Hancock Wedding Venue Succeeds Ahead of Schedule
The venue's success has been beyond the Hollands' dreams.
"We were shocked," Greg said during a recent interview at the couple's Bloom Meadows wedding and event facility on Route 43. "You do your business plan and your projections, and I read a lot of studies. We spent a lot of times on projections that were conservative so we didn't get too excited about things and made sure we could cover our debts.
"We weren't planning on the 25-30 level for three to five years, maybe. I think I had five written down for last year and 10 to 15 this year.”
Instead, Bloom Meadows hosted 24 weddings in 2017 and has 34 more booked for the upcoming season.
"I think we booked out [for 2017] in the construction phase,"Sarah Holland said. "We were bringing people down here with floor plans.
"People were saying, 'Yes,' to dirt piles here.”
Bloom Meadows is so much more than dirt now.
Situated on 72 acres with picturesque mountain views, Bloom Meadows offers a banquet hall that accommodates up to 180 guests when laid out with tables, chairs and a dance floor, a commercial-grade kitchen for caterers and a bridal suite in an adjacent silo for the couple to use the night of and/or the night before the big day.
In addition to hosting newlyweds, the unique circular suite is available for tourists between weddings and in the winter months. In addition to being a short drive to Jiminy Peak alpine ski resort, the Bloom Meadows property offers the potential for its own cross country and snow-shoe trails on site.
"We've gotten a lot of stuff done in the last year, but we have plans for the future,"Greg said.
In the near future, the pair are expanding their event offerings with a boutique bridal show, bringing together some of the top florists, photographers and caterers in the region under one roof.
Sarah and Greg Holland sat down with iBerkshires.com to talk about the development of Bloom Meadows, its success and some of their future plans.
Q: How long did it take for you guys to put all this together?
Greg: We bought the land in October 2015. It was May 2017 that we got our [certificate of occupancy].
Sarah: It took just about a year to build.
Q: Did you have any experience specific to this industry, in event planning or anything like that?
Greg: Other than her doing photography and seeing it from that side, no.
Sarah: I went to school for design and architecture, and that rolled into photography and rolled into wedding photography. And that's how I got into that world. I knew there weren't many venues here.
There are tons in South County, but I knew there was kind of a market missing here.
Greg: I've done real estate and stuff in the past. But neither of us, I guess, have run an event place or have hospitality experience or anything like that.
Q: You must have had contacts in that world from being a photographer. Did you reach out to people in the industry for advice as you were putting the business together?
Sarah: We didn't so much talk to venues, but we've had vendors come in here, caterers.
Greg: We had the advantage of building a new building from scratch. We did research stuff. We reached out to venues that we thought were up our alley around the country. We didn't reach out to local ones because we didn't want to feel like we're stealing stuff from people. We did reach out to places on the West Coast and down south that we thought were unique and we liked what they were doing.
But as far as a lot of the final design things and how we set some things up, we got from local vendors saying, ‘If you had to work somewhere, what would make it easy for you? What would you like to see?'
If it's easy for the vendors, it's easy for us, it's good for the couple. Everyone has a smooth, easy time. It goes well. And if the vendors like working here, they'll recommend us to people when people inquire.
It made our venue better, but it also makes it more appealing for the back of the house to work here.
Q: Starting from scratch, you didn't have to retro-fit an existing building. You had the advantage of being able to look at every aspect.
Greg: A lot of the expense is in retro-fitting stuff, and you're always compromising. You always have to compromise on any project … but this allowed us to really design things. For example, we could hide our sprinkler system and not have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars ripping things apart just to redo that. I know that can be a problem for some of these older barns that have to do stuff to meet code. We got to avoid some of that hassle, I guess.
Q: Even things like — Sarah, from your photography experience — understanding how the light works and situating the building to take advantage of that.
Sarah: The sun is always changing, but that was a big thing — looking at it from a design aspect and an eye behind the lens aspect.
The older barns are beautiful, but they're horrible to photograph in. It takes a lot of equipment and a lot of light and a lot of batteries to do that in older barns or darker buildings. So we kept it white in here so the light bounces. Everything looks great. People bring in whatever they want to customize it, how they want it to look for their wedding with a very neutral, pretty background.
Q: How many square feet is this room?
Greg: I know the whole building is 4,500 or so. But I think this usable interior, dance, seating area is more 2,700/2,800.
Q: And your website says the capacity is up to 180 people?
Greg: About 180 with tables for dinners and stuff. It goes significantly higher if we're not having tables set, but it's rare events when we wouldn't have tables.
Sarah: If it's just a cocktail hour or something.
Greg: I don't expect we'll have 380 people in here very much. It would be pretty tight unless you were looking to get very close to your neighbor.
Sarah: We had the Celebrate the Berkshires event here, and that was 300 people or so.
Greg: People were in and out that night.
Q: You can use the patio, too?
Greg: And we have some couples who do tent weddings outside and use this as a dance-hall only type thing or after-hours place so the neighborhood isn't kept up all night.
Q: I was going to ask about neighbors. Although you are separated by a highway [Route 43] from the nearest house.
Greg: Over there, the concern is more lighting, and we've talked with them to make sure we get our parking lots off as soon as the wedding is done and minimize that as much as we can. And we also don't allow people to … If you're going to hang out outside, you're going to do it out back.
Privacy Campground is right behind us over there, and to work with him … After the ceremony, cocktail hour, all speakers are inside, and we do our best to keep the doors closed throughout the night because it makes a huge difference how much sound goes back toward him. I think with those changes, we're on a pretty good footing with all of them.
We're doing as much as we can not to inconvenience the neighbors. We want to raise a family here and not have everybody hate us. It's important to try to do what we can.
Q: So you had 24 weddings last year, your first year of operation. How hard was it to find people before you even had a hall?
Greg: We did run a special for a month, which was pretty much half off. That got a lot of people on.
But just a few people spreading the word — Facebook, Instagram. If we did this in the '90s when we were younger, I think it would have been that five weddings. We've been extremely lucky with how it's worked out with social media.
Q: Even with the ability to reach people and knowing how far in advance [weddings] are planned, you may not have even had dirt piles when people were first looking at venues.
Greg: I think they had dug the foundation, but they hadn't poured the foundation when the first couples were here, and we were saying, ‘Hey, here's a field and here's a mound, and it's going to be pretty.' Luckily, people trusted that.
Sarah: And luckily, we could trust our contractor, too.
Greg: Bob Smith. He's probably half a mile down the road, and he's been integral to keeping things on time. It was more stressful getting married and prepping for that than building this building, which is absurd to say. But he did a good job letting us keep focused on getting the building started while he took care of everything here.
Even to this day, I call him probably once a week and ask for help with something mechanical, and he's always willing to stop by. We really got lucky with finding him.
Sarah: He's family now.
Q: For the 24 weddings, what was the time range?
Sarah: June to the last weekend of October we were booked every weekend pretty much.
Greg: We only do one per weekend.
Sarah: We don't ever want to do more than one per weekend. It gets crazy. We don't want to be a wedding factory, per se.
Q: It's nice for people to know they have run of the place for the weekend.
Greg: It's a beautiful venue, but I think part of the appeal is: We're here, we're focused on you, we're not planning another thing later that afternoon or the next day. We're focused on you for that whole week, and we're getting prepped for that.
I think the couples we've worked with so far appreciate that. We can take away a lot of their stress before it really accumulates and ruins their wedding. If we started doing too many, we wouldn't have the time to do that correctly.
Sarah: We include a rehearsal walk-through the day before. They can bring in all their decorations and leave them here and go over them with us. Then we set up a lot of it. We're here at every wedding, and we're also kind-of the day-of planners.
We have one other employee, Rachel Reynolds.
Greg: Rachel is technically a contracted employee, but she does everything from tax prep to the floral designs and stuff.
Sarah: She does everything. She's so creative. … Then also for every wedding, I custom design the floor plan depending on what that couple's needs are, whether they're going to have the big dessert table or a buffet. And Greg is usually lugging chairs around, and Rachel and I are moving tables into place. It all works.
Q: Where are you drawing from? Are you getting into the Albany market?
Sarah: We have a lot from New York, Boston … a handful out of D.C. and California.
Q: Williams College people?
Sarah: There are a lot of Williams people.
Greg: We're starting to pick up more with the Williams crowd, it seems like. We've got a handful scheduled and done one or two already. A lot of the D.C. crowd is Williams alum, I think.
We had a couple from California who were from Dartmouth and Middlebury and wanted some place in the middle. They saw an Instagram ad.
I'd say we're 30 percent local, 30 percent New York area -- whether Stephentown or New York City -- and a decent amount from Boston. I'd say the other 30 percent would be Boston and miscellaneous areas.
A lot of the local couples we meet, we either know them or they know one of our cousins or we played sports against them as kids. It's a small area around here.
Q: You guys both were at Mount Greylock. The same year?
Sarah: He was '04. I was '05.
Q: Were you dating in high school, or did you get together after?
Greg: After. She was out in the Boston area, and I went down to North Carolina for a while. Probably a year before we started building this we got back together.
Q: Tell me about the site selection. How did you end up here?
Greg: We knew from the start we wanted to be in Hancock — between the community, the way they are pretty fair with businesses around here versus some of the other towns being very restrictive with what you can do.
Q: They don't have zoning in Hancock, correct?
Greg: Yeah, and that was big. In Williamstown, I know you're limited to a couple of events per year. What are we going to do for the rest of the year? We'll have a building sitting here empty. Hancock allows us, whether it's a wedding or we did a father-daughter dance for the town Fire Department. We can, all year round be doing things whether they're making money or community events where we can give back a little bit. Either way, we're allowed to do things here. Where we'd be restricted heavily in almost any other area.
Then just the natural landscaping and beauty here.
The vibe of the town is more: Do your thing and we'll do our thing. As long as we're not stepping on toes, people seem to be willing to work with you and get along.
Q: What other non-wedding events. You mentioned the father-daughter dance for the Fire Department, and I think you also had a formal here for Mount Greylock?
Sarah: For Mount Greylock, their winter ball was here. And we're doing the McCann Tech prom.
Greg: We have Joanne Gerber coming this month, a psychic medium.
Sarah: And we have the bridal market, which is going to be a boutique bridal show on the 24th of March.
Greg: We've done some company parties. We've done a couple of bridal showers.
We're open to doing some parties mid-week, and in winter we have more time to do some different things.
Q: Were you worried at all … I know it's not exactly the middle of nowhere, but you don't exactly have hotels two minutes away …
Greg: We are. We have a hotel less than a half mile down the road, and Jiminy Peak is four miles away. So that's 10 minutes away for Jiminy Peak probably. There's also a fair amount of Air BnB around here that are bigger, 30-40 person houses that we've been recommending.
Then we do have people going to the 1896 House and the Williams Inn.
But, to be honest, I've been to a lot of weddings where I'm driving two hours from the place to the hotel in New York City or sitting on a bus for hours. We do recommend people get a shuttle if you have a lot of out-of-town guests coming, and we've been working with Dufour and local bus lines to do that. They've been perfectly happy to hop on a bus and ride 10 minutes.
Q: So for the show on March 24, the Bloom Bridal Market, are all the vendors coming in people you've worked with here for events?
Sarah: A lot of them we've worked with in the past. We didn't work with all of them, per se, because we did open it up to everyone to submit their application. Really, it was a more of a first-come, first-served basis based on: Are they qualified? Are they local?
They're all people who we trust are going to do a great job.
Q: What kind of response have you gotten from the public for the event?
Sarah: It's been great so far. I think everyone's excited to go to a more boutique, tailored show so it's not as chaotic.
We're going to have some fun things set up for them. There's going to be an Airstream set up out back so people can go in and tour things and taste drinks. There's going to be glamping tents set up so they can walk in and experience that. Some of the florists are going to do a big floral wall so you can get ideas. There will be food tastings.
Q: And is the boutique show something that you've done as a photographer?
Sarah: I've never done one, actually. I've done the large bridal expos. And it's very chaotic. You have swarms of people coming at you, and it's hard to make connections. You have to follow up with people, and you can't put a name to a face.
With boutique shows, you can talk to someone one-on-one for five to 10 minutes, at least.
I'm not knocking the expos, because I got business from them.
Q: The amazing thing, to me, is that you've had as many people as you've had the first year.
Greg: It took away a lot of stress when we had those initial bookings come in because we pretty much put everything we had and everything the bank would give us into doing this. We had to wonder, 'Is this going to work? Or are we going to have a huge mortgage and an oversized house sitting here?'
That was a huge relief, seeing people sign up even before we thought they would. Then getting stuff booked early for this year was key just to know we were going to be here, that we'd get through the winter.
It was a bit of a risk. We tried to tune that out while we were doing it so we didn't stress too bad.
We're not overbooked. We're not in a position to turn down business. We're open to all ideas. If it's legal, and you're not doing to destroy our building, we'll try to figure out a way to make it work for you.
Tags: new business, weddings,
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