Angela and Marty Higgenbotham

Lakeland, Florida

The Rocking H Ranch

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Angela and Marty Higgenbotham, owners and founders of The Rocking H Ranch, a vintage wedding venue, complete with a large climate-controlled barn, bridal suite, groom's 'den', vintage garden, a 60,000 gallon tropical pool with a waterfall, an array of fun props and even a 1924 Dodge Brothers convertible car called 'Shabby Abby', are in the business of providing a one-of-a-kind experience for weddings, corporate parties and charity events. Angela shared the story behind her journey, how she met Marty and how, together, they "fell into" the wedding and events industry.

"From 1979 to 1999, I worked for UPS," Angela said. "I spent my last 13 years in various supervisory roles. My time with UPS provided me with a great training ground. From training drivers to supporting various personnel to do their jobs, I really learned the basics of how to run a business. After UPS, I took some classes at Polk Community College. One of those classes was about appraisals. I didn't want to be a realtor, but I was interested in the real estate industry. Not long after, I found an Auction Manager position with Marty's company. We didn't know each other at the time. Anyway, I got my Real Estate License and learned the auction business. I learned that the auction business involves accelerated marketing, and educated buyers. As an Auction Manager, I was tasked with preparing 'Bid Packets', an informational guide on the property to be sold at auction. I also coordinated the day of sale logistics. A great primer for organizing events."

Marty and Angela ended up getting married in 2005 and, in 2008, a decision to "clean house" set the wheels in motion that would breathe new life into an old barn and establish an Agritourism venue set among emerald green pastures and 100 year old grandfather oak trees.

"Marty grew up in Missouri around cattle and farming," Angela shared. "That's how Rocking H Ranch got its start. It's still a working cattle ranch, but it also serves as a place for Marty to hold auctions. In 2008, we decided it was time to clean the barn. He had accumulated nearly 30 years worth of collectibles. We made a keeper pile and an auction pile. Using the keeper pile, I decorated the barn. I hung signs, we did some painting and, initially, the barn was transformed into a giant man cave. We certainly did not see weddings as a future source of revenue. As Marty continued to host his auctions inside the barn, people took notice and asked about using the space for charity events. That's when additional requests, like weddings, started to come in."

Angela and Marty responded and started advertising the space for outdoor vintage style weddings. Slowly but surely the business grew. Through word of mouth and referrals, more people discovered the space and booked events. Around 2013, as Angela shared, the state recognized that farming and ranch operations needed supplemental income. As a result, a bill was passed to provide additional resources and support to farmers and ranchers who also utilized their properties for events. This provided Angela and Marty with a boost to further invest in the business.

"The 'vintage' part of the business grew in part because of Marty's love and collection of antiques," Angela said. "We had so many collectibles to use as props for weddings and events and we never charged extra for them. They're always part of the package. When we added AC to the barn, things really took off."

The auctions were certainly helpful in letting people know about the space, and the availability for weddings and corporate events, but Angela was also strategic in her use of social media. She made good use of Facebook ads and engaging content through Instagram to attract attention and drive people to The Rocking H Ranch events website. Angela also utilized a popular wedding platform called Wedding Wire to drive growth. As the business expanded, Angela and Marty faced and overcame the challenges of coordinating with multiple vendors and managing staff levels through high and low seasons.

As they continue to update the gardens and barns and add special touches, such as chandeliers hanging from trees, Angela's love and appreciation for the events business continues to strengthen.

"It's really fun to meet the brides, grooms and other clients and get to know their visions," she said. "We've entertained guests from England and Italy and even as far away as Peru. We're able to take their visions and turn them into reality. It's a challenge, but we love it. It's just amazing to see everything come together. We also work with an incredibly talented in-house team, a Ranch Manager, Groundsmen, an Event Planner and a Corporate Sales Manager. Although we can include an Event Planner, outside Event Planners, and vendors are most welcome. We bring people into town and that supports hotels, restaurants and other forms of entertainment."

Looking ahead, Angela and Marty are still focused on weddings, but would also like to grow the corporate side of their business. In the past, they've hosted events for Geico/Compass Rose, United Way, Peace River Center and the Polk County Sheriff's Office to name a few. Angela and Marty are also creating various packages, that include pre-selected vendors, for their clients to choose from. Their long term goal is to travel more and be able to leave the daily operations to their highly capable team of professionals.

What advice does Angela have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Love what you do," she said. "Don't just look for the money. If you love what you do and hone your skills, the money will come. And you will be excited to 'work' the rest of your life! In fact, retiring may be really difficult. Ask my husband Marty, an Auctioneer of 60 years and still going strong! If you're considering the Agritourism business, educate yourself. That applies to any business you are interested in. Learn as much as you can before diving in blindly. Also, find a mentor who has the time to share insights. It's the best investment one can make! Remember, failure is a great teacher, but a costly one. The more mistakes you can avoid due to wise guidance, the more successful you will be. The real blessing of being an entrepreneur is you can change your plan as you desire!"

PLEASE MENTION YOU READ MY STORY ON FLVEC.COM
WHEN YOU CALL, VISIT OR MESSAGE ME. THANKS!



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