The Wingdingz edge: 5000 designs, A1 printing, VIP service

(First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Business Monday, Oct. 31, 2011, page B2-3)

by Myrna Rodriguez-Co

MANILA, Philippines—Couples want their weddings to be like no other. They want their event to be as unique as their own personalities, and to surprise and delight their guests.

And the surprise should begin with the wedding invitation.

In 2009, affianced couple Dennise de Pano and Ian Avila visited bridal fairs in preparation for their wedding.

A bridal fair gathers together suppliers of wedding clothes, cakes, invitations, flowers, giveaways, photo and video services, and other wedding paraphernalia.

What the fairs offered did not disappoint the couple. Except for one thing. Wedding invitations.

At that time, Dennise was working as digital printing manager of Design Plus, a family-owned printing press. She did not need to have the invites done in-house, she had earlier decided. At the fair, she looked for something out of the box she and Ian can stamp their own identity with.  They did not find it there. They ended up with an invitation they weren’t too happy with.

The frustration pushed a button in Dennise. Soon after their wedding, she found herself talking with her family about a new, printing-related business proposal. Her folks did not require much convincing. After all, the family business had then newly acquired an expensive digital offset machine specializing in small-volume printing. It had to be constantly fed with projects or otherwise be an idle resource.

Wingdingz Invitations was registered as a single proprietorship in the name of Dennise’s mom, Ruth, but was actually also owned by all three of the De Pano children.

The family chose the business name, after dismissing obvious names like Print-in-a-box and Printasia. Wingdingz reflected the slightly-off-kilter character they wanted to project.

Wingdingz hit the ground running, after a few months of market study, where Dennise immersed herself in bridal fairs, pretending to be a bride, and in online communities, chatting with soon-to-wed couples and listening to their dreams and hopes and troubles and woes.

At its very first bridal fair at PICC Forum in March last year, the upstart business became the most visited and the most booked in its category.

The initial success was the result of hard work. Dennise and her team of designers “borrowed” from Design Plus, worked over time to get ready a catalogue of  2,500 designs that catered to all tastes—from the elegant to the conservative, to the sweet, to the eccentric, to the funny to the  downright outrageous and wacky. They designed and laid out their booth to ensure the passerby does a double turn. She remembers how that booth looked: “All white walls, pink and blue lighting. Sample invitations were in open shelves, inviting the visitors to look and to touch.” She pulled her prices as far down as she could to lure them in.

She held on to the top spot from fair to fair.

Her competitive advantage is Design Plus, a printing company that constantly strives to live up to its name that implies quality printing plus topnotch service. It set the benchmark Wingdingz had to keep up with.

Another advantage is Dennise herself—still warm from her own wedding.  She knows the market and can relate to them. “They are yuppies, young people who are spending their own money, outspoken in what they want, and cannot be dictated on.”

She is familiar with the prewedding pressure that bears on the couple, the female half especially. This is why there is the so-called “Bridezilla” syndrome—a dreamy eyed bride turning into a monster.

It isn’t difficult for Dennise to remember when she was in the same hassled and frazzled state, so she knows how to soothe tantrums or to patiently let them pass. But her people didn’t and were disoriented.  This became a major problem during Wingdingz’s first year.

That first year too, the system from booking invitations to the release of the final products suffered loopholes. Clients complained of late drafts, delayed delivery, confusion in specs. The criticisms went around quickly in the online community. For a time, the company had a bad reputation that had to be repaired quickly, or else …

Soon, Dennise came up with operating manuals and customer relations guidelines. Her staff underwent both formal and informal training. The leaks have been plugged, she thinks, but they are in a continuous improvement mode.

Today, brides and grooms who book at Wingdingz are pampered. They are served coffee, brownies and chocolate bars. The staff or Dennise herself guides them through the catalogue—now doubly voluminous with 5,000 design choices. They also have an option to customize the invitations in very personal ways.

Once they have chosen the design, they submit their photos, text, entourage list, and location maps by e-mail. The printing process then begins. In about a week, a draft is sent to the customers for their revisions. “We give them unlimited opportunities to revise,” Dennise points out, adding that all these exchanges with customers take place by e-mail or Facebook. At final draft stage, they come back to the office to personally approve it. In seven working days, the invitations are ready to be picked up.

Fairs and preparing for them take up the better part of Dennise and her team’s time. There is at least one bridal fair a month. Still they make it a point to set aside time to communicate with their public. The Wingdingz fan page on Facebook has become a growing community where a lot of chikahan and exchange of ideas and experiences take place. Dennise administers the page herself, making sure there are always fun and stimulating posts, including articles on such subjects as how to stay in love, how to cope with wedding jitters, and unusual weddings.

Meanwhile, Wingdingz is slowly weaning away from the mother company, Design Plus. Wingdingz now has its own team of four designers and three customer relations officers. Possible permanent store outlets are being considered. Dennise keeps being asked about a Wingdingz franchise.

Eighteen months and countless bridal fairs after their first, Wingdingz is still on top—a spot now being challenged by a competitor who managed to out-book them in their last outing. Indeed, many firms in the business have beefed up on their designs and seemed to have taken a cue from Wingdingz in layouting their exhibits in mesmerizing ways.

Thus, Dennise is kept on her toes. She has to be steps ahead …

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