There is no question that the industry as a whole will survive better in these trying times if we are open and honest with each-other and committed to working together toward a strong future says Laura Daly
Regardless of where we are in the UK or what type of bride we target, our customers are constantly changing. Their shopping habits, their expectations, their wedding budget priorities are all evolving, all the time. And collectively, as a group of independent retailers, we need to be prepared to keep up with those changes. As long as we do, the business is still there. If not, I fear the road ahead will become bumpy and the journey more than just a little uncomfortable.
It sounds harsh, I know, but I don’t believe there has ever been a more challenging time for our industry. We need to be prepared.
Traditionally, an affluent area has been likely to cater to brides who appreciate and seek out a designer label and are prepared, or even happy, to pay for a name, while poorer areas have seen lower bridal budgets with brides more willing to take a chance on a £150 bargain on the internet.
Whilst such scenarios have not, by any means, disappeared, I believe the situation is much more complex than that today. More than ever, our customers are showing us daily how they want to shop; with their actions; with their words and, ultimately, with their feet.
If we want to protect the concept of independent retailing, then it’s up to us as a family to read the signs, get our message out loud and clear, and start communicating and educating our prospective clients.
Before you all start shouting at me for stating the blooming obvious, ask yourself the question: “what am I actually, proactively, doing about this?” I reckon you NEED to be doing something NOW – especially if you’re one of the shops suffering with poor sales or reduced footfall. Help is out there if you look for it. From business mentors, trade associations, social media courses or simply peer-to-peer advice, there’s quite a lot of choice.
Put your feelings to one side and ask yourself the painfully brutal question – is your business still relevant and viable in today’s market? If the honest answer is yes, then get a move on and do something while you can. I won’t insult your intelligence by saying what needs to be done if the honest answer is no.
Equally important is that it’s time to consider what your suppliers are doing to support you. If they are offering sales advice, incentives, product or social media training, then grab it with both hands. If they are not, then think about what else they can do and suggest it. They want you to be selling their dresses and it’s in their interest to help you. More communication from both sides can only be a good thing.
Our suppliers must listen to the feedback from retailers; they need to know what works and what doesn’t. If there’s a choice as to which way they should spend their budget, you could let them know that point-of-sale material and branded hangers are lovely but don’t get brides into your shop – connecting directly with them via social media and pointing them in your direction is far more likely to do so.
Quicker lead times; assistance with spreading big bills; unquestioning help if something is faulty, and decent margins – these are things we need in order to remain solvent and competitive. Mention them. There are some very proactive and helpful suppliers out there. Work with the ones willing to support you.
For far too long, there was no constructive communication between wholesalers and retailers. Thankfully, things are changing. The only UK suppliers’ association, the BBSA, is now in ongoing talks with the RBA and has agreed that it’s in everyone’s interest to work more closely and openly together. Although it’s in its infancy, there is work afoot to create a campaign to drive business to independent retailers. This may require a few old hatchets to be buried but I sincerely hope good progress can be made.
There will always be a place for independent bridal retailing, but we need to work together in order to protect our market share. In these challenging times, take the challenge!