In August this year Bride To Be of Reading celebrated its 30th Birthday! Thirty years – that’s three decades – and a hallmark that is something of a rarity in this business…
Stephanie Hanks, owner of Bride To Be of Reading knows how to party, planning not just the usual bagels-and-bubbly event but going to town with a full-scale lunchtime celebration that pulled in the public, promoted the business, and included a prize draw, hosted by local celebrity Sir John Madejski, which saw a lucky winner receiving £500 off a wedding dress plus two free bridesmaids’ dresses.
We asked Stephanie to tell us a bit about her bridal store, its history, and her views on the changes that have shaped and reshaped the industry over the years.
The business, founded by Lesley Rathkey, was later sold to Lesley’s daughter Stephanie. “It has been a real labour of love and I have enjoyed every minute of it! When my mum suggested that I take over the shop, it didn’t take long for me to make my decision! Having come from a corporate background in sales, I found that I took to selling dresses like a duck to water.”
You can certainly discover a lot about yourself and the great British public whilst working in retail, as Stephanie learned fast. “I recognised that I am quite OCD about everything being tidy and organised and that has actually stood me in good stead for running a bridal business!” she says.
“The public’s perception of what wedding dress shopping should be like has completely changed over the past few years. I think that it is no longer viewed as a shopping trip, but more like the start of their wedding!
“Years ago, a bride and her mum came into the shop with a couple of magazines and ordered her dress. She was happy when it was delivered, and in those days the dresses were much simpler to alter.
“Nowadays our brides cannot put their phones down and they torment themselves constantly looking at beautiful airbrushed images of gowns both before and after they order their own dresses. I think there has been a significant increase in ‘change of mind’ brides!”
Advice for others? Says Stephanie: “As experienced retailers, you will all be aware of the challenges that we face nowadays. However, apart from dealing with the demands of today’s brides, I honestly think that the main key to longevity is to continuously evolve – whether it be installing the latest décor craze or completely re-fitting your lighting system, re-designing your website or arranging some staff training. It all matters.
“The other crucial thing to sustaining your business is careful cash flow management. It could be so easy to get onto the ‘slippery slope’ downwards! Unfortunately, I have seen the profitability in the gowns decrease from where it was (back in my mums’ day!); brides make more visits to more shops, they expect fabulous one-to-one service, refreshments, Prosecco, a beautiful shopping environment and to bring five guests with them to all of their appointments!
“Today, bridal shop staff need to be far more competent to deal with the customer’s high expectations (and emotions!) and this in turn has pushed the wages bill upwards – add all that to increased rents and the effect starts to add up.
”Thank goodness for fantastic suppliers – the ones who treat their stockists well, look after them, support them in difficult times, and send the odd treat here and there. They are worth their weight in gold and these fab suppliers have also played an important part in our success over 30 years.”