Saying ‘I Do’ at the Garden Center
Blumen Gardens in Sycamore, Illinois, started using its garden center, grounds and “garden room” — an 1860s factory warehouse — for weddings in 2005, and they haven’t looked back since then. Owner Joel Barczak explains how and why weddings work for them.
WHY DO WEDDINGS WORK FINANCIALLY?
At least in our geographic area, there is a proliferation now of people doing weddings in old barns and old buildings like ours. Old is always in. Of course, our garden center and landscape business is seasonal, and our winters are slim with money. A beautiful aspect of weddings is that what happens at Christmas and New Year’s is that people become engaged. One of the first steps after hopefully getting a “yes” answer is to decide on the when and the where. What we’ve learned is that they come in January and February. We ask for one-third down which is non-refundable at the time they book the room. They’re booking that room for later in that year or a year and a half from now, but they’re giving us a third of the money now, and that very often is a lot of activity in January, February or March. That cash flow infusion has added financial stability to our business, and partly due to this infusion of cash, we haven’t had to take a line of credit four out of the last five years.
HOW DO WEDDINGS HELP FROM A MARKETING STANDPOINT?
Most of the time we sell our garden center during the day, but this is a way to sell our garden center — the room specifically but also our whole garden center — at night. The wedding guests have their cocktails outside, they may have a band outside, the ceremony can be outside, so there are 150, 200, 250 customers or guests coming to our garden center. What we see is that some people who spend the night at a local hotel will then come back to our business the next day and purchase things that they saw at night. For instance, we sell a lot more solar lighting because solar lighting is hard to sell during the day. But at night, that’s when you really get to witness the value and quality of that solar lighting.
WHAT TYPE OF STAFF HAVE YOU ADDED?
You have to have a separate, dedicated staff to do this. We do not coordinate your wedding; we do not plan your wedding. We sell the real estate. Right now, people want things very personal, and that’s why alternative wedding sites are so popular, so we do not restrict their caterers, photographers, DJ, liquor. They have to provide us with one day of insurance based off their homeowner policy, so we are not liable in any way about liquor. We have a dedicated, full-time person to show people the room, to talk to them and help them as far as table arrangement because we set up the tables in the room for them, which we also have a different staff for that. We have a different staff for the cleanup at night, and a different staff of two, sometimes three, that’s at the event itself, just for security and comfort so we can service the bathrooms, keep the garbage up to date and work the perimeter to make sure people are respectful of our neighbors, since our business is in the middle of a neighborhood.
DO THE WEDDINGS IMPACT REGULAR OPERATIONS?
A great benefit to the events is that our garden center has to be particularly clean. Because of the weddings, we really have to tighten it up and have it wedding presentable all the time. You have to have beautiful grounds. In the spring, summer and fall, we’ll have two, possibly three, weddings a week. Starting after Memorial Day, we close an hour earlier, but the weddings normally start at 6 p.m. The ceremony cannot start until 6, so we are now closing at 5, but then people will come around 4 to start taking pictures. There’s some interaction, but we’re trying to minimize that so all customers are comfortable and happy, so we’re learning to tweak our hours a little bit. We’re a strong believer in a book that was written years ago called “Raving Fans” [by Ken Blanchard]. It talks about that every customer, every vendor, every guest and every staff member are all your sales people, and I believe in that.