Forget finding the right life partner – the biggest obstacle to getting married can be finding the right venue.
When Aussie besties Amy Parfett and Melany McBride were contacted by a friend who was having trouble finding a wedding venue, they decided to help out. The initial thought of, ‘how hard could this be?’ was soon abated by their very real inability to find a suitable spot for their friend. So, they decided to solve the problem with their online wedding venue directory, WedShed.
“[We] were quickly stumped,” Amy tells Collective Hub of their discovery of a gap in the wedding market. “Unless you stumbled upon a very lucky search term, the same traditional, soul-less venues kept cropping up.”
“At the time, Airbnb was well and truly mainstream and the concept of renting out privately owned properties for vacations was pretty commonplace,” Amy explains. “So we had the ‘aha’ moment, cracked a bottle of wine (as you do most weeknights in London) and sat on the idea for a couple of years until we hit a point when it suddenly felt urgent to get the concept up and running.”
With Amy in the sphere of communications and PR and Mel in client and web management, the girls had contact with “awesome people and brands” on a day-to-day basis but were constantly considering business ideas in order to be able to finally branch out on their own.
There was the pet-treat delivery service, the music festival sandwich chain and other “hare-brained” schemes. It was WedShed that the girls finally decided to pursue but before jumping in head first, they were sure to check their idea had legs.
“Initially, we spent any spare time we had reaching out to people in the industry to validate the idea and make sure there was actually a need for WedShed. This we now realise was huge. Just by inviting other people’s feedback, we managed to build a level of advocacy that we’ve been blown away by.”
Then, they took a 360 approach to learning about the services they were really championing for their future clients and venues.
“To get completely familiar with all sides of our business, we took on the full management of a farm in NSW’s Kangaroo Valley for a year. The farm had never hosted weddings, so we had this wonderful blank canvas to test different approaches to attracting couples, as well as getting a hands-on understanding of the challenges venue owners face.”
Not only did it give the girls an understanding of all facets of their venture, it helped them carve time out of their schedule to be able to focus on the business.
“This venue management bankrolled our product design and web development, and allowed us to cut back to part-time work at our day jobs in order to spend more time building the business. And eventually the time came when it felt really right to let everything else go and make WedShed our sole focus.”
Eighteen months on, the girls are going strong. Considering the wedding industry is big business (and the addition of a bespoke affair even more so), the creation of an ‘Airbnb for the big day’ is a god send for brides and a perfectly fantastic way to inject investment in smaller communities.
“What sets us apart are the venues themselves,” Amy tells Collective Hub. Considering their directory includes an ex-prison yard, a Tasmanian castle and more sheds than you can poke a bonbonniere at, we’d say that’s fairly accurate. “We use the word ‘venue’ loosely – we partner with anything from woolsheds and warehouses to wineries and airplane hangars. What’s consistent between them is that they all allow couples the flexibility to create a celebration that says ‘this is us’.”
But it’s not just a stressed couple that benefit from WedShed’s venue matchmaking service.
“A big proportion of our venues are based outside of metropolitan cities. Weddings generate a significant financial boost to the surrounding region – when you think about it, they bring around 100 people to an area, which equates to an average of $30,000+ in tourism spend – considering that that most guests will need to be fed, watered, bed and transported,” Amy explains. “This means a single wedding venue booked for just half a year could potentially bring $780,000 into the surrounding region.”
The girls also encourage their soon-to-be-betrothed customers to source local businesses for their big day services for flowers, catering and the like. The other benefit to renting out these occasionally isolated spaces is the injection of investment into local families who previously focused on one source of income.
“We’ve partnered with farms that in the last year have seen weddings overtake livestock as their primary source of income,” Amy says.