5 Star Luxury in the country
- by Sharon Stephenson
In 2017, Janine Sudbury’s wedding venue in Peka Peka was named one of the top wedding venues in New Zealand. A year later, Janine took out the Electra Business Award for the best owner/operated business and last year, turnover of Sudbury, her wedding/events and leadership company, hovered around the $1 million mark.
But roll back the clock to 2009 and London-born Janine was a broke single mother who’d just bought a 50 acre farm near the beach in Peka Peka with a view to starting a leadership academy with her then horse whispering partner. Soon after their son Luca (aka Bobby) was born, her relationship ended and Janine found herself unable to afford groceries.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” says the former BBC journalist. “I was bringing up my son and needed to make the farm work.”
Realising the property – on a ridge with sweeping views of the valley and near the beach – was too good not to share with others, Janine borrowed “a lot of money” and started converting a rundown horse stables into a wedding venue.
One wedding turned into two and over the last eight years, Janine estimates she’s hosted more than 250 nuptials at her luxury wedding venue.
Each year, she’s ploughed the profits back into the business, adding an outdoor dance floor, conservatory with retractable roof and entertainment terrace for games such as petanque and hole-in-one golf.
One thing the property lacked, though, was luxury accommodation for the bride and groom. So Janine had an old cottage on the property moved on a truck to a paddock high on the ridge where guests can enjoy the beautiful views.
Her plan to renovate it hit a snag when her builder told her it needed major work so Janine gutted it and added another two rooms, filling it with premium furniture, luxury linen, a hot tub on the deck and a barbecue area. The result is “five star luxury in the country” with the bride and her bridesmaids often staying there the night before a wedding and the happy couple on their wedding night.
“The general public is also able to rent out the accommodation, which we’ve called Cottage 103,” says Janine who reports there’s been a rush on bookings since pandemic restrictions were lifted.
“We’ve been booked out solid with New Zealanders because people are keen to get away from home for a bit and rediscover nature.”
Although the majority of Janine’s wedding and accommodation bookings come from New Zealand, around 20% are from overseas, including from as far afield as the UK, the US and Hong Kong.
“So we haven’t felt the impact of the closed borders too much. And actually we’re still getting bookings from overseas for the coming summer wedding season.”
In tandem with the wedding venue and events business, Janine runs leadership programmes with a difference – incorporating horses to help staff develop and fine-tune their business style and presence.
“It’s a unique pathway that fast tracks learning. What would normally take months or even years to pick up takes two days with the horses. It’s experiential learning which provides actual practice in applying the principles, not just a simulation.”
So far, participants have included Steven Hansen, former coach of the All Blacks, as well as a range of leaders from both public and private sector organisations across New Zealand.
Janine recently introduced a course exclusively for women - Pivot Women in Leadership Programme - which had to be postponed because of lockdown.
But she’s hoping to get these back on track soon, along with her other leadership courses which have already been booked up for the year.
Today, Janine runs the business with her partner Gary (or #trustygary, as he’s known to Sudbury’s social media followers). She admits the eight-year journey from impoverished single mother to owner of a successful business has been a hard one, but she’s rightly thrilled with everything she’s achieved.
“I’ve always been a risk taker and following my dreams of running my own successful business and living in the country has been the biggest risk of all. Thankfully, it paid off and looking back over the past few years, I’m very proud of what my team and I have achieved. It’s taken oodles of hard work, determination and courage. Sometimes, its good to have your back against the wall as it forces you to do what on paper might seem impossible.”