Bridelux Symposium speaker Lauren Grech is an innovator and business expert and was recently named Corporate and Incentive Travel's Most Influential Woman of 2019. She co-runs international event management and design company LLG Events, which specialises in luxury destination weddings. Lauren and husband Paul launched LLG in 2014 and in 2018 were nominated as Social Entrepreneurs in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. This recognition led to being invited to develop and run New York University’s pioneering Masters in Science programme in Event Management.
Lauren was heading towards a career in medicine before wedding planning took over, Melanie Anglesey finds out why she swapped forensic toxicology for bridal finery. What did your family, friends and colleagues say when you made an about-turn on your working life?
The first thing my Chief Scientific Officer said to me when I submitted my two weeks notice, was that my job would be waiting for me when I returned in a year. However, I knew that if I was making the transition from a medical career to event planning, then I was going to dive in headfirst as I do with everything else in my life.
A month after I married Paul, I began planning my exit strategy from research and development to start LLG Events. I told Paul about my plan, and he wanted to be part of it, so we agreed to be business partners. We sat at my mom’s kitchen table thinking of a name and creating the business strategy, where we agreed that our first step was to go back to the venue where we got married, and ask to shadow the Maitre D.
“We used our wedding money to fund our first photoshoot”
The early stages were extremely difficult. We had no savings and did not want to seek investors, so we sold my studio apartment to move back in with my in-laws and used our wedding money to fund our first photoshoot. This provided us with some wedding media to showcase what we were capable of.
We worked 40 hours per week at our ‘normal’ jobs and volunteered every Thursday and Friday evening whenever our wedding venue hosted corporate or social events, and every Saturday and Sunday for weddings. Paul and I would be there for 32 hours most weekends and learned everything we could about luxury events. We worked every job?—?from bar work to waiting tables to bridal attending to valet to bathroom attending, we did it all. We shadowed anyone and everyone we could, to learn every aspect of the industry.
Our families were extremely supportive, even though I’m sure they thought we were crazy at first. Others definitely had their doubts, yet that never deterred us from pushing forward. We proved to everyone how hard we were willing to work to achieve our lifelong dream of running a business together. There were a lot of ups and downs in the beginning,, and at times, the road to success felt endless. However, we stood by each other's side through it all, and have now expanded into teaching the United States’ first-ever MS in Event Management program at New York University, and co-founded a second business, LLG Agency.Your job requires you to travel internationally on a regular basis - how do you keep ahead of schedule on the move?
The best way is to continue rising and falling with the sun. Even with the extreme time differences, I always find myself waking up on my EST time schedule. This helps me maintain a normal schedule with my New York-based clients and vendors, and this way I do not have to adjust when I return home. I also get to go to bed earlier, which is a huge plus! Getting at least six hours of sleep, hydrating constantly, and keeping my belongings organised helps me maintain a rigorous travel schedule. How many weddings have you attended in the past five years and what have you learned from them?
I honestly cannot count, however, I can tell you that I learned how difficult it is for couples to navigate the wedding industry—the pricing disparity, how to distinguish a wedding planner from an event producer, venue coordinator, event planner, destination planner, banquet manager, event designer, etc.
There is a confusion and a disconnect, not only among clients but among the vendors and integrated industries as well. What title should be designated for what responsibility, position and experience? What should the criteria be? What code of ethics should vendors have to uphold?
These questions are what spawned my LLG World Tour, where I visited venues around the world to learn about their issues within destination weddings and see what solutions I could come up with. These solutions are now what I’m teaching at New York University. What has running a wedding business with your husband taught you about your relationship?
Paul and I recently took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test and realised we were exact complements of one another. I am an extrovert with introverted thinking, and he is an introvert with extroverted thinking, which makes us a great holistic team because we tackle every problem and every company decision together.
As I’m an extrovert, Paul trusts me to run and lead our teams, both companies and network with the right professionals. I am the face of the company, the 'workhorse' and 'energizer bunny' that manages our day-to-day team and tasks. Paul is an introvert, he analyzes and questions everything I do. He’s a perfectionist. He keeps the company running like a well-oiled machine, keeping all of our technology up-to-date and creating our own company-branded, cloud-based planning portal that we can use anywhere in the world, organising all of our planning materials, streamlining our communication, and ensuring we are running as efficiently as possible. You launched LLG Agency to help wedding venues improve their services, how do you know what to look for?
LLG Agency generates strategic wedding-driven revenue for hotels, resorts and venues around the globe with a combination of event management, business development, data analytics, experiential event marketing and public relations teams, each of which specialises in luxury weddings. We also developed a comprehensive event evaluation, which we call the LLG Standard, to examine a hotel, resort or venue’s events department in order to identify inefficiencies. The LLG Standard is comprised of a proprietary set of target event criteria that allow us to provide an evaluation score and suggestions for improvements. LLG Agency can then also be hired to implement these improvements.What glamorous locations will you be jetting off to in the next few months?
We’ll be joining some amazing wedding planners for an exclusive FAM trip in the Maldives, courtesy of the Bridelux Rendezvous!
We also have a potential destination wedding in Sri Lanka and I’m very excited to be speaking in Iceland at the first-ever International Women In Travel & Tourism Summit. I will be speaking on entrepreneurship and working with young females in the industry, teaching them how to achieve success within advanced management positions. I will also be going to Dubai to speak at the Exotic Wedding Planners Conference, as well as Greece in 2020 for the Destination Wedding Planners Congress.
That’s just the start...I have a feeling that trips to India, China and Bali are in the works as well!You have a very busy schedule, what do you always make time for?
I always make time for my family. Whether it’s going upstate to our Catskills house to spend time with my extended family, enjoying Sunday breakfast with my in-laws, or Sunday dinner with my mom, Paul and I make it a priority to see our families.
I also make time to meditate, and write in my journal every day via my Subway Thoughts, during my 15-minute work commute.
In 2019, my goal was to read more, but I didn’t pick up my first book till September, so I’m hoping I can keep up with it for the rest of the year!How has wedding planning changed over the years and where do you see it going in the future?
Instagram changed the game, for everyone. In 2014, vendors and planners were very tight-lipped about their networks and how much they charge. Instagram started to unveil the world of luxury weddings by showcasing who works with who, who designs what, and it gave the industry a platform to showcase their work.
Needless to say, running a wedding business today is very different from five years ago. Nowadays, planners have to run social media campaigns, takeovers and collaborations, as well as their company Instagram accounts, just to remain relevant and seen by potential consumers.
They’re not just responsible for the wedding, they’re responsible for the event media and keeping up with what new designs and trends other industry vendors are introducing. With all of these responsibilities and probably more to come, I'm trying to lead the industry to focus on being transparent in terms of pricing, collaborating with one another, and setting industry-wide standards to ensure future success for everyone.Your Bridelux Symposium talk is on Community over Competition - can you give us a little insight into what you’ll be discussing?
The amount of vendors choosing to collaborate with one another is seriously inspiring! I love how connected our industry has become.
However, with these collaborations, it’s important to define the rules of engagement. A vendor code of conduct if you will, that describes what it looks like to work together and establishes the best practices in doing so.
Within my discussion, I will share the LLG Standard as it applies to working with vendors, whether within a live event or photoshoot capacity. I will share our media and exchange of service agreements, social media policies, and how we allocate roles and responsibilities between planning and design teams—all so that we are collaborating towards the successful execution of our client’s event. I want to discuss how to properly tag vendors on Instagram, and how, as the event management professionals, we should be setting and enforcing this standard for venues, bridal dress designers, bridal blogs, media outlets, and more.
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