In June, Laura Daly celebrated the 18th anniversary of Bellissima Weddings. During a day spent with customers and colleagues, she was asked if, knowing then what she knows now, would she have opened a wedding shop
If I could have looked into a crystal ball all those years ago and seen my lovely shop as it is today, I would undoubtedly have said yes. I walk around the space I have created, consider the accolades won and the customers and friends acquired along the way, and I can honestly say that I love my business, I love the people who work in it, and I love seeing our happy brides.
However – it wouldn’t be bridal if there wasn’t a ‘however’ – to get to this point, it has not been all unicorns and sparkles. Dealing with the general public at such an emotional time in their lives was not something that I had really considered… I quickly learned a few important things…
No-one prepares you for dealing wih the general public
I had been a member of the general public myself before opening my shop, so I didn’t believe others would be different. Well, it turns out they can do and say all kinds of bizarre things and behave in ways completely alien to me.
For example, they can appear quite fine one moment and, the next, projectile vomit all over a new carpet and straight down the front of their gown as you pin the hem; they can faint and convulse from the excitement once zipped into their dress; and, while they sit in the shop waiting for their friend, they can eat a whole rotisserie chicken, stink the place out and leave the carcass on your desk. They can stomp out of the door because their father won’t buy them the dress they want; and they can refuse to wear knickers because, after all, “knickers…what’s that all about?” I kid you not.
Then again, just as easily, they can also anonymously pay the balance on a dress for their niece; send flowers to a bride to coincide with her appointment time; or even sell their car to allow their daughter to buy the gown that means so much. They can write such beautiful heartfelt feedback on social media that it will make you cry tears of happiness and spur you on to greater things.
Not all customers know their bridal terminology
If a bride says she’d like a “tea towel thingy for my head” just take her immediately to the veil rail and watch her face light up. If you have a telephone enquiry about a dress with a “bandage around the waist”, it’s likely to be about a draped or swagged style, not someone simply trying to get through to the NHS helpline. And some customers will be astonished to realise that a lace-up back isn’t made of lace.
If a bride asks to see an off-the-shoulder neckline, take her to the strapless section and smile sweetly as she says, “yes, the boob tubes”. Remember, too, that the difference between a tulip, a fishtail, a mermaid and a fit-and-flare is entirely in the eye of the beholder, and that an A-line could be just about anything.
Don’t take criticism personally
Although you know your shop is a projection of your very soul, your customers are blissfully unaware of this fact. When your life’s work has been disregarded in ten minutes with comments like: ‘it’s a bit crusty” (it’s heavily beaded) or “it looks like it’s got bird poo on it” (it has vertical beading patterns), or “it’s too white” (the sample is white) or “it’s too bridey” (it’s a bridal gown), just smile. Resist the urge to shout ‘FIRE’ and shove them swiftly out.
Repeat to yourself: ‘The customer is right, even when she’s wrong’ on the hour, every hour for 18 years… you might even end up believing it!