Weddings have always been about tradition, but technology is now playing a bigger role as more couples go online to organise their big day.
That’s according to Cork entrepreneur Ciara Crossan who, seven years ago, was the first to launch a website to allow engaged couples identify available dates for wedding receptions at a range of hotels.
WeddingDates.ie started in late 2008 with just 30 venues. It now offers 200 in Ireland and, since its 2012 launch, weddingdates.co.uk has built up a database of over 350 hotels and venues across England, Scotland, and Wales.
“We now get 15,000 to 20,000 users a month browsing and making enquiries on our website in Ireland. Since we launched in the UK our website has generated 40,000 enquiries and resulted in 3,500 wedding bookings across the UK. In the same period in Ireland enquiries on the site have resulted in 2,500 weddings booked,’’ said Ms Crossan.
A BIS graduate from University College Cork, Ms Crossan was working in HR at a medical company in Tipperary when she observed other staff getting frustrated by efforts to find a wedding venue. “You could book a hotel stay online in minutes but to book a wedding reception you had to do it the old-fashioned way, making numerous phone calls and often waiting for people to ring back.”
Believing that technology could solve this problem, she quit her job, borrowed €25,000 from a bank and registered her new company while also signing up at the Enterprise Ireland-backed graduate start-up programme, ‘Genesis at CIT’.
It was early 2008, which was not — as she was to discover — the perfect time for starting this, or any other venture. Hiring a developer to create a website, she drew up a proposal and began visiting hotels.
“It was a whole new idea which took a lot of explaining. The website hadn’t gone live, all I had was a Powerpoint presentation and it was hard work,’’ said Ms Crossan, who managed to sign up 30 hotels in Cork and Kerry for the website launch in November.
The first years were difficult. “In 2010 and 2011 the hospitality industry was badly hit by recession — hotels were closing and signing new customers became even harder.”
But by 2012 Ms Crossan could see the business was gaining ground, so she decided to bring it to the UK . By then her company, based at the Rubicon, had taken on an IT person and a customer sales manager. Setting up an empty website, she took her car to the UK and started knocking on hotel doors. “In the beginning I went over and back each week but at the end of 2012 I moved to London for a year and travelled the length and breath of the UK.”
Ms Crossan said the company is now well-established in Ireland, where it has 200 out of a potential 350 wedding venues. The UK accounts for 60% of sales. Enterprise Ireland supported the move into the UK with a Business Accelerator Grant.
WeddinDates earns its revenue from charging annual subscription fees to hotels based on the volume of leads generated. Turnover has increased by between 30% to 60% every year since UK expansion in 2012.
“This year we are aiming for another 30% in both the UK and Ireland and are on track to achieve it.
A few years ago we bought the WeddingDates domains in a lot of countries to future-proof the business. This gives us the option of setting up in English- speaking markets such as South Africa, the US, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.”
Company: WeddingDates Locaton: Rubicon Centre, Cork CEO: Ciara Crossan Staff: 8