A nice place to organise a white wedding

Three women came up with a novel idea for wedding planning: offer it in a café. Russell Smith profiles a small business with a big challenge
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The Independent Online

Lyn Rawlings, Sharon Baker and Jenny Boddy started Bristol-based Wedding Café Ltd in 2004 after spotting a gap in the market for celebration planning ( www.weddingcafeltd.co.uk; 0117 9477800).

Lyn Rawlings, Sharon Baker and Jenny Boddy started Bristol-based Wedding Café Ltd in 2004 after spotting a gap in the market for celebration planning ( www.weddingcafeltd.co.uk; 0117 9477800).

The words "relaxed" and "wedding" rarely appear in the same sentence. While wedding planners can relieve the stress, such a service comes at a price. And so sisters Lyn Rawlings, 35, and Jenny Boddy, 37, together with their friend Sharon Baker, 35, decided there must be a business opportunity in providing a cost-effective alternative.

Their business idea is simple: create an informal, café atmosphere in which customers can browse through a range of products and services needed to plan the perfect day. And although the team wouldn't describe themselves as wedding planners, they have developed a comprehensive range of guidance leaflets dealing with everything from the best man's duties through to choosing the right lingerie for a wedding dress. This straightforward advice is offered as a free service for those wishing to plan their own celebration.

What makes this team stand out is that they took the plunge and opened the shop while still holding down jobs elsewhere. Which surely makes staffing their shop a bit of a challenge? "Not really", says Jenny. "We make a feature of opening in the evenings and at weekends to make it easy for customers." The earnings from their other employment have meant that they don't initially need to take salaries from their new business, which helps with cash flow. It also helped with meeting the start-up costs that included fitting out and stocking the shop.

Income is generated from direct product sales and from service providers who pay to advertise in their "gallery". "Everything that we showcase has been carefully selected by us for quality and value for money," explains Sharon, "which immediately removes a lot of stress for the client." There's no doubt that the relaxed but confident approach of the team puts customers at their ease which helps them to make decisions. And with decisions come purchases.

Their business is also branching out as people ask for help with birthday parties and other celebrations. But do the women all intend to quit their current jobs and join full-time? "Well", says Lyn, "I'm also interested in running a jewellery business." Entrepreneurship, it would seem, is addictive.

QUESTIONS PLEASE

Send your questions to Prof Russell Smith at ios@businessboffins.com. Selected questions will be answered each month. Answers are for the general guidance of owner-managers only; always seek professional advice.

Professor Smith is the founder of Oxford-based Business Boffins Ltd which, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University Business School, delivers sustainability support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Independent On Sunday readers can enrol on the university-accredited programme at a discounted rate; see www.businessboffins.com/ios

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