WedShed: It's like Airbnb, but for weddings

Pauline Morrissey

Over the last few years, we have seen the sharing economy evolve and human connection being brought back into the mix. Whether that be catching a ride in an Uber, or renting someone’s home on Airbnb — the trend has seen a win-win situation for all parties involved in whatever the transaction or service may be.

Next in line to join the booming sharing economy comes WedShed, a new online booking platform matching couples with unique wedding venues throughout Australia.

Co-founder of Wedshed, Melany McBride says, “the trend of creating more custom and personalised weddings has boomed recently, and because of this, the days of hiring a traditional wedding venue are becoming a thing of the past.”

As more and more couples opt to forgo traditional weddings in favour of creating a personal celebration that says ‘this is us’, we’re going to see more services supporting custom weddings.

“In turn, we expect to see more businesses begin to consider weddings as a great revenue stream, such as cafes and restaurants that typically only operate during the day have the opportunity to make a bigger return by hosting weddings in the evening. As do farms that have outbuildings that are only used for a few weeks of the year.”

"We expect to see more businesses begin to consider weddings as a great revenue stream, such as cafes and restaurants that typically only operate during the day."

McBride along with co-founder, Amy Parfett, was living in London at the time when their business idea struck.

“A girlfriend back home asked for help in finding a wedding venue, so we jumped online and were quickly stumped. Unless you stumbled upon a very lucky search term, the same traditional, soul-less venues kept cropping up. We knew there had to be more amazing spaces out there, and that there must be plenty of venue owners who wanted an easier way to connect with couples.”

At the time, Airbnb was well and truly mainstream and the concept of renting out privately owned properties for vacations was pretty commonplace. Yet, there was no Australian platform offering a similar service for events, in particular for weddings. This realisation was what brought about the ‘aha’ moment for the Wedshed founders, who after sitting on the idea for a couple of years, felt an urgency to get their concept up and running.

“In the very beginning stages, we spent any spare time we had reaching out to people in the industry to validate the idea and make sure there was actually a need for our business plan. We invited other people’s feedback and we managed to build a level of advocacy that we’ve been blown away by.”

To get completely familiar with all sides of the business, McBride and Parfett took it upon themselves to take on the full management of a farm in NSW’s Kangaroo Valley for an entire year.

“The farm had never hosted weddings, so we had this wonderful blank canvas to test different approaches to attracting couples, as well as getting an invaluable understanding of the challenges venue owners face. Doing this work also allowed us to bankroll our product design and web development costs for WedShed, and allowed us to cut back to part-time work at our day jobs in order to spend more time building the business before we made the leap to full-time in November of 2015.”

To date, the business has had around 200,000 couples use the site. What’s more is that the founders and the couples that they cater for are seemingly not the only ones greatly benefiting from this business scheme — the venues in which they partner with come out as big winners too.

To date, the business has had around 200,000 couples use the site.

“We’ve had venues tell us that the couples we send them are exactly the kind of clientele they’ve been aiming to attract all along and wished they had discovered us and partnered with us sooner. Whilst other venues have stated that WedShed is responsible for up to 80% of their annual wedding bookings.”

Take for example a case study that comes from one of WedShed’s venues located on the NSW south coast; within a year, the venue had booked 52 weddings, and generated enough income to build a second venue on their property, as well as afford to take their kids travelling around Australia. They’re now also completely booked for 2017.

“We’ve fostered so many personal relationships and it’s unbelievably rewarding to be getting such positive feedback from all fronts. These kinds of stories give us a ‘pinch ourselves’ moment,” says McBride.

With a big proportion of the partnered venues being based outside of metropolitan cities, the surrounding businesses of these rural based venues also get a cut from the WedShed wedding cake.

“A single wedding with an average of 100 guests can generate a significant financial boost to the surrounding region. Most guests will need to be fed, watered, bedded and transported during their visit, says McBride. “This can equate to an average of $30,000+ in tourism spend, which means in just half a year, there’s a potential to inject $780,000 into the surrounding region. And when we stop and think about it, it’s exciting to think that we’re helping to evolve a part of an industry that’s stayed stagnant for a really long time.”

When discussing the next move for WedShed, they share with us their plans to launch a wedding planning journal, as well as partnering with more venues and vendors. With New Zealand also having a very similar wedding market to that of Australia, an expansion there is also on the cards within the coming month.

WedShed co-founders from left: Melany McBride and Amy Parfett

Pauline Morrissey

Pauline is a Sydney-based journalist for Domain and is frequently featured amongst various Fairfax Media mastheads including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

The sharing economy is booming, this is nothing new, but take a look at some other great ideas entering this space – some of them you probably wouldn’t expect. And if you’re thinking of joining, there’s no one way or reason to start