Splendid Mentors: Rebecca Grinnals

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

rebecca grinnals of engaging conceptsToday's post launches a new series called Splendid Mentors. This series features interviews with people I've personally been able to meet who have been in the wedding industry for more than 15 years.

I couldn't think of a better person to kick off the series than Rebecca Grinnals, a woman I am lucky enough to call a friend in addition to colleague. I first became familiar with Rebecca in 2007 when she left a comment on my blog. The following year, she asked me to speak at a new conference she was launching called engage!08. I walked into the conference a bit nervous because I only knew Rebecca via email and phone at that point. I couldn't have received a warmer welcome and I was instantly struck by how incredibly down to earth and kind Rebecca was (and is). I've never been easy to impress, and I remember thinking that if the wedding industry had people like her in it who had stuck around for so long, then its future was bright. I was later a client of Rebecca's and can say without hesitation that the depth of her intelligence matches the depth of her kindness. So, without further ado, here is some of Rebecca's wisdom and insight from her 20 years in the wedding industry:

Name: Rebecca Grinnals

Company Name: Engaging Concepts Inc.

Year you first started in the wedding industry: 1991

How did you get started in the wedding industry? 
My maternal grandmother sold wedding gowns at a fancy department store in Pennsylvania. I have vivid memories of putting on my ‘white gloves and party manners,’ polishing my patent leather mary janes and getting all dressed up to get to go and visit her on the weekends. All of the ladies there treated me like a queen: they let me go back in the stockroom among all the gorgeous, frothy white gowns, I was able to sit with them at the alterations tables and touch the pearls and beads and when I was really good, I was able to sit quietly in the corner of the dressing room and watch the brides try on the dresses. On the most special of occasions, I was allowed to try on headpieces and veils and stand on the carpeted ‘box.' I was hooked! Years later, as a very young 23-year old sales manager at Walt Disney World, I was fatefully in the right place at the right time to be given the opportunity to co-found the brand new division of The Walt Disney Company, “Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings.” The rest as they say is history and here I (still) am today!

How did working with Disney Weddings shape your insight into the wedding industry? 
Disney is an amazing company with such a rich history and iconic brand heritage. I learned so much from the intense and consistent training that they provided but just as much from the incredible people that I had the honor of working for and next to. Many are still there and have risen up the ranks as executives and others who, like me, left to strike out on their own and have done some really big things. The core values that Disney stands for will always be a big part of who I am and forever shaped me as a person and business owner.

Given a successful career at Disney, what prompted you to go out on your own and launch Engaging Concepts?
I wish I could tell you that it was this long-held dream or or some very profound answer but honestly, it was rather impulsive and more than a little risky! There was a very small window of opportunity for me to leave and receive a voluntary severance package back in 2001 when Disney was undergoing a world-wide corporate ‘re-sizing.’ They were looking to shrink voluntarily so that they did not have to lay people off in a recessionary environment. Since my husband Patrick was (and still is) a Disney Imagineer, we took a look at our benefits and ran some very rough numbers and literally made the decision overnight. Our daughter Annie had just turned one and I had the illusion (more like a delusion!) that by working for myself I would have so much more time to spend with her since I would be working from home. I certainly did gain a tremendous amount of flexibility but ten years later I can tell you that I have never worked so hard or so much as I have since becoming an entrepreneur and that says a lot coming from a company like Disney which cultivates a very strong work ethic and sets expectations extremely high. I thought that the wedding and travel industry could benefit from the experience, insight, contacts and knowledge that I had developed over my ten years with the company.

A few years ago, you launched engage!, a semi-annual conference for the luxury wedding industry. Can you let us in a little bit to your thought process behind that decision?
In the Spring of 2008, Kathryn Arce (my awesome business colleague and partner in crime) and I created engage! quite simply to be an event that we wanted to attend and that in our view did not exist. Over the years we had attended bridal event after bridal event for consumers in an attempt to connect with other like-minded wedding professionals but the events were not really developed with us in mind. We had also been a part of many of the event industry conferences out there – but they were either totally focused on one narrow segment of the market or had hundreds or even thousands of attendees and we were left wanting much more. So, we set out to create an event that attracted the best of the best wedding professionals from ALL aspects of the industry (not just certain segments) for open and honest dialogue about issues, ideas, inspiration and so much more and to have it be a luxury experience from start to finish all in an intimate and inviting setting. But really at the heart of engage! are the priceless in-person connections that result in innovative and creative new partnerships and business concepts. It has evolved, with the support of so many amazing people, into something far beyond our wildest dreams and we are thrilled, honored and excited about what the future holds!

Aside from wedding trends themselves, in what ways have you seen the industry shift during your career? 
It is more creative and connected than ever before and the innovative ideas that people are coming up with dazzles me! Both from those that have been in business for over 25 years and fresh faces – it is by far the most exciting time to be in the wedding industry!

What is your take on the increasing competition in and saturation of the industry? 
It is inevitable and not at all surprising – for the most part, the barrier to entry has never been lower in almost all segments of the industry. It is also a sexy, glamorous, pretty and fun business that gets a ton of media coverage and press, is the darling of the movie and television business and appears from the outside to be something that just about anyone can do with very little, if no training! Of course, those of us in the business know very differently but usually you don’t learn the cold, hard, exhausting realities until you have made the leap. Certainly makes for a constantly evolving marketplace that does not allow any of us to rest for one second!

What is the one thing today's businesses should keep in mind as they plan for the future? 
Service, Service, Service – it trumps the most cutting edge branding, snazziest website and over-the-top business cards every time. Those that have lasted and built real, solid, profitable businesses in this industry know that offering exceptional, proactive and authentic service at every level of the client’s interaction with their company is what keeps people coming back for more and creates raving fans. There is a big difference between talking the good service talk and walking the extraordinary service walk!

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You can follow Rebecca on Twitter here and learn more about the engage! wedding conferences here.

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