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Sunny side up: Marjorie Beenders

Marjorie Beenders

Hometown: Greenview, Ill.
Age: 64
Education: Lincoln Land Community College, Greenview
Family: Husband, Stephen Walker; three children from first marriage, two stepchildren from second; four grandchildren
Leisure pursuits: Quilting, reading, traveling — “Who doesn’t like to travel?”

The idea came to Marjorie Beenders while she was sitting at her kitchen table.

Beenders had just been hired in late 1982 to be the Missouri state travel director, and she was brainstorming ways to make an impact with the state’s limited promotional dollars.

“They didn’t have much money at the time,” she said. “I asked myself, ‘What can we do?’’’

“I love promotions — that is one reason I have my own company,” said Beenders, who is now co-owner with her husband, Stephen Walker, of The Beenders Walker Group (TBWG) in Jefferson City, Mo. “I love making a dollar bill scream, stretching it and getting as much out of it as I can.”

Beenders came up with the idea of serving breakfast in bed to the several thousand travel industry people who attend the annual meetings of the American Bus Association (ABA) and the National Tour Association (NTA).

She figured that without alcoholic beverages, breakfast would be the cheapest meal, and because people do not like going to a large meeting hall and listening to speeches or performers first thing in the morning, “let’s take breakfast to them.”

“I had no idea if it would fall on its face,” said Beenders. “But I said, ‘No guts, no glory. Let’s go for it.’”

She waited until she was on the job for a couple of months before springing the idea on the Missouri travel industry. “They thought I was crazy,” she said.

However, Beenders, who is noted for her enthusiasm and can-do attitude, was persuasive and got the state’s destinations, attractions and hotels working together on the project.

“I do believe I am enthusiastic, and enthusiasm is infectious,” she said.

There were several logistical obstacles to overcome. One of those was finding enough trays on which to serve the breakfasts. Beenders had ridden in a parade with the commander at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, who had expressed interest in getting more involved in tourism. A phone call from her resulted in the Army base’s lending enough trays for the two meetings.

Kansas City and Independence jointly purchased 5,000 Thermos bottles to promote a local event; other areas sponsored cups and other items. Even the placemats on the trays were sponsored.

Called “Wake Up to Missouri,” the breakfast program — with members of the Missouri travel industry bringing the meals to the delegates’ rooms — debuted in the fall of 1983 at the NTA convention in Houston and was an immediate hit. It was followed up a few weeks later at the ABA Marketplace in New Orleans.

“That’s when everybody started working together,” said Beenders. “They became friends and marketing partners simply because of this breakfast-in-bed idea.”

The unusual promotion, which became an anticipated staple of the two meetings for a quarter-century, also had the unexpected benefit of generating respect for the Missouri tourism industry.
“We had a promotion that was memorable and put us on the map,” said Beenders. “It makes me smile. I still get goose bumps when I think about it.”

Beenders credits hard work and enthusiasm as the keys to her successful career in the tourism industry, which began inauspiciously as a secretary in the Illinois state tourism office in the mid-1970s.

“I had no idea I would end up where I did,” said Beenders. “The first thing I knew, I was promoted to regional project manager and traveled around the state visiting individual tourism councils.
“I am one of those people who are in the right place at the right time.”

Beenders said she developed a passion for tourism as she worked her way up the ladder over nine years to become assistant director of the division. When the Missouri state director’s job became open, she was approached about applying; she won the job and served in that capacity from 1983 through 1995.

Beenders and Walker, former head of the Missouri Transportation Division, formed their public relations and marketing company when she left state government.

Although they have tourism clients, including several in the Lake of the Ozarks area, they also have a wide range of other clients because of their governmental experience and connections.
“We have done everything from highway safety to combating underage drinking,” said Beenders. “We are only a half-block from the state Capitol, and we do have clients who hire us for our knowledge of state government and how the Legislature works.”

Beenders and Walker, who have been married for 24 years, have developed a complementary work routine. “His office is in the back, mine is in the front,” she said. “We have enough space in between during the day so it is still fun to go home at night. We have worked together since 1995. He has his responsibilities; I have mine. We work well together and play well together.”

And Beenders is still serving food. “Even though I am not serving breakfast in bed, we serve more than a thousand banana splits in the Capitol for the Tri-County Lodging Association to provide creative awareness for the Lake of the Ozarks. Anybody in the Capitol that day can stand in line and get a banana split, and people from the lake are the ones standing there slicing bananas.

“And we serve strawberry shortcakes for another client. I can’t get it out of my system,” she said. “In a previous life, I must have been in the food industry.”

Advice to remember
Marjorie Beenders said advice from Bruce Beckham, now executive director of Tourism Cares, helped her make the decision to form her own company after retiring as Missouri state tourism director in 1995.

“I will never forget what he told me,” she said. “He said you have to strike while the iron is hot. You don’t want to go from who’s who to ‘Who’s that?’ to ‘Who cares?’”