Peter Grimes of Vows magazine has been in constant conversation with retailers in the US who have suffered the same uncertainties as we have, brought about by lockdown
Though we may certainly lose a number of retailers and manufacturers on both sides of the Atlantic and throughout North America before we fully emerge from this darkness, history has shown that there is opportunity for those who aggressively adapt and promote during and after economic downturns and natural disasters…. this is especially true for bridal, as adapting to change is built into our DNA. This pandemic and the protections that are slowly being relaxed have obviously and fundamentally changed the ways in which businesses serve their clients; in all industries, every link in the chain has been impacted, from transportation, to sources of supply, to factories, to designers, to manufacturers to retailers through to the now more anxious and fearful consumer.
A ‘new normal’?
Many businesses are being advised to pivot in this ‘new normal’ in ways already familiar to bridal, such as a focus on understanding consumer wants and desires… and on executing personalised brand-building experiences both online and in-store.
McKinsey & Company, in its recent report Reimagining Stores for Retail’s Next Normal, advises that retail operations need to redefine the role of the store.
They say: “More than ever, stores need to offer unique customer experiences instead of simply serving as transactional venues. To better cater to changing customer preferences in the next normal, stores should seek to deliver a superior product-discovery experience and provide access to exclusive merchandise (for example, through ‘in store only’ and ‘in store first’ product launches).”
Essentially, this new normal is not so new for us, but a very dramatic confirmation of our strategies that monitor and adapt to the continual changes in the bride’s buying behavior.
If anything, contact-free transactions and environments, limits on the number and participants attending in-store appointments, and emphasis on health and safety actually increases the importance of what you do best.
If you have been in this industry for a length of time, you’ve successfully overcome other disruptions to your business and market… the growth of the national chain, the highly-visible Alfred Angelo bankruptcy, the development and gains of e-commerce, direct-to-consumer online bridal companies, and the gyrations of the bridesmaids category to name a few.
How you did so then is at the root of how you’ll do so now… by creating an authentic connection of trust, hope and joy with the bride, wrapped in a personalised experience that reaffirms the value and importance of romance and weddings, and by doing so, becoming a blessing to the entire community.
This moment is no different, regardless of the limitation on the size and extravagance of a bride’s ceremony and reception, or of economic uncertainty.
She still wants her Instagram moment. How she looks in her gown and accessories standing next to her groom becomes that much more important.
Ronnie Rothstein, Kleinfeld Bridal owner, once described the bridal gown as a “souvenir” of the wedding. This is even more true in today’s circumstance.
How we’ve reacted
As a whole, the industry has supported one another and our communities with virtual consultations; heartfelt social-media messages; creative and touching window displays; fundraising efforts to help pay for needed hospital personal protection equipment; making masks by the tens of thousands; ramped up educational programmes; and customer service options to ease reopening.
Some steps will undoubtedly be with us for the long term including:
- Low or no-cost webinars, video instructionals and advice from media, brands, bridal consultants, and associations.
- Virtual showrooms and lookbooks of designers’ collections presented by Markets and individual brands.
- Manufacturers and brands providing live streaming of collections, sponsored educational webinars, and programmes to ease the financial burden of store shutdown.
And for some of you, the forced shelter at home, social distancing and store closure mandates have actually worked as a benefit.
They invigorated you, pushed you to be a bit more creative in your social-media posts and campaigns, to freshen up your store, inspired you to be a better leader for staff and family, reminded you to revisit and review sales training materials, and provided encouragement to experiment with video messaging, virtual chat, conferencing and consultations.
What to expect
These brighter days will not come easily as there are a number of factors that could derail a rebound, including:
- The near-immediate effect of possibly high numbers of store and manufacturer closures.
- A lengthy rebound period stretching months that further stresses the short-term financial capability of surviving manufacturers and retailers.
- When fabric mills and factories return to full production.
- Status of orders and goods scheduled for delivery in May and June.
- What ill-advised steps cash-starved retailers and manufacturers may take to generate short term revenue.
- Deep prom store inventories, the possible total loss of prom 2020, and the corresponding loss of men’s formalwear rental revenue.
- Increased requests for refunds and returns, especially in the prom and maids categories.
- The loss of the March/April fall bridal season and its impact on spring collections.
- Hesitations to travel and impact on market.
- Consumer behavior, such as how this economic turmoil will impact the bride’s and special-occasion customer’s budgets, and how increased online purchasing will affect store traffic.
Conversely, we can also expect:
– Couples will still get married… though with less extravagant ceremonies and smaller bridal parties.
– An increase in the number of quick weddings, with lower budgets.
– A surge of brides booking appointments as stores reopen.
– Fewer walk-ins as brides visit fewer stores and as stores require appointments.
– An increase in closing ratios.
– An increase in off-the-rack sales
– Less drama, distractions and effort required for now virtual bridal entourages.
– Renewed focus on stylist and new-hire training programmes.
– Well-maintained and hygienic store environments.
– Stores re-evaluating e-commerce and delivery options, such as online accessory and maids’ sales delivered direct to consumer or for curbside pick-up.
– Parents, communities, schools and stores working together to create prom and graduation ceremonies that are virtual, and/or smaller events orchestrated to comply with state restrictions.
– A continued and expanded use of video and audio conferencing tools by all segments of the industry to interact, promote and educate.
– Manufacturers repositioning unseen Fall ‘20 collections for Spring ‘21 with a small number of new designs.
Clearly the positives may not seem to overcome the negatives, especially since many of the answers to this incomplete list of worrying points are not yet apparent.
Yet there is reason to be optimistic… as an industry we are well positioned and motivated… and have long taken the steps that recent circumstances are forcing on others.