Members of the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists (AWGS) met February 28-March 3 in Nashville, Tennessee, to discuss marketing strategies with wedding industry experts, tour the plant of Oakwood the Greener Cleaners owned by AWGS members Alan and Rhonda Wernick, and elect officers.

A highlight of the meeting was the presentation of the ninth annual Jack Barth Memorial Award of Excellence.  Initiated by Linda Stokes-Barth in remembrance of her late husband and his achievements in the dry cleaning industry, the award recognizes a member of the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists for advancement, promotion, and development of industry standards for wedding gown care and for outstanding contributions and service to the Association and its members.

Accepting the Barth Award

This year’s honoree, Rhonda Wernick, is co-owner of Oakwood the Greener Cleaners in Nashville, Tennessee.  As AWGS president Kermit Engh noted when he presented the award, “I first met our winner a number of years ago and have developed a friendship and deep respect for her business and her contribution to our association.”

Oakwood, already a member of AWGS, Leading Cleaners International, and Methods for Management when Rhonda Wernick and her husband Alan took over in 2011, benefits from both Alan’s expertise in business finance and software development and Rhonda’s creative art profession.  Rhonda’s special talent as a professional artist is evident everywhere at Oakwood and walking into either of the two Oakwood locations is like walking into a living room complete with comfy chairs, her own beautiful artwork and a friendly, family-like atmosphere.  Overall the Wernick’s have not only maintained Oakwood’s reputation for excellence but also taken it to an even higher level of couture cleaning and customer service.

Immediately drawn to the bridal side of the business, Rhonda has attended every AWGS meeting since 2011, served on the Board of Directors 2014-2017, and is quick to welcome new members via the AWGS discussion forum.  On the forum she often shares inspiring photos of special projects such as turning a vintage wedding gown into a unique christening gown.  She also shares ways to enhance the bride’s experience at the counter.  “We like to make a bride feel like she is the only one in the store,” says Rhonda, and each bride also receives a special keepsake when she takes her gown home–Rhonda’s hand-painted sketch of the gown.

In addition to managing Oakwood’s bridal business, Rhonda operates both and  She also gives back to her community with 9 years of service on the board of trustees of the Nashville Gordon Jewish Community Center and in many other ways including chairing and originating art events such as Nashville Temple Arts Festival and Art on the West Side.  In 2017 she was the featured artist at Art on the West Side.

Speakers at the conference presented a range of important ideas for branding and networking.  Brian Rashid of Brian Rashid Global told the group they should think of themselves as media companies rather than businesses and offer not just products on social media but also content via video.  “Interview interesting and important people in your community,” said Rashid, “and your brand will become interesting and important, too.”

Brian Leahy, voted outstanding Los Angeles photographer by California Wedding Day Magazine for three consecutive years, also stressed the value of networking and offered creative, effective ideas for expanding business contacts.  Leahy said, “Be sure you do your homework before attending an event.  When you take the time to learn something about your potential partner in advance, you greatly increase your chances of interacting successfully.  If you attend the event with someone, be sure you split up to maximize your exposure.”  Leahy also introduced AWGS to Wish Upon a Wedding, an organization that grants weddings and vow renewals to couples facing serious illness or a life-altering circumstance.  Going forward AWGS will donate preservations to help provide these couples with memories that will last forever.

Kaleigh Wiese, a brand educator who specializes in developing luxury brands for weddings and wedding-related stationery, explained how small tweaks such as changing colors and fonts can improve your brand’s image.  Wiese’s brides spend as much as $50,000 for her uniquely themed invitations, an amount usually representing between 7% and 15% of the overall cost of the wedding.  Wiese also provided AWGS members an opportunity to review websites with the psychology of color in mind.

Other presentations were “Soil Remediation” by Ed Longanecker of Iris City Cleaners and Laundering Company in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, “Do the Signposts on the Bridal Highway Point to You?” by Vikki Reed of Fashion Cleaners in Omaha, Nebraska, and “Do’s and Don’t’s at the Counter” by Sally Conant, Orange Restoration Labs, in Orange, Connecticut.

Next year’s AWGS meeting will be hosted by Sasha Ablitt of Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners in Santa Barbara, California, February 27-March 1, 2020.
Re-elected to office were president Kermit Engh of Fashion Cleaners in Omaha, Nebraska, vice president Gary Fine of Parkers Custom Clothing Care in Toronto, Ontario, and secretary-treasurer Sharlene Thum of Five Star Wedding Gown Specialists in San Antonio, Texas.  Malcolm MacGregor of Browns Cleaners in Ottawa, Ontario, serves as immediate past president and chair of the finance committee.


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