Hello Boys and Girls – welcome to another edition of “Venues We Love” here on the M&M blog. I am particularly excited about this one as we have shared a wonderful relationship with Granberry Hills since Moments & Milestones initially joined the wedding industry almost a decade ago. Fair warning, this is a long blog post compared to most of our others, but it is FULL of great information, advice, and…if you are looking into Granberry Hills as one of your venue options then this should be required reading. But, even if you’re not, the thoughts and ideas that flow from these guys, who have been in this industry so long, is well worth the read. Granberry Hill’s owner, Bob Lowman also owns the Texas Wedding Guide Magazine as well as San Antonio & Austin’s largest wedding shows – The Bridal Extravaganza. This team is a staple in our industry with knowledge and experience that they dole out freely to couples planning events as well as companies within the events industry. We have been grateful to Bob as he has, possibly without even knowing sometimes, allowed us to lean on his wisdom and experience as we built Moments & Milestones. And, as with all companies with great leaders, his team is a wonderful reflection of him. They are kind, generous and dedicated to excellence in the products & service that they offer.
Our interview today is with the General Manager of Granberry Hills – Teresa Alvarez. She is Bob’s right hand and the Queen Bee of all things Granberry Hills. And she rules her kingdom with an inordinate amount of passion, structure, *lots* of giggles and a never-ending supply of energy that has made this venue one of, if not THE, most popular venue within San Antonio. This was an in-person interview with Teresa (previous interviews have been done through email to give people time to prepare their answers) – which turned out to be very cool because I think we got a lot of personality included in the interview (and, believe me, Teresa has A LOT of personality to share! 🙂 ) She was completely open and honest about herself, the venue, how they got started and what Granberry Hills has to offer to clients. Read through to the end as Bob Lowman jumps in to share a few of his thoughts as well.
So, without further ado – Teresa Alvarez of Granberry Hills :
Derek : “Oh my goodness, this is such a treat for me. Thanks a ton for taking the time to meet me!”
Teresa : “Of course!! And I wanted to do the interview in person because I think I’m better at talking than writing so…hopefully I’m right!” 🙂
D : “Ha, this is perfect. OK, I’m just gonna jump in with the first question : who makes up the Granberry Hills Team?”
T : “OK, there’s a lot of us…there’s me and around 8 others girls…or ladies. They don’t love to be called “Granberry Girls” but that’s what I’ve always said…because we’re girls. 🙂 But I have 3 full timers and then myself.”
D : “How long have you been here?”
T : “14 years. Since it opened.”
D : “Wow, what’s the story there??”
T : “Well, I was the first Granberry bride!! Sort of…I mean, the building wasn’t completed yet, but the sign was on the road. So, I personally counted myself as a Granberry Bride because there was a sign!”
D : “No building? Wait, so where did you get married?”
T : “We actually got married in the front of the house, to the right. I remember there were stakes where the property was going to be…but, nothing else.”
D : “Oh wow – I’ll bet there’s a great story there. But you were working here already, right? So let me back this up a little bit and ask : if there wasn’t even a building, why would you want to come work here?”
T : “Well, I really wanted to be a wedding planner, and I know so many other girls say that. But I, like *REALLY* wanted to be a wedding planner. I was in 5 or 6 weddings when I was younger. And I wanted to be J-Lo, I’ll admit it…nobody ever likes to admit it, but I will. And, I couldn’t find anyone that would hire me. Nobody would even give me an internship. But, I looked up The Wedding Guide in the phone book, back then we had phone books. 🙂 And I called them and I said, “Hey, are you guys hiring.” And they said “Yes” and I told them I was really just looking for an internship. Because I had another job I just really wanted to get my foot in the door. So, I got to the interview only to find out they were hiring for a computer person.”
D : “A computer person?! I’ve never known you to be a computer person.”
T : “Ummmmm…no. They were asking me if I could write codes and do all this other stuff. And I told them, I just want to be a wedding planner. So they put me through to Bob, the owner. And back then they only had a sales rep (for the magazine) and they had Bob. And I just told him I wanted to be a wedding planner. And he was really serious…well, I guess we should say professional, not serious. But, he told me he’d give me a shot! He said we’d start by sending me out to tour different venues. And he sent me out to shadow a caterer – like, actually go and see how they worked during a wedding. And he would just send me out to go and learn about our advertisers (from the Wedding Guide magazine), and take pictures. After I finished this initial training he said he was going to give me a list of brides and I had to call them to refer myself. So that was kind of how I started.”
D : “Very cool! And where did things go from there?”
T : “And then, that was in April but by July he bought Granberry. And honestly, I didn’t quite see the big picture of what this would turn in to yet. But he bought Granberry, we moved over here – to these offices we’re in now, and I did pretty much everything from run credit cards, to getting them sodas, haha, like whatever anyone wanted me to do…I just wanted to be a part of this.
So then, after he bought Granberry I had a big life change, I got married…out here on the property. And I just remember trying to figure things out…I didn’t know what to do because I was pregnant, and I didn’t know if I wanted to start my own business or not…or if I wanted to have something stable because of the baby. And I watched Bob one day as he was selling the venue to a bride & groom. And he would sell it like there was something there. Like, before there was a building, he would talk about it like there was something there. And I thought that was amazing – I was sold too!! So one time he went on vacation and I thought, “While he’s gone, I’m going to sell it like he does to show him this is what I want to do.” So, that’s kind of how it happened. It wasn’t like one day he was like, “Hey, now you’re the manager.” I just kind of grew with it.”
D : “It sounds like you very much asserted yourself in to that position.”
T : “Well that too. And let me tell you, at the beginning, we had no idea what we were doing. ”
D : “Can I quote that??”
T : “Haha, we really didn’t!! You know, none of our competitors were tripping over themselves to give us advice on how to run a venue! So we winged it. I would set-up all day, Bob would come in and do payroll and watch the wedding, and I would coordinate it…and that’s how it we got started 14 years ago.”
D : “So, things have obviously progressed. What do you think has allowed you guys to share the success that you have achieved in this 14 years??”
T : “Well for starters I think we have a secret weapon…he’s sitting right over there *points to Bob Lowman*. Since we opened, more than 10 venues have opened in our area so the competition is pretty crazy. And our secret weapon is knowing how to sell the value Granberry and our team gives to our clients – Bob trains us how. I mean, I’m cute and cuddly and the venue is amazing and our girls are great but if we can’t sell it, it doesn’t mean anything. So, what really makes us successful is being able to offer a great sales experience for our clients.
The other reason is because we’ve developed all of our coordinators, The Granberry Girls. When we first started, we didn’t have that. But we saw that it was just…well, people were kind of going aimlessly and it bothered us so we started to take over and run the events. There were no other venues doing that then…there’s STILL nobody else doing it now. Most venues just…open the doors and that’s it.
Plus I think the fact that we are a smaller company and we all put our own blood, sweat and tears into this place…I think we all took the success of our events very personally.”
D : “If you’ll allow me to break interview protocol for a second, I’d love to share this with you…from an outsider’s perspective – we love Granberry because of how well it is run. It is process driven, like we are. There are obviously systems and training in place. And I don’t think you can build lasting success in a business without that. There are other venues that are just as “pretty” that are managed by “nice” people…but there HAS to be more depth than pretty and nice or you can’t offer a consistently positive experience to your clients – and you guys have been able to do that…so congratulations.”
T : “Thanks! And we give our clients A LOT of attention!! And they like that. And also I’ve realized…the brides that book with us remind me SO much of my Granberry Girls. Like, Natalie connects with and books people who are like her, and Courtney books people who are like her, you know what I mean? It’s like, the brides are really booking our team…they book our Granberry coordinators. Of course they love the venue, but they REALLY book because of our staff.”
D : “Besides the space, what other services and products do you offer?”
T : “We do the biggest thing – the set-up and the tear down. We set all of it up for them so all they literally have to do is show up…their centerpieces are out, their favors are out, their little custom-koozies are out for them, it’s all done.”
D : “Is this all Granberry rentals and products?? Or can the bride choose whatever she wants for the décor at Granberry?”
T : “NO! This is all their stuff!! They bring it to me and drop it off and we set it up the day of the wedding. So when they show up that day, it’s all done!”
D : “That’s amazing. But I’ve seen that you guys have a lot of décor to rent or use, right?”
T : “Yup, we have centerpieces, we have some in-house linens, cocktail tables…we have them, but it’s not required that the bride’s use them. They can still bring in all of their own stuff, this is just here for their convenience.”
D : “If I was a potential Granberry client and I asked what makes you different than everyone else…what would you tell me?”
T : “My biggest thing is our experience. We’ve been around for 14 years and we know how to give people a better experience than anyone else. We give a lot of attention to detail and we know what details to watch for because we’ve been doing this for so long!!”
D : “OK, same question but different format – after a client has had an event here…what do they brag on?? What do they say was their favorite thing about working with Granberry Hills?”
T : “They always like that we did set-up and tear-down…and they love our girls (The Granberry Team). Oh, also we work REALLY well with all of our vendors. Anyone who comes in to work a wedding here we embrace them as part of our team.”
D : “Yeah, those things are so, so important. What do you want your clients to feel when they walk on to your venue?”
T : “The biggest thing I love is when people say, “OK, so you’ve obviously been doing this a long time.” I love when moms tell us that they feel like we can take care of their son or their daughter…you know?? They feel secure when they come here.”
D : “Well they should. Do you have any favorite stories from working here??”
T : “I always think back to the early days, when we were learning and people were like, “Y’all did such a great job!!” When really we were just winging it…and it was amazing – it felt so good.
At our first wedding we didn’t have an aisle runner so we bought a plastic runner and we thought, “Oh wait, there’s grass under the runner“, so then we figured out that we had to put plywood under it. You know?? We had to just learn as we went!! And then 400 people showed up to the wedding…and our capacity is 350. And we just made it work!”
D : “I can’t say that I’ve ever seen you guys just “winging it”…does that still happen or are you past all of that?”
T : “Oh, we’re way past that now! And now other venue owners come out to us to ask our advice and we share all of the things that we have learned. WE’VE figured it out – so now we can show other people how to do it.”
D : “What advice would you offer a new bride looking for a venue?”
T : “First, hire a coordinator (there’s a little plug for you Derek!) But other than that I’d say, don’t just look at how pretty the venue is. Look at what comes with the package. Like, what’s the back up for rain? Who’s going to set up the tables, china, center pieces? Of course, getting a coordinator answers a lot of that. But I think that when people book another venue, when they don’t book with me, it’s because of aesthetics…or they think they have more flexibility – like they think, “The other venue will let me do whatever I want.” And sure, you CAN do whatever you want – but do you really want that?? Do you want your parents to have to do it all, or your friends?? Or you can just give it to us to do at no extra cost! So we try to educate people who visit us.”
D : “Understanding the value that you guys have to offer is huge. I’ll bet people don’t even realize how above & beyond you guys go compared to your competitors.
What do you want potential clients to know about you guys that they would only know if they met you in person…like, they can’t find it on the website??”
T : “I REALLY like what I do…and I hire girls who feel the same way. All of us have different personalities but we all LOVE what we do. We aren’t sales people, we’re just passionate. That’s what drives us to stay on top of our brides, our vendors and our team.”
D : “From personal experience as a wedding planner, it kills me when I have to drag information out of vendors. What can I do but package up a client and set them on your doorstep?!?! So I love the fact that you guys are so on top of things and responsive.”
T : “And we LOVE dealing with coordinators! And we’re always responsive – no matter what.”
D : “Anything else that you want to throw out to me about yourself or Granberry? Anything I haven’t asked about??”
Bob Lowman : “Actually I have a question for you, what do you think of Granberry when you compare to other venues?”
D : “When I talk about Granberry, what I like about it is that it’s a well-run business. I have never once asked a question of the Granberry team where there wasn’t an answer. Everyone is uniform in their answers and their processes. I’m certain that most other venues don’t have written process flow for their business, and that raises risk. It raises the risk that the right decision won’t get made at the right time, every time. And that can make/break some events when everything doesn’t go exactly as planned. There are a lot of pretty buildings, but you have to work with a well-run company. And I know that’s the less sexy side of wedding planning, but it’s a foundational point. The brides & grooms are hiring a business…and that business is offering a product…and the business they hire needs to have proven that they can deliver excellence with consistency.
What do you consider your key to running a business that has grown every year? 14 years is a long time in this industry!”
BL : “I’ve found that a lot of businesses, as they grow…they grow cynical. And I think it’s because they don’t change and grow with the times. That’s the risk with a lot of these small businesses in this industry. What *USED TO* work 10 years ago, doesn’t work with the brides & grooms of today. And we’ve worked hard to stay relevant and positive in order to keep making an impact on the clients that come to us today. We’ve changed over the years to grow and make sure our business is as attractive to new clients as it was when we first got started. We know that, despite our experience, despite our age…clients don’t age. So we’ve incorporated new techniques, new people, and things to make sure that we use our experience to ADD to the bride & groom’s time here…and not at all feel antiquated.”
D : “That’s so true. This is a creative-fashion driven industry. People want new, shiny & popular. Good for you guys for being able to stay in front of that.
So, this is the narcissistic part of our interview where I get to ask : would you recommend M&M??”
T/BL/Natalie/Courtney : “OMG, no…ya’ll are horrible to work with.”
D : “Hey!! Not helpful, I’m recording this interview!!”
T : “Well, we really like your wife!! But, maybe we wouldn’t recommend you personally…but definitely the rest of your team. 🙂 Haha, just kidding, we love you guys!”
D : “OK, now that my ego is sufficiently bruised, why do you like us?”
Natalie : “You guys are some of the most personable, thoughtful people…we meet a lot of vendors that are all business. And you guys have such a connection with your clients that we don’t see with anyone else…and I think it shows in your pictures and in your client experience.”
T : “Agreed – that’s why we love you guys!”
Well there you have it. I’d like to thank Teresa Alvarez and Bob Lowman for putting up with me during this interview. And thank *YOU* sincerely for reading all the way through. I hope you can fall in love with Teresa and Granberry Hills just like we, and so many other people have over the past 14 years.
And if you have thoughts or questions for us, feel free to leave them in the comments…I promise we’ll answer right away. Until next time ~