MEDICINE HAT, Alta. - Spring brings showers, flowers, and dreams of the perfect wedding, complete with the perfect table settings, decorative bows, aisle runners and stationary holders.
But many couples heading for the altar might be surprised to learn that the founder of the global company that's supplying the decorations for their special day _ right down to personalized bride-and-groom figurines for their wedding cakes _ got his start in the business when he was still playing in the rough-and-tumble world of junior hockey.
Meet Rick Brink of Weddingstar, a company with 70 employees and warehouses in North America, Europe and Australia with its headquarters in an unlikely location _ just outside Medicine Hat, Alta.
Even people in Medicine Hat are surprised to find out it's home to a world headquarters of matrimonial supplies.
"There's people in Medicine Hat who don't know about us. They wonder what this big building is on the highway. They're surprised we're doing this here out on the Prairie," Brink said in a recent interview while sitting in his office.
Brink has never felt the need to move to a bigger centre because it's easy to ship products by courier from Medicine Hat.
Need flameless battery-operated tea lights for your reception? Weddingstar will ship them to you. Are you a professional wedding planner or a wedding supply store and need just the right basket for the flower girl to carry? Weddingstar develops up to 200 ideas into products every year, which it commissions factories to produce.
Weddingstar has even arranged a partnership this year for a line of products with celebrity wedding planner Preston Bailey. And the company prints its own magazine that is available at supermarkets and pharmacies across the country.
"Everything but the dress," Brink says of his business.
But back in the early 1980s, Brink, who was born in Medicine Hat and is the son of a police officer, was a hard-working hockey player for Medicine Hat Tigers as well as the University of Calgary Dinos. He later got a contract in Europe for Esbjerj, a team in Denmark, where he played for two years.
It was a world that conjures up images of the 1970s classic hockey movie "Slapshot." Just like Reggie Dunlop, the main character in the movie played by Paul Newman, Brink was player and coach of his Esbjerk team.
But like a couple of newlyweds, Brink had big dreams of a bright future, and while he was still playing in Europe he was on the lookout for possible business ventures. He was thinking he could make a quick buck by buying chocolate Christmas advent calendars in Denmark and reselling them in Canada, but while he was searching for suitable manufacturers, a teammate connected him with a company that made folding paper Santas and Easter bunnies, as well as paper bells.
Brink says he brought a container full of them back to Canada, but he was so green in business that he didn't even know he had to pay import duties. His second problem was that customers wanted the paper bells to be different colours because they thought they'd be good for weddings.
It wasn't long before Brink stopped selling Christmas and Easter decorations and switched completely to wedding supplies. He brought back something else from Europe the following year that also helped with his business — his wife, Helle, who was an accountant.
"All over the world brides want a personalized wedding. People want to see their names on things. They want their colours on things," Brink says about why people buy his products.
In the early days, Brink and his father cruised the back alleys of Medicine Hat for cardboard boxes that they could use for shipping. Those days, though, are far behind them.
Last month, Weddingstar announced that Preston Bailey would design an exclusive collection of wedding reception tabletop accessories. Bailey, based in New York, plans wedding decorations for celebrities and has a client list that ranges from Jennifer Hudson to Donald Trump. He's written bestselling books with titles like "Fantasy Weddings" and "Design for Entertaining."
A typical wedding he would plan costs well into the six-figures, Brink says. But Bailey, in a news release about the partnership, said the deal would help make personalized weddings more affordable.
"I am thrilled to be partnering with Weddingstar, a company I have long admired for their impressive selection of Quality wedding products and accessories," Bailey said.
"Every bride deserves to have her dream wedding, and we want to help."
Brink says the most unusual request Weddingstar has received has been from a nudist couple who requested a bride-and-groom cake topper where the figurines were, well, wearing neither a wedding dress nor a tuxedo. He says he had to turn them down, not because it was too freaky, but because he didn't think he'd be able to sell the minimum number he'd have to order from the factory.