An emerging cluster of wedding retailers could earn the Electric City another nickname
Story by Robin Driessen Bruecker
A Fox River community of more than 15,500 residents, Kaukauna is known for the historic Grignon Mansion, Thilmany paper mill, and the 1000 Islands Environmental Center with its river and forest trails where bald eagles nest. Hydroelectric power and pleasant people earned Kaukauna the nicknames of Electric City and Friendly City.
A group of business owners has been working to create another reputation for the city – that of a one-stop wedding- and event-planning destination. Currently 17 businesses make up the Kaukauna Association of Wedding and Event Professionals, or KAWEP for short, including those that provide jewelry, invitations, photography, framing, banquet facilities, cakes, formal apparel and music.
Former wedding/event-planner-turned-cake-artist and Kaukauna resident Dawn Bybee of Cake Anatomy is one of KAWEP’s founders.
“I had the opportunity to purchase an existing business from Green Bay and, after much research, realized that Appleton people would go as far north as De Pere and Green Bay (residents) would go as far south as Kaukauna,” noted Bybee, who relocated the business to the Electric City in 2007.
“Kaukauna’s central location has been significant in capitalizing in areas from Green Bay to Oshkosh,” she went on. “We do have clients coming from all over the state and country to visit what we have to offer here, and being right in the middle of two larger cities allows people to come to us without having to drive for hours. People are looking for convenience and to be right in the middle, they have that.”
Out-of-town customers coming from the Green Bay metro area, the Fox Cities, the Lakeshore area or further south on Lake Winnebago can easily reach Kaukauna. The downtown of the community already had the seeds planted to help grow its wedding industry cluster.
“We had many professionals already stationed with good business standings in the Kaukauna area,” noted Lu Ann Vander Zanden, a certified bridal consultant and owner of Bridal Elegance and Formalwear, which has been in business downtown since 1999. Located on Kaukauna’s north side near the Lawe Street bridge that spans the Fox River, Bridal Elegance provides formal apparel and accessories for diverse events.
“Another group of wedding professionals had formed in the Fox Valley area and we felt that it would be a good thing to market the Kaukauna area as so many of us already had businesses here,” continued Vander Zanden. “I was one of the first business owners to have my store in Kaukauna and marketed that I was centrally located between Appleton, Green Bay and Oshkosh, so I was sure that more people would move here knowing that location was excellent and without all the (Fox River) mall traffic.”
For Cake Anatomy, Bybee chose a building on Kaukauna’s south side, just over the bridge. Her bakery is known for its decorated, moist cakes made fresh to order and its homemade butter cream icing. Cake Anatomy also bakes its own cookies, Bybee added, with some recipes that go as far back as her grandmother.
During her search for a location, Bybee discovered there were several wedding vendors in the city. She recommended Kaukauna as a location for her friend, Ross, owner of Marshall Florist, so he set up shop there as well. The full-service florist shop has now been in Kaukauna five years and serving the Fox Valley for a quarter century.
“We draw brides from all over the state and a lot from Green Bay,” he said. “They feel Kaukauna is closer to Green Bay than Appleton.”
“I decided at that time that we needed to capitalize on Kaukauna being a one-stop-shop for weddings and events with all the vendors located here,” said Bybee, and the Kaukauna Association of Wedding and Event Professionals took shape, further bolstered by market research that showed the demographics of the area were right for the industry. The city also has several buildings with the charming look of yesteryear.
From its 2007 inception, the group started with three member businesses and quickly grew to 18 members within six months, with some – like Bybee – relocating to Kaukauna or opening a second location to be part of the cluster.
Business owners in adjoining communities have expressed an interest in being part of KAWEP from their current locations.
“Unfortunately, that defeats the purpose of a one-stop area if people are all over, so we have limited it to actually being in Kaukauna to give the client the convenience,” explained Bybee. “People have come and gone as their business changed, but the group remains with a core group of 17 strong businesses all that work closely together.”
The one-city location helps make it easier to get to know fellow members and provide a support network.
“With all of us being located in one area, it allows our clients to go from business to business all within a short distance,” said Bybee. “We all know what each of us has to offer and that helps in promoting what (customers) are looking for.”
“We have been very excited to drive new businesses to our area, and having so many on one main street has been very attractive to my clientele,” said Vander Zanden. She noted that her customers can literally step out the front door of Bridal Elegance and see other shops that provide flowers, engraving, planning, hair styling, jewelry, and rehearsal dinners.
The association has a seven-person board of directors. To be considered for membership, in addition to being based in Kaukauna, a wedding- and event-related business must present its services and value to the board, which then votes on whether to admit the business to KAWEP.
The association’s website (kawep.com) receives numerous hits every month. Cross-promotion on member websites also helps get the word out. Bybee, for example, lists fellow KAWEP businesses on Cake Anatomy’s website. Members also promote the group by handing out a promotional postcard at bridal shows and posting it at each member business. Additionally, KAWEP members chip in and advertise as a group, which is a benefit for members with a small advertising budget.
“And, of course,” added Bybee, “word-of-mouth advertising is always amazing!”
Vander Zanden mentioned KAWEP members have discussed potentially creating a bridal show, which would give the group additional exposure, and that they have approached the City of Kaukauna about developing the city as an event planning destination. For her own business, she added, “I do a lot of advertising in the Chilton/Brillion/Green Bay area and find that I will drive traffic my way by indicating I’m centrally located between them and Appleton.”
Among the clients who have benefitted from the combined services of KAWEP members is Lindsey Torbeck of Kaukauna, formerly of nearby Darboy, who wed a Kaukauna native in Appleton in early 2012. She noted the ease of scheduling appointments with businesses that were so close.
“I purchased my bridal gown at Bridal Elegance in Kaukauna,” said Torbeck. “We also purchased bridesmaid gowns and rented tuxes there. They were able to schedule dress alterations for my bridesmaids, my mom and myself back to back so we could all go together for those appointments.
“Our wedding flowers were from Marshall Florist, and I knew I wanted fresh roses in my hair for my wedding. They provided me with a couple of fresh flowers for my hair on the day of my practice hair appointment free of charge. We purchased our wedding cupcakes from Cake Anatomy in Kaukauna. As anyone planning a wedding knows, you do not have a final guest count until very close to the wedding date. Dawn allowed me to adjust the number of cupcakes so we had the perfect amount for our day.
“Everyone was very personable and helpful throughout the entire planning process,” she noted.
Bybee noted that many of her clients have an existing awareness of what Kaukauna offers.
“I do feel that as Kaukauna grows, with the buildings being sold and renovated to other businesses, the KAWEP will grow as well,” she said. “The KAWEP offers many ‘specialty shops’ and people love that. I would love to see more specialty shops come into Kaukauna and join our group. We have several clients that have secured all of their services using all KAWEP members. We would like to see that grow.”
Robin Driessen Bruecker has 17 years experience in magazine and marcom writing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.