Confessions of a Wedding Venue Owner or Show Me the Pie!

Confessions of a Wedding Venue Owner or Show Me the Pie!

Posted in Life and Love from the Hollow

That’s me. I am the owner of a venue. I have to admit there have been times I have wondered to myself, “What was I thinking?”

My family and I started our business in 2005 in a fairly strong economy with market potential in our defined market having a strong forecast for continued growth. I did my research. I knew that, at the time, Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains were second only to Las Vegas in number of weddings per capita in the United States. There were probably less than 20 venues in our primary market and many of them were very strong competitors with impressive resumes and reputations. I studied the demographics and buying behavior of potential clients (most notably, brides and grooms) in the previous three years and in five years to come. I analyzed the features and benefits by which I thought that our venue could focus on to stand out among the competition. I was full of piss and vinegar and thought with my education, experience and tenacity that we would carve out a piece of the market share very quickly. Wow.

What a learning curve that turned out to be. It is one thing to have the head knowledge to start a business, and that definitely is a plus. However, it’s a completely different reality when you are pedaling as fast as you can to keep your head above water, and working day and night to try to keep up and learn by doing.
Just to give you some background, I am a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a Bachelors and Master’s Degree. My undergraduate degree is in Business Administration with a major in marketing. I worked in retailing in various capacities, including a buyer for a notable department store, responsible for advertising and communications for that same store, and a merchandiser for two major brands. I went back to school to get my license to be a marketing teacher.

So the rest of my soapbox is going to be while wearing my teacher’s cap.
As a marketing educator, for 30 plus years, I spoke passionately about entrepreneurship and the ability for anyone, including my students, to own a business in our American Free Enterprise system. I love the opportunities that individuals have to dream and to pursue those dreams in America. I firmly believe in the hospitality aspect of business. After all, it is Biblical (1 Peter 4:9)! And as an old relic and a boomer, I continued to believe that the customer is always right, even when they aren’t. Anyway, I digress. I continually advocated that competition is a good thing for consumers and businesses. And then, the fabric of the local market shifted. At first it was gradual—then the landslide hit! It was as if one-hundred plus venues opened their doors as competitors over the course of 5 years. Seriously, sometimes it seems as if there are more venues then there are Dollar General Stores—one every couple of miles. New venues are popping up every single week. I mutter to myself and to any of my family and staff who will listen, this market has too many venues—it is saturated—where are they doing their research—how can we continue to grow with so many competitors in this area. It’s crazy! I’ve had more people than I can count on my fingers and toes who have made the comment, “we need to open our own wedding business. Look how much money they charge for a wedding.

We have a farm. It would be fun! Let’s do it!” Oh, my-lanta. But what may even seem crazier is that several want-to-be venue owners’ call or email and ask if they can “pick” my brain. And what do I say—sure! I’ll be glad to answer your questions. And I do. To the best of my ability. Because when push comes to shove, I’m still a teacher and I still believe that competition is good for both businesses and consumers. And in our case, for venues and for their clients. Competition encourages businesses to continue to monitor their marketing strategy and business plan; to frequently examine their products and services—to acknowledge changes in the marketplace and the buyer behavior of their targeted consumers. And in doing so, those businesses who want to succeed, will improve the quality and variety of their products and services to be more competitive. They will offer better value, added-value to be exact, and be more attentive to what their consumers want and how much they are willing to pay. A business owner who wants to be competitive cannot continue to do things the way that they have always been done. In this industry, they will definitely be left wondering where all of the phone calls, texts and/or emails have gone. I have had to learn more and more about technology and I am still not what anyone would consider to be a “tech-savvy” individual. To be competitive in this century, and with this generation, I cannot rely on my old school ways of communicating—newspaper advertising doesn’t do it—millennials don’t read a newspaper and frankly, we can’t justify the expense of those sleek full page ads in the premiere bridal magazines. What does that word mean really—premiere? So I continue to study, to seek wisdom, to gain insight and direction (mostly from my team of professional web designers) and to delegate what I don’t know about social media to those among my staff who do—those who are much younger and native to technology. Competition causes us to work harder, to continually critique what we are doing and how we can do it better. I read a comment in a forum not too long ago, that there is plenty of “pie” to go around for those of us who are wondering about so much competition. I guess, in referring to “pie, “the writer was giving a nod to a pie diagram used in illustrating market share and market potential. At first I wondered from what source this writer was getting his/her information. For example, if you have a pie, and there are 10 people jabbing elbows to get their slice, that slice will be a decent size—if all other things are equal. But, we aren’t equal in what we offer to our clients. For instance, I can’t offer beach front property. We don’t have a vineyard on our farm. I can’t provide the world renowned facilities and amenities that our next door neighbors at Blackberry Farm can. Now back to our pie; when 30 more guests arrive to the party, the size of the slice per person will most definitely be affected. If one person’s slice is increased, probably because they are meeting the needs and expectations of their clients most effectively and therefore have happy customers who will tell other potential customers, then someone else’s will decrease. So, the pie (representing market potential) must somehow be enlarged. Or, the businesses representing each slice of pie must work their tails off to listen and provide what consumers are demanding in order to keep from losing some of their pie. Now, I want a piece of pie! And that is where we have found hope for continued growth—and most of that growth is due to the World Wide Web (aka Internet) and an abundance of brides and grooms looking for destination weddings. And how blessed we are that our location is 15 minutes from the most visited national park in the United States! And if I’m being honest, we try to capitalize on the fact that we are next door neighbors to Blackberry Farm. We’ve had clients from Canada and Denmark. Phone calls from China, France and Great Britain. We are doing a tour with a couple from Australia next week. I know that I am preaching to the masses in the industry who already know what their strengths and weaknesses are. And that is what I am trying to say, in a long about way. There are going to continue to be countless individuals who truly believe that they have the next best thing to offer brides in an event venue. And to that, I say—go for it! But let me share this piece of wisdom that someone shared with me when we took our first baby steps to borrowing the money, signing the papers, no turning back, to open a brand new venue on our family farm in 2005. This individual said; “when you open a business, it’s like a newborn baby. It’s your baby, and come hell or high water, no one is going to care for that baby, love that baby, and worry for that baby, as much as you will. You will lose sleep, shed lots and lots of tears, wonder where the next loan payment is coming from, and defy anyone who tells you that it may not amount to anything.” You will work countless hours and wonder time and time again why a bride would choose another location over yours?

As you ponder all those things, you make plans. Plans to improve, plans to work harder and to continue to push and push and push because it’s your baby. And at the end of the day, you are going to do all you can to see it healthy and thriving. So, as a baby boomer, I continue to learn and to study and to work hard to be the best that we can be at what we do. Can we offer every little feature that would have brides clamoring to book their wedding with us? No. We can’t. But, we will continue to focus on what we do best and look for ways to continue to enhance what we offer. The best we can do is focus on what we do best. And that’s what we do with every passing season.