Inspiring Women in Business – Mariella Fleming

To finish our blog series of Inspiring Women in Business is someone who without even realising it has played a big part in the success of BrightWord. Mariella is the owner of Southend Barns in Chichester, and was one of our first clients back in 2012 when BrightWord consisted of just Rachel, a laptop and kitchen table! Mariella saw something and took a chance on working with us to launch her new wedding venue business and now nearly 10 years later the relationship and both businesses are still going strong.

Not many people can combine great business sense with an eye for design, but Mariella has both in bucket loads. Always up for trying something new, this way of working has proved vital this year when Southend Barns was forced to close for large events and the team had to quickly pivot to ensure they could continue holding beautiful but safe celebrations.

It is this innovation and work ethic that inspires us about Mariella. Here we talk to her about what drives her and how she has handled the impact of Covid on her business…

Tell us about your career so far and what led you to open Southend Barns?
I started out in farming as I did my degree in Agricultural Business Management. My first business was in salads, we grew different types of lettuce for Asda, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. I learned a lot in that business; product development, how to manage people, communication and logistics, how to produce food safely and how to be resilient and flexible.

After 15 years of selling millions of lettuces to supermarkets, I knew I wanted to do something that required closer contact to the customer and more creativity. So when we were able to sell our business, I knew instantly what the next step would be.

I had always wanted to make the 200 year-old dilapidated Black Barn in the middle of our farm into a beautiful venue that many people could visit and enjoy. Initially we planned for a function barn and self-catering accommodation but when it became possible to have weddings at many different sites, the destiny for Southend Barns was sealed. We opened our doors to our first wedding couple in June 2012.

What does an average day look like for you?
I usually start with checking emails and messages when I wake up. After that, I try to have a daily yoga practice, a run or a workout, if something has come up in the emails that needs resolving, I usually have a solution at the end of my run.

A few years ago I qualified as a Natural Chef, therefore good quality healthy food is important to me, so I always have a wholesome breakfast. Over a coffee I discuss with my business partner (and husband) what needs addressing, whether that is staff, finance, maintenance or new ideas. I then go to the Barns, I am very lucky I do not have to commute to work, it is literally next door!

I have a good eye for things and try to remain critical, so I notice if something is not in the right place, needs replacing or needs watering straight away. I pop into the Roots kitchen and check with the chefs what they are cooking, I love seeing how they make everything from scratch, so on days we have not got events they will be making sauces, curing salmon and marinating meats. I then go over to the office to see if there are any questions or any other issues that need sorting out.

Once a week we have an operational meeting and we discuss the last week’s events, what went well, and what needs working on and we discuss the forward planner with all members of the team so that all will run totally smoothly on the event days. At events there is a lot of hustle and bustle – meeting couples, suppliers, registrars and guests. I love it when I see the whole team confidently getting on with their tasks. It just all comes together and we are all joined in the effort to make it the best day of the couples’ life.

With so many venues and people willing to travel to find their perfect space, how do you ensure that Southend Barns stays ahead of the ever changing wedding trend curve?
I like to travel, so I often get ideas when I stay at a different place or visit a restaurant. We also like our parties, so if I like something at our own party, it usually works well for the wedding parties too. I follow social media and love Pinterest, so see what other places here in the UK but also abroad do for inspiration. We also listen to our clients and if they come up with some good ideas, we would adopt those too.

What is your ethos when it comes to running a business?
I like having a team with not too many layers of management and I also like to see the whole team pulling their weight. If I can sweep a floor, so can everyone else, the most important thing is for our couple and guests to have the best possible experience and my staff know that. I also like quality, quality of the food, the staff and the premises. I try for us to be as flexible as we can, so that each event is tailored to the couples’ wishes.

I am also quite organised, so we have quite a lot of systems in the background making sure everything runs like clockwork but feels effortless to our guests. I enjoy working with other professional suppliers a lot too, I am always happy to recommend them. But most importantly it is dreaming up new ideas that keeps me going, I love planning out a new idea and then seeing it come together!

Covid-19 has obviously affected Southend Barns hugely. How are you navigating your business through this unprecedented hurdle?
Resilience and flexibility have been the most important factors in the last few months to making sure Southend Barns is adapting to the current situation which changes on a daily basis. We have been overwhelmed by the understanding and kindness of the majority of couples. We have tried to guide everyone as much as we can with the limited information we might have. Watching press conferences has become a regular event in the office.

In the lockdown period the kitchen team adapted by preparing meals for people who could not get out to the shop. I had the whole family home so they made all the deliveries; they know the Chichester area like a cab driver now! More recently, we launched Roots Experiences, turning our Threshing Barn into an exclusive restaurant. I also took the opportunity to set up an allotment for the Roots Catering business. I grew giant beetroot and mini carrots this summer, the plan is to continue this for future years supplying our own kitchen.

As soon as we were allowed to, we started doing ceremonies again and it was such a joy to host wedding receptions with a beautiful meal, all be it for a maximum of 30, 15 or 6 guests.

We are now a Covid Secure venue, not sure it sounds very glam, but it is important to have all the measures in place so guests can return in confidence. We have put so many new ideas in action, such as a sitting down drinks reception, canapes served by table on individual boards, technology for registering and ordering drinks so there is no need to queue.

What does the future hold for Southend Barns?
Smaller weddings for the near future, which have surprised us all by being just as beautiful and special as our large scale events. There are some new things in the pipeline, they are still on the drawing board, but stay tuned to find out what they are in the next few months…

Click here to find out more about Southend Barns.

Photo by Helen Cawte Photography

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