Oklahoma’s State Motto is “Work Conquers All”. A sentiment venue owners take to heart!
Dream Point Ranch, Wedding Venue Stories: Our venue owner of the week is Dream Point Ranch in Bixby Oklahoma. Bixby is a suburb of Tulsa about 1.5 hours from the state capital Oklahoma City. Almost 28,000 couples get married each year in Oklahoma. Imagine all the work that goes into managing these weddings! We all know how exhausting it can be to pull off a “seamless” wedding and then do it all gain the next weekend all wedding season long! This is the crazy, fun, exhausting life of a wedding venue owner. This week Sarah Coffin, owner of Dream Point Ranch shares some great insight with us on what it’s like to be a wedding venue owner in Bixby Oklahoma and how she manages the crazy chaos of wedding venue life.
Why did you decide to start a wedding venue? If you are a manager, how did you get into the business of weddings?
“I and my husband are the venue owners. I previously built and sold a service-based company and in the last three years of owning that company, I was ready to do something different, but didn’t know what I would do instead. I was at a networking meeting for women when I met a wedding planner. I said in passing, that we had killer views on our property and that she should have her clients come out there for pictures. She said, “Well, you know where the money is at, is in wedding venues.” It’s as if a lightbulb went off in my mind. I sat on it for a couple weeks and then spoke to my parents about utilizing a portion of the family land (191 acres) where we had just moved to build a venue. We talked about the pros and cons of starting a business like this in depth, but the reality was they had always wanted to share the land on a grand scale, just didn’t know how and didn’t want to do it themselves. My background is in marketing and public relations and prior to having kids, I did marketing, pr, fundraising and events for a local museum. It was an easy transition for me.”
How long have you been operating a venue?
“We had our first wedding November 2017 and just had our 150th wedding this last weekend!”
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Please share the story behind your venue name or how you came up with the name.
“Our venue is named Dream Point Ranch. My mom named the property back in the 90s when they bought their first plot of land. She spent years looking for property to retire to and when they found the land, she coined the name, Dream Point Ranch. When we built the venue, my dad asked what I was going to name the facility, in my mind, there wasn’t another option!”
What do you like best about being a venue owner/mgr?
“I love being able to set my own hours, still be a present parent and provide a stable income for my family.”
Please share your experience about how much effort & cost goes into running a venue. Things that couples and start up venues may not be aware of. (heating, cooling, adv, landscaping, staff, insurance, etc…).
“This venue is full-time jobs for both myself and my husband. We also have someone that assists with landscaping and a set-up and clean-up crew. In regards to costs, we pay a portion of our revenue to our investors and have chosen to have all people that provide support for the venue be contractors. Since I do the site visits and work a good amount of the weddings, it didn’t make sense for us to hire a venue manager or have our venue coordinators be employees. The venue coordinators choose the dates they want to work and don’t have a minimum or maximum number of events they need to work. This set-up only works when you have people you trust in those positions. I can easily know I don’t have to be present at every wedding in order for our clients to be happy with their experience and our venue point person that is present.”
Do you have any tips on cutting costs on daily operations or any smart solutions you have for saving money (website, venue expenses, staff, adv, etc..)?
“The absolute best advice I can give is to have good processes in place. I utilize Dubsado as our CRM and use every resource they have to streamline our communication with our clients with bookings, contracts, workflows, canned emails, schedulers as well as a client portal for the clients to utilize after they hire us. Absolutely everything I use for communication with clients comes through Dubsado. It was an effort to put in place, but I would not be near as successful as I have been if I didn’t utilize this system. I also put our calendar, pricing and complete availability online, give all information of our amenities on our website and have potential clients schedule site visits and walkthroughs through our website. The clients and the generation that is getting married want information immediately. I want to enjoy the phone calls I receive from people that are excited about what they have learned. I don’t want to spend time trying to “sell” to people that may or may not be interested and I want to book with people that don’t need to feel that our venue or information about us is exclusive. Our pricing, verbiage and marketing is intentional to hit our target market. All of that feeds into the processes of meeting with potential clients, booking and then working with them for their wedding day.”
Do you have any time saving tips that are worth the investment, like paying for landscaping crews or investing in someone to manage day of events or cleaning crew to flp the venue.
“Dubsado is the best time saver, EVER! I recommend them even though I can’t even get referral discounts since I paid for a lifetime membership when they were first starting. So, it’s a legit recommendation on streamlining your processes, office and paperwork. It is also definitely worth the investment to have a good crew in place. They are the backbone of the company. If the grounds don’t look immaculate and the bathrooms aren’t clean, no one will book with you. If they don’t feel that the space will be well-cared for a year from now, they will have a difficult time opening their wallets to pay a higher end fee. I also feel it is important for the owners to be a part of the daily function of the business. Owners are the heart and soul of any business. We aren’t just selling a space, but an experience. For our target market, and I know this isn’t the case for every venue’s target market, the people we cater to are wanting where they get married to feel like an extension of their family and working with the owner of the property and venue provides them a little piece of that. We say that our brand is our brides, so reinforcing that through our social media, website presence and how we talk during site visits confirms that this is about more than just their money. “
As an art space, do you have special regulations or hours for your event rental parties? Any policies that you have to enforce that a traditional wedding venue may not? If so, how do help your couples work around these special requirements?
“Dream Point Ranch is on our private property. We do have some policies that we enforce because of that. We are on gated property and only give out gate codes for individual site visits that are by appointment only. The gate codes changes at minimum weekly. We only open the gates during the rental time of the facility. Otherwise, no one is out here that we don’t know about. We also have security present at every wedding. If the client is serving alcohol, then the client pays for security to be present. If they are not serving alcohol, then we pay to have security present. It’s just one way we can control a little bit of what goes on out here.”
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How many weddings do you host each year?
“We just had our 150th wedding! We average around 60 or so weddings and elopements a year.”
What is your main source of lead generation?
“Social media, our online web presence and Brides of Oklahoma, a local bridal magazine.”
Can you share your monthly conversion:Monthly Online Traffic: Google 23.7k Impressions, 1.6k Google search Inquiries
Actual Inquiries/forms filled out: Average of 20-30
Request for tours: Average of 20
Bookings: Depends on the month! Sometimes it’s 5, sometimes it’s 15!
Do you host wedding shows, open houses? If so can you share some tips on how you make this event successful (how many vendors you allow, where do you adv, how many couples come through, how many book) Are these effective marketing events for your venue?
“We only do 1 open house a year in January. We curate the vendors, only have two per category, and make sure that it is profitable for the vendors as well as us. Open houses are A LOT of work when they are effective, so I’m only going to put the energy into 1 a year. We normally have about 100 couples come through in one day and will probably book around 5-8. We strongly encourage our booked brides to attend the open house and talk with the vendors present if they are needing more professionals. We market through social media and a banner at the top of our website.”
Tips on providing great venue tours for potential clients? What materials do you provide on tours?
“I give them our booking link ahead of time that includes the Proposal, Contract and Invoice. I encourage them to read it ahead of time so that I can answer their questions when we are together. I walk them around the property, ask how they met, and ask them to tell me about their engagement story. I ask how long they have been together and what their ideas are for decorating. Pretty much, I just talk to them and answer their questions when they have them. If they don’t know what to ask, I go over our basic policies and hit the highpoints of the stuff they didn’t know they wanted to know. I definitely try to make it NOT feel like a sales visit. I want the venue to feel like the easiest portion of their wedding experience. Our one sentence mantra for the structure of the business and even how we designed the facility is “Effortless elegance grounded in the peace of nature.” Everything goes back to that.”
What do you think your couples love most about your venue? Any venue assets/features that help you book clients?
“Our centerpiece is definitely the view! We are on the top of mountain in Tulsa county with a view of the Arkansas River. Tulsa isn’t known for their mountains, but we are the highest point in Tulsa county and that is a huge selling point. Our facility has soaring ceilings, loads of natural light and is larger than most facilities near us. We talked with local wedding professionals during our planning phase and got their input on what local venues were lacking. We filled those needs as best we could!”
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Do you do your own advertising & marketing? If so please share any tips on best practices that help you get your business in front of more potential clients, get more leads, etc…
“I do my own marketing. I have years of experience of overseeing graphics and web development. I also am heavily involved in the day-to-day and feel a connection with our branding and our clients. I know I won’t be as heavily involved as I am forever, but for now, this is my joy to see this business grow and succeed and know I did that!”
Please share any costly errors or regrets you may have learned from.
“Not building large enough bride and groom rooms. We had to draw the line somewhere, and we focused on making the event space bigger than our competition, but have lost bookings because our get ready rooms weren’t as large as other venues. They are decorated immaculately, but in this case, size definitely matters.”
Do you have any tips on contract development, any wording or clauses that help you the most?
“Change your contract as you learn. We’ve had some growth moments that then required us to dig into our contracts to prevent them from happening again. It is so very important to have a solid contract. Call your amount due at payment a retainer, NEVER a deposit, add a liquidated damages clause, make sure they understand that payments due are fully earned at inception and that your refund and reschedule policy is still profitable for your business. Make sure your Acts of God protects YOU as the venue owner and doesn’t release both you and the client or you will be out all your money if something like COVID were to happen again. Don’t be afraid to stick to your contract or place limitations on how long they can get to reschedule or how much money they get back if they cancel. Some will go down fighting and that is HARD, hard, but for others that understand this is a business, a solid contract is your lifeblood. Contract is King.”
Do you have a great website? Tips on website design or features that help you attract, book clients?
“I believe we do. Our main intention is to showcase the facility and the grounds in every season as we are an all-season facility. I’ve built several other websites, so it was fun for me to create our brand and identity through our online presence. I’m a believer in full transparency on our website. Pricing, availability, amenities and site visits can all be found and scheduled through our website that is connected to Dubsado, our CRM. Remember, processes and systems matter!”
Building client relationships – how do you build up your client relationships? Any customer service tips or practices you can share?
“I build my client relationships by being early, doing what we say we are going to do, finding solutions, smiling and maintaining an easy air about myself. Weddings are stressful, no client or guest ever needs to see the hard part of this that we go through. I want this to feel like the easiest part of their wedding planning. Find something that sets you apart from your competition. It could be handling the room flip, giving more time in the venue, having indoor and outdoor chairs, being open vendor or letting them purchase their own alcohol and hire their own bartender. There is some risk in any business decision you make, but you have to be able to differentiate yourself from your competition in a way that speaks to your target market. That way you will consistently work with “your people” and it will feel like your ideal client always finds you. That makes this work 1000% more fun and easier on you as a business owner. Perfect your target market and ideal client profile and then speak to her or him or them.”
Any hard challenges you would like to share with venue owners and how you overcame that challenge? (permits, legal issues, neighbors, vendors, bridezilla/momzilla, bad reviews)?
“Doesn’t every business owner have dramatic challenges? Honestly, this is one day that most clients and their close family members will remember for the rest of their lives. While it may be mundane and repetitive to us in the industry, our interaction with our clients can make or break the day. Of course, there are those days and those clients. I think it shows the humanity of the business owners when there are rough relationships. We just have an obligation to put on the face of a professional and respectfully and kindly respond. We actually have a couple of situations right now that are testing this philosophy. One past client is suing us in small claims because she was not returned her money when she canceled her wedding. It was risky for us to stand our ground, but we bent over backward for her and were feeling very taken advantage of. So, we decided our integrity as business owners obligated to uphold our contract in all regards was worth the fight. We have a great contract and a great attorney and are trusting and following his lead in this regards. We have another client that wanted to supersede our reschedule policy and get another prime date next year for free when our state has no restrictions on gatherings. She has taken to social media to call us out on the audacity of us sticking to our contract. Oh the horror! We have currently turned off our facebook reviews because the hate was getting pretty strong. But again, my obligation to uphold my contract is strong in all regards and I don’t accept bullying. It lasted a few days and then the haters moved on to something else, like they do. Neither situation is “over”, but I’m willing to keep walking the path of integrity as a business owner. The best thing to do is kindly and professionally respond and find a way to not take the hate personally.”
Do you have any stories of chaos you can share, something unexpected that happened during a wedding or event and the solution you came up with or how things were resolved?
“We are in the middle of 191 acres and are surrounded by woods. We have creatures out here that live in the woods. One of those creatures slithers on the ground and decided to show up during pictures with the bridal party. We have armed security in the form of retired police officers present and he calmly navigated the snake to an area away from guests. It did end up getting shot as it was poisonous and could not be risked coming back again. We had this happen twice within a short time frame last year and had a security guard discharge his firearm 9 times attempting to shoot another deadly invader in the far end of a parking lot. He was asked to not return again. That was going too far. One shot is one thing, NINE is another.”
Do you have any tips you would like to share with other venue owners?
“Find your ideal client, hone in on your target market in absolutely every image and word that comes out of your mouth or is placed in front of people, create systems that make the repetitive work easier on you and find great people and pay them enough to keep them.”
Do you have any thoughts or solutions to share regarding Covid19? Or maybe just share how Covid is impacting your business.
“2020 is a bitch, isn’t it? I think that’s about all that anyone in the wedding industry can say. We are thankful we survived. Very thankful.”
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Any advice to anyone thinking of starting a venue?
“Man, this business is not for the faint of heart. We are dealing with strong emotions, highly wound family members and money. Sometimes, lots of money. Personal skills are probably the most important asset to a venue owner. Get yourself as strong and as confident as an individual person as you can before you venture into this business. That way you can confidently create your business plan, know your strengths and weaknesses and find people that fill the gaps you can’t personally fill. It isn’t all just pretty flowers and princess dresses, these are embedded, lifelong memories for many and if you can’t confidently walk into that space valuing your time and your skills and being appreciated for your energy and effort, find another business to start.”
“Our top 10 favorite venue characteristics for our clients are”
- the ceremony view
- the ceremony terracing
- the facility with soaring ceilings, white paint with dark accents, loads of natural light and on a private estate
- set-up and tear-down of tables and chairs
- open vendor policy (with a couple restrictions on rentals and bartenders)
- provide both indoor and outdoor chairs
- larger in size than our local competition
- client portal
- interactive floorplans
- staff handle room flip after indoor ceremonies
What are the top spots for shots around the venue?
“We have a centerpiece view that is our ceremony location on the top of a mountain with a view of the river and fields below. We also have a pond on the west side of the facility that is killer for sunset shots. We have woods and trails throughout the property that are always a good choice for natural shots.”
Most popular foods at your Weddings?
“Honestly? A local Italian restaurant that does pizza and pasta! It sounds cheap, but it is incredibly popular locally and done with class.”
What is the biggest challenge you have in managing a wedding venue in your area of Oklahoma? (Any ordinances or regulations that pose challenges).
“No ordinances that affect us. We are outside of any city limits and are on unincorporated land. Makes it so much easier to pretty much do what we want!”
How do you handle clean up at your venue?
“Anything the client brought in is taken out before the end of the 12 hour rental time. We are in contract with a linen and dishes rental company, so those items are stored in a specific location for pickup. We have a cleaning crew that comes in and cleans and then sets for the next wedding. We are always prepped for the next wedding’s layout so there is no rush last minute. Efficiency is one of my love languages, so this needs to feel easy for everyone.”
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