Peter Grimes, publisher of VOWS magazine, the key trade title in the US, believes it is vital that retailers have a carefully planned strategy and a process in place to inject positivity into the new chapter in the life of the bridal industry
In the US – as in the UK – retailers, their teams (and their brides) are worried, apprehensive and anxious about the health of their families and staff, and about their own short-term financial well-being as they struggle to meet the changing COVID-19 precautions, and adjust to fewer appointments and smaller bridal parties.
Stores’ success through this period ranges from low traffic and disappointing sales to near 100% closing ratios and strong sales in a limited appointment environment. Though there is rarely a single reason for this disparity, I do believe that how we rise to this challenge exhibited through all interactions with staff and customers may be the deciding factor.
Essentially, the store owners we see succeeding here understand that they play a critical role in easing concerns and providing reassurance, comfort and confidence, and are very aware that what they say and do can bring positivity and balance into times rattled by widespread uncertainty and fear.
The next issue of VOWS addresses this ‘new normal,’ and includes the following suggestions and encouragements:
Embrace your entrepreneurial spirit: Entrepreneurs are risk takers and doers. As a retailer, you’ve already confronted fear and unease. You’ve opened a store. You’ve dealt with challenging, tough customers. You’ve likely endured an economic downturn or two. You’ve stared at debt and confronted shifting market conditions. And being here, remaining open after the unexpected hit COVID-19 delivered, proves your resiliency.
Lean on that for inspiration as you navigate these challenging times.
Honor thy mission: Every business should hold some mission statement – or at least possess a guiding purpose behind its actions. Leaning heavily on that mission, letting it direct decision-making and communicating it often, pushes conversations away from fear or uncertainty and into something positive. And in the case of many retailers, that’s ensuring brides have a magical day.
Prioritise communication: A failure to communicate will likely spark angst and unease. Provide clear information to customers and staff on store policies regarding safety protocols or changes to the ‘normal’ appointment.
Regular, open communication will help put people at ease and nudges everyone onto the same page. Yet more, using different vehicles to communicate, from video to even vignettes in store windows, can all project positivity and reinforce the key messages you want to share.
Celebrate positive moments: Counter negativity by recognising positive moments in the day.
When a bride says yes to her dress, give that moment its proper weight: Ring a bell. Blast some music. Pop some bubbly. When a stylist closes a sale, acknowledge a job well done. Share photos or notes from recent brides on an in-store bulletin board. Where goodness exists, celebrate it.
Be honest: Though transparency can be tough amid challenging, uncertain times, acknowledge concerns, give straight answers and be as clear and honest as possible without stirring added stress and fear. If supply chain issues arise, for example, acknowledge those and suggest alternatives to brides. If the business is facing financial difficulties, share those with staff and brainstorm solutions or note actions being taken.
Such transparency helps people understand present realities, prevents rumours or misinformation from sending people down dark paths and assures others that you’re actively involved, listening and crafting thoughtful responses.
Practice empathy and compassion: With employees as well as customers, work to understand their challenges and concerns. Staff might be taxed as they juggle work and home life. Brides might be concerned about the ability of beloved relatives to attend their wedding. Show genuine concern.
If you sense an employee is overwhelmed, encourage them to take a walk or find a sub for their hours. If you see a bride having a particularly stressful experience, encourage her to take a private moment for herself.
Offer individuals the time and space as well as the support to discover balance and inner peace.
Respond appropriately to bride’s virus or political rants: As boutiques reopen, consultants have encountered everything from brides with zero fear who seem annoyed by safety precautions and aren’t shy about sharing their opinion that the virus is majorly overblown, to brides who are so nervous they call ahead of time to quiz you extensively about whether masks are required and staff temperatures are taken daily, then arrive for their appointment practically wearing a full hazmat suit.
Promote teamwork: During times of fear, people often feel alone or isolated. Bring consultants together over morning coffee or an after-hours gathering to help them feel connected and part of a bigger unit.
Side with optimism: Even if the future is cloudy, continue to look ahead and plan for it.
Brainstorm ways the boutique can adopt and pivot – something so many retailers did with curbside pickup and virtual meetings amid the novel coronavirus pandemic – and be open to ways your business can find its footing amid a new normal.
Continue marketing: Put events on your calendar. Stay active with creative and appropriate social media campaigns. Look to your resources, brands and designers. Keep championing your brand promise. Insist on walking forward.
Feedback from VOWS social media poll
71% of boutiques surveyed in a VOWS social-media poll say they have been subject to some kind of ‘virus rant’ from a bride over the past month.
And that is not the only hot topic on peoples’ minds: some brides are bringing up the Black Lives Matter Protests during their appointments, too.
It puts the stylist in an awkward position regarding how to respond. Should she ignore it? Agree with the bride? Engage in meaningful dialogue? Knowing the right move to make feels a bit like navigating a minefield, especially given the sensitive nature of these topics and the importance of building a rapport with (not alienating) any customer.
While generally speaking you want to mimic your client’s mood to gain her confidence, in this specific case, it’s best to reassure the bride while returning her focus to the dress search. The best approach allows you to acknowledge the customer’s viewpoint without getting involved in a potentially emotionally charged, alienating discussion.