Taking over the family property by Rebecca Williamson
What is it like to own a wedding and event center? Sometimes it is fun, sometimes stressful, and sometimes it runs me ragged, but in the end, it is fulfilling! It was not something that I had planned on doing but born out of need after I bought the property that my grandparents owned. It went from a need to keep the property going to a passion for helping couples with their perfect wedding.
My grandparents bought the Cambre house in 1979 when I was four years old. They loved history, and my grandmother treated the home like a life-size dollhouse filling it with period antiques. My grandparents used the farm for family gatherings and large craft shows during the 1980s.
Two of my cousins were married on the property; it was also a favorite for family holidays. After my grandparents passed away, the family prepared the property to sell.
A real estate agent came and toured the house and talked about the need to have it completely gutted and remodeled if it would ever work as a modern home. This idea broke my heart, and I decided to buy it. It was after I purchased the historic house and 30 acres of farm that I tried to determine what I was going to do with it. I thought about how my grandparents used it and remembered my cousin’s weddings and felt that opening the farm up for weddings would be a perfect idea.
I had this thought that people would come flocking to my door once they learned we were allowing weddings at the farm again. I held a big open house and advertised all over the area and sat back and waited. I had a few brides come and tour the farm, but although they all seemed enthusiastic about how beautiful the location was, no one booked. Year one passed with no weddings.
Year two started with a large bridal expo in January that had a pricey booth fee but promised to attract several hundred brides to the event. I learned that most brides pick their venue immediately after getting engaged so that by the time they go to a bridal expo, they have probably already booked their venue. Despite the hundreds of fliers passed out and people I talked to, I did not get one booking from the expo. That year again, a few brides came out and toured the property, but year two passed with no weddings.
Two years of owning a wedding and event center with no weddings force you to think outside of the box. I worked with Small Business development to help figure out what to do. My main problem was that no one had heard of the property. Even the neighbors just down the road didn’t know there was a house back there! Doing bridal expos helped, but the booth fees are expensive, and most brides had already chosen a venue. The other problem is that my venue currently is all outside. Although brides love the idea of having an outdoor wedding, they panic at the thought of having a strictly outdoor event. During this time, I was holding my activities at the farm. I taught painting classes and held ghost tours, craft shows, and open houses. Any event that I could to help promote the farm. Social media played a big part in getting the word out. Showing pictures of the farm and the beautiful setting was essential to let people know that we were there and having them see the possibility.
In the third year, I finally booked two weddings! The excitement of finally having a wedding was tremendous. But that also came with figuring out all the details about having a wedding at the farm. Although the farm had weddings in the past, I had not been an active participant in those weddings. The significant advantage of having a completely outdoor wedding is that you can set up the location however you want. My property has several areas that are separate from each other, which allows for the service and reception to be set up in different areas. However, that can make it harder for brides to envision their wedding. My job is to help them see their wedding taking place on my property. During the walkthrough with the bride, I paint a picture for her. We discuss how the bride envisions her wedding and plan the pieces that are needed to make it come together. Arbors, chairs, tables, tablecloths, runners, and much more all need to be chosen.
I often get asked if I am a wedding planner, and no, I am not. What I do is provide a location for the wedding. I help the bride see her wedding taking place on my property, although the actual planning of the wedding is up to the couple! I make sure the house and grounds are clean and ready for the wedding and help if anything goes wrong. I make sure that the bride has enough access to the property for set up and clean up the day of the wedding and any deliveries necessary before the big event.
And how did my first wedding turn out? Everything went off without a hitch, was what the bride wanted, and the pictures were beautiful.
I am starting my fourth year with four weddings booked, and I have several more that are looking at booking next year. I have refined my wedding offerings and know that the venue aspect of the wedding is something that a bride sees long before she is ready to get married, and it is the first thing that she picks out. It’s all about painting a picture for the couple and letting them fill in their details!