Okay, we won’t mention names, but the high street is throwing increasing challenges our way, says Laura Daly. Now is the time to see what message we need to get over to consumers, and to shout it together
Many bridal retailers are tilting their heads and reporting a ‘meh’ season with static or even negative growth, if you’ll pardon the oxymorons. I’m hearing grumbles from frustrated shop owners across the UK about how tough it is to actually sell anything to anyone, right now.
The finger of blame for this season’s struggles nearly always points to a certain, now nationwide, off-the-peg retailer whose name I shall not mention.
Even though the longevity of such a business remains questionable in my mind, there can be no doubt that they are leeching sales away from many of us in the meantime – especially those with middle-to-low price points.
So, perhaps we need ask ourselves why a bride might choose an off-the-peg retailer over a traditional boutique.
Why would she happily buy a dress there that has been tried on, probably by many, without demanding a discount? Why would she merrily trot off with her dress in tow to an unknown seamstress? And why on earth would she be content to keep her dress at home, stuffed in a bag until the big day, potentially liable to attack from the family cat/dog/ gerbil/little brother?
Is it just price? Is it the immediacy of the sale and the fact that she can take the frock away with her there and then?
Maybe, but I’d wager that a lot of those customers choose to shop that way because they just don’t understand how a modern independent bridal boutique operates.
Their perception of us as being overpriced, judgemental or elitist may even have carried some weight in past decades, but it seems to me it’s been reinforced over the years by lazy journalists and researchers, favouring the Pretty Woman version of bridal retailing over today’s truths.
For example, just this week an article appeared in The Telegraph and The Mail Online, claiming that we are all struggling to compete with ASOS and clawing money back into our tills by charging ridiculous amounts for our appointments.
In preparation for the piece, several leading names in our industry were contacted, including the RBA, but sadly only soundbites that corroborated the writer’s preconceived ideas were used.
Television writers don’t understand our industry either and show zero interest in anything other than what serves them best. A soap opera bride is likely either to rock up in some dreadful creation that the wardrobe department had left over from the ’80s, or a badly fitted version of the nation’s current top-selling style, thus instantly crushing the dreams of hundreds of brides-to-be who have that very style on order.
Add to this the countless Facebook groups busily slating and libelling anyone or anything that doesn’t measure up to their mob-rule mentality, and we have a problem!
Sadly, if we as a collective don’t work harder to clear up the common misconceptions held about bridal shops, then nobody else is going to jump in and do it for us. Our sales will suffer as more and more girls opt for ‘no frills’ because ‘frills’ to them mean expense, embarrassment or whatever frightens them the most.
What can we do to change hearts and minds? Well, apart from a firmly worded blast to whoever misrepresents our industry whenever we catch them at it, we can use our social media streams to educate potential brides about our businesses and how they work.
Some retailers are doing exactly this already but, without the collective voice of us all, their efforts can’t possibly reach a whole nation.
A strong, positive affirmation from a group of strong, positive business owners – that would be a force to be reckoned with. That way, urban myths can be dispelled.