Marquee weddings – just the mention of them makes me smile. For a truly unique and romantic ambience, I think it’s hard to beat a marquee wedding, be it at home, if you have the space or at a suitable site, you have the makings of a memorable occasion.
Here we chat to John, owner of Cotswold Marquees Ltd, a well established company, celebrating 30 years in business this year. Whether you are looking for a traditional marquee to give you the quintessential country wedding venue look, with its classic rope and pole design, or a modern frame structure which is fully customisable and offers uninterrupted floor space, the team at Cotswold Marquees are happy to offer their best advice to ensure that the marquee you choose for your big day is just the right fit for you and your wedding celebrations.
As you can imagine, being in business for 30 years, John has a truly in-depth knowledge of the industry, together with some great tips for couples planning on hiring a marquee. Over to you John …
Tell us a little about yourself and your business
We bought & Installed our first marquee in 1987 so 2017 sees us celebrating 30 Yrs in business. At that time marquee hire was a summer only venture as both Barbara and I had professional jobs. We decided to advertise our marquees in a local weekly magazine, it was supposed to be for a week but they ran the advert for a whole year!
From the responses we had it dawned on us that there was a market out there. It took us quite a few years before we moved from part-time to full time. There have been set backs a long the way. Who could forget 2008 and recession…but we survived and progressed.
What motivated you to start your business?
Push and pull factors. We worked very hard in our professional jobs and thought we could transfer this into our own business it could work. Starting a business from scratch is a steep learning curve.
At the time we had three small children soon to be four nevertheless Barbara took the phone calls and did the back room work and I met customers and installed the marquees and equipment. Failing in business was just not an option. The business had to work.
Tell us a little more about the day to day activities of your business
No day is exactly the same. In the busy season, May – September, we number around 20 staff , marquee erectors, a sewing machinist, PVC fabricators and office staff.
The foremen will take their job sheets for the day. Loading will begin, we run 15 commercial vehicles to deliver equipment to site. The teams will head off to their various jobs. The average Wedding marquee will take a full day to erect then install all the lighting, electrics , furniture & dance floor. Larger more complex jobs with site issues such as slopes or restricted access may have a 2 or 3 day install.
We try to finish a wedding installation by the Thursday evening so that the other suppliers can get in to the marquee on the Friday. Also if we arrive on the Wednesday or Thursday clients have the confidence that everything will be ready in time and the event will be going ahead!
Private events are our principle work, we cover a lot of weddings but other things as well eg. agricultural shows, corporate product launches, temporary warehousing, village fetes and fayres. We run two teams most days but may have everyone together on large events or split into smaller teams if the structures are small.
Behind the scenes at the unit, equipment will be cleaned and prepared for the next events, stock checked, any bespoke gutters or infills made and equipment such as heaters & generators serviced. Office staff check all the orders and confirm requirements with the clients then prepare delivery/collection sheets plus carrying out all the back ground activities of paying wages, bills and keeping up to date with health & safety requirements.
We try to be discreet about the events we cover. To the client the event carries the same amount of anticipation, care in planning and pre event stress whether they are hosting for 20 or 200 guests and we try to help manage this by anticipating any requirements or issues which may arise. Barbara and Wendie spend a lot of time liaising with other suppliers to make sure all bases are covered and there is a smooth lead up to the day of the event. We now offer an on site co-ordination service as well to oversee the smooth running on the day
If our readers were to order from you, what can they expect?
We have a lot of experience in this business. Usually an enquiry will be met with a quick response. A wedding can be a year away but to the client it is urgent now. The client will meet with Barbara either on site or at our unit in Brailes. We try to get the client to explain what they are looking for then work out the best way to achieve this on their site.
Together we plan which size marquee will best suit the numbers within the constraints of the site and budget and then it’s all about the interior , flooring, lighting, lining , furniture and accessories. We know that a wedding is a happy time but it can also raise stress levels and we do our best to put customers at ease.
Standards in the industry have gone up sharply, clients are more savvy, we endeavour to keep our equipment updated and clean so that we can maintain a high standard. A marquee is like a bit of theatre, the visual impact sets the scene.
How can couples judge if a company is the right fit for their wedding?
Firstly ask around and find out which companies others have used and if the experience was a good one. Ask the company for client references also ask the caterers which companies they have worked with and what their marquees and service were like.
We often take a client to see a marquee which is in a state of readiness for the event, perhaps a wedding marquee. Most clients are happy to receive visitors as long they don’t get in the way of proceedings. For those clients who are not very spatially aware, going to an marquee can be very helpful, some people just can’t see how everyone is going to fit in. We also host an Open Day once a year when we erect a marquee and showcase as much equipment as we can.
We also encourage our clients to visit our premises, here they can sit on different chairs decide on table sizes look at accessories etc. It is important that clients see a fully functional business, this will give them the reassurance that you can do their job professionally and successfully. Most companies will take prospective clients a book of photographs which is helpful but it is better to see the real thing.
Be aware that using a company a long way from the venue is likely to increase the price with increased transport costs ie travel time of staff and fuel. Local is usually best because they can get to site if there are last minuet changes, unforeseen weather requirements or sometimes we even pop in during our local events just to make sure all is going smoothly, especially with the heaters & generators . Local is also best environmentally as it reduces diesel emissions. Usually there are a number of marquee companies to choose from within say a 20-30 radius miles.
Be candid about budgets, not all marquees cost the same and we can tailor to the budget if we know what it is.
Be carefully when comparing quotations and be prepared to look at more than just price. Marquees of the same size can look so different. If a company is very cheap there is usually a reason.
Be sceptical about companies who claim to have won lots of awards or who say they belong to this or that organisation. Alas, this is not always an indication of how good they are.
What are your favourite moments from previous weddings you’ve been involved with?
Weddings where family & friends are all involved with decorating and preparation of the marquee are often the most fun and have a relaxed, enjoyable feel with a very personal style.
Barbara is often asked to do ‘on the day’ co-ordination: to be there to oversee the smooth running of the event, making sure tasks get done as well as managing the practical aspects of the marquee like opening /closing walling, making sure lights adjusted through the day, re-fuelling generators, managing heating in the marquee, plus covering any unforeseen events .
On one occasion all the wedding cars had left the house and the mother of the bride had been left behind ! Barbara had to quickly clear her car and get her to the church. Other problems to solve ; an uninvited canine guest had to be chauffeured back to its home, finding emergency lighting when the band had forgotten theirs, fixing up dress hems and sometimes a bonus of cuddling a fractious baby whilst parents eat.
I also liked a comment from one best man’s speech that being inside the marquee was like being inside a cloud, I hope he meant a fluffy one!
I like weddings where all the speeches are at the beginning. It allows the speech makers to enjoy the rest of the day.
On a summers evening when the lights come on and everybody is dancing and enjoying themselves. That’s a great feeling for me.
The bigger picture – does your business offer goods/services outside of the wedding world? Tell us more.
We do, we currently supply all the marquees for the Kenilworth agricultural show and we do corporate work..too many to mention but we have a job coming up at end of January for Karcher pressure washers. For corporate work this may be to celebrate a new factory opening, promoting a product, a Christmas party or just to provide some temporary additional storage.
For the party market , 18th, 21st, 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 70th and even 90th & 100th birthday and anniversary celebrations we aim to supply décor which is suitable for the celebration also offering a wide range of accessories for theming such as coloured overlays & swags, starcloth, lighting effects or more overt theming eg. Alice in Wonderland, or a Night at the Oscars or Burlesque. Wedding marquees are often given themes such as rustic or country fayre or shabby chic we’ve even done some on the Great Gatsby theme.
We also provide marquees for funerals, either to extend space at the church or cover at the burial ground or to give space for the wake at home.
We fabricate PVC and marquee linings in our own workshop. All the fabrics we hire we have made. We offer this service to other marquee companies who buy PVC walls/roofs/gutters etc. We also have a bespoke manufacturing service which has led us into other worlds, including trailer covers and PVC windows for barns and buildings.
What have you got planned for 2017?
Our 2017 has been with us for some time. We are taking and firming up bookings. In fact some of our 2018 people have started to make enquiries!
We have added quite a lot of stock including some nice white Chesterfield sofas to make a soft seating corner in the marquees. We may add a couple of stretch tents to our stock for something a bit different.
I predict that 2017 will be a big year for see-through pvc roofs. They bring the outside inside, a great open feeling. A word of warning…make sure you have some shade as they can be like a greenhouse on a hot summers day.
And finally, what or who inspires you and why?
I am inspired by business people who run their businesses fairly giving a good service to their clients and treating and paying their employees fairly. Employees are your most valuable resource you need to look after them without them you don’t have a business.
All Images Courtsey of Cotswold Marquees