[Continuing our series of small town business profiles, I’d like you to meet Shayna Walker, from Williamsburg, Virginia. I got to know her in the Third Tribe Marketing forums, where I am a proud affiliate. I think you’ll enjoy her small town business story. -Becky]
By Shayna Walker
Photo courtesy of
I established Williamsburg Wedding Design, a full-service wedding production company, in 2004 after moving from Los Angeles (the quintessential NON Small Town) to Virginia which was home to my alma mater, the College of William & Mary. I had a young family in tow: a (now ex) husband and twin 4-month-olds. We were looking for better cost of living, advancement opportunity with my ex-husband’s auto insurance company and a more realistic lifestyle. Kids at my California high school drove BMWs to school and some had agents. I wanted my children to grow up with more perspective than that.
I applied years of experience in the hospitality industry and in customer service to a career as a wedding planner. It took me only a matter of weeks to see the benefits and drawbacks of starting a new business in a small town (Williamsburg has about 12,500 residents – there is a larger, geographically sprawling county around it of 62,000). Starting up was easy. Earning respect, however, was not.
In the first year I had a local florist tell a friend that I’d never be successful because I didn’t dress like the rest of the ladies in business who were my age (I never have and never will wear a fancy hat to a client meeting, sorry). I pursued membership in a bunch of local business groups to network and establish relationships. Some were accepting and helpful. Others advertised as open to women in my demographic, but I found out quickly that they were social organizations for local families only. I was “invited” to attend meetings then never told where or when the meetings would take place until they had already happened. The small town social order was painful to learn and hard to overcome.
On the flip side, the wedding community in Williamsburg is very close knit. After a couple of years of proving that I’m good at what I do, that I support other local businesses and that I care about promoting the region as a wedding destination on a global scale, I achieved a sort of “expert” status among a lot of industry business owners. I rarely have to pay for advertising as referrals drive the majority of my planning sales, and I hear all the time from prospects and clients “everybody knows you”.
Compared to Richmond, a nearby major market with over 160 venues where you can hold a wedding reception, we have a handful (maybe 20 if you’re flexible with your definition of venue). Most of our sites can’t accommodate more than around 150-180 guests, and most churches in the area aren’t necessarily equipped to handle a high volume of non-member weddings. Williamsburg is a popular choice for brides because of its convenient location and popularity as a tourist destination. The contrast in availability of services and desirability can make it a difficult market for us in terms of sales, but it makes my services as a seasoned expert in the area much more valuable.
The scale of Williamsburg weddings is also what drove me to establish my blogs, and specifically the Life in Weddings business development site for wedding professionals. There is enough wedding planning business in Williamsburg to sustain a business, but not really enough for wild planning success. Life in Weddings fills in that gap for this single-mom and primary provider. I leverage the expertise I’ve developed locally to help other wedding professionals on a more global level. Through Life in Weddings, I plan to author and offer books, information products, training and consulting to other wedding businesses.
Understanding intimately how geography impacts our approach to business, I launched a 50-state research tour of bridal shows to promote Life in Weddings, and that was what led me to the Road to Success Challenge by Fairfield Inn & Suites. All of a sudden I’m not only an entrepreneur, but a regular business traveler as well. I’m hoping to win the challenge and apply the $20K grand prize to finishing up my dream tour and having my websites and blogs professionally branded complete with shiny graphics (my secret business-owner dream). I’m looking forward to becoming a wild success – and returning the love that Williamsburg has given me over the past 6 years.
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I love reading about how other people got started…It’s true about close-knit wedding communities, and that you need to prove yourself. I’m lucky to have had a few people help me out when I was starting my business, and I try to be helpful to other people when I have a chance. What goes around comes around!