In some ways, starting your own business is like having a baby. You nurture it, you give it your time and effort, and you help it to grow. Most importantly, you love it.
It’s a lesson that Denna Fyock has learned intimately. And she should know, she’s done both.
“I read somewhere that middle-aged women are the most successful group of entrepreneurs. My belief is that it’s because they have raised children – starting a business is very much like having a baby, but without the stretch marks,” she joked. “Businesses and babies both start out helpless and take 120 percent of your time and energy. I think that because so many women have raised children, as entrepreneurs they already know how to give that 120 percent to their new baby: their business.”
Denna said she takes that belief to heart – especially since family is the heart of Aberdeen Manor, an all-inclusive wedding planning business and venue. The concept for her one-stop wedding planning service and venue grew out of Denna’s love for weddings and parties, and it’s grown to reflect that love in every facet.
Now, the Manor comprises an all-inclusive facility with a beautiful garden, quaint chapel, an elegant ballroom for receptions and other occasions, and a full-service bridal shop offering tuxes, invitations and accessories.
But the concept didn’t necessarily start off as a grand plan for a one-stop-shop wedding planning service. Like many small businesses, it started as a passion.
“I volunteered to put together weddings for friends and family since high school,” she shared. “After that much time, it seemed natural to start my own wedding planning business. I didn’t really open a business to open a business – I did it because I loved weddings.”
Recognizing that she had the skill and the work ethic, and knowing there was a need, Denna drew up a business plan and launched Affairs to Remember, a wedding consulting and coordinating business. At first, she just worked as a party consultant, but she slowly began adding bits and pieces as needs surfaced.
“After consulting for a few years, it became apparent that there was a need for a wedding-friendly banquet facility that was designed specifically for weddings and brides,” she explained. “And that’s how we grew. Building the Manor came out of seeing a need and wanting to fill it.”
Over the years, Denna added a service here, and a perk there, arranging them into the beautiful bouquet that would become Aberdeen Manor.
“My daughter Megan was still in high school when we built the Manor, and she hardly saw me or my husband for months,” she said. “The early days both of consulting and launch were a time that I learned a lot about all the aspects of running a business. A lot of those lessons were painful, like not being paid for a job because we arranged to accept payment after the event, and that payment fell through. I learned how to deal with employees, customers, and, most of all, with brides! I couldn’t even begin to tell you how much I learned in those first few years!”
But slowly, the Manor grew and grew – and Denna’s plans grew with it. In 2018, she purchased Anderson’s Winery along with 43 acres of property, to build a second venue – a banquet hall with a Napa Valley wine country theme. While those plans didn’t quite play out, she did restore the winery – which had been in disrepair – and turned it into a viable, thriving business. With Denna at the winery full-time, Megan stepped up and took the helm at the Manor. In 2021, Denna sold Aberdeen Manor to Megan, who now steers it using the philosophy Denna implemented.
Opening her own business brought some growing pains, and during the past two decades, Denna has had to balance it with being a wife, a mother, and now a grandmother, in addition to what it meant to be a woman entrepreneur in the business world.
“I think women are often still sold short in the business world,” she said. “We’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go. It’s a pet peeve of mine when people talk about woman-run businesses as ‘a dream’ and making a ‘dream’ happen. It just sounds so fluffy! I feel like women just don’t get taken seriously enough.”
However, she said she’s had some strong role models who helped her become a successful business owner.
“My parents started their own business, and that was a huge inspiration to me,” Denna said. “It was a great model for how to keep a strong relationship going and raise a family while also growing a business. They built their business from practically nothing and had pretty much everything they owned on the line. I’ve also had excellent advisors all along the way. Having people you trust that you can go to if you have questions or problems is huge.”
And, when Megan stepped up to the plate to run Aberdeen Manor, Denna was over the moon.
“Megan had worked with me summers and vacations at the Manor since we opened. She was always willing to learn and discuss and grow,” she said. “She wanted to pursue a different career after college, but after her own wedding, she came to me and said, ‘Mom, I didn’t realize all that we do for people until I was a bride myself – and I want to be a part of that full-time.’ I don’t think I’ve ever been more touched or thrilled. I’d always hoped that she would work with me full-time, and it’s been such a joy – I’ve loved every minute of it.”
In fact, the hardest part about buying the winery was that Denna and Megan weren’t working together side by side each day – though they’re still close and discuss business issues on a regular basis.
“I couldn’t be prouder of her, or of all my kids actually – all three of them have their own businesses now,” she shared. “I feel like I have set a good example for them, and that they have realized the value of entrepreneurship and embraced it. It makes me feel so good that they have all built successful businesses.”
Denna said she hopes she can inspire other women to take the plunge.
“There’s nothing like owning and operating your own business,” she said. “You control where the ship goes and how it gets there. You have the opportunity to build something from scratch and mold it into something wonderful and special.”
So, what advice does she have for the next generation?
“The best advice I ever heard about starting a business was, ‘Listen to what people are complaining about and find a way to fix it – that is your business,’” Denna said. “The other piece of advice I’ll give is to do the things you’re good at and hire someone to do the things you aren’t. For example, I knew I wasn’t good at accounting and bookkeeping, so I hired a bookkeeper early on. You have to know yourself and know your limitations; you have to be very honest with yourself about where your failings are – you can’t do it all.
Beyond that, she said, “Don’t ever feel like you know everything you need to know – keep learning.” But most importantly, enjoy the ride!