Barnabrow Country House, as a specialist wedding venue since 2000, appeals to a niche market, so our slice of the pie is comparatively small. Last year was definitely our most challenging but there are definite and encouraging signs of improvement for the coming wedding season. Certain strategies that we employed to adapt to the changed zeitgeist out there, worked, I think.
Because the business is family-run, yet the premises is large and sprawling we made a virtue out the fact that we were not a ‘posh’ 5-star standardised impersonal hotel and instead attempted to capitalise on our natural friendliness and openness as a Country House firmly rooted in the locality.
Customers have changed in their attitudes. From the earliest days of the crash, when they believed the media-hype and wanted everything for nothing, there has been gradual and discernible appreciation of the need to be reasonable. If you can create a relationship that encourages the idea of ‘us all being in this together’ I believe they respond well. They are more willing, these days, to see that there is another point of view and to work with that.
When couples come to view Barnabrow House as a potential wedding venue, we above all spend a lot of time with them. As CEO, I personally do all of these viewing appointments and again I think that this convinces them that they will receive personal attention here. I suggest ways in which they can make cutbacks. At this stage I have hosted thousands of weddings and have lots of ideas on how to make things run seamlessly, stylishly and to a high standard without unnecessary frills. Gone are the days of the Tiger Bridezillas; nowadays they are concerned primarily with budget. They appreciate the tips, the time and the encouragement to use home-made touches and trinkets for the ‘big day’. However, we are also adamant that we will not scrimp on the standards of our food.
Because much of our organic produce comes from our Victorian walled-garden, I take the time to show it to them as it is growing. We have a vine which in autumn produces an abundance of juicy red grapes. We keep a bowl for tasting at Reception. Because the Tiger created an illusion, I think people are now seeking authenticity. Everybody makes claims, but perhaps the proof is in the seeing.
The real deal
We follow up every enquiry promptly and answer queries instantly so there is an immediate recognition that they are not dealing with a multi-option answering service. We write letters regularly and address them by hand. This is expensive in postage and in labour but it is rare for most people these days to receive a letter that is not a bill. Again, the feed-back warrants the expense.
Customers are earthier; they want to deal with real people and real voices on a telephone line. They want time and they want empathy. And it is a two–way street. When they get that, they are so much nicer to deal with. While we believe that this is what we always offered at Barnabrow House, I think that over the past year we have learned to improve our service.
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