Supplier Stories: The Barns at Lodge Farm explains the biggest challenges faced when starting a wedding venue
Welcome to this week’s Supplier Story! ‘Supplier Stories’ is an original Bridebook Business article series, where we go behind-the-scenes and into the wedding world through those that know it best – the experienced and talented venues and suppliers across the UK.
So whether this is your first story or 10th, enjoy as we look into the industry as a whole, and celebrate a true story in itself! Who says couples have all the fun?
The Barns at Lodge Farm Supplier Story:
This week we’re heading to Essex to meet The Barn at Lodge Farm‘s owner Bryony Graham. Having completed a doctorate, Bryony was drawn back home to her family farm and started channelling all the skills she learned as a scientist into creating this amazingly flexible and adaptable wedding venue just a stone’s throw from London.
So without further ado, Bryony, over to you!
1. Tell us about yourself and your journey in the wedding industry so far.
I’m Bryony, and I absolutely love the farm where I grew up. You’ll find me at my happiest in the filthiest jeans imaginable and some steel toecap boots scrabbling around in the back of a barn (an accurate summary of my childhood) and 18 months ago I jacked in ten years of academic training (including a degree and a PhD) to start a business running weddings and events on my family farm.
2. From Scientist to Owner of a wedding venue, what drew you to the wedding world?
Well, in a nutshell, a rather sad set of personal circumstances. My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was sitting the finals of my undergraduate degree, and her illness continued throughout my PhD and postdoctoral career. When she died the year before I got married myself, I completely lost momentum in the lab and needed a change of direction. I felt a very strong draw back to the farm itself where I’d grown up, and after my husband and I got married there ourselves in 2016, I decided that if we were going to make a go of it properly it would have to be all or nothing – so I left my job, convinced him to leave London for rural life (aided by the purchase of a Labrador puppy) and I’ve not looked back since.
3. Do you think barns as wedding venues are growing in popularity or becoming overpopulated?
I think that relaxed and informal weddings as a whole are growing in popularity, whether they be in a barn (which of course naturally lends itself to a chilled out vibe) or in a pub, town hall, field or woodland. Many people have a desire to create a celebration of their commitment to each other that reflects their personalities, and they don’t want to be forced into a restrictive package which doesn’t allow them any flexibility to be themselves. That’s why I think barn weddings have grown in popularity so much over the past few years, and will probably continue to remain a favourite – but more because of the relaxed feel they have, rather than the barn setting specifically.
4. What do you see as the biggest challenge in the wedding industry currently? How will you overcome this?
Without wishing to seem as though I’m reeling out a stock dinner-party answer, Brexit will pose a huge challenge for everyone next year (and of course not just the wedding industry). If the economy is affected dramatically, people may be reluctant to spend as much on their weddings as we have seen over the past few years, and the remarkable growth of the industry may fall quite sharply. Having said that, people will still get married – they just might spend less, and so it’s up to us to come up with a reasonably flexible pricing structure that is prepared to accommodate any potential drop in spending.
5. What trends are you seeing in the industry?
This probably lends itself to our venue in particular as our exclusive use packages mean we’re able to provide our couples with a lot of options, but we’re seeing a significant proportion of our couples opt for very informal catering (food trucks, grazing tables, etc). I personally love this trend as it creates such a wonderfully happy and relaxed vibe, but there will always be a place for the three-course meal too!
6. What is the biggest challenge you faced in setting up The Barns at Lodge Farm?
Securing planning permission, without a shadow of a doubt. Although there was an overwhelming amount of local support for the project, the bureaucracy was endless. It took us nearly two years from start to finish, but we were determined to start as we meant to go on, and not be restricted to only being able to do a handful of events a year. I have always been rather all-or-nothing in my attitude to life (which is at times a blessing and a curse!)
7. It can be difficult for new wedding venues to receive a kick start. Have you had a positive interaction from couples so far?
We have been absolutely blown away by the demand – we finally had our planning permission approved in February this year, and we already have 21 weddings booked for next summer (which we’re delighted with, given the fact we’re only open from June till October and have hardly done any marketing whatsoever!) I’ve loved meeting every single one of our couples, as they’ve all viewed the venue mid-refurbishment and had the vision and faith to book regardless. I’m so excited to see all our plans come together over the next few years – the barns are a stunning blank canvas as they stand, but they’ll be incredible once we’re finished!
8. Have you been able to use your scientific background in this new venture?
Absolutely, although less to do with the genetic analysis side of things and more to do with the project management…! In the lab, you come up with a question, design an experiment to answer the question, do the experiment (A MILLION TIMES), analyse the data, and then start again. You’re constantly juggling a thousand tasks (some experiments take hours, and others take months) and managing data analysis, writing papers and grants, teaching, and so much else besides. I’ve found that running a business essentially employs all of those skills which I’ve had to hone over the years (predominantly due to the finite number of hours in a day and my own lack of sleep…!) I’ve been trained to think independently and that definitely helps – self-doubt is a killer and having the confidence to believe you’ve made the right call and the humility to take a deep breath when you realise you haven’t is really important.
9. As a new wedding venue, do you think an increase in positive reviews for The Barn will help drive the business to success?
Without a shadow of a doubt. Any venue can make itself look spectacular with clever photography, a beautiful website and perfectly curated social media accounts, but true words of happiness from a genuine couple is undoubtedly the most powerful selling point there is.
10. How do you get to know your couples before the big day?
It varies from couple to couple, as some stay in touch more than others, but I communicate with each couple via email a lot during the run-up to the wedding. After they’ve booked, we offer second viewings where they can come back with their families to have a look around and see all the spaces for themselves – I love meeting everyone, and seeing all their relationships unfold. As we also offer couples exclusive use for the entire weekend, I also get to know people on the day before the wedding when everyone is setting everything up and making it all look beautiful. We pride ourselves on being a genuinely family-run business with a very personal touch (I live onsite, so am very much involved!) and we only host one wedding each weekend and one per week for the very reason that we don’t want to be a wedding factory, and we want to get to know each and every one of our couples personally.
11. What is the one piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
This is such a well-worn path, but be prepared to work harder than you have EVER worked in your life – the kind of hard work that will put strain on relationships, make your friends think you’re ignoring them, make yourself doubt every decision you ever make. It is utterly relentless. If you’re the kind of person that thrives on the adrenaline that comes from having an endless to-do list, very little sleep and constant moving goalposts – then go for it. It is the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do. But if you like turning off your emails at 6pm every day to go to the pub, put on Netflix, play sport – forget it. I say this as someone who is utterly hopeless at finding any sort of balance, so I’m not saying I’ve got it right – but the hard reality is that if you drop the ball, there isn’t anyone else to pick it up, so you have to push through whether you like it or not. I have, however, been known to fuel my VAT return with wine just to make it bearable (apologies in advance to the poor accountant who has to pick apart that mess at the end of the year).
12. What do you think makes The Barn at Lodge Farms unique?
My answer to this question has changed massively over the 18 months I’ve been running the business full-time. A year ago, I would have said it’s our proximity to London, exclusive use packages, stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Now, I would say it’s undoubtedly US, as a family and as a place – which is tough to say out loud without coming across as hideously egotistical, but it’s what our couples say so I guess it must be true! When they visit for a viewing, they’re met by myself or my Dad, will probably be followed around by our psychologically flawed cat Tyson (the weirdest cat you’ll ever meet), they’ll hear the history of the farm, and inevitably see how much we love the place – because we genuinely do. We allow two hours for each viewing so people never feel rushed in and out, and have time wander round at their own pace. It’s our home, and we’re inviting people into it because we think it’s bloody great. And there is nothing better than seeing those barns full of people having the best day of their lives.
13. What are your thoughts on Bridebook?
So far, I have been blown away by the professional and personal service I have received – there are quite literally thousands of venues on the app, but all correspondence I have had to date has been incredibly personal and attentive. I know first-hand how much effort that is to maintain (see above…!) and as a result, I value and respect it hugely. The app/website themselves are slick and effective, and we saw enquiries start to come in within a week of being listed, despite the fact we’re new and don’t have a huge amount of content (images, testimonials etc) to add to our profile. Keep up the brilliant work!
A huge thank you to Bryony for sharing her Supplier Story. See the beautiful Barns at Lodge Farm here.
Want to feature in your own Supplier Story? Get in touch with Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.