Churchwood Bridal and Taranaki Weddings - Industry Expert Interview
On the Industry Expert blog this week we sat down in the gorgeous Churchwood Bridal Studio with the event super star Louise Campbell. Lover of all things wedding, the owner of a Bridal Store, Wedding Directory and Expo Queen as well as being the face behind the gorgeous inner city Loft Studio in down town New Plymouth, New Zealand.
We asked Louise to tell us a bit more about her journey into the Wedding Industry, how she manages to juggle two demanding but rewarding businesses as well as getting an inside look into the responsibilities of running a creative business. We chat about what it is like planning, organising and producing a Wedding Expo, an online Wedding Directory, get some of her best industry advice, Wedding Planning tips and talk about what drives her passion and love of weddings.
Can you please tell us a bit about the history behind your two businesses Churchwood Bridal and Taranaki Weddings?
"Gosh – where do I start with this one? Okay….this could be long so might be a good idea to get comfy. I started out in the Wedding Industry about 7 years ago. I gave up my 13 year career in the Supply Chair Industry to follow my passion and study Fine Arts and so I started designing Wedding Stationery to supplement my income during that time. At a networking event, in an attempt to get my fledgling design business off the ground – I got chatting to the, then, owner of Taranaki Weddings. I listed on the Directory and we worked together on an event (my organisational specialist background came in handy then). 6 months after we met she decided it was time to move on and asked me if I’d like to purchase the business and that’s where it all began. I’m actually the 3rd owner and we’ve just celebrated 5 years of ownership. Since purchasing the business Taranaki Weddings has grown into an incredible community and advertising platform – we don’t just offer the Directory – there’s public events, networking events, The Industry Awards and most recently – Bride/Wedding of the Year. Fast forward another 1 1/2 years after we purchased TW – I had gotten to know the owners of Churchwood Bridal (who were then my clients with Taranaki Weddings) and they happened to mention they were thinking of closing the business to move on to pastures new. I somewhat light-heartedly said if they were serious about selling, I might be interested in buying it and 7 months later we officially exchanged. It’s been a crazy ride to get to where we are now – in our beautiful new boutique, fully re-branded but I love it!"
What is it that drives your passion for the Wedding Industry?
This differs across both businesses (although there is a lot of commonality to). I’m incredibly committed to encouraging people to support local businesses and that’s our main focus with Taranaki Weddings. We strive to raise the bar when it comes to professionalism across the Industry while fostering a community and providing a platform for growth and promotion. With Churchwood Bridal, we’ve experienced incredible success from being a part of the Taranaki Weddings community – we know the format works and I’m so incredibly passionate about making that platform affordable and accessible to everyone else in the local Industry. When I started out with my first business – advertising seemed so expensive and unachievable to me – we’re determined to offer a service that works for business who are huge and for small sole traders as well. Through both our businesses we’re committed to offering the very best services and products we can – our business values and our integrity are our number 1 priority and we pride ourselves in that. But the truth of the matter – all of those things aside – I really really just LOVE weddings! I love marriage and I love celebrating love! With Churchwood Bridal – being a part of a Bride’s journey, being alongside and working with her to help her find the perfect Bridal Look is an honour, it’s a privilege and we don’t take a single customer who walks through our door for granted. Have you ever been invited to help a friend or family member pick their wedding dress? It’s such a special role to play and we get to do it every day! You can’t do what we do unless you love weddings – we clap and cheer with our brides, we hug them and dry their tears and sometimes we even get to be one of the last people to see them before they walk down the aisle – truly a privilege and there’s nothing like it in the world."
What advice or words of wisdom could you give to someone wanting to get into the Wedding Industry or wanting to further expand their skills or interest?
"First up – I’d tell them to do their research. The Wedding Industry is, for the most part, already quite an over-saturated Industry – so if you’re looking to get into the Industry – research what’s already available and make sure you have a point of different, whether that’s in terms of price, level of service or a unique product or service. Make an effort to get to know others in the Industry and don’t be afraid to ask someone with a lot more experience to be your mentor – there are lots of people in the Industry who would be more than happy to take you under their wing and guide you through the early stages. Make sure you do it right – you only get one chance to make a first impression – and you want it to be lasting for all the right reasons – so make sure you get all your ducks in a row before you launch your business. Have your domain and email ready to go (preferably not a gmail/Hotmail etc), have your collateral ready and be prepared with everything you need to answer any questions from the word go. Don’t be afraid to launch with a bang and make an impact – just don’t do it till you’re 100% ready! And of course – starting off with The Wedding Training Hub’s intro course is as good a place to start as any."
What have been some of the most rewarding moments since taking over a bridal store and wedding directory and expo?
"SO MANY – honestly – every time a Vendor lists with us for another year on our Directory or every time a Bride says “Yes” at Churchwood – I do a little Happy Dance because I feel like what I’m doing is really working. Every time our Expo’s sell out (and they do – every single time) I feel really proud, and each year at the Industry Awards – when I see the delight on Vendors faces as they are announced a winner – just fills me with so much pride. But the most rewarding this I’ve ever done in business was teaming up with the Taranaki Women’s Refuge last year to host the “ Say “I DO” for Refuge” Wedding Auction – our wedding community banded together and we built an entire wedding package which was auctioned off to raise more than $16K for the Women’s Refuge. Taranaki Weddings has always been about community – it’s what I’ve striven to build and seeing that community come together to do that – it was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been a part of."
Running a creative business is not an easy task. Can you tell us a bit about what goes on behind the scenes at your business?
"SO MUCH! So much more than I ever imagined too! When you’re in business – especially in the early stages – you never stop. You never switch off, not completely. There’s SO much involved in running a small business – lots of gritty mundane tasks like GST Returns and Payroll, scheduling months worth of Social Media posts in advance (which is ESSENTIAL when you have an event coming up), long days, early starts and late nights. There’s no such things as a typical day for me – the nature of my businesses, and balancing them with my life, means that every day is different. One day I could be doing my accounts, the next I could be doing back to back Bridal Consults and then the day after I could be packing Goodie Bags or driving around the mountain to visit clients."
If you could give yourself advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
"To be honest – I don’t think if I went back 5 years to when we had just bought Taranaki Weddings, that I would do anything differently, so it’s hard to give myself advice – but if anything I would like to have been more prepared for the long haul. Starting out in business – you don’t know how’s it’s going to go – it’s a gamble and it doesn’t always go right. Over the last 5 years, I’ve had a lot of “Why did I do that?” moments….so if I could tell myself anything at those moments – it would be “Have faith in yourself”. Self-doubt can be one of the most damaging things to your business – if you don’t have faith in yourself – how can you expect your customers too?"
OK Let’s talk Wedding Expos. We know that there is an absolute mammoth amount of work, planning, liaising and organising that goes into the event. How do you organise yourself when wearing so many hats?
"Honestly – I’m SO old school. I have a big to-do list on my wall that I start right at the beginning of every event planning process and I break it down by stage and by business – it’s colour co-ordinated and very clear so that me, and my team, know where we are every step of the way. It gets updated weekly as tasks get completed and new ones arise. Event planning is literally that – it’s about having a solid plan in place. I plan for EVERY eventuality – the old saying is “Fail to plan and you plan to fail” and that is SO true."
How do you prepare yourself the week before a big event?
"I start my personal prep about 3-4 weeks out. I have a couple of health concerns that are exacerbated by stress so I always make sure I really look after myself in the run-up. I know I’m going to have lots of late nights ahead so I prep healthy meals and freeze them so I don’t turn to junk food at the end of a long day. I try to stay hydrated and generally take the best possible care of myself. I literally schedule in rest time and early nights. I become a bit of a recluse with two weeks to go – saving my energy for the main event. I plan ahead for the usual “weekly jobs” delegating where I can to my team or allocating an hour or two at the beginning of the day to take care of admin tasks. Above everything else – I have a solid hour by hour event management plan so in the event that anything happens to me – someone in my team knows what’s supposed to happen and when and can literally pick that up and take over."
On an Expo event day we can see you manage a range of different suppliers, set up, guest hosting and pack in and pack out. How to you manage yourself and your team?
"I create an Event Management Plan or Run Sheet (depending on the event) that details everything about the event – the who’s, the what’s, the where’s and the when’s. I make multiple copies and everyone on our team know where they are. Every expo we run – we also exhibit at. I cannot be in two or three places at once so I’ve had to learn to delegate and give other people responsibility and trust them to follow through. On the day of an event – my only role is to oversee. I’m there, ready to step-in and cover breaks, ask questions, help or deal with anything that crops up – but I have to allow my team to take care of as many of the standard tasks as possible."
What advice could you give someone who is thinking about exhibiting at a wedding expo?
"Just like starting a business – make sure you’re prepared. Have consistent branding and collateral and have plenty of it. Be prepared to answer any possible questions about your business or services. Take your diary – people will want to know your availability on the day, and be prepared to take bookings. Go big if you can afford to – you want your exhibit to be the one people stop at, find a way to make then stop and engage. Don’t go straight in with a sales pitch, engage them in conversation, build up a rapport and let the conversation progress naturally. Make sure your appearance is consistent with your branding and image….I could go on all day!"
How important do you think it is to gain industry related education or experience before starting up a business or side hustle?
"It really depends on what you’re intending to do. There are some sectors that require you to have qualifications or certifications and some that there is literally nothing available. Like I said previously though – do your research. You want to put your best foot forward when starting a business, you want to be as prepared as possible and be able to offer a service that’s superior to anything that already exists – and definitely going through the correct training to ensure you’re as best qualified to do it is the best way to go about it. I’d be lying if I said it’s ABSOLUTELY essential – here I sit, running an advertising and events business and a Bridal Store and I haven’t a business qualification to my name. I learned in other ways, I gained experience in other sectors and worked alongside people to learn – but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that route to others. If professional training isn’t available in your chosen sector – definitely consider on the job training with someone or getting a mentor. Above anything – don’t start out in business, in any business, until you’re confident you’re skilled enough to do it."
Lastly, what would be the best piece of Wedding Planning advice you could give someone?
"Download our Wedding Planner – haha! Or get a planner! Seriously – if you can afford to enlist the help of a planner, or even an on-the-day co-ordinator - do it. Honestly – I wish I had done it because organising ANY event can become a full-time job and most brides/grooms already have one of those. If you can’t afford a professional planner – make sure you have a clear and solid plan for the day and don’t be afraid to delegate tasks to your family and your Bridal Party. But above ANYTHING else – enjoy it! Planning a Wedding can be JUST as much fun as the wedding itself – and you’re not just planning a wedding, but you’re planning a MARRIAGE. Take your time, enjoy it, do it right and it will be SO WORTH IT!"
Images by Natalie Waugh and Amanda Ritchie Photography. Florals by Pineapple Sage, Makeup by Annalee and Hair by Kate
You can find Louise, Churchwood Bridal as well as Taranaki Weddings here