The industry is changing, the way of working is changing, and the end consumer is changing. How does that affect us? After White Gallery, Ian and Pete of Ian Stuart took to the road to meet customers face to face. How did it go, we asked?
So you and Pete went off, with a van full of frocks, to see retailers in their shops. Why?
We decided it was time to take the mountain to Mohammed – you simply cannot portray the love, enthusiasm and feeling for your brand unless you have the time to do it properly. We also have come to realise and appreciate that so many of our retailers have hectic schedules running their businesses, attending meetings etc and for some, the opportunity to view a collection – particularly one with a story – is particularly attractive.
The retailers you visited, had they been to White Gallery at London Bridal Fashion Week?
For many of our retailers, White Gallery was too early, bearing in mind that March is full swing for fittings and selling. Most collections only hit the stores last September and October, so expecting shops to buy in March, when they have only had the collection in store for four to five months, simply doesn’t suit the majority.
What was the reaction when you phoned and said you were coming in for cuppa and a sticky bun?
After the ExCel show, we decided to go and visit some of our key accounts, who had not been to London. Quite a number had been too busy in their shops to attend the show – in fact we struggled ourselves to be present as that meant we had to take time away from sales and fittings booked into our flagship Blewcoat store.
When we announced our ‘road trip‘ we were welcomed with open arms. It was me and Pete in a van! It reminded me of 30 years ago and my first week in the bridal industry!
One of the nicest comments was “We have been in business for years, but never had the actual designer visit our shop.” For me it was a nice bonding experience to meet and get to know the sales girls and boys who are actually going to ‘pull’ our dresses to show to potential customers.
Carrying the dresses out of the van, preparing them on a rail and presenting them one by one to the store owner and sales staff… it’s a whole different thing. It’s more intimate and more focused so you can discuss and advise on sizes and colours. Overall, it is a brilliant way to work and results in a much more solid buy than one at a big event, when everyone is running from appointment to appointment. It’s more calm, more relaxed, more enjoyable.
How long were you at each shop?
Each appointment lasted from between two and four hours, and every one achieved so much. Being able to give yourself totally to that appointment, with no distractions, is a smart way of working.
Did you feel new relationships were blossoming?
On our road trip, it was so lovely to see not only the owners and head buyers of the stores, but also the sales staff, the invaluable alterations ladies who work on our dresses, and the Saturday girls who are so full of enthusiasm. We could put faces to the names. And yes, we shared countless cups of tea!
Did the sales staff ask lots of questions?
Absolutely and some were fascinating. And it gave us the opportunity to teach them what can be achieved once you have the knowledge – how to cover a tattoo, how to lower or raise a neckline, how to reduce volume, even how to deal with a bride that is uncertain about what she wants. Having the chance to chat and exchange views and experiences puts relationships on a whole different plane.
Did you take lots of orders?
The clients we visited on the road did order and, I truly believe, in an intimate, un-pressured environment, the focus is more defined, the styles chosen are more correct, and the selected sizes and colourways are more studied.
Is this the way forward in bridal – for designers and retailers alike?
I’m not suggesting for one minute that bridal trade shows have had their day. For many manufacturers and retailers they are absolutely appropriate. What I am saying is that to be humble, get out there in a van with your collection in the back, head out of London and see your stores on their home ground, is a possible alternative . I’ve been in the bridal industry for 33 years; I’ve won 22 awards Stateside and in the UK. I have my own flagship store, a 25-episode Chanel 4 television series, so yes, I think I can say that I’ve been there and done it. And I have to say that getting on the road and pulling my dresses out of the back of a van was a real pleasure!
“To be able to select a collection in this way meant I didn’t feel pressurised into buying something I might regret. I was able to place Ian’s gowns on the rails with my existing designers and see visibly how they sit in my boutique. Having Ian personally present the dresses to the sales team and talk about custom changes and alterations was invaluable.”
Heather Harker – owner Alice Elizabeth Bridal Couture