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Natalie: So, Ally thanks so much for doing this today. It’s wonderful to be visiting here and just having a look at your beautiful cars.
Ally: Not a problem at all. Thanks for coming.
Natalie: So I really appreciate that. So I guess, yeah, we’d just like to know a little bit about you and the business so that we can kind of pass that on to brides and just look at some the common questions that you get asked from brides when they come to visit or look at booking into Absolute Vintage.
Natalie: So just a little bit about yourself Ally, and the business.
Ally: Okay, well we started off, my husband Steve. He bought a Rolls Royce about 10 years ago, which he loved, and then a couple of years after that, we bought a Daimler.
Natalie: And did you just bought the Rolls Royce for yourself, just because you loved vintage cars?
Ally: Yes. Steve’s English and he always wanted an old vintage car.
Ally: And this one came up and we thought, ‘Will we, won’t we?”, and we eventually bought it and he was very happy with it – absolutely loved it. And then he was working on a building site and he had an opportunity of purchasing the Daimler from a chap and he had done it up and so he bought the Daimler quite a few years after that, and it sort of became part of our little business as well.
We didn’t really hire our cars out to begin with; we just had them for personal fun, and then we started driving for George and Irene who you would know, obviously.
Natalie: Yeah, everyone here who has worked in the industry knows George and Irene and has wonderful things to say about them. They were quite a partnership in the wedding industry, for a while there.
Natalie: And everyone knew their cars. So yeah, so you’ve taken on their business now?
Natalie: You’ve taken on a great reputation.
Ally: Yes. Very lucky, very lucky. It’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve done in my life as far as work goes. It’s absolutely… it’s a great business. We are really, really happy with it and yeah, we basically enjoy every weekend. We really look forward to the weekends.
Natalie: And so what’s the first thing that you get asked by couples when they come to have a look at your cars?
Ally: Basically when…if a couple does come to the house, we have usually spoken to them prior to make sure that we have the availability for them to start with, okay.
Natalie: Right. Sure.
Ally: So that’s pretty much important because they are very popular and quite often you’ll find that they are booked out. So we make sure that the date is available for them before they come to the home, and when they come to the house and they basically have an idea of what they’re looking at because they have seen us on the website usually or in a magazine, and then when they come here, I guess they’re just wanting to make sure that the cars were as lovely as what they think they are. So they are not unhappy usually when they come here, they are just saying, “Oh, wow! This looks beautiful.”
Natalie: Yeah, and I guess they are wanting to meet with you as well.
Ally: Of course.
Natalie: And get the feel about the cars and probably have a sit in them and get a feel for them? And do most couples book, because I see you’ve got quite a few cars out there. So how many cars do you have?
Ally: We have five of our own.
Ally: And we subcontract another probably two or three.
Ally: In saying that George and Irene have kept one of their cars and we quite often will use that. One of their drivers has a lovely blue Rolls Royce Silver Dawn and we subcontract that one.
Ally: And we have actually on occasions used a white Mustang that someone owns as well. We’ve got a few that we can call on.
Natalie: Wow! So you could be very busy on a particular Saturday. You can have potentially eight cars that are out.
Ally: Yes, yes. We’ve had I think one weekend last year, we have had about 13 cars, or was it more than that? Maybe 15 cars or something over the weekend, so it can be very busy.
Natalie: And so obviously you can’t drive all of these cars. Do you drive one of the cars? Do both of you take cars out on the weekend? How does that work?
Ally: Yes, I always do. If there’s ever just a single wedding, I’ll always drive because it’s good to be involved in your own business obviously because you want to know how things are going and you want to give your clients the best service you can and only you can do that, obviously.
Ally: So yes I do. Steve quite often will drive as well but he’s a builder so if he works hard during the week, I try not to make him do weddings all weekend as well.
Ally: But he helps in all the preparations and stuff like that.
Natalie: Okay. And so if there was just one wedding car going out, is it just you that’s driving or does someone come along with you as well?
Ally: Just me.
Natalie: Okay, lovely.
Natalie: And so what’s the best car for each couple? How do they choose which car is right for them and how many cars that they will need?
Ally: Sure, okay. Well, generally what we do is, I ask in one of my first questions to brides is how many in your wedding party, and that will determine which car we steer them towards obviously.
The Princess is the main, like the most popular car because it’s big, it’s easy to get in and out of with their dress. It can seat seven passengers plus the driver. Now we have three of these so we could actually have a wedding really with 21 people in it in one wedding with identical cars.
Natalie: Oh lovely!
Ally: So it’s really good in that aspect. So we can house quite a big wedding party and we could even have that plus the “Sheline”, which is George and Irene’s car, and it still looks gorgeous with the four.
So we would basically, if a bride has say two bridesmaids and two groomsmen, then that’s six, they only need one car. That’s where we’d become quite economical because they don’t need to get that second car and they don’t have to share a backseat with anybody. They can still have the backseat – just the two of them, and we can put the bridesmaids and groomsmen in the rest of the car.
Natalie: And I guess a lot of brides and grooms would like that concept of having their wedding party with them in the car rather than being separated across different cars.
Ally: They do, yeah, it’s fun.
Ally: They have a great time in the car and we can play music for them, their favourite music.
Natalie: Oh lovely. So the couples can choose to have their own music in the car?
Natalie: That’s good to know.
Ally: And usually on the way to the church, it’s a real nerve breaker is, I’ll play and George and Irene put me onto this, but we play ‘Going to the Chapel and you’re going to get married’. So, it’s really cute.
Natalie: Oh it’s so cute.
Ally: It’s sort of cute but it’s really fun and the girls love it. They just all sing.
Natalie: Yeah. It’ll definitely put them in the spirit of the day.
Ally: It does, yes. So it’s nice.
Natalie: Lovely, and so what about, I know that in particular in January/February in the Hunter Valley it can get quite warm, so is there air-conditioning in the car?
Ally: Yes, we have had all the air-conditioning in the cars reconditioned and obviously all the cars aren’t as fantastic as new cars these days but it’s quite comfortable in our cars.
Ally: Yes, so they’re all air-conditioned.
Natalie: Right, and are they decorated? I mean I don’t know if you’d really need that with vintage cars because that’s the whole look but if brides, I don’t know, wanted ribbons of certain colours, I mean is that a possibility as well?
Ally: Yes. Absolutely! We have the tulle in the back and we also have supply ribbons for our cars. Generally, we do ivory or white matching the brides dress but sometimes brides would like to match their bridesmaids dresses and we have a whole array of colours that we can use. And look, if I don’t have the colour, I’ll just source it and just get the colour for them. And we have the red carpet obviously that we put out for them for when they get out of the cars.
Natalie: Oh good, beautiful. And so what time do you arrive at the brides house? So what’s the best way for a bride to plan to use your cars for the day?
Ally: Okay. Well, what I do is I always have a lot of contact leading to up to the wedding to start with so that they feel like we are involved and interested. So I’ll be in touch with them a month before the wedding, and then I’ll be in touch with them the Monday before the wedding as well to say, ‘Hi’ and let them know we’re on it. We are going to be there at ‘x’ time and they know that we are going to be there now.
The way I work, I work back from the ceremony. So I’ll go right, how long does it take to go from their house to the ceremony and then I’ll then get there a quarter of an hour at least before that. So they know we’re there. They know we’re ready to go and then it’s their choice as to when they leave.
Ally: So I don’t ever pressure them to leave on time unless they ask me to, I’ll leave it up to them so they can then just know, all right, we’re here. I go in and I’ll say ‘hi’ and we chat and everything and they know that I am there and they can just say, “Right, OK Ally we’re ready to go”.
Natalie: Because it’s really funny because some brides are really just from my experience in the industry as well, some brides being on time is really important to them, where other brides they really want to be that few moments late to make sure that all their guests are inside.
Ally: Yes, and you know what I’ve have found lately is that some brides are telling their guests that the wedding is at 2:00 when in fact the wedding is at 2:30.
Ally: So that they’re on time because these days people are so impunctual. That’s amazing.
Natalie: Yes, there’s always someone late running into the church. So it’s incredible.
Ally: There is, you know, so that’s sort of a good way to go, I don’t know how long I’ll get away with it.
Natalie: No, I definitely had the same thing and with a lot of the brides that I have chatted to, yes, 15 minutes before they’ll try and just give people that opportunity to get there.
Natalie: But even so, some guests might be punctual but then there could be parking situations for some guests. So it’s good to give them that little bit of time as well.
Yes. So then they’ve got that option to get to the church.
Ally: On time or late, it’s up to them, yeah.
Ally: If we… I usually say to bride, “Look, if we leave now and we are early, we can always fill in time closer to the church by taking them for a drive around the beach or something like that and we can just sort of like…”
Natalie: To calm the nerve a little bit.
Ally: Cruise around. Yeah, calm the nerves and then they can then arrive, because quite often we’ll start to pull up at church and then the bride will say, “No, keep going, keep going”, and we go ride the block couple of times until you know, because someone rings and says, “Oh, grandma hasn’t arrived or someone hasn’t arrived” so we just do a couple of laps.
Natalie: Okay. So, it’s not the bride having second thoughts.
Ally: No. No. No.
Natalie: “I don’t know if I can do this.” Okay, and sorry just back to who drives your cars, so just say you do have five cars going out and a couple have booked a car that you can’t drive that day.
Natalie: So who is driving that car and will they have that same kind of contact with that person or…?
Ally: Yes. Yes, I’ve got some…I have one in particular, one driver that was with George and Irene and I inherited him, John. He’s gorgeous. He’s got the big white, mutton chops and the cap and fab fog watch.
Natalie: Yes. He’s fabulous, I’ve worked with him.
Ally: He’s very good and he’s very caring of our brides and bridal parties and I trust him absolutely to look after them and I haven’t had any bad feedbacks whatsoever from him.
Natalie: And so would it be him calling on the Monday or they’d still speak to you and he would just be there on the day?
Ally: No, it’s still me and I’ll tell them he will be driving.
Ally: I’ll say, “John will be looking after you on the day”, and so they know who to expect.
Natalie: Okay, wonderful. And probably just going back to the timing of the day as well, so after the ceremony, then you head off on location for a couple of hours and usually just stay until you drop the couple off at the reception, don’t you?
Ally: Yes. Yes.
Natalie: Is there any pressure of a time to get them back or…
Ally: Not usually, usually we know in advance as to when everything’s supposed to be happening so we’ve already discussed that with them.
Ally: And so they say, “Look, we’ve got to be back at the reception by 6:00pm or 6:30pm”. We endeavour to get them there at that time. But if they’re not too worried about getting back on time, we don’t push them. We don’t say, “All right, time to go”.
Natalie: That’s right.
Ally: We just sort of say, we just let it happen obviously because sometimes they want to get a few more shots, a few more photos.
Natalie: Yes. So, if couples are just starting out and just trying to work out what cars that they like and are going to best suit their wedding, and say that they’ve just started calling, they have called five different car companies from a magazine or Googled them, how do they distinguish between good and bad service in the wedding car industry?
Ally: Okay. It is fairly difficult for them, I would imagine to, from a phone call, determine whether they’re going to get good service or not, I think. I probably look at, see, we’re a very non-pressure type people.
We feel we give them every opportunity to come and view the cars and do our best to have the cars for them on the day if they’re available. But we certainly don’t like pushing people into booking them because I just feel that they don’t need that pressure. It’s a decision that they have to make on their own.
As far as what service they’re going to get, it’s pretty hard to tell. I guess you’d have to look into their testimonials. I would go onto their website and look at their testimonials from brides to see what the others have said about them because that’s a really good way of knowing what people think of you.
If they’ve got no testimonials, well, obviously either they don’t worry about their reputation or maybe they haven’t had any good ones, you know.
Natalie: That should be your first warning sign I guess.
Ally: Yeah, but there’s horses for courses, I mean looking at you might get the bride and groom that want the muscle cars and they love that sort of feel and doing burn outs and everything like that. And then there’s the ones that want something a little bit more classy and the more, like what ours is sort of more the antique, the old, and that sort of nice feel to it. And then, obviously you’ve got your Hummers and your brides that like those.
So depending on what they’re after really, but I’ll think it’s, if I was ringing, I would want to get a really good feeling going between the person I was talking to on the phone with a good rapport, knowing that they are a nice type of person, and that I am going to be looked after by those types of people on the day and not someone who would brush you off and just treat you as another client who…
Natalie: And just be a driver for the day.
Ally: Just be a driver and take the money and that don’t really care about you. See we go to a lengths degree to make sure that the bride is happy. We would do anything for our brides on the day, just to keep them happy and calm. You know, I’ve wiped mud off girls stilettos, I have sewn up their bra straps and I’ve done all sorts of things.
Natalie: It all comes with the job, doesn’t it, when you’re in the wedding industry?
Ally: Yes, yes, so you’ve got to love, you really have to love what you’re doing.
Ally: And really love people and working with them, and being like, I think that’s important. I hope I have answered your question.
Natalie: Yeah. No, I think so, definitely. And what about, is there any accreditation in the industry that they can look out for as well?
Ally: Yes, there is. We have to be accredited by the Department of Transport to basically be able to have a wedding car business. We are restricted actually, unless you have a hire car plate or license, you can’t do anything other than as long as you are accredited by the Department of Transport, we can’t do anything other than weddings, formals or funerals.
Ally: Okay. So, we are basically restricted to that, but that suits us because we don’t want to be out at midnight on a Saturday night or driving to the airport, picking up people on a Sunday or midweek.
Ally: And this suits us because this is what we want to do.
Natalie: Lovely. Okay, the big question I guess that a lot of couples are keep to get answered, is pricing. So how is pricing worked out with your company?
Ally: Okay, basically it depends on the location, the time of the year and the day of the week.
Ally: Okay, so we vary our prices depending on those three things. We find or brides quite often find that we are very, very competitive in pricing, and plus the fact, what I spoke to you about before, the fact that we can have seven in a car, they don’t have to get two cars.
Natalie: Very economical.
Ally: So it’s really economical for them. So for instance, our car was $750.00 for a Saturday in Newcastle. During the week, on Fridays I’ll probably take $50.00 off and then during the week I’d probably take $100.00 off. So it’s just basically boils down to that sort of thing.
Natalie: Okay, and does that price, so is there do you need to add petrol costs and driver costs on top of that price?
Ally: No. That’s the package price.
Natalie: Oh, okay.
Ally: So, that’s everything. We supply champagnes, strawberries, nibblies, soft drink, water for them during the photo shoot, and we do all the tulle and everything else – the driver, the petrol, everything is included. So there’s no further costs.
Natalie: Oh lovely. And so how do they have the champagne and nibblies? Is that something that’s served to the girls on the way to the church or on location or… how does that work?
Ally: Yes. We do that during the photo shoot. What happens is we generally drop them at ceremony to begin with. They come out of the church and they have photos at the church and that usually takes about an hour for all that to happen. And then, we head off to wherever the photographer and the bride has decided they’d like to go.
And as long as it’s not in, these days in Newcastle, there’s so many ‘no-alcohol’ areas that we can’t serve. We generally will serve while they are having their photos taken because by then they’ve had all these build up and everything happening and they’re ready for either a soft drink or a glass of champagne or something by then and something to eat. So yeah, we’ll serve it to them then and if the boys, we have eskies and boys bring their beer and we pack it in ice for them.
Natalie: That’s great.
Ally: Yeah, so it’s good.
Natalie: I know that there’s been such a build up to the ceremony, it’s nice just to have a little bit of breather and that champagne definitely helps with those smiles once they start at the location shoot as well.
And I guess, just the last thing is just any extra services that…I guess we have kind of gone through that because you’ve said about the champagne and the decorations and all that’s included in the price. So really when you kind of give a bride a set price for a car for a day for their wedding, that’s all inclusive. So there’s no other added cost that they could incur?
Ally: No. We generally, we’ll offer also something that I haven’t mentioned, is if it works time-wise for them as in we’ll take the boys to the wedding as well for them, if they like. As long as say, for instance, the couples come down from Muswellbrook or something, they’re staying in Newcastle and the boys are staying in a motel and so are the girls, we’ll go and get the boys and take them to the church. Then we’ll go back and get the girls.
When I say time-wise, say for instance, the girls were staying at New Lambton for instance, and the boys were staying at Shortland or something, it would be silly trying to do that. The boys would be waiting for ages, and it’s up to the girls of course but yeah, we offer that service as well free of charge.
Natalie: I guess if that’s where, if they have booked two cars whether two cars could work for them.
Natalie: They’ve got one car go to the boys and the other to the girls.
Ally: To the girls, that’s right.
Natalie: And I guess also because you do a lot of Hunter Valley weddings, because lots of venues or lots of the weddings are all held in one place that it’s easy to pick up the boys for something like that.
Ally: Yes, it is. We quite often would do it up there.
Natalie: Okay, lovely. Well thank you so much for doing this interview today.
Ally: That’s okay, no worries, you’re welcome.
Natalie: And I am sure I’ll see you at a wedding soon.
Ally: I am sure we will. Thanks, Natalie.