No question, it’s all very different now, and will continue that way. Laura Daly is back in the ‘new’ shop
I’m writing this sitting in my office at the shop. With the door shut. In my bubble, as it were. Hand sanitiser bottle on the desk, fighting for space with the anti-bacterial wipes and a bottle of Zoflora for good measure.
I’m now on permanent email, phone, and social media duties, and I’m back working in my shop six days a week. Half of my girls are still on furlough as the childcare issues are many and varied. I’ve made a promise to myself never again to take a day off for granted.
I’ve worked every single day of the lockdown and, quite honestly, I need a break! The responsibility and the long days are physically draining.Emotionally, I’m a wreck as well – so many 2020 brides with ruined plans and even a handful of cancelled weddings from couples who didn’t make it past three months of being locked up together.
Our 2020 brides deserve medals – all of them – they have been wholly pragmatic, accepting and remarkably unfazed, but being the shoulder to cry on has taken its toll!
The other side of my door, Lily is on a charm offensive with her first customer of the day. With social distancing in mind, we’re currently limiting brides to one guest each and we make this very clear when the appointment is arranged. Poor Lily is now having to explain why the bride’s second guest (her sister) must stay outside.
It’s all happening
These ladies don’t sound happy and are demanding to know why they can’t all pile in, just like they did last year when the sister bought her dress…
To a background of Apple Music’s finest chill-out mix, I can just about hear Lily going through the reasons, even though these ladies have had two phone calls and an email informing them each time of our operational changes and single guest policy.
As a compromise, a chair is found and, if I squint through the spy hole in my door, I can see the sister sitting in the doorway, clearly not amused at all. Turns out Mum had decided not to tell her the one guest policy, based on her completely wrong assumption that we’d bend the rules once they’d arrived.
Getting procedures in place
There’s the ‘please use the sanitiser’; the offering of masks if anyone feels they need them; the serving of refreshments and the laughter over the fact that the posh china and biscuits has been replaced by biodegradable paper cups and a wrapped cookie, and the form to be signed declaring customer and guest ‘Covid-free to the best of our knowledge’.
A polite explanation to the bride’s Mum on how to dress her daughter in the changing room follows, and a chat about the pre-booked dresses the bride has requested to see.
There’s a quiet seriousness on our part about it all, punctuated by a joke here and there and a fit of giggles when the Mum asks her daughter if she had remembered to put on her underwear.
Meanwhile, in zone two, owing to the fact that our appointments now have staggered start times, Mel is still waiting for her guest to arrive, preparing her area by wiping down all the surfaces, spraying the carpet and curtains, and checking that all the hand sanitising units in her part of the shop are replenished.
Action all over the shop
In zone three, our seamstress is already in her face mask and ready to pin fit her first bride of the day. Because, yes, there are still brides who are having to ‘go along’ with their venues and keep their fingers crossed that they will still have their August wedding.
Forced into a sad game of ‘Chicken’, if they don’t want to lose their hefty deposits, they are made to wait until around ten days before the wedding date, at which point the venue will decide if the wedding can take place or not. Heartbreaking.
That was then…
Three months ago, how different it all was – we didn’t work in zones or bubbles; we happily accommodated more or less as many guests as we could cram in; we cleaned once a day; and, if anyone had said they were considering wearing a mask during a bridal appointment, we’d have laughed them out the shop!
We hugged, we air-kissed, we high-fived, and we all had our lunch together in a tiny room, happily sharing the same crockery. Our brides were well on their way to putting the finishing touches to their summer weddings at which they were looking forward to welcoming 150-or-so guests.
And this is now
Fast forward to 20 June 2020 and, my, how it’s all changed. How we’ve changed. We’ve had to – there’s been no choice.
To comply with all the various health and safety guidelines and mandates, we’ve had to adopt a way of working that is, at least for the time being, our ‘new normal’. For the most part, we are operating in a way that is totally alien, if not the polar opposite, to how we’d normally conduct business.
On the many online chat groups of which I’m lucky to be a member, there was a general consensus that bridal shopping habits would probably be different – that brides would return to us fearful, with little money, they wouldn’t want to shop around, and they would be happy to buy on the first visit, so as to keep their mums, their sisters and their friends safe.
At our various staff Zoom meetings, we’ve gone over and over how we could best serve our customers, how we would reassure them in their re-emergence into the big bad world under the shadow of a world pandemic.
We discussed how we would make a big show of cleaning and sanitising the dresses in front of them to show how careful we were being.
But, you know what… you’ve got to love a bride – because, well, at least in my neck of the woods, she’s back – just as indecisive as ever, with the same need to go to various other shops and, if anything, with an even bigger budget.
She still wants all her girls with her and having limited guests is actually quite an annoyance to her. She understands, of course, about all the new rules and procedures… but, then again, she’s a special case, and Nan’s in the car, and surely we can just let her come in…
We’ve changed. Our brides haven’t. They seem to expect to be able to carry on from exactly where they left off. They’re searching for the ‘old normal’.
Let’s hope we can give it back to them soon, for all our sakes!