Hadley Farms Meeting House Aims to Create Memorable Events
Thinking Outside the Box
After-5 events, those ubiquitous get-togethers sponsored by area chambers of commerce, can get a little stale, Brenda Lee said.
“You go, and everyone eats, drinks, and talks a little, then everyone leaves,” said Lee, sales manager at Pioneer Valley Hotel Group, by way of explaining why one of the group’s properties, Hadley Farms Meeting House, is hosting a slightly different After-5 with the Greater Chicopee, Greater Westfield, and South Hadley & Granby chambers.
It’s called “A Networking Night in the Tropics,” and attendees on June 22 will enjoy theme-appropriate food like tropical beef empanadas, fried plantains stuffed with vegetables, coconut shrimp and Jamaican jerk chicken skewers, and mango avocado salad. The local steel-drum band Rum & Steel will be on hand to provide music.
“We’re telling everyone to wear luau attire; we’re going to make it fun,” said Lee, adding that she’s also looking to set up a beach scene with Adirondack chairs where chamber members can take photos with their tropical drinks.
It’s just one event, but it typifies how Lee and her team at Hadley Farms is trying to make a name for the three-year-old banquet and meeting spot by thinking outside the box.
Take, for example, Margarita Madness in March, sponsored by the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, which drew close to 500 people to sample local companies’ margarita creations. Or the Western Mass. Mineral, Jewelry & Fossil Show in April, sponsored by the Connecticut Valley Mineral Club.
Then there’s Hadley Farms’ second annual Taste of the Valley bridal show in September — the first drew about 200 brides, and Lee is hoping for more this year — which will feature plenty of food to sample and a diamond-sapphire ring giveaway from Northampton Jewelers; and a chili cookoff in February open to anyone who wants to bring the heat to attendees, with proceeds benefiting a local nonprofit.
One key element for bringing attention to any facility, Lee said, is to mix things up — to pepper unique and signature events into the usual mix of weddings, holiday parties, and business meetings. And that’s especially crucial for a less than three-year-old banquet hall playing in a fiercely competitive field in the Valley.
“The biggest thing is always thinking outside the box — what hasn’t been done?” she said. “You don’t want to oversaturate the area with the same, boring things; you want different ideas.”
Those ideas, plus an ambitious effort to market the facility in myriad ways, from wedding expos to chamber of commerce connections, is helping Hadley Farms build a name in the region, and positive memories for its clients.
Meeting a Need
Hadley Farms opened in September 2013 in the Hadley Village Barn Shops on Route 9, right next to Hampton Inn, owned by the Pioneer Valley Hotel Group (PVHG), whose other area properties include Comfort Inn in Hadley, La Quinta Inn & Suites in Springfield, and Holiday Inn Express in Ludlow.
Built on the site of a former Yankee Candle store, it was a direct response to demand for meeting space from people patronizing the Hampton Inn and other PVHG properties, Lee explained.
“They were getting multiple phone calls looking for venue space, meeting space, and we don’t have anything at Hampton. There is space at Comfort Inn, but smaller space —a meeting room for maybe 40 people. So they looked around Franklin County and Hampshire County, saw there wasn’t a big venue, and decided to build a big venue to facilitate larger events.”
Capacity, in fact, is a major draw for Hadley Farms, which features a 4,000-square-foot ballroom that can be trisected into smaller meeting spaces, in addition to a cozy lounge. If an event — say, a wedding party — wants to utilize the outdoor patio space as well, the facility can accommodate around 750 guests. “It gives us an advantage, especially when people are looking for a larger event with larger space, because there’s not a heck of a lot of that in this area.”
Hadley Farms hosts myriad types of events, including weddings, jack and jills, bridal and baby showers, engagement parties, fund-raisers, and business meetings. Clients range from big corporations like Yankee Candle and Baystate Health to small nonprofits.
One of the changes Lee suggested when she came on board was the establishment of on-site food service instead of the outside caterers being used exclusively at first. Today, about 90% of parties choose the in-house chef. “We have tesimonials come through on a daily basis about our facility, the staff, the food, and the events running smoothly.”
Lee knows something about event planning, having been a DJ for the past 24 years — including 13 at Chez Josef in Agawam — and worked at weddings up and down the Eastern Seaboard. She amassed plenty of contacts with vendors over those years, which she calls on to help clients at Hadley Farms plan their events.
“I work with a lot of vendors when it comes to weddings — DJs, florists, photographers, officiants,” she said. “I try to help the wedding planning go smoothly.”
After all, all brides want a minimum of hassles on the way to their big day.
“Weddings need 100% of your focus,” she told BusinessWest. “They’re constantly e-mailing, asking questions, and you have to be on top of it. We have more than 30 weddings booked over the next year, so we’re starting to get known. People come in, see the venue, and think it’s beautiful. They love the facility, the big, bright windows, and the patio.”
Lee has been busy raising the facility’s profile at four regional wedding shows, and once she has a bride’s attention, she tries to craft something special for what they want to spend. Depending on the client’s budget, different reception packages range from a buffet to food stations to a formal plated dinner.
“Weddings are becoming huge here,” she went on. “We have outdoor space for them to have their ceremony, and we also have Hampton Inn, where we give the bride and groom an overnight stay, plus offer their guests room blocks at a discounted rate.”
This is also Hadley Farms’ biggest year yet for proms — Lee is already booking 2017 parties. Meanwhile, repeat business of all kinds is proving substantial. Take New England Public Radio’s vintage holiday event last December, featuring an orchestra and Sinatra-style music. “They rebooked with us again this year. We also did Rock 102’s Valentine party in February, and they’re booking with us for next year as well.”
Lee says the success she and her team have had in building Hadley Farms’ roster of events is “all about communication,” which includes attending chamber events every week and keeping in contact with their members, both in person and through e-mail blasts.
Keeping the meeting rooms filled requires both flexibility and creativity. For example, since the cold months tend to be quieter when it comes to weddings, Hadley Farms is running a ‘winter wonderland’ wedding-package special from mid-December through mid-March, which offers brides amenities they would pay more for during June or July.
And to complement its growing holiday schedule, Hadley Farms will host what it’s calling a Big-Little Holiday Party on Dec. 9, a large gathering of small businesses that gives such companies the trappings of a big bash on a small budget. “We decided to put that together so small businesses that don’t have space to go for the holidays can come here and enjoy entertainment, appetizers, a nice buffet dinner, and dancing.”
Whatever the event, Lee said, “I enjoy meeting new people and creating a fun-filled event for them — just making people happy. I think that’s the biggest thing, making sure we’re there for them 24/7. If someone sends me an e-mail, I e-mail right back. If I don’t get back to them, they’re calling the next venue. So follow-up is really important, as is meeting with them several times before the event, making sure they’re getting what they want, helping them with creative ideas.”
Not that she does it herself. “We all work together as a team. I think being a DJ for so many years, helping to create so many events over the years, gave me a passion to be in charge of a banquet facility like this and create the events we have here.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]