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Bonus Wedding Business Solutions Podcast Episode with Bill Zaruka and Alan Berg CSPBill Zaruka – Scaling Wedgewood Weddings from 1 venue to over 40 venues

When I first met and started consulting and doing training for Wedgewood Weddings in 2012, they had about a dozen venues in Northern and Southern California. Nine years later they have over 40 venues in 6 states, and counting (I just saw a notification that they’ve picked up two more after our recording). They’ve carved out a great niche with their all-inclusive model for their venues. When they open or acquire new venues, they use the same, proven packages. Some businesses have different models in different areas. Bill Zaruka and his team have proven that their strategy works all over the country. Yes, each venue is unique, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the same package strategy.

Listen to this new episode and learn some ways you can scale your business.

About Wedgewood Weddings

Wedgewood Weddings manages an All-Inclusive Wedding Venue Experience at 45 locations across the U.S.  For 35 years Wedgewood has grown by focusing on a stress free and fun customer experience.  For more information about Wedgewood Weddings you may visit our website at wedgewoodweddings.com.  For information about selling your business to Wedgewood you may contact Kevin Lyons at [email protected]

If you have any questions about anything in this, or any of my podcasts, or have a suggestion for a topic or guest, please reach out directly to me at [email protected] or visit my website www.AlanBerg.com

Please be sure to subscribe to this podcast and leave a review (thanks, it really does make a difference). If you want to get notifications of new episodes and upcoming workshops and webinars, you can sign up at www.ConnectWithAlanBerg.com

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Below is a full transcript. If you have any questions about anything in this, or any of my podcasts, or have a suggestion for a topic or guest, please reach out directly to me at [email protected] or contact me via textuse the short form on this page, or call 732.422.6362

Please be sure to subscribe to this podcast and leave a review (thanks, it really does make a difference). If you want to get notifications of new episodes and upcoming workshops and webinars, you can sign up at www.ConnectWithAlanBerg.com


– Okay. Okay. Hi, it’s Alan Berg for the Wedding Business Solutions podcast. And today for one of my special dialogue episodes, I have a very good friend. Bill Zaruka from Wedgewood weddings. Hey Bill.

– Hello, how you doing Alan?

– I’m doing great. And for this series that I have on scaling your business, I immediately thought of you because you and I have been working together since I think it’s 2011 or 2012, and your business has grown. My business has grown, but your business has grown in a way different way there. So just tell everybody just real quick, what is Wedgewood Weddings?

– Oh Wedgewood Weddings is a family owned and operated wedding event business. We have up to now 44 venues. We started in Southern California with my mom and dad and we have a number of venues in California, but also some good amount of facilities in Arizona, Colorado, and then a few outside of those states and kind of specialize in not only the venue, but we do the food beverage and know all-inclusive packages. So we have a fairly turnkey solution for our couples.

– Now so your dad started the business 35 years ago. Again, I’ve been working with you since 2011. You had one venue back then, you had 12 I think when we started working together. In that 35 years, when did you go from one to multiple? Was that 34 years ago or?

– Sure, yeah, no. I mean, I think for many years, and when I was growing up, this was a single unit, standard kind of small business with just our location on the Buena Ventura golf course out in Ventura, California. And my dad kinda ran the operation side and the finance side of the business. My mom sold weddings and on the weekends they made me wash dishes and my sister clear plates. So this was up until about 2002 for better part of almost 20 years just the one location business. And then my father felt like we had something successful that we could bring to other locations. And we were able to get the opportunity to try that same family business model on a few other locations back in 2002.

– So in 2002. So for many, many years, much like so many people who were probably listening one venue, one location, working it, doing everything like you said, washing dishes and clearing plates and stuff like that. When you went to the second and third venue, did each one have its own identity, or did you already have this concept of, we are a company and we’re going to have this umbrella under which all of these are, and we’re going to tell people about that umbrella name?

– Yeah, sure. Well, the second and third facilities came at the same time and they were similar golf course locations that had a regular dining element for the golfers, but also a nice banquet room overlooking the golf course, but they were physically much different and in different geo markets. And so they weren’t ground up the exact same physical space that were built the identically. So the way like a franchise restaurant might be they were unique in terms of the way they looked, but we did decide, and we weren’t sure whether we were going to make them like each its own boutique location or kind of all name them the same and operate in a similar manner. And we decided the easiest way to kind of start this venture outside of the one location was to make sure that the nuts and bolts of the operation were the same in terms of our positions, our organizational chart, our menus, the packages, our general price points. We tried to keep that all fairly similar.

– Were they geographically close to one another?

– Not really. We have Ventura, California. These next two were in Northern California, but one was in the San Francisco peninsula. And one was a good hour north of San Francisco.

– Oh wow.

– And from a kind of, if you looked at the demographics, they were much different. And so that we did get a lot of, “Oh well, we’re different “here in San Francisco than Ventura.” Or “The Sonoma county is different than the “peninsula” and those sorts of things. And we need different food or we need a different wine list. And we decided just to kind of keep it the same for now and just let’s just see how it works rather than start to have multiple different concepts, which makes them more challenging to manage.

– So it’s the same menu everywhere. Same wine, same everything. Prices are different based upon location?

– Yeah, so we have some regional differences, but for the most part, the packages are the same, the menu’s the same. We may have the same 10 items and then you are able to do one or two things differently in Texas than you would in New Hampshire or Colorado. But yeah, you’re looking at general packages, product offering, liquor list is the same. Certainly you may have a local IPA in Boulder, Colorado, that’s different than an IPA in San Diego, but in general, conceptually, everything is as standardized as we can get.

– And for menus, I always tell people for menus, the crazy thing is couples spend all this time, planning their menus. And two people plan the menu for the other 140 that are going to come. And the two people that plan the menu are the two least likely to eat that day.

– Yeah, yeah. Menus, I mean there’s a lot of opinions out there about how custom do you make your menus? And, we felt like we want to do the most traditional wedding and event food and just do it really, really well and execute it perfectly. ‘Cause many times we’re at an event and they may have a nice fancy menu, but it takes three hours to serve and the hot food is cold. And so, we focused on execution of kind of great center of the plate items, yeah.

– Right and I also noticed since we’ve been working together, remember when I started with you, you had five packages. I kept telling you it’s too many and five packages. And now you’re down to three packages with an a la carte option. And so those three packages, if I’m not mistaken, the middle one and even the top one get chosen more than the bottom, is that correct?

– Yeah, absolutely, yeah. We started with three packages and no one was buying the top one so that we added the two more and everyone kind of shifted up, but then five got to be a little bit too much, a little bit too confusing. And we kind of narrowed down our scope of what we’re offering and we have a la carte and then yeah three other packages. And it depends on, as you get into the higher packages, there’s a lot more hosted alcohol and some of that. So based on the demographic of the specific town we’re in, we may get people with higher budgets that want to host those. But yeah, typically it’s the top two that are getting purchased a lot more. And those are the ones that are most inclusive. That includes cake, flowers, and some other ancillary decor services.

– What about the a la carte? Are anybody going for a la carte?

– You know honestly, I don’t know if it’s because we’re kind of known for all inclusive packages or not, but it’s under 3% across the company want an a la carte package. And it sounds kind of really great and everyone wants to have this customized wedding and a package allows people to still do that. It doesn’t tell you exactly what your centerpieces are. It doesn’t tell you exactly what your deejay is going to play it just simply offers that service. And then you customize that service within the package. And I think once the consumer realizes that they don’t have to go through the legwork of choosing all of these vendors and going to appointment after appointment, after appointment for every weekend of their engagement, it starts to become a lot more attractive for sure.

– And so I’ve met with some of your vendors because I’ve been with you guys. I remember having dinner with your florist. And so they get a credit with the florist. You don’t own the flower company. You don’t own the deejay company, right?

– Yeah, I mean, there are elements of stuff that we do in house. There are some deejays and photographers that are actually ours and on our payroll.

– Oh great.

– And then there’s the combination of certain crafts that are a little bit more challenging. Floral is one of them. And we’ve had a tough time bringing in any of that stuff in house. And so, yeah, we work with the professionals in the local area that are experts in and we have subcontracted deals with them. And it’s been really mutually beneficial as we’ve grown, they’ve grown and we kind of work together and it’s like they’re an extension of our brand and our family.

– And that florist told me that people can upgrade from what they get with the package. And many of them do because they feel like they’ve kind of already paid for this other stuff, so I’m only paying the difference here. It feels like a good deal for them. So the idea of the packages you did right from the get-go. I love the standardization. Do what you can do really well, execute it really well. You do have flexibility within those packages there. What about back office? How much of your 44 venues now around the country? How much of what would be done at a venue is done remotely in I’ll call it the back office?

– Yeah a lot. All of the accounting functions, all of the kind of as much administrative as we could push into a back office with people that are professional and keep our people on property focused on the customer experience and maintaining the facility as possible. So some of our repairs and maintenance and kind of some of our facility management is back office. All of our accounting, all of our human resource functions with exception of hiring.

– What about sales? How is sales handled?

– Sales, for the most part, sales is an on-property human to human experience. Our marketing is all centralized, advertising and driving leads for the most part can be a centralized back office function that someone can handle across multiple geographies. We’re unique. We have all of our leads come into a call center.

– Okay.

– So, all of our initial leads come in to people who are fielding those calls and then setting appointments for our sales team onsite. And then from there, it’s handed off to the individual location so that they can work hand in hand with the customer to find out exactly what they’re looking for and how we can meet their needs and ultimately book their event.

– So at what point, because again you did this way before 44 venues. At what point did you say, we need to bring this into a centralized call center instead of each individual venue handling their own inbounds.

– We probably did that before we needed to. And that was a really intelligent decision. Back when my father was involved in a lot of the day-to-day operations, this was one of his brainchilds coming from the hotel world where a lot of the centralized reservation systems existed. And, quite frankly, we saw when we call our properties just to check in, they wouldn’t answer the phone and we knew why they weren’t answering the phone. They were in an appointment. They were coordinating a wedding. They were in the banquet room. They were out fluffing a dress. Whatever it may be, they were busy.

– Right.

– But customers were calling and going to voicemail and maybe getting a call back the next day. And we felt like that wasn’t the best experience. I think we were at about nine locations when we started to centralize that.

– And again, probably like you said, maybe a little before you actually needed to, but you were ready for that when you needed to. I was talking to a client just yesterday, a rental company and the same thing. Their inbound leads. There’s so many inbound leads. They don’t have time to do anything else. So, follow ups and stuff like that. Knock wood they’re so busy that if they’re not following up, they’re still busy. I said, “Yeah, “but how much money are we leaving on the table “because we’re not following up the way that they should.” So, a lot of the stuff centralized, but each property still has its own like you said, advertising was centralized in terms of the buying, but you’re advertising each property in its market as its own property, right?

– Yes, absolutely. Yeah, you might be clustering an advertising deal, but each facility is unique geographically. They’re unique aesthetically. And sometimes, you hit it off with Person A or Person B when you’re going to an appointment. And that sometimes happens within our brand where they may have shopping two locations that are 30 minutes away. And the differences is they just hit it off with one person over another. And that’s what ultimately made their decision to choose. But yeah, they’re all being sold and advertised individually.

– So you are competing against yourself in some markets, right?

– Absolutely yeah. Our sales team that’s always the thing, “Oh, these guys got my name.” A lot of visibility too when they lose the sale to one of their peers. So it’s often a conversation, right?

– Which big picture is you still got the sale, but it you’re like that little there. So people who are listening in here? What are some of the pitfalls or some of the things that they should think about if they’re looking to go, even from one to two locations. It doesn’t have to be a venue. They could be a photographer, a deejay or whatever. What are some of the growth things that you’ve learned that you look back, the I wish I knew thens?

– Well, I think certainly when you have one location, you have your arms around the entire business. When you’re there every day and you’re seeing the employees, you know who’s good and who’s not, who’s showing up to work and then you know what the customer experience is like. You know that the food is hot and it came out on time at the bar. There wasn’t a long wait and all the cash was going into the register. It’s just a different experience. As you scale up, you have to have systems and controls and processes and procedures in place because you can’t be there just to kind of monitor everything all the time. And then, you gotta have great people. You gotta have people that are as passionate and as into things and is as intelligent and all in as you are. And then you have to trust them. You have to trust them to run the business. You have to give them the tools and then let them go. And when they’re successful, you gotta reward them like they’re an owner, some skin in the game.

– What are your experiences with promoting people from within? Because I know we always hear about sometimes you promote someone and they were really good at one job. You put them into another job and maybe that’s not their strong suit.

– Yeah, the majority of our leadership is promoted from within. There’s a level of trust. There’s a level of understanding of what they’re able to do. There’s cultural buy-in et cetera. But on occasion you get someone who maybe moves from a sales role and they’re really good with the customer and they sell a lot. And then you move them into a general manager role where they have to deal with some different elements of skill set, whether it’s dealing with people issues and leadership and discipline, or some of the financials and running a profit and loss statement that there’s sometimes some gap within that. And we’ve done some stuff to maybe better prepare certain people for that transition. And then we’ve found that we kind of have a better understanding who is able to make that leap from a skill set and kind of a personality and who’s not.

– Right and you’ve had a lot more experience now that you’re at 44 venues, but do you have a lot of people that have been with you for a long time yeah?

– Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I think if you look at our senior level people and the VPs and our regional managers, most are 10 years plus. They’ve grown with the business and very little turnover from our general manager and above positions, for sure.

– Yeah the frontline, you’re going to have more of that for sure. So what’s the future for Wedgewood weddings?

– Well gosh, I think like many people listening today, it’s recovery from the pandemic.

– Sure.

– I think all of us, no matter where we were located, our industry took a big hit and us being majority located in California took an even bigger hit based on some of the restrictions out here. So we gotta recover from the pandemic and I think we’re committed to continuing to grow our brand. We think that we’ve got a great company and we’ve got great people and we’ve got leaders and people who want to grow and take on more opportunity. And I think we feel from a customer perspective that our product offering between our facilities and our packages and our stress-free experience and the price points that we offer it’s a great service to the customer and to the client and these couples, who are not super experienced in purchasing a wedding and planning a wedding. And so we think we provide a great service for them. So, we’re passionate about taking care of our customers, giving opportunity for our employees to grow. And so I think we’re going to continue to do that in the future and I’m excited about that.

– So is there a target number of venues for Wedgewood or is it opportunity-based?

– Yeah, I don’t think we have, we don’t sit back and have any targets. Sometimes we’ll through just circumstance, we’ll add five, six, seven, eight venues in a six month period, and then we may go a year and not add anything. And so I think if the opportunity is right and then we absolutely consider it. And certainly I think we’d like to grow into kind of the Southeast next. We’re kind of in the west, maybe up to the Pacific Northwest and to the Southeast. That’s probably the most logical areas, but we don’t really necessarily have a target. I mean maybe if we get a little bit larger, we’ll start to be like one of the bigger organizations just kind of has this machine going. We still feel like, and many people may not relate because we have 40 plus units, but we still feel like a family business.

– [Alan] Yeah.

– And so the growth machine has been in full tilt, I guess.

– Yeah well, I mean, again, I’ve been working with you guys for almost 10 years and it still has that same feel when you had 12 venues as it does now, because it’s the same people I think as well. And you do get along so well there. So final words for anybody listening in terms of scaling their business, because a lot of people are thinking, I don’t want to scare them. I want to encourage them. Certainly it’s you get the rewards, but you have to put in the work and the time. So any final thoughts that somebody looking at, they’re looking to grow their business. What should they be focusing on?

– Well, I think that I would take it slow at first. Absolutely, you don’t want to extend yourself that one to two and two to three is a big jump. It’s a big jump. And so don’t overextend yourself. I think the second thing is try to keep as many things the same across all of your units as possible. It just makes it a hundred times easier to manage, to train, to move people across different properties, to compare financials, to all of these things, to analyze and scale your business. The more that can be the same, the better. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to be giving a customer a wedding in a box. There’s still flexibility there, but as much as you can keep similar to the better.

– I think that’s really the lesson is because of what you’ve done standardized and people told you no, the menus have to be different. They don’t. They told you the packages have to be different. They don’t. Right, you still have that flexibility within there? So I think that’s great. So what I think you just described is you have what four kids, right?

– I do yes.

– Right. So going from the first kid to the second kid is a big change. Second to third, less of a change, the third to the fourth. Like almost no change.

– No doubt. No doubt.

– There you go.

– Yep, that’s true yeah.

– It’s the same with the venues. Okay, terrific. Thank you so much for joining me. I will put into the show notes, a link to Wedgewood Weddings. If anyone wants to go check out your site, see all your properties that you have over there. You have beautiful site, beautiful properties. Bill thank you for being a friend. Thank you so much for joining me here today.

– Alan thanks for your time and I really appreciate it.

I’m Alan Berg. Thanks for listening. If you have any questions about this or if you’d like to suggest other topics for “The Wedding Business Solutions Podcast” please let me know. My email is [email protected]. Look forward to seeing you on the next episode. Thanks.


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