With the year’s exhibition season shortly to take off, Maria Musgrove weighs up the importance of instinct, intuition, experience and hanger-appeal when it comes to making buying decisions and choosing that best selling dress
I was writing this column on Christmas Eve so it should come as no surprise that Christmas cracker riddles were on my mind. Here goes:
1. What do Manhattan, Mayfair, Madrid and Mercedes have in common?
2. What’s the connection between Michelle and Julie?
3. And the same question for Ingrid, Gabrielle, Jessica, Emma, Scarlett and Gracie?
4. And what about Esme and Papillon?
The answers have nothing to do with famous places and cars, Beatles’ songs (yes, I know it’s Julia not Julie), favourite girls’ names or French names but everything to do with my best-selling dresses over the past
So what’s the secret of a best seller? Now if I knew the answer to that question I’d be knocking back the Bolly in Bermuda rather than banging away at my keyboard in Blighty, wouldn’t I? Mystic Meg and her crystal ball would be in high demand if she could predict a best-seller! Instead you’ve got me – Mystified Maria with two decades of experience of getting it wrong as many times as I’ve got it right with insights from several of the members of my Facebook Bridal Business Owners group.
Do we trust our instinct, our sales agent/designer, our fellow retailers, the basic shape and cut, the campaign photography or a simple throw of the dice?!
So, a bit of a lecture coming up on trusting our instinct (not quite the BBC’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures). When we ignore our unconscious mind only to process information or apply our knowledge, we are more likely to draw the wrong conclusions. Instead, learn to read your gut feeling – to trust your instincts – and understand what your intuition is telling you.
Intuition comes to us from instinctive feeling and not conscious reasoning. Intuition is our inner perception and is grounded on past knowledge and experience. We all experience intuition. Sometimes it is finding an answer to a question or knowing valid solutions to a problem. Ideas just appear from our unconscious mind before we can give them credence. We may choose to listen to our gut feeling, to trust our instincts. Or to consciously review and question… to use logical reasoning.
But how reliable is intuition? And how trustworthy is logical reasoning?
The reliability of our intuition depends greatly on past knowledge and specific experiences. For instance, if we’ve had years of experience with a particular designer we will tend to have a better instinct or intuition about the designs, whereas if we are new to the collection we may feel a little vulnerable.
However, the downside to intuition – and logical reasoning for that matter – is an inclination for bias and a propensity to ignore some of the facts. For these reasons, we must choose when to trust our instincts and when to use reasoning. I know that over the years I have missed out on several best sellers because in previous seasons a certain style hasn’t worked and it’s still on my sale rail with a big neon sign screaming “I haven’t sold and I cost you £1,000 plus VAT and I can’t even give you away”. My bias then is if any design vaguely resembles this one it gets a big NO from me.
I missed out one of the best-selling Suzanne Neville gowns of all time because it was strapless and I hadn’t sold any strapless dresses at that point in 2001. I chose to invest in the version with straps because my bias was that strapless wasn’t my market. That poor gown groaned every time I snapped the straps down to show her strapless only for my bride to say that she just “couldn’t imagine it”. Similarly, there have been dresses that I’ve really resisted and my team or the designer have talked me into and they really haven’t worked.
So the trick is to learn to recognise your inner voice and what it is telling you. It could be for the best or it could be that you have got a personal bias and you need to tell that inner voice to “shut the you-know-what up” and listen to your team and/or your agent/designer.
Both Emma Roberts from Perfect Daze in Yorkshire and Sasha Ffierce from Couture & Tiaras Bridal Shop in Sussex say they get goose bumps or butterflies from the moment they choose the gown. Sarah goes on to say that by the time it arrives excitement has exceeded the Richter scale.
Here’s my thinking
At a show and with a glass of fizz in hand, the well-intentioned “this has been flying out of the door for me” comment might be the best tip you’ve ever had and worth a punt… or it might be like throwing your money away by backing a 100 to 1 outsider with a £500 to £1,200 bet! Remember what might be flying in Fulham might be a flop in Fife! When I had five boutiques over four counties and 250 miles between them (why and how did I do it?), I quickly realised the demographic differences in terms of brands and best sellers.
There are certain exceptions to the rule and there are some evergreen dresses that will be “anywhere, any place, any time” and for me there were several best sellers across all of my shops regardless of postcode. Here are some of the blasts from the past. Suzanne Neville’s Manhattan, Gracie and Leading Lady; Sassi Holford’s Gabrielle and Jessica; the Design Room’s Chianti in both red and ivory; Hollywood Dreams Scarlett and Cameo; and Maggie Sottero’s Celeste, Michelle, Mercedes and Julie. Jenny Packham’s Clare closely followed by Papillon, Eden and Esme – I swear there was a month of mourning across the country when these gowns were discontinued.
If it’s a new label I’m more inclined to listen to my agent/designer as I’m not fully in tune with their line. A classic example of this was when we took on Mori Lee and Steve advised on two best sellers of all time 2105 (which we’d seen in many different guises over the years) and 5216 a classic fairytale gown with sweetheart neckline, crystal-encrusted bodice and gathered tulle skirt. Three years on and we’re still taking orders from size 8 to 28. A great pattern block
and great price point make these gowns winners.
Atelier Pronovias Vicenta was recommended as a retro buy and represented more than half of all of my Pronovias sales in 2018.
Sarah Smith of The Bridal Gallery, Coventry, had this to say: “One of our best ever sellers was a complete accident. When it arrived, my Saturday girl took one look at it and asked if I’d been on drugs when I ordered it. I’d taken the rep’s word that it would be a good seller and it was. We were devastated when it was discontinued”.
Shape, cut and hanger appeal
I asked the members of my Business Owners group what they considered the criteria for a best seller to be and whether the gown has hanger appeal or got pulled by them and their team because they had confidence in it.
Anneliese Ward of Chameleon, Bournemouth, says that: “Maggie Sottero’s Nadia was a great gown as it was a full dress with a corset back that gave everyone a fabulous figure and had no fixed waist so was great on all proportions. This and another best seller, Emma, had no rail appeal at all.
Kristy Wynack from Embrace in Geelong, Australia, agrees: “A dress that fits more than one body type and, if my girls love a dress then they usually sell it many times over”.
Amanda Bills made me LOL with this comment: “We have a dress from Special Day. It’s taffeta, asymmetric and strapless and lacks any hanger appeal. I don’t put this dress on anyone smaller than a 28. But when it’s on them it is just amazing – it hugs the body in all the right places and it has the most amazing structure so you don’t need a bra”.
Two of my gowns which owe their popularity initially to a marketing campaign with fabulous imagery are Suzanne Neville’s Gracie and Leading Lady. Rewind back to 2011 when we were just coming out of recession and my strategy was to keep my pricepoint below £3,000. Both gowns were well over that, so I allowed my head to rule and passed on them.
As soon as Suzanne’s campaign went live the phone was hot with enquiries so I did a retro buy and never looked back. Gracie was re-sampled three times and I got good money for all three samples. I had brides flying in from Norway, Iraq and Dubai for Leading Lady and one bride just turned up with Brides magazine saying she had been dreaming of it for years and was now engaged and wanted it.
Emma Roberts sums it up: “The gown that the designer has gone to town on with heavy advertising and brilliantly-styled photography will attract more attention and get more interest. If this is combined with a gown that is well-structured with a defined waistline then it will become a great bread and butter dress like Suzanne Neville’s Mayfair”.
My final thoughts on choosing a best seller is summarised in this quote: “If it’s still in your mind. It’s worth taking a risk.