Making Dream Weddings Reality

Podcast with Neil & Deda of Koru Berry Farm

Making Dream Weddings Reality

In this episode, Neil and Deda discuss the hardships and heartwarming moments of running a wedding business as a husband and wife team that allows couples to craft their dream weddings.


June: The Banowetz podcast. Hello, and welcome back to the Banowetz Marketing podcasts. My name is June Schmidt. And as having the privilege of working here at Banowetz Marketing, my passion, my learning curve is about business leadership. And along with me today is, um, the man that I have the privilege of being married to who also is incredibly smart when it comes to business and the entrepreneurial experience.

And this is my husband Bob Schmidt.

Bob: Hello.

June: So first of all, welcome Neil and Deda.

Neil & Deda: Thank you.

June: And talk to us first about what’s the, um, origin of the name of your establishment? How did it become Koru?

Deda: So the Koru symbol is actually used in Polynesian artwork. So I am a artist and it’s a unfurling Fern symbol, and it means a new beginnings.

And I thought that would be great for a, for a wedding venue. Absolutely. But people are intrigued by that and they love to ask about that, don’t they? Yeah. So then go ahead with a little bit more of that data. So what do you do? What is your position? Well, I’m still figuring out the position, but, um, I basically make things pretty and he builds it.

That’s essentially what happens.

Bob: A great partnership.

Deda: Yes, yes, we’re both creative types, but, um, I am the painter, so all the murals and artwork in the building are done by me and all the landscaping is done by Neil.

June: Great.

Neil: And she’s a little modest. DDA is the business side of Koru. She is the face. She is the one that you’ll be talking to on the phone, exchanging text messages and Facebook messages with messages with, she is the point of contact and she is the day of planner for the weddings and all the events.

June: Oh, great. Great. Well all of those elements are incredibly important in what you do. And one of the things as we were chatting before we got started here, talking about the fact that yes, what you see is important, but it’s also the behind the scenes. So maybe talk a little bit about that.

Neil: Yeah, very much so.

Yeah. We pride ourselves out at Koru with the behind the scenes work. We understand that weddings have to be pretty, the flowers, the dress, all that stuff is important. But behind the scenes, the back of the house, if you will, has to run smoothly. And with our previous work experience Deda as a CNA and then myself as a truck driver, we understand that the back of the house, the importance to the detail that has to take place for everything that everyone else sees to be pretty. So we really strive to cater to our vendors. We really try to cater to our vendors just as much as we cater to our couples. The DJ has to be happy. The photographer has to be happy. The cater has to have everything going smoothly. For, for all the guests to have a good experience at core roux.

So that’s something that we really try to emphasize and focus on as well. Yep.

Bob: Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, tell, tell me a little bit, I’m intrigued by the experience because obviously the rapid growth of your business, uh, people are having remarkable experiences and they’re telling other people about it.

Um. What is your vision for that experience with your business that makes it unique to your competition?

Neil: Well, part of the experience out at Koru or something that has been brought up several times, it’s a very relaxed family oriented atmosphere from literally from the tour to completion. It’s very relaxed.

We let the customers pick what they want. They bring in their own vendors. We don’t tell them anything that they have to do at Koru. If they want tables and chairs set up a certain way. Perfect. We tell people if they want to roast hot dogs that over fire for their reception, it doesn’t matter to us.

It’s your day, make the day how you want. So we’re really flexible. We really try to accommodate the couples as much as possible and give them the freedom and the flexibility. So we’re definitely not a rigid. Corporate environment. We want people to come out. We want them to be relaxed. We want them to have fun.

We have 22 acres. We literally tell couples, if you hit barbed wire fence, stop there and don’t go in our living room. Those are about the only boundaries. When you’re exploring the 22 acres. Get out, walk the grounds, walk the Berry fields, see the animals relax and have a good time. Make our property yours, and we really try to stress that from start to finish.

Bob: Yeah. Of all the places around the country that people can choose to get married today, some people want to go on a trip to the Caribbean to have a wedding, but, um, you feel like one of the most beautiful spots in the country is right where you are and you’ve created that. That atmosphere.

Maybe you could just, uh, you’re an artist, uh, uh, share with us, uh, through your language, uh, what that looks like.

Deda: So to me, um, the, the view that we have there is almost artwork to me. You know, it’s great design. So we tried to incorporate in our new edition that we’re building huge windows that, um, you can see all of the outdoors.

Neil: So we’ve incorporated the same beauty inside as we have outside. And it really co-mingled together. It’s, it’s very natural, very, uh, kind of an earthy type of atmosphere. So wonderful. I believe the Amana colonies has recently been voted one of the most beautiful areas in Iowa, and so often with construction you try to make your building, you try to make the landscape, the natural landscape fit around your building. And what we’ve tried to do is make our building fit the natural landscape. We can see the rolling Hills and the Iowa river Valley from our wedding venue. So we incorporated large window so people can look out and see for miles, see the rolling Hills and the fields and that traditional Iowa landscape.

We didn’t try to block it. We didn’t try to manipulate it. We said, look, someone far greater than us made all of this possible. Let’s simply enjoy it. And so we put in big windows, we put on a big deck, we put on a big patio. We said, get out. Enjoy the outside, be able to see the outside, no matter what the weather is.

And so we didn’t manipulate or change the landscape. We just tried to enhance it, enhance it. Yep.

June: So talk to us a little bit about the Berry farm aspect and the berries that are there, what they are and their inherent properties.

Neil: Absolutely.

Deda: It makes really good wine, right? You can finish the rest.

Neil: So it’s funny. The name of our venues Koru Berry farm. So oftentimes people say, well, what’s a Koru Berry? Well, there is no Koru Berry. The Koru is, as Deda explained, a symbol that we enjoy, that we like. The Berry farm aspect comes from the aronia Berry fields that surround our venue. Koru sits on 22 acres, has 8,000 aronia bushes.

Now, if you don’t know what aronia bushes are or an aronia Berry, you’re in good company. Very few people know what it is. The bottom line is aronia berries are really high in antioxidants. Unfortunately, they don’t taste like chocolate. So the common name is choke berry.

Deda: It’s healthy.

Neil: Yes, very healthy. The common name is choke berry, and you literally, the name literally comes from the response you have.

When you eat the Berry, you will choke because it leaves your mouth so dry. It’s good. I like the fresh Berry, but it’s a unique flavor.

Deda: I always. Explain it as rhubarb. So normally people don’t eat rhubarb straight. They cook it with something sweet. So it’s the same thing with the aronia berry. You add a little bit of sweetness. It’s really good.

June: Talk to us  a little bit about some of the antioxidant properties to it and who’s actually using and incorporating that into some of the food products that they’ve created.

Neil: Absolutely. So at Koru, we have made wine. Fireside winery has made wine for us that we sell at our venue. Uh, we’ve also made some jams and some jellies for sale and just personal consumption because it is very tasty.

On a larger scale. A company called Towhee is views, is using aronia berries in a, basically a healthy Gatorade. And what they found is a diet high in antioxidants is helping with muscle recovery. So there are division one football teams who are drinking Towhee to help aid the recovery of their athlete.

June: Curious. I think those are healthy, good, healthy health conscious things for all of us to hear about. Yes. Um, well, I think we can personally relate to his parents. We had a son that just got married out in California, earlier in 2019 and of course for them, the very first thing, as I think with most intended couples, is they’ve gotten engaged, they’re, isn’t the very first thing, they find the venue?

Deda: Yes.

June: Setting  that date.

Deda: That is step one.

June: So tell us, you know, going back to your venue again, you’ve talked about it being a relaxed atmosphere. You’ve, my California son would call it organic. You’ve incorporated the inside into the outside, but you’re also now doing some remodeling, some reno work. Talk to us a little bit more about that and what that’s going to include.

Deda: Well, when we first started, um, we didn’t do a lot of advertising. We, um, they just started coming to us. I don’t know how, but they did. And at first we had a tent and we were able to put 300 in a tent, and my husband and I put up this 40 by a hundred foot pole tent, which in most cases is impossible for a couple to do that by themselves, but we did, and we’re still married to this day, so that’s a good sign. But since, um, weather is always a factor, we thought, uh, and the response that we were getting, it would be good to maybe move forward with something a little more permanent, like the addition. So since we have started doing that a lot of our clients were from Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, um, which just happened to find us online. I did my own website at the time. Um, it’s now not my own website, but, um, and then once we started going, um, and people started noticing. Then the locals, see it used to be a church, so the locals knew it as a church, and as soon as we started doing the addition, then it got more attention from the locals, so they started figuring out what it was. But, um, right now we’re booked for 2020 and we have 10 for 2021 so far. It’s really surreal. Yeah. It really is.

June: People are finding you.

Deda: Yeah.

June: Yeah. And that was going to be my next question is that how do we find you? How do we find your information?

Deda: Well, I, I do a lot of posting on Facebook.

I am a picture fanatic, so I take pictures all the time of, uh, you can even see he, the progress of. The addition and any other updates that we make, I post it, uh, before and after pictures. Um, so you can find us on Facebook. Uh, we do have a website, Koru Um, and so far. That’s about all the advertising we do. So.

June: Which leads me to my next question and an answer from each one of you, is what are some marketing strategies? What are some things that you would like to do to enhance recognition? And just understanding what you’re all about, what incorporates who you guys are.


Neil: So it’s interesting. Where the marketing world is going.

It’s all social media, Instagram, Twitter, and so for us as a business is figuring out how to manipulate or work within each of those spaces to reach our target market. It’s easy to throw a Twitter, a tweet out there. I don’t do Twitter, so I don’t even know the language, but to throw a tweet out there or a post on Instagram, but if no one finds you, all you’re doing is shouting in the darkness and it doesn’t matter. So it’s figuring out how do we reach those target markets? How do we take those pictures? Because it’s such a visually driven platform, so it can’t just be a picture. It has to be a beautiful sunset. It has to be a spectacular tree. It has to be a beautiful bride, or we have a lot of animals capturing that picture of an animal that’s going to be inviting for couples to come out and go, we need to see more of Koru. So it’s for us, it’s figuring out how do we reach those couples because it’s in weddings. Traditionally speaking, you’re thinking 18 to 25. That age range is shifting to 25 to 30 probably. So it’s getting a little older for the, for the first marriage, and then there’s the remarriage.

So there’s a lot of, there’s a big market to reach and as a former CNA and as a former truck driver and artist and landscaper, these aren’t areas that we have thrived in previously. So it’s figuring out how to, how to use each of those platforms and emerging platforms because the internet is ever changing.

Social media is ever changing. So how do we. Work within those spaces to capture our markets.

June: So as you’re delving more and more into the world of social media, my question to you is, do you utilize hashtags? And if so, what are you hashtagging? What are you saying so that people can find you.

Deda: So I’m a bit older than people think I am, and um, so when hashtags first started coming out, I thought it was just a funny way to say something. So I would say, hashtag, why am I here? Or, you know, which. Some of them do do that, but I’m learning slowly, um, through friends, uh, that it does mean quite a bit more. But, so I am learning how to, but it’s a slow process.

June: And what specifically hashtags are you using right now?

Deda: Uh, hashtag Iowa wedding venues. Um, our name Koru Berry farm, cause a lot of, uh, couples will post. Uh, our wedding venue as well. Um, beautiful brides. I mean, anything that has to do with weddings and Iowa basically.

June: So, um, as we’re all learning that hashtags are merely channels for our consumers and our customers, our guests, whatever, we want to turn them to find us.

And so I hear you saying that you’re using rather long hashtags, and some short hashtags, but not the mid ones. And so understanding mid ones are more the general concept of what hashtags are. Um, and also incorporating some of the local DIY into things so that, uh, your brag brides, rather, get, uh, a greater sense of what you’re about.

Deda: Great.

June: But I think something that we’ve sort of, um, not covered yet is a concept of the uniqueness of husband and wife being partnered in business together and really talking about that entrepreneurial spirit as partners. So I’d like to hear a little bit more of that business aspect out of both of you.

Deda: I’ll let him go first, then I’ll add my 2 cents. That’s usually how that works.

Neil: It has been wonderful working with my wife. Um, before we opened up Koru, we didn’t always work well together. We worked well on our own projects, but we didn’t work well together on projects together. Being in, having Koru has forced us and allowed us to communicate more and communicate better, where when you have an event going on and something’s not going right or going well as you would like, you can’t just go to your separate corners and cool off. It doesn’t matter if we had an argument Friday night, we now have a bride before us on Saturday morning. We’ve got to get along and we have to be able to communicate and execute our game plan to be able to pull off the wedding that the brides are expecting and they deserve.

It has been wonderful. It has definitely benefited our marriage. It has, uh, had a lot of warm conversations, very passionate, um, when we would put up the tent, because to put up a tent that size requires four to five men.

Deda: And fear.

Neil: And I just tell my wife, it’s just the two of us. Let’s go. And so that has been.

Yeah, that’s been probably the warmest, the hottest conversations we’ve had around the wedding venue is to, yeah.

Deda: I was glad to see it go.

Neil: To, to work together and to be able to put that tent up. But it has been great. Um. Being professionals in separate businesses, her being an artist and me being a landscaper, we’re both very creatively motivated.

We both made our living staring at a blank canvas and dreaming, and so that’s been great. And we also like to protect our baby. I like to protect my landscaping. This is mine. And Deda with her art is this is hers. And so when we start to cross over into that other realm, when data comes into the landscaping, or I go into the art, we can get a little prickly sometimes, but we’re learning that when Deda has recommendations on the landscaping, she’s not attacking me.

We have a goal in mind, and that’s to make Koru exceptional. And so she is not attacking me. She’s just saying, this is our goal and let’s what happens if we go this route? Yeah. And she’s learning the same with the art and then in areas that we don’t, aren’t our profession right now, the warm discussions are around flooring.

How do we incorporate the flooring? How do we do new flooring? What is the vision. And we have different ideas, but we’re navigating those waters.

Deda: And I love how far we’ve come too, because before we would just kind of disagree and then either you would do what you wanted or I would do out what I wanted, but now we’re actually, we know that we have an end goal in mind and we can compromise and figure out the best solution.

And, we figured out the flooring solution and it’s going to be wonderful. So, um, again, being forced to figure it out has been wonderful for our marriage, believe it or not.

Bob: Well, the image that you’re portraying as a business is unique because as a couple, uh, you have a marriage that you’re. Living through, and it’s a big percentage of your time, is with the business.

And so people, your customers are looking at you and the, the influence that you have on your community and the region is unique because people are looking at a couple who love each other, but they both are entrepreneurs, right? And, uh, the, uh, the, the instruction that you give to each other, the, uh, the influence that you have on each other.

You respect your wife, you see her gifts, her talents, uh, but you have to speak to her in a certain way in the public. Um, and the vice versa. Uh, you’re made out of steel and iron and she’s made out of porcelain. And sometimes you just have to be careful how you say, what the way I experienced that with June for many years.

And, uh, but yet, um, your customers, as they get to know you, respect you for your unique, you’re, you’re both unique, uh, and you’re bringing that uniqueness into your business. And, uh, that’s what creates a specialty in your business as well as they see that. Um, so it’s exciting to listen to your business, and to see, um, what a special, um, gift you’re giving to your community, uh, by combining your skills, your talents, your passions, uh, and get loving each other, respecting each other. Um, uh, it’s, it’s really fun to listen to this

Neil: And why you had said the words that we use, and that’s something that we’re navigating and we’re figuring out.

Because as coworkers in a work environment, you may be able to speak to a coworker a certain way. However, my coworker is also my bride.

Bob: Yeah.

Neil: So I have to love her and she has to respect me.

Deda: I don’t have to like him, though.

Neil: That is very important distinction, but you know. At the end of the night, we’re going to bed together. We’re sharing the house together. So even if we disagree, we have to use appropriate words to convey that message. And we’re learning what words to use and what words not to use. And it’s exciting that after 11 years of marriage, we’re still growing and improving.

But it’s also how have we not figured this out in the previous 11 years. But it is great. And being. One of the things that we love, or one of the things that we feel kind of makes Koru unique is that Deda and I do truly cherish each other. Our marriage is the most important thing. So Koru, yes, is a business.

However, what happens at Koru, we view as very, very important. That wedding, yes, comes with a paycheck for us. However, that wedding, our hope is a lifelong commitment for those couples. So we really see and have that vision of what that day represent. It’s not a paycheck.

Deda: We truly care that they have a perfect day and a perfect mariage.

Bob: You’re treating them like family, almost.

Neil: Exactly.

Deda: Yeah.

Bob: Yeah.

June: I’ve been doing a lot of reading. My, one of my passions is leadership and what constitutes, no, not even a good leader, but a great leader. And one of the first attributes is discernment. And that’s what I hear you saying is that, and primarily because of your 11 years of working on this, doing this together as a couple, that’s one of the things that’s really grown in both of you is discernment.

And the other thing that strikes me as I listened to both of you talk is when the bride and her intended come to visit. They’re probably, because you are different people and yet a couple, they’re going to find one of you relatable. And so that’s going to be encouraging to that couple. Well, I listened to this person, but I really connect with that person.

So gee. Um, you know, I think this is where I want to be. I want to go back to just real quickly, the talking about, again, some projections for 2020 and then 2021. Can we go back and can we, um, talk about that again? So where are you for 2020?

Deda: 2020, we are pretty much booked. We have some Sundays left. Um, very few Saturdays.

So, uh, late November. And, uh. Just a few more in December. So it’s, it’s crazy, but it’s, um, yeah, I can say we’re pretty much booked and then 2021 has 10 booked so far.

June: Okay. And is it just Saturdays and Sundays, or if I wanted to come to your venue and get married in on Friday night, could?

Deda: We, when we first started out, we didn’t do it, uh, the way it is now, but right now it is. Um, you can do a Friday, a Saturday, a Friday, Saturday package or you could do a Sunday.

June: Okay.

Deda: So, and all of those have different prices, but the services are always pretty much the same. We work our tail ends off.

We are really able

Neil: to to host and accommodate anything.

We are looking at 2020 just to kind of put it in perspective. From April 15th to Christmas, we have two open weekends, nothing going on, and it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas.

June: Well, as an artist in sort of a different realm, my questions have been, tend to be posed more that way as well as the social media aspect because of what I get to do here.

But I’d like to throw this back to, uh, my partner in life here because he really is the business person and the entrepreneur. So what are some, what is something that you would like to ask the Happels, um, from the business aspect?

Bob: Well, the Happels are a remarkable couple. Uh, their tremendous work ethic. But, uh. It’s just the character that they bring to their business. Um, what I’m curious to know, as I know, it’s, um, is your vision for your business. Um, it’s, uh, I’m sure you have a very special, uh, vision, a dream for your business, but also the, the values that you live out, uh, every day in your business that makes it unique.

I, somebody once told me the handshake of the toe of the host determines the taste of the roast. And I think that’s obviously an analogy to your business is, uh, the, uh, the human side of the business. There’s operational excellence going on. Uh, they just have to take a visit over there and, and they’ll see the operational excellence.

But, um. So I’m curious about that as a business owner in the past is to see, you obviously have a passion you have a vision of, and it’s with people, but I’ll just stop and let you respond to that.

June: Talk about their vision.

Neil: Well, obviously from a business standpoint, the goal or the vision is to always see growth.

You know, you want, in our specific situation, more weddings. We do have a cap or a goal in mind of those number of weddings that we’re looking to achieve. So that would be a short term business goal or business vision. How do we grow to X number of events to make it something that would be, uh, a financially sound investment for both of us.

You know, our vision for Koru, is we want people, we want Koru to be synonymous with not just a wedding, because people go to weddings, people go to events. We want people to think Koru and go, I know the experience you had there. I’ve been there. You don’t have to explain what you know. You don’t have to explain the events.

I, no matter if it was a birthday, if it was a wedding, if it was a quinceanera, just know that, Oh, you were at Koru. I know them. I know Deda and Neil. And the passion they are, you know, the passion that they brought to you. I know the event and the experience that you had. And so we’re hoping to build and get that reputation of a business just without, I need to have a wedding. I need to have a birthday. Koru. Just yes. That’s where you go. Okay. Yes. The service in the area, the experience, experience, you just go and so that, that is our desire to be able to have that, that, that reputation, that courtroom.

Bob: That’s wonderful. Yeah. That’s wonderful.

June: Thanks. Well, Neil, and um, your bride on behalf of Banowetz Marketing, we’d like to say thank you so much for being here again.

And once again, even though we’ve alluded to this, can you tell us where can we find you?

Deda: Um, And also on Facebook, just Koru Berry Farm.

June: Very good. Thank you so much. And on behalf of Banowetz Marketing, I’m going to say thank you for joining us today. If you want to see this podcast as well as other podcasts that have been produced, please go to our website at, and we thank you for this production.