand out from the crowd.
Firstly, our location immediately sets us apart from other wedding venues as we are situated on the hillside of Cheshire and Staffordshire providing a breath-taking backdrop for our couples’ special day.
Exclusivity is another factor that sets us apart. Couples have the entire venue to themselves which is something some venues can’t guarantee.
We’ve also designed a custom sized dining area where the marquee linings and divides can be adjusted depending on the size of the wedding party to ensure there is the right amount of space to create the perfect atmosphere.
Lastly, we have a fantastic, award-winning events team who work incredibly hard to make sure our couples have the most amazing experience, from initial enquiry to the big day. Our staff are a big part of making a couple’s day, so the right people in our team is paramount to us.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced over the last 20 years?
One of the biggest challenges has been dealing with the amount of new competition that’s regularly appearing. As trends come and go, we have seen influxes of new venues opening that all offer different things, some are successful whilst some only last a year or so but they all pose a challenge to the success of our business.
We have really had to change our approach, promoting the unique aspects that Heaton House Farm has to offer and making sure couples know how we differ from the competition, to ensure we can remain one of the most popular venues in Staffordshire and Cheshire.
Becoming an eco-friendly business has been the other major challenge that we have had to face as we continue to grow and develop Heaton House Farm. This is now something a number of couples are looking for from venues and so finding solutions to deal with recycling, waste and energy has provided several challenges. However, through commitment and dedication we have managed to achieve our goal of sending nothing to landfill which means we are well on our way to becoming completely eco-friendly.
How do you predict the wedding industry will change over the years and how do you plan to adapt to this change?
Couples are already making conscious choices when it comes to their special day, particularly with regards to issues such as sustainability and environmental concerns, and this is only set to continue.
Fortunately, we are already one of the most eco-friendly wedding venues in the area and are well equipped to deal with this change.
There have also been recent discussions about the potential change in the rules regarding outdoor ceremonies which could result in many couples opting to get married in different locations, such as in woodlands, beaches and fields, and could mean more people choose to have a DIY wedding.
Venues will need to be able to adapt and respond to this and we could offer couples the option to have their ceremony in more areas on the farm.
More adventurous food will also become the norm as people move away from the traditional three-course meal. We’ve already started adapting to this change by opening Stable Yard Catering who specialise in their signature sharing dishes, street food stations and delicious homemade desserts.
And lastly, what would be your three tops tips for anyone looking at starting their own on-farm wedding venue?
1. Assess your assets – Make sure you have the right space to offer a venue that can include preparation rooms, licensed areas for a civil ceremony, extensive grounds for photographs and the option for accommodation. Increasingly, couples are looking for a venue that has everything in one place so make sure you can offer this
2. Do your homework – Research the competition in the local area and identify what will make you stand out from the crowd. You need to make sure you are filling a gap in the market rather than battling for business in an overcrowded part of the market
3. The customer is always right – Listen to what couples want as this is their special day and they will help you make the most important decisions about how to create the perfect venue. They are the ones you will be trying to sell your venue to after all Find out more about
Heaton House Farm here