Today’s guest is farmer, entrepreneur, and wedding venue owner, Buddy Powers. Buddy and his wife Jill own Big Spring Farm, a wedding venue in Lexington, Virginia that hosts over 50 events a year and has been featured in places like The Knot and Style Me Pretty. Today he’s chatting with us about starting and running a wedding venue and he’s also sharing a little bit about how other vendors can serve venues.
02:49 The transition from farming to starting a wedding venue.
06:06 How Buddy and Jill found Big Spring Farm
10:53 What Buddy looked for in a wedding venue property.
13:51 The biggest challenge they faced in starting a wedding venue
16:00 How to navigate zoning and other government related tasks
20:44 A few things Buddy and Jill did their first year that was instrumental in building momentum for Big Spring.
24:56 The first steps people should take when starting a wedding venue, and a few things to avoid.
30:58 How did you build strong relationships with other vendors and clients?
38:02 What are some ways other vendors can serve venues well?
Buddy Powers is a farmer, entrepreneur, and business coach. After an internship at the world renowned sustainable livestock farm, Polyface Farm, and almost 8 years in the wedding photography industry with his wife Jillian Michelle, the couple launched Big Spring Farm. This venture melds the Powers passions of living in harmony with the land and creating gorgeous spaces for hosting events.
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Resources Mentioned in the Episode:
The Venue Helper
The First 3 Steps to Starting a Wedding Venue
A note about the transcript: The interviews are transcribed by an online app, and there may be errors in the transcription. While we do our best to correct errors—especially those that may change the meaning of what a speaker was trying to say—we do not catch every error. Thus we ask that people refer back to the audio/video for quotes. Also, please refer back to the audio/video if something is not clear in transcript; however, if you are hearing impaired, feel free to email us for clarifications.
Buddy: 00:07 No, the average attendance of a wedding at the farm is going to be 130, 150 guests, stuff like that. So all of those guests, if they have a great experience, walk away as ambassadors for your property saying, Hey, you know, this place is awesome. You know, they’re, they’re nice, gets engaged or whatever, and then they tell him, hey, you gotta, check out Big Spring.
Davey: 00:34 Welcome to the Brands that Book show where we helped creative service based businesses, build their brands and find more clients. I’m your host, Davey Jones. Today’s guest is farmer, entrepreneur, and wedding venue owner, Buddy Powers. Buddy and his wife Jill own Big Spring Farm, a wedding venue in Lexington, Virginia that hosts over 50 events a year and has been featured in places like The Knot and Style Me Pretty. But today he’s chatting with us about starting and running a wedding venue and he’s also sharing a little bit about how other vendors can serve venues.
Well, welcome to the Brands That Book show buddy. I am so excited to have you here today for a number of reasons.
Buddy: 01:17 Thanks for having me today.
Davey: 01:19 Today, we get to talk about how to start a wedding venue and there’s just not a ton of information out there about how to start a wedding venue, but you’ve been putting together resources based on the questions that people have been asking you. And I know from what we’ve talked about that you get emails right all the time from people that are just interested in knowing the the first steps they need to take. So, I think that that information is going to be super valuable because it is very unlike a starting a photography business. While photography equipment is super expensive, you can still start out with a camera that might be $1,000 or $2,000, which again, that’s an investment, don’t get me wrong, but if you want to start a wedding venue, you’re looking at probably tens of thousands of dollars in startup costs. So I’m excited to talk to you a little bit more about that and I’m excited for people just to hear from your perspective about owning a venue. Some of the issues that maybe you have to put up with and how people can build better relationships with venue owners and coordinators because I know that can go a long way in getting great high quality referrals for your business. But before we get into all that, one thing that we like to do as we get started with the interview is to talk about your background and how you even got into owning a wedding venue. And your story is so interesting because you started out actually farming, right?
Buddy: 02:49 Yeah. So, I started out farming before, actually my wife and I were married. I started a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I was raising livestock out on pastures, so I was working from before dawn till after dusk about seven days a week. So yes, it’s a unique place I guess to come from, to go from that life style to starting a wedding venue. But maybe a little about where that came from: my wife and I got married at our first farm and had our reception right in our backyard. To this day people still talk about what a great setting that was for a wedding and we have from our wedding day on, kind of had this dream of starting a venue. And all the while Jill had started her wedding photography business and we’re going on eight years now as wedding photographers as well. And so that was cool because as that business group grew, we were shooting weddings all over the place and each one was its own little marketing research, or campaign for us to learn from how each venue did things and the things we liked, the things we didn’t like. And then so when we found Big Spring, all of that sort of came together. Even the farming side of things came together to make the venue what it is.
Davey: 04:20 I think there’s probably not a lot of venue owners that first started out in the wedding industry in another occupation doing photography first. You probably picked up a ton of skills there that you learned and were able to utilize as you started your wedding venue. But you know, I want to know how’d you get started in farming? Like is this something that you studied in college and then got into or was this just something sort of randomly got into after college?
Buddy: 04:46 Yeah, that’s a good question. So I grew up in the suburbs outside of DC and I loved growing up in northern Virginia, very a cosmopolitan place, very cool place to grow up. Not exactly the best place to start if you want to become a farmer. But certainly growing up in a more urban environment kinda propelled me towards wanting to have a more rural agrarian lifestyle. And so after college I got an internship with polyface farm and they’re one of the foremost sustainable farms in the world. Actually, the guy that founded it does ted talks and speaks all over the place. So I learned farming from them. And the cool thing about their style of farming is it’s very, very hands on. It’s not mechanically driven or fossil fuel driven. It’s a great thing for a young person to get into because you use your ability to do a lot of work as a young person, you know, physical labor as young person and capitalize on that by creating a higher quality product that you control from chick to chicken in the grocery store. And so anyway that’s kinda how I got started and I’ve always loved being outside and working on the land. Um, and yeah, so that’s kinda where that came from.
Davey: 06:06 And so for people who people might know of polyface, right, because polyface was part of a documentary called Food Inc, right? Didn’t they? So if you’ve seen the documentary food inc and I know that’s a pretty popular documentary, you actually saw a little bit of polyface farm. So how did you come across Big Springs? So Big Springs is a wedding venue in Lexington. And Lexington is…. well I mean it’s definitely populated. There are two big schools: Washington Lee and VMI. But at the same time it’s not necessarily as populated as like a Richmond or a DC. So what went into moving into Big Spring and choosing that like, did you know when you got into Big Spring that you were going to start a wedding venue there or did you think, oh, this is a great place to farm?
Buddy: 07:04 Yeah. So, it was kind of both of those things honestly. It was more we were thinking, oh, this will be a great place to farm and secondarily while we can make our dream reality to turn part of the property into a wedding venue. And as the years have gone by, that’s all kind of evolved and we’re still a farm, but we’re much more like venue focused just because of how much that side or that business has grown. But yeah I would say in terms of choosing Big Spring, there were a lot of factors that sort of came together to make it the right decision for us. And this is something that Joel Salitan, the founder Polyface, talks about a lot, but the idea that everybody has a leg up and that looks different for everybody. So, you know, for you David, it might be, you’re a stunning good lucks for example.
Davey: 07:04 Hahahaha, why thank you.
Buddy: 07:04 Haha Yeah that’s right.
Davey: 07:58 Hahaha, I’m gonna I’m going to tell Krista that as soon as this interview’s over. Haha, just to remind her of that.
Buddy: 08:10 Haha no, you know, or it could be that you’re a great people person in or could be whatever. Everyone has different strengths, for Joel in his case, for starting polyface his parents worked in town, worked typical nine to five jobs and paid for the farm, the land, you know, that he turned into this world renowned sustainable farm. So I’m with big spring, it was a lot of factors and one of them was kind of a leg up that we had with the previous owners being really accommodating to our vision for the property. So we actually got to lease the property initially and turn it into a wedding venue and a working farm and that gave us the runway to see will this idea work. And it was a great arrangement for both parties because we got to test that idea. And it was in our agreement that we had the option to purchase the property at the end of our lease. And that all worked out and here we are several years later. So I’d say it’s kind of cool to think back about because you can always think about all the things that could go wrong and all the things you don’t have when you’re starting any business. But with Big Spring we were able to kind of play off our strengths being in the wedding industry. And my experience with working on the land and just creating a beautiful landscape, and then also timing with the previous owners of this property to launch the venue and give us that runway to do it. And Lexington, you’re right, it’s a small town. I mean in some ways it’s not. We are 10 minutes from a million plus people. But especially with something like a wedding venue– that is so placed dependent– you just need to be close enough, you don’t have to be right there. If your property is good enough, if your venue is desirable enough, then you don’t have to be right there, you just need to be with within reach.
Davey: 10:12 It’s so interesting to hear you talk about thinking about all the different things that could go wrong because when you look at Big Spring now and all the work that you put into it, especially, it’s beautiful. I think that it’s really easy for somebody looking at it right now, especially with some of the plans you have coming up for the venue to say, “Oh yeah, of course this thing was going to work”, but it wasn’t always like that, you know, it does, it, it didn’t look like it does today back when you moved onto the farm.
Buddy: 10:12 No. Yeah absolutely.
Davey: 10:45 So what were you looking for in a potential piece of property so that you could start this wedding venue?
Buddy: 10:53 Sure, so a couple things that we were looking for, and these are pretty straightforward, but things that we’ve kind of gleaned from shooting weddings where we wanted something about the property that was unique. So something that like when you saw it, you thought like, wow, that’s that property. Pretty much every great venue has that one thing, where you see it and you know, that one mountain view or that, that one really epic ceremony site or whatever it is, that really cool building that they have and you know, right away “Oh, that’s that venue”. So we were looking for that. And at Big Spring, I think it has a couple of those things, but the biggest one is the namesake. There’s a lake at the center of the property that is spring and fed by one of the largest natural springs in Virginia. So that was a really cool, unique factor. Um, beyond that we were looking for a good ceremony site, a good venue building site. Um, and then kind of getting into some of the logistics, like where would our entrance be, where it the parking be. And how is all of that going to affect guest experience? You know, we want to have, we want to be able to have 300 people there, but we don’t want to have 300 cars in the background of all of our pictures as I’m sure you know. I’m sure you have shot at places where you’re thinking, why did they put the parking lot? Right? So we were looking for all that and it’s crazy because in Big Spring, well there’s no perfect property, right. But it checked a lot of those boxes for us. And then lastly, another thing we’re looking for was just proximity to make events easy. So we didn’t want a place that was 45 minutes from a hotel or um, you know, three hours from the airport or something crazy. So we’ve got downtown Lexington, which is only five miles away. There’s a bunch of great hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and breweries there. We’ve got 14 chain hotels five miles the other direction off 81 because of the colleges. And, um, we’ve got a lot of great local vendors. We quickly found out as we looked into it, wow, this location is really ideal for hosting an event. So all of that kind of came together in big spring.
Davey: 13:10 Yeah. And I guess that is the benefit of Lexington, right? Because when you’re at big spring farm you feel like you’re out kind of in the middle of nowhere. Like you have got this crazy landscape all to yourself, but at the same time, for a guest to get back to where they’re staying it really is a five minute drive down the road and that probably makes it easy too, for other vendors to work there because you probably work with a lot of other Lexington vendors. Right?
Buddy: 13:39 Yup.
Davey: 13:40 So when you were getting started with big spring, what were some of the biggest challenges that you face maybe that you didn’t expect to face going into the project.
Buddy: 13:51 Oh that’s a, that’s a good question. So one of the biggest challenges we faced with the venue was the zoning for the actual event space. And zonings different with every town, county, city, so this is one of those things if you’re looking at starting a wedding venue, you’ve got to look into. So in our case, there was nothing in the zoning that allowed you to be a working farm and a wedding venue. You could be a brewery or a winery or a bed and breakfast or an inn, a number of things and have events, but you couldn’t be a working farm and have events. So we had to propose an amendment to the zoning and then file. And then once that was approved, we had the file for a permit under that new zoning law and uh, and that was believe it or not a pretty long process just to get that through the local governmental side of things. Yeah, but we persevered.
Davey: 14:51 Did you do that before you started the lease? Before you even took the lease, did you decide to go through that process or was this after you had already gotten into the lease?
Buddy: 15:03 This is after we were already into the lease and, you know, that’s why we, we definitely learned a lot from our experience and we were fortunate because things like this zoning law we were able to work out, but that could have been a nonstarter, you know, if I was to do it again much more responsibly, haha, you’d make sure that there was room in your zoning to be able to do that business. But frankly we were so new to everything that we kind of just thought, oh, we’ll just get a business license and we’ll open up shop kind of a thing. And it turned out being a little more complicated.
Davey: 15:37 Yeah, for sure. And I think that’s one of the things that probably if there’s anybody who’s starting a venue has gone through some sort of experience like this. And I think just going back to that point that there are such limited resources out there- how easy is it to find that information about zoning online? Or do you really need to like go and connect with somebody? Where would you even start trying to research that kind of information?
Buddy: 16:00 Oh my goodness. It’s kinda like if you’ve ever tried to read the IRS tax code it’s borderline, a futile effort. But you can read most counties and cities, you can look up the zoning and try to read it, and you might be able to find what you’re looking for. But the best thing to do would be to call the economic development office and say, “Hey, I’m curious about if I wanted to open an event venue in this locale, what would that look like from a zoning perspective? What would your concerns be?” And I’ve actually helped a few people with that and kind of navigating the best way to do that and basically to get like some surface information without sort of tipping your hand to your whole plan and getting people worried. Like sometimes if you say, oh, we have this huge vision for this and that you can invite all this uneeded scrutiny. You kind of just want to say, “hey, well, what can we do to start a hosting weddings at our property?” and kind of ease into it from there with your economic development officer and they’re going to be supportive and help you look up what zone you’re going to need to do it.
Davey: 17:11 Do you, do you feel like they were supportive? Like they weren’t, you know, kind of your stereotypical bureaucratic troll who’s just like constantly trying to wreck things. Do you feel like in general they’re there mostly helpful?
Buddy: 17:26 Yeah, I think so, you know, especially like starting a venue in a rural place. It’s great because it brings business to that place and generally speaking like a rural county– they’re gonna want responsible business to be happening there. So certainly our economic development guy and I’ve talked to several, several of others and several other counties for people that I’ve done coaching with and they’re generally very helpful because their job is to get businesses to their area. That said there’s other people in the government sphere, you know, that may not be as supportive, that may be more critical and all that. But anyway certainly just getting your questions answered, you can do that without having to worry about a major kickback.
Davey: 18:15 Sure. So you get through this process and I’m sure that process on some level looks a little bit different depending on, on where you are. Um, but you get through this process and making sure that the zoning is good. You get this amendment placed. And so now you have a big spring farm. What are the next steps that you had to take in order to have a venue that was, that was up and running.
Buddy: 18:37 Um, so the next step was–and again, this is kind of getting into the specifics that can be different property to property– but for us we had to have a commercial entrance installed to our property because the county required that of our event venue. Once it was approved. So we had to work with the Virginia Department of Transportation and have a entrance engineered and designed. Luckily we have a good friend who is a road engineer, Ryan Akins, mutual friends that came out to the farm years ago and helped us draw up the whole plan. And he was awesome. So yeah, we built a commercial entrance. We’re built a road into the property. You kind of have to, you have to look at the big picture. It helps having shot weddings and being able to envision how an event like this goes, but you have to sort of look at it bird’s eye view and say, okay, if our entrance is here, our venues here and we want to protect this view scape, where do we want to Tuck the parking? And from there we just kind of put together the whole vision for how it was logistically going to work, you know, to have an event there and filled in the gaps.
Davey: 19:43 And I think this is a perfect example of one of those things where if you, if you’ve never done this before it is just something that you might not think of because you can’t just put an entrance anywhere, right? Like local government is going to come along and say, yeah here are the places you can put an entrance. So you might think in your head, oh, I’m going to map out this perfect, you know, this, I’m going to have this perfect map of my venue and this is where the ceremony site is going to be and this is where the venue is going to be. And then Virginia could come along or you know, whatever state is that you’re working with and say, no, your, your entrance can’t go here. And then they slap it maybe right behind your ceremony site or something like that. So this is the kind of thing I think just having the experience of having gone through it before is so helpful.
Buddy: 19:43 Absolutely
Davey: 20:28 you get through, you get through this process, you know, some of this, some of the stuff that you have to work out with a county– after that, uh, at what point did you have a venue that was ready to go where you could start marketing to people.
Buddy: 20:44 I’m pretty early on because we were fortunate in that being photographers we were able to get, we were able to take our own pictures of the property to have some promotional material even before we had a wedding there. Um, and then this is something I talk to people that want to start a venue is something I’d tell them that’s I think was instrumental for our success early on was we were pretty selective with the first year’s worth of weddings that we had. Um, and in that sense, we weren’t turning a ton of people away, but we were really trying to make sure the weddings that we did have were the kind of clients that we wanted to attract in the future. Um, so for us that looked like our very first wedding was a mutual friend of ours, Kate, it was her younger sister’s wedding. um, So we knew that would be a great wedding we were close friends with everyone involved and we knew it’d be a great and that we could get great images from it and that that would be the kind of wedding that we’d want to have going forward. We were fortunate in that that wedding ended up getting published in the Knot magazine and on all their blogs and stuff. So it was a good launching point for us that worked out better than we could have hoped.
Davey: 20:44 Yeah, that’s awesome.
Buddy: 22:02 But yeah, I think that’s definitely important, you know, and that was key for us getting started.
Davey: 22:10 Yeah. So what were some of the things that you were looking at? Where is it mostly the other vendors that they were working with or just getting a feel for the couple of like how’d you go about navigating “Okay, this is the right wedding for our space.”?
Buddy: 22:25 Yeah. The two things I would say would be me just meeting with the couple and getting to hear their vision for the day, to make sure that it fit with the property and was doable, especially starting out. I mean, you always want to under promise and over deliver but that’s even more true when you’re just getting going and you’re gauging your own capabilities. So, that was a big part of it and yes, secondarily making sure that we were working with vendors that were the kind of vendors again, that you want working at your venue. So we were fortunate early on to have friends in the photography industry that shot, that were big names that shot at the property and some great videographers, great planners, and one of the other ways we cultivated that beyond just having relationships that were existing in the industry was also reaching out to people and saying, “Hey, we’ve got at this property available.” You know, I remember emailing all the coordinators I could find in Charlottesville, all the wedding coordinators and saying, “Hey, we’re opening this venue, we’d love to have you out to see the property and we’d love to work with you this year.” And all these coordinators were ones that we of course wanted to work at the farm and it helped because we had weddings from them that year all of a sudden and it grew from there. So our strategy was definitely relationally based versus a spending a bunch of money to do your typical marketing avenues.
Davey: 23:55 Sure, like billboards or something. You have something like that or crazy adventures, or magazines. Yeah. So, what’s interesting in that regard, is that it is very much similar to how you would start your wedding photography business or your planning business or whatever it is– that relationships do play such a key role. I think early on and getting a business started and just for some people stepping out of their comfort zone and trying to build those relationships because I think sometimes we build something and we just kind of hope that people stumble upon it and that’s never really the case.
Buddy: 24:30 If you build it, they will come.
Davey: 24:31 Yeah. And that’s just only true for field of dreams, haha, that’s it. That’s the only place that I think that is true. So, if we can just recap here, if somebody is interested in starting a venue, what are the first couple of steps they should take? What would you tell them, for example, that you need to go do these couple of things?
Buddy: 24:56 So the first thing I would say, this kind of goes really for any entrepreneurial thing. It’s not necessarily venue specific, but I would say you need to have a defined vision for the venue. And that’s something that we had, you know, as we were looking for a property, you know, we didn’t say, obviously it’s informed by the properties you look at, and outside factors. We didn’t say we had to have a lake or we had to have this type of barn or something. But basically defining your vision so that you know what ballpark you’re looking for and it’s good to have that vision to refer back to as your business grows because you can say, “okay, what part of that are we still doing or what part of that has changed? And now we’re adding other things.” And so that couldn’t be more true for big spring. So we, so I tell everybody, the first place to start is defining your vision for the venue. Is it going to be a barn venue? Is it going to be a in the city of an old warehouse that you’re going to Redo? Having that defined is important and again, that can work for any business. You want to have a clear vision for what you’re doing. And then next is the “why” and then the second thing is some of your first tier logistics. We kind of touched on one of them already, checking with zoning to make sure that your vision is doable in that place because sadly, there’s definitely been cases where is doesn’t work out. I just heard about one here in Virginia where this couple bought this property, they had this vision for it to be a venue and they never took the time to look into the zoning to see what it was going to require of them. And by the time they got to the approval process for starting their venue, they were trying to force the issue, but it was, it was really a nonstarter. There was no way to do a venue at that particular place. So that’s a key. So that issues is key for some people they already own a property that they’re trying to turn into a venue. You’re going to potentially have limitations there. But anyway, as you’re looking for a property, that’s the biggest thing you’re looking to make sure your vision is actually doable there. So those I would say are the first steps towards starting a venue.
Davey: 27:19 Yeah. And you talked about this a little bit just a second ago, but what are the typical mistakes you see people make when they try to start a venue? Those first year of logistics are probably one of those things just not checking into zoning. And again that kind of stuff I feel can be even more complicated than it sounds, and it sounds pretty complicated. We have a wedding venue in our neighborhood, it’s on a marina and because you have to go through the neighborhood to get to it, they had to work out with a separate agreement with the neighborhood. So even though they’re zoned to do what they’re doing, it’s not as simple as that. They had to actually work out an agreement with the neighborhood. And so anytime you have to work out a agreement with a group of people, that kind of stuff probably gets to be a headache. But beyond that, what are some things that you see people who want to start a venue? What kind of mistakes do you see them make?
Buddy: 28:13 So let’s see. I mean, the one mistake I kind of touched on is not looking into what’s allowed in your area. The second thing would be that once you start the venue, kind of just assuming that people will just start booking your venue because it’s there and that can happen, but generally speaking you’re going to need to know how to get the word out and get the right couples booking. And again, that’s true for any business, but that’s kind of the second mistake. And I think a lot of people are not in the wedding industry prior to going into starting event venues. So they don’t understand that gap to reaching couples, and so what they do is they pay for typical advertising. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you spend money that maybe you don’t need to spend to reach people that you could reach in other ways. And they go down the conventional route of paying to be beyond all the different conventional avenues, websites and magazines and stuff, which again, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. But when you’re starting up a business it’s like this, there’s a big cap x factor and so you don’t want to take all this money that you’re already spending to start the business and then have all this other money spent for your marketing that could be spent more efficiently.
Davey: 29:45 Sure. Every dollar counts.
Buddy: 29:56 Yeah. So that was our strategy marketing wise. It was to spend as little as we could on marketing. Still it is our strategy to this day. It’s been more relationally based and social media based of course. But anyway, then the other mistake that people make is, and again this is in any business, but assuming that it’s going to be easy. Kind of like seeing what other venues do, if you go to a big venue in your area and just being like, “oh, I could do this” and don’t get me wrong because, you know, I’m proof that you definitely can. But it’s not going to be like, oh, we just build this thing and it’s easy and there’s not going to be problems and it’s going to be successful right away. It may be successful right away, but there’s a lot of work that’s going to go into it. And so I think people kind of falsely assuming that you’re just gonna build this thing and it’s just gonna be an easy kind of passive income generator.
Davey: 30:58 Yeah, and especially with having a physical location, there’s things that are going to come up. Like you’re going to have to make a repair to something, you’re going to have to update something and your vision for the property even I think is always evolving. You’re getting in the process of adding sweet cottages to big spring farm, which I think is just going to take the venue to a whole new level which is awesome. But shifting to talking about marketing, and again, you had mentioned that building good relationships with other vendors, was one of the keys to Big Springs success and getting to the point where you were booking clients consistently. How did you go about building such good relationships with vendors? Because I got to imagine that other vendors or vendors now want to come work with you guys, whereas, when you were just getting started, they had no idea who you were or what that experience was going to look like.
Buddy: 31:53 Yeah. That’s, that’s a great question. I guess I already touched on the fact that we didn’t spend money on the typical marketing routes. Honestly at first just out of necessity because we didn’t have a bunch of extra cash to be throwing that way. And then, for us, we were already in the wedding industry so we had some existing relationships with people. But I would say if you’re completely new to the wedding industry, there are a lot of great ways to meet other vendors, get to know them and then basically get people working at your property. For us, at first we were just super proactive. We’d reach out to people, we’d reach out to planners to photographers. We’d coordinate styled shoots, now people reach out to us to coordinate that kind of stuff, which is great because they want to work here. But early on it was kinda just, pounding the pavement and getting out and meeting people and inviting them to be here because the biggest thing we realized was, especially starting out is the more people you have working there that you want to work there the better,. Each event that you have is its own marketing campaign because you figure, the average attendance of a wedding at the farm is going to be 130-150 guests, something like that. So all of those guests, if they have a great experience, walkaway as ambassadors for your property saying, “Hey, this place is awesome” they’re niece gets engaged or whatever and they tell them, “hey, you gotta check out big spring”. That’s, kinda how we did that. And then the way we were able to do that was by being personally involved.
Buddy: 33:55 I still am at most events at the farm, but those first few years I was at every single event. I did every single initial visit with a couple, every single final walkthrough before their wedding. So I personally got to know all of them and that’s something I still do. I’m still involved with all of that stuff so that I personally get to know each couple. And I think that helped grow the venue because it’s not typical. A lot of venues are kind of just rolling through, you know, you’re meeting with their coordinator and you’re, I think people get the sense that they’re just another event kind of thing. And that’s of course not on purpose by the venue, but, for us– we’re not trying to do 100 weddings a year. We’re not trying to burn through a ton of events. We love that each event is unique. We love that. We get to know each couple personally and I think that served us well because couples, vendors, they all go away saying, oh, we love working at Big Spring, or you know, we loved our wedding at Big Spring and that’s been probably one of the best ways that we’ve grown the venue.
Davey: 35:11 And I bet the fact that you do every single venue walked through from the get go goes a really long way with people. And there’s no one that’s going to care as much about the venue as you and Jill. Right? I mean if you were to outsource that– their skin’s not nearly as in the game as you guys. So just being there, I’m sure that sends a message not only to the couple like, “hey, I I don’t know some coordinator who’s here every other Saturday. I know the owner”, and same thing with other planners and vendors in the area. They know like, Hey, you care about this property. So what are some of the things that you do behind the scenes just to make sure that the people have the best experience possible?
Buddy: 36:00 So some of the little things behind the scenes that are kind of unique to Big Spring are that we have staff on property for an event that do things that are like non typical for a venue to do for the most part. Like our staff, we still set up the ceremony site. I was just doing a walkthrough this morning with a couple talking about this. So we set up your ceremony site, which means, you know, uh, if you have, for instance, at a venue where there’s any number of different caterers coming through and they’re setting up all the chairs for the ceremony and they’re setting up the interior layout. There’s not necessarily like a level of consistency on how that’s going to look. And Jill and I knew from photographing weddings, I know you and Krista know this too Davey, you go out to shoot a ceremony site occasionally and like the chairs are not in a straight row. They’re a little crooked or whatever. Or something’s not quite right and you have to actually adjust it before you take a picture. So that’s a little thing that we do– is we have our staff involved with all kinds of little stuff like setting up the ceremony site. We’re involved with setting up a layout inside the barn. We’ve got guys that literally just walk around the venue during the event, dressed in event attire and they’re just making sure everything’s staying tidy throughout the event. They’re making sure the guests are having a good time, they know where to place things, where things are, they know where to park, they know where the ceremony is– little things like that. That attention to detail I think is communicated either consciously or subconsciously to both vendors and guests involved with the day.
Davey: 37:39 Yeah, for sure. I know you’ve worked with some vendors in the past that let’s just say that they don’t make the cut anymore as far as vendors that you’re willing to work with, right? They’re not on the list.
Buddy: 37:59 Yeah, they’re not on the list anymore.
Davey: 38:02 And it’s a good thing, especially if you’re in the wedding industry for instance, you want to be on a venues list, you certainly don’t want to be on any list that, that would prevent you from working at that venue. So what are some things that people can do to serve the venue? Well, and I would say that you’d probably agree that it’s not all about going way out of your way for the venue owner, but what are some things that people can do to serve the venue well, to build that relationship with either a venue coordinator or the owner of the venue so that not only are they welcomed back, but you know, when you’re doing a venue walkthrough through they’re one of the first people that you would recommend in their category.
Speaker 3: 38:52 Yeah. I would say a one thing would be that pre event just being very communicative in terms of just communicating quickly if we have a question for a vendor, if we need to see their certificate of insurance to know that their businesses is insured or little things like that. Just getting back to us quickly helps us because we’ve got tons of events and tons of vendors that we’re trying to coordinate for each each weekend. So if we have to chase you down to get information from you on the service you’re providing with your business, we’re just not going to want to have to deal with that on a weekly basis. So that’s one really easy thing for people to do. And then I would say during the event, being consistent with your service. So whether you’re a caterer or a planner or a photographer, a florist, all the people on our preferred list are very consistent so that I feel confident that like, “Hey, if you hire this caterer or if you hire a photographer, they’re going to deliver.” We don’t have to worry about, oh no, they didn’t bring the right appetizers or whatever. We need to know they are very consistent with the level of service. So that’s another one for us. And then after the event, like you said, it’s not like you have to go bend over backwards, uh, at least I don’t think you need to. But especially for photographers following up with the gallery of the images that you took from that day, maybe having even like a sub gallery that are like, “Hey, here’s some venue favorites that you might use in any of your promotional material”. Making that available to us and most photographers do that. All the ones on our list do that. And it’s great because we can then have this symbiotic relationship where they’re going to put a post on instagram or facebook, have a great shot from the day and tag us and vice versa. We’ll do the same and we’ll blog about that wedding and link them and, you know, it helps both parties.
Davey: 40:57 Yeah, for sure. And that’s something that I’m a big believer in. And I go to battle with some people about this is when it comes to things like watermarks and then making other vendors pay for images– I just think that the return on investment that you’re going to get by just giving your images to the venue so that they can blog about it and share about it is going to be so much greater than if you make that venue pay x amount of money to use their images on the website because I know when you guys blog somebody else’s images, you’re always going to link back to their site. And so not only is that great referral traffic, but that’s great from an SEO perspective too. So one thing I’m a big believer in is send your images over to other vendors and venues. Let them use your images. Don’t slap these massive watermarks on them that make them almost unusable on somebody else’s blog. So I’m glad that you mentioned that. And those are all pretty normal things, but it’s probably surprising the amount of people that don’t do that. Who don’t deliver a consistent service or you know, do something else like I imagine that cleaning up after yourself is one of those things, probably not so much for a photographer, but for a caterer.
Buddy: 42:14 Or a florist, if they come in and all of a sudden the venue becomes their mobile flower shop. And sometimes that’s the way things have to be. But then if they don’t clean up, it’s like, what was the plan here?
Davey: 42:28 Haha, yeah. Again, yeah, I think that’d be a great blog post from you that I would love to see, which would be just like a listing of each kind of vendor that you work with and then the ways in which they can do better, or mistakes not to make.
Buddy: 42:42 That would be a good idea. I’ll have to be careful not to call too many people out.
Davey: 42:47 Yeah. But I think that kind of stuff would go a long way, especially for people who are just getting started where these relationships–I mean this is how this is how you’re going to build your business and it’s going to take a lot longer to build your business if you start off with poor relationships with people.
Buddy: 43:07 Yeah, and something, I always think is that we knew from day one but that with every wedding, every event here today, that we, our whole team, we all talk about it beforehand and throughout the whole process with a couple –We’re always thinking this their one day. So this is their one wedding day and you know, what we do to make this a dream come true for them, it matters. We have to really focus and little mistakes, all that kind of stuff, we try to hold ourselves to a really high standard because, and same goes for our vendors because it is just one day. Early on, especially if you only have five or 10 weddings, you’re first year if one of those you completely mess up and especially as a venue. I mean, my goodness, that could kill your whole business before it even starts. So you have to be really attentive. That’s why I was at every event to make sure things will in a certain way.
Davey: 44:05 Yeah, for sure. Now that makes total sense. And, and the thing is that during this 45 minute interview here, we’re not able to cover absolutely every in and out of starting at a venue and I’m sure that somebody who is interested in starting a venue might have some questions that we didn’t cover in today’s interview. So where can people go to follow along with Big Spring farm, but then also do, find some of these resources that you’ve created for other people who are trying to start a venue.
Buddy: 44:40 So to follow along with Big Spring, you can go to bigspringva.com. And our handle on instagram is bigspringva as well. And then if you’re interested in starting a venue, if you think that the dream you’ve had that you think, man, I wonder if this will ever become a reality. If you just want to learn more, you can go to thevenuehelper.com and there’s a bunch of free resources there for you to check out and kinda just get you started with defining your vision and looking into logistics and then everything from that to improving your vendor relations, improving client experience. So yeah, check it out.
Davey: 45:21 Awesome. Well, I encourage anybody who’s interested in starting a venue to go check out that resource and Buddy, I think at some point we’ll have to have a second interview just about kind of an agrarian lifestyle, you know, because I think that’s something that we share in common is just kind of wanting to live, that kind of life. And you know, if you’ve never seen Big Spring Farm before, you should at least go on their website and check out some of the pictures of the farm because it is I think one of the most beautiful places in the world, so thank you so much for joining me today.
Buddy: 46:00 Yeah, it was a pleasure, man. I really enjoyed it and I hope to be back.
Davey: 46:10 Thanks for tuning in to the Brands that Book show. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing and leaving a review in itunes. For show notes and other resources head on over to Daveyandkrista.com.