Innovation helps Weddingstar maintain global leadership
Weddingstar has come a long way since its founders Rick and Helle Brink first started importing decorative Christmas bells into Canada 35 years ago. Weddingstar is now a leading global supplier of wedding products. The company’s headquarters and primary centre of operations are in Dunmore, Alberta where it employs approximately 100 people. Weddingstar also has a couple of other warehouse locations: one in Manchester England, where it services their European customers and one in Australia.
Originally starting with Christmas decorations (red and green bells), Weddingstar now sells 4,000 products to over 100 countries around the world. This success did not come about due to chance. Over the years Weddingstar has evolved and adapted to the marketplace. The company has also embraced innovation and consistently strived to improve its productivity.
In the early 1990’s Weddingstar had a scare. At the time, they were selling the same commodity wedding products as their competitors when a price war broke out. With customers defecting to competitors and with no product pricing power, the company’s very survival was at risk. Weddingstar survived and Rick Brink learned an important lesson, “I realized that we had to be different from our competitors. We needed more control over our product design.”
Rick Brink considers this near-death experience to be an important turning point for the company. Today, 90 percent of Weddingstar’s products are now unique to the company. An added benefit of offering exclusive products was that Weddingstar was able to sell beyond Canada’s borders as buyers were willing to bypass local producers to access unique merchandise.
Rick Brink’s philosophy on costs and productivity has remained consistent since the early days until today. When he was first starting out, he had very little capital and had to focus on keeping costs down in order to survive. He even recycled used boxes from local businesses in order to ship his products. Today, Weddingstar continues to ask important questions about their business model. What can we do better? How can we reduce our costs? How can we automate a process? How can we use technology? How can we reduce turn-around time for customer orders?
Rick Brink gives an example of how technology has radically improved efficiency. One of the products that Weddingstar has provided for many years are customized printing of wedding invitations. In the early days, a bride would fill in an order form which a retailer would fax to Weddingstar. Staff would need to review the order, double check the text, set up the printing press and print the invitations. This took approximately one hour of staff time due to the manual process. When online orders became possible, Weddingstar was able to reduce this down to 15 minutes per order. In recent years, automated processing of web orders through Weddingstar’s in-house systems and digital printing has brought this down to about 5 seconds!
The desire to increase productivity has also had additional benefits from a marketing standpoint. Weddingstar’s business model had previously relied on a smaller number of relatively large retailer orders. Given the staff time to process orders, this was a way to keep costs down. With increased automation and improved processing times, Weddingstar is now able to efficiently process a large number of small orders. This is supportive of the consumer direct model through the company’s website and catalogue where an order could be as low as $5. It has also enabled Weddingstar’s retail partners to stay lean and only order products as needed instead of stocking their shelves.
After 30 years as a successful entrepreneur, Rick Brink has accumulated a lot of wisdom. One caution for would-be entrepreneurs is to not underestimate the long hours and constant challenges of building a business. The pressure to overcome barriers becomes intense not only for your own livelihood but there is a great responsibility for your employees as well. For this reason, it is important for an entrepreneur to stay on top of their company’s operations.
Weddingstar is a shining example of a company based in Southeast Alberta that has embraced innovation, continuously improved productivity, and stayed focused on its market to become a winner in the global economy.
Visit their website: www.weddingstar.com.
APEX Alberta supports the growth of innovative and technologically-oriented businesses in Southeast Alberta. APEX Alberta is a collaborative initiative between three core service providers: Community Futures Entre-Corp, Medicine Hat College and Alberta Innovates.