And other musings about building a rural retreat venue from scratch
When I was a kid I used to love setting up dominos. I liked the challenge of seeing how elaborate the design could be or how many I could get up before accidentally bumping one over and ruining the design too soon. Even better, the satisfaction of success! Piece by piece, each put in place just so.
Lately I’ve been thinking that I’m doing the same thing metaphorically as an adult. Let me explain. Planning and building this event venue business is very much the same. Each small action builds on itself, not yielding the result until it’s all set up. And then, tip! The satisfying moment when you give the first domino a push and one after another they tumble. In my mind, someday all of these many little efforts will add up to a very satisfying grand opening. At least that’s the plan!
Anyway, I’d like to tell you our story of how it all began.
You could say the first domino piece was placed buying the land in 2018. My family and I found 98 acres in beautiful central Virginia, in Goochland County. The property is mostly wooded with a keyhole pasture, crowned with a pretty little 4 acre lake. But let me back up a little bit here. About a year before that, my extended family(mom, dad, brother and his family and I) had decided it would be so nice to live in the same area again after many, many years of living all over the country and the world. The timing happened to be finally right and we all jumped at the chance to build this dream of a retreat venue together. So at least, however the dominos fell, the most important thing became spending valuable time with the people we love most in the world.
Back to the game. Next up was building places to live on site as there were no structures existing at the time. We built a farm house for my folks and a “barndaminium” for my brother. His family lives in the apartment over the barn and his daughters’ ponies live downstairs. It’s a pretty fun little arrangement!
Next, we set to taming the land a bit. Kurt and dad cleaned out the woodline to make it a bit more park like in nature and we added a couple fenced in pastures for the ponies and future livestock. A beautiful front gate was constructed and we built a greenhouse out of old windows. We fenced in a 50′ x 100′ area to plant fruit trees, berries and roses. All things the deer would find irresistible and thus the fence. A raised bed veg patch has had 2 successful summers and we will expand this spring. A horse run-in shelter was constructed and we replaced the old boards on the bridge to the island. Finally, we are about to break ground on a converted silo home for Kim. And that’s just for starters.
Here’s the bit that has me most feeling like this is a game of dominos. Planning for and building the retreat business.
There are so many steps to take, so many pieces to place, in order for this dream to materialize. I never could have anticipated it all in the beginning. It’s exciting but also overwhelming if I’m honest.
But the only way I know to tackle a huge goal is one step at a time. Create a task list and check things off. My favorite are the little ones that are immediately gratifying, of course. However, many things on this journey are on-going and not wheel house easy! Here’s my list of hard earned accomplished goals.
Create a Business Plan. First things first. So, I had an idea. A dream to be an entrepreneur and start a retreat business. Ok, that’s cute and all, but will it work? Spreadsheets were generated, estimates produced, revenues anticipated, budgets analyzed and we decided we really think we can make a go of it. Classes were taken. Copious research done. Soul searching about my “why” has been ongoing and deep. Time will tell if we are successful but I’m willing to bet on us.
Conditional Use Permit. This has been, by far, the toughest part of our journey thus far. When starting a business on agricultural land, you first need to obtain this permit. There is a fair amount of planning and preparation that goes into this not to mention investment. But what’s worse is the emotional toll. So much rode on this and our neighbors were not welcoming, so clearing this hurdle was a relief but also a bit bittersweet as well.
Trademark name. We learned this one the hard way. Our first idea was already taken, unbeknownst to me. I had already incorporated but the name was one letter off from another business and so use was granted by the state. However, I neglected to check with USTPO.gov. When starting any business, this should be your first move. Learn from me!
Claim your social places. Using them properly is an ongoing education and one that will take time to dial in. But they exist! Check out Crane & Clover Retreat on Facebook and on Instagram @craneandcloverretreat
Claim your domain and build a website. I was so intimidated by designing the website, I truly was. But there are so many good templates out there, and once I got into it, it’s not as hard as I thought it would be. Ours is www.ccretreat.com
Logo and Brand Identity. Having a graphic design background certainly helps in this department and it was one of the tasks I enjoyed the most.
EDUCATION. It’s all caps for a reason. I’ve taken many, many classes to learn what I don’t yet know. I’ve personally taken too many to count and feel so much more prepared than in the beginning. And I’ve made invaluable connections with folks who will be amazing collaborators in the future.
Site planning and engineering. This step is very involved and much more expensive than budgeted for. We are just beginning this phase and are hoping for the best. A Plan of Development must be created and approved by the county before building anything.
Here’s the thing….these aren’t even the little dominos I was talking about in the beginning.
These are the big ones you start with. The thing that’s kinda blowing my mind right now are all the little things. For instance, I’ve already created ceramic plaques for each cabin with their names on them. Here’s one:
For me, this is the fun part! Creating things to enhance the experience for our guests in all the thoughtful little ways. My vision for the retreat is very specific. It must be full of original art, it must be cozy and inviting but also it must be surprising. I’ve sketched art installations I will create throughout the property and have already made and tucked away so many creations: 1000 folded cranes on strings, several original paintings made and bought, sketches of room designs, custom ceramics of all kinds. All tucked away for later. One domino at a time.
Being environmentally responsible is a critical component we are striving to meet. To that end, I’m already sourcing custom logo stainless tumblers for guest use to fill with filtered water at every tap. I’m researching recycling solutions, composting and solar panels. My mom has been sourcing antique furniture for the cabins from local auctions not only because they are quality furnishings, but also because we believe it’s the best form of up-cycling out there. Lamps and artwork and dishes. She’s been buying so many crystal vases and candy dishes I had to cut her off! LOL. Our storage sheds are filling quickly! It’s all carefully stored for someday.
And the planting! So many plants have been planted! We not only want the grounds to be beautifully and creatively landscaped, but we also will be growing organic veg and flowers for our guests’ use. Who knows, hopefully we will also sell cut flowers…I’ve been to school for that! To that end, there are plans to convert part of the barn into a flower arranging workshop with walk in cooler. Flower arranging workshop anyone?! But more on that later.
There is so much more for later! But for now, we set up dominos. One by one. Patiently waiting and planning for the moment when the gates open and we get to meet you.
With great anticipation.