We had the good fortune of connecting with Susan Stow and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Susan, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
My husband Don and I own Chapman Hill Weddings + Events in Jefferson, Georgia. We purchased the existing event venue at the height of Covid truly on a wing and a prayer. We set out to build a venue in 2019 and went looking for land. Don’s background is varied and includes, accounting, IT management, construction and a passion for event planning and entertaining. My background is in HR, event planning and design. I said to Don, “If we’re going to do this, we need Claire.” Our 24-year-old daughter had a degree in Sports Management from Georgia Southern. She had spent the recent years working at the large venue of Paulsen Stadium and is over the top creative. I knew we would need her presence at the venue and her touch in our marketing and social media presence. We truly believed that our combination was going to make magic. With a lot of prayer and faith and hard work, we have created an amazing place that offers an unforgettable experience for all who come to our property.
After months of searching for the perfect piece of property that suited our needs, we came across a realtor that recommended we talk to someone she knew with an existing venue. The place was not for sale, but they would be willing to sit down and have a talk. Our prayer since day one was, “Lord, if this is your plan for us, open the doors. If it is not, please slam them shut.” We met the owners and hit it off. After a few meetings, we struck a deal. We were all set to close on March 31st. Our plan was to go under contract and spend the time before closing learning from the owners all that we could. As you can imagine, that plan was a bit foiled by Covid and the entire spring event calendar was scrapped. All of those events were going to have to be rescheduled. I remember getting a call from my mom who said, “Do you think this is God closing the door?” Somehow, we were confident that it wasn’t. The bank put our small business loan on the back burner, and we waited. We finally got the call that we could close when the governor opened up the state at the beginning of June. We closed on June 4th and our first event was held on June 5th. We had back-to-back events from that date until the end of the year. God’s plan for us was showing up in shining colors.
We retained all of the staff that had been on the property for years. We let them know that we wanted to have quarterly dinners where we could get to know them outside of “working”. To be honest, I’m not sure they knew what to do with us. They came to the dinner hesitant, not really understanding what we were up to. We legitimately just wanted to get to know them and to celebrate their hard work, treating them like family. Our mission was to allow them a time to be on the property and be treated like a guest. We have those dinners quarterly and we don’t let them lift even a plate. We take time to laugh and celebrate the great job they have been doing in taking care of our clients.
The summer was spent getting to know the vendors that came through our space with each event. My question was always, “What would you need in this space to make your job easier?” They were genuinely surprised that we would ask, and each gave their individual feedback. We systematically added those changes over the first year of our ownership. We learned that they liked working at Chapman Hill but each one definitely had a few suggestions for us for the future. That was, if we were up to making some changes. We of course were. Listening to the way they work and what makes their job run more smoothly was key to elevating the experience everyone gets when they come to Chapman Hill.
When we bought the property, the 17 acres of grounds and the buildings were in terrific shape and it was selling well enough. It just didn’t have quite the look that we were planning when we intended to build a venue. We set about over our first year of business putting things in motion to lighten and brighten and elevate the look and feel of the venue overall. We’ve created an elegant farmhouse type feel that our guests and clients love. Claire, our Director of Marketing sees everything with a photographic eye, always keeping the bride’s future photo album and our overall look on social media in the back of her mind. She has created a marketing plan and a social media presence that catapulted our brand over the past year and a half. Our bookings doubled in a year and are on the rise again for next year.
We pride ourselves on the way we treat our clients and our staff. We have a sign in the bridal suite that says, “Stay a while, you’ll see you’re not a guest, you’re family.” That is truly the way we want people to feel. Loved and as though they are the only (and most important) thing on our minds.
Our family focuses on grace, love for others, faith and relationships. We have worked hard to weave this through our business. Happily, the feedback we get from our clients tells us that they feel it. Nothing makes me happier than hearing from a bride, her family or one of our executives that has hosted a charity event at our place. The overall response we get is that they felt like they were treated like family and with the utmost care and love. To me, the true measure of success is in my level of pride in my work and my family. We have created a beautiful, loving environment that is truly thriving and is sought after. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for us and for Chapman Hill.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
It’s funny, I just told someone that I felt like every job I ever had, my degree and every volunteer opportunity I participated in have all lead me to this place, to owning this business. I graduated form the College of Charleston with a degree in Psychology. Although my degree was in the sciences, I always wanted to have a career in special event planning.
As fate would have it, I ended up working for a bank. My work there was heavily focused on human resources, recruiting and event planning for the team. My next move was to my home to raise three kids. Within a year, I opened and ran a very successful drapery workroom for the 20 years. All throughout those years, I was involved in various volunteer organizations where I always found myself in leadership and event planning roles. My kids would have told you that I was just a stay at home mom that volunteered at their schools and community. I strived to give them all of my attention when they were home and to work hard while they were at school, providing the balance I needed and they needed.
After years of working from home, a friend approached me to ask if I would work part time for his recruiting firm. My role there was centered around human resources and once again event planning. I had gone from a large corporate environment to a work from home space. This small business taught me a lot about what I would eventually use to shape the culture at our venue.
The way that we have chosen to run our business is modeled after the way we run our family and what we have gleaned from watching others run their companies. It’s like we have an imaginary list of “yes, we want to do this, and we definitely don’t want to do that”. We strategically have set up our company to feel like a family. We ask for feedback, we ask for help and we reward our team regularly. We also enjoy time together outside of work.
Psychology, human resources and event planning are so heavily woven through my life; I find it ironic that I am now the owner of a business in which those three things are critical. All of that experience makes me confident in my ability to successfully manage people and run this business.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I appreciate experiences, sights and cultures. I have lived in the Atlanta area all of my life. I’m a northern suburbs girl who loves the mountains and the city. If I have a week with a friend, we’d have to hit all of the places. I’d say, get ready, we’re going to be driving all over the place!
Monday, we would head downtown to the Atlanta Apparel Mart to see what the trends are looking like and shop around. We’d have lunch at the top of the Westin Peachtree Plaza at the Sundial Restaurant. We’ll have to go one floor down to see the sights all around Atlanta. You can walk the entire round floor of the building and there are placards telling you what you see out on the horizon and below. One of the things I love most about Atlanta is how green the city still is. We are a huge spread out city with a lot of growth; however, the green space remains. We aren’t a concrete city by any means. We would then go stroll the Centennial Olympic Park where I would tell stories of the time when I was working for Bank of America and volunteered for the Olympics. The bank paid 500 volunteers to work the 1996 Olympics and rewarded those who went above and beyond in their service. I proudly received a Gold Medal award for my work and a nice bonus too! We’d find my family bricks in the park and the brick that Bank of America laid there in my name as well. We would round out the evening on Krog Street at one of Kevin Rathbun’s famous restaurants.
Tuesday we would get up and head to Avalon in Alpharetta. This is a live, work, play space that has the ambiance and customer experience of a 5 star hotel. Avalon has shopping, eating, movies, activities and more. We will start the day with yoga on the green and then browse the shops. A little glass of vino on the rooftop of Cru Wine Bar will accompany lunch. After lunch, we’ll explore the furniture and clothing shops. We’ll head home and rest for a bit then freshen up and go back for a “crawl”. It’s so fun to hit all of the restaurants there and just enjoy the whole environment. We’ll start out at South City Kitchen with a drink, then head to the bar at Rumi’s Kitchen for an appetizer. After that we will walk down to see our friends at Oak Steakhouse and be treated to an exquisite dinner. To round out the night, we’ll stop into Cafe Intermezzo for coffee and dessert.
Wednesday, we’ll relax and enjoy the morning with a little avocado toast for breakfast. On the docket for the day is a hike to the Indian Seats in Forsyth County. It’s an easy hike with a terrific view. We’ll stop at Never Enough Thyme to pick up a picnic lunch and take it with us. For dinner that night, we’ll cook up some Shrimp and Grits from my favorite Bobby Flay recipe, relax, have a glass of wine and take in a movie.
Thursday we will be headed to the mountains. The town of Blue Ridge is one of the most charming towns in northern Georgia. It’s a short hour and a half away and boasts some of the most terrific hiking, river rafting, shopping and eating around. We’ll start with a stroll through the farmer’s market at Mercier Orchards, then we’ll head into town to shop the stores and grab lunch at Chester Brunnemeyer’s. After lunch, we’ll spend the afternoon rafting down the Toccoa River. We’ll round out the evening with a beautiful dinner at Harvest on Main.
Friday is LAKE DAY. We will get up and pack a cooler with good food and good drinks for a long and lazy day of floating on Lake Rabun. I grew up going to this lake, skiing every day, floating in the lake, playing cards on the deck during rain showers and hanging out with family and friends. There aren’t any stores or restaurants nearby, so this is truly a day to enjoy what God created around us,
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Huge kudos go out to my parents for raising me to believe that family, faith, grace and love come before anything and are the building blocks to success. My husband and daughter have worked tirelessly to build the name and the brand of Chapman Hill by my side.
Instagram: @chapmanhillevents and @susanstow
Facebook: Chapman Hill Weddings + Events and Susan Fitch Stow
Munoz Photography, Travis Dew Photography