We recently connected with Chastidyi Parrott and have shared our conversation below.
Chastidyi, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. One of the things we most admire about small businesses is their ability to diverge from the corporate/industry standard. Is there something that you or your brand do that differs from the industry standard? We’d love to hear about it as well as any stories you might have that illustrate how or why this difference matters.
This is something that has changed somewhat during the last two years, but industry standard for venues and photography is to have 1-3 big weddings per week typically Friday-Sunday. Prior to starting the chapel business, I was doing the same thing with my photography. While it was a great experience, my favorite parts of the wedding day were the details, ceremony, and couple photos. So… we set up a different business model when we started up. I wanted to be able to focus on those aspects of the weddings so we limit our couples’ time on property and offer weddings from 1-3 hours. This allows us to do multiple weddings per day which is unusual in the industry. We had 45 weddings in October of 2022 (our busiest month) which is what some businesses do for the entire year. We offer photography, videography, officiating, and coordination in house through companies that we work with over and over so we have got into a great working groove to be able to get a lot done in a small amount of time. This allows us to give couples the full wedding experience miniaturized so they don’t have to stress so much about the little things. Plus, they get to have a big experience with a much smaller budget allowing them to put the extra toward things like honeymoons and house down payments.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
Growing up, I filled an entire room with art supplies and really enjoyed the creative process. My mother and grandparents went in together on a really nice camera as a high school graduation present, and I annoyed all of my friends and family with it. With school always pushing us to monetize our interests, I was nudged into the graphic design industry which is the degree I graduated with. Coming out of school, it was difficult to find a graphic design job in our area. Starting pay was $8 an hour with the degree which definitely wasn’t going to pay for those student loans so I decided to start up my own photography business. I went about it all wrong… just jumped right into my first wedding instead of trying to second shoot with anyone to learn the ropes. I believe I made $150 for 6 hours. I thought I was being super creative when editing and threw every filter I could on them…. something that as a seasoned photographer makes me cringe a little. I started doing styled shoots and marketing and was in the process of transitioning from the smaller cabin weddings to the larger (fancier) Knoxville weddings when we had a house fire in 2013. It stalled things for a while, and I ended up getting a design job with the company my husband worked for at the time while still doing photography on the side. I was looking at mini session ideas one day when I saw a facade someone had made for their photo sessions, and it sparked the idea for a mini chapel. It took a while to convince Ian, my husband, to get on board, but I’m thankful he finally gave it a chance. Four months later, we had a cute mini chapel in the middle of the woods with four little wooden pews. We started at the beginning again with styled shoots, and I made sure to focus big on google seo. My mother was sick when it started taking off, and the chapel (combined with some wedding favors we were selling on Etsy) allowed us to be able to quit our jobs to focus on taking care of her during her last few months. Five years later, we have been able to hire one of my best friends (incidentally one of the ones I annoyed with that first camera) to work for us, and we are hosting between 200-250 mini weddings per year. We’ve upgraded the area around the chapel so that it now has an archway and a cobblestone path along with 12 mini pews. We’re still adding new photo ops on property so we are able to have something new for our couples that come back for anniversary, maternity, and family sessions. As the on site photographer, I get to play a dual role and spend lots of time getting to know our couples on one of the most important days of their lives, helping them to relax and enjoy the day. It’s been an amazing journey, and we feel blessed to be able to help so many fantastic couples have a stress free wedding experience that can be uniquely customized to them so they can express their own wedding style. We have everything they need for the ceremony so it can be a one stop shop or they can bring in tons of extras to really get creative.
What’s worked well for you in terms of a source for new clients?
Aside from referrals from past couples, social media and SEO are definitely our best sources of new clients. In the young days of the business, I did all of that myself, but since bringing Beth on, she has been able to take over the majority of the marketing work. We are lucky to live in an area that people travel to for their weddings which makes marketing a bit easier. Aside from what I pay Beth to set things up and the cost of a social media scheduler (we use Tailwind), we don’t actually pay for marketing… no google ads, no wedding shows, no social media ads. We create a blog post for each of our couples, and we use their photos and video on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest. If I had to choose one of the social media options that really stands out for us as a venue, it would be Pinterest. I estimate roughly 30 percent of our business comes from Pinterest, and I highly recommend it for anyone starting up their own location.
Have any books or other resources had a big impact on you?
For my photography business, I took a class with Julie Roberts Photography many years ago that had me rethink a lot of my processes and how I looked at other businesses. It was the point when I really started to take the photography seriously. For my venue, discovering podcasts was a magical time for me. I have a hard time letting my mind rest so being able to throw one on in the car or during the shower helps me focus and lets me brainstorm during downtime. A few that have been specifically helpful are She Creates Business, The Evolve Your Wedding Business Podcast, and Weddings for Real. They cover a wide range of topics specifically for entrepreneurs in the wedding industry from taxes to how to destress.
- Website: www.chapelinthehollow.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chapelinthehollow/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chapelinthehollow/
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX6_YWyaH6tvknTP633aMbw
- Other: https://www.tiktok.com/@chapelinthehollow https://www.pinterest.com/chapelinthehollow/
Photos by Star Noir Photography