In October, Droitwich boutique Caroline Clark Bridal Lounge staged a ‘Bridal Extravaganza’, bringing together top-quality local suppliers to stage an exclusive event for her brides. Featuring the latest Aurora collection from Italian house Nicole Spose, it worked a treat!
First, some background, when did you open your store?
I have owned Caroline Clark Bridal Boutique since August 2015 after purchasing the store from the previous owner. At point of purchase I renamed and branded the boutique creating a private luxurious haven for the modern bride.
Which labels do you carry?
We are proud stockists of Stella York, Romantica, Aurora by Nicole and Ivory & Co. We also have bridesmaid and prom dresses by Romantica.
Were you involved in bridalwear sales, or in any other form of retail, before taking over the boutique?
I previously owned a card and gift shop and provided printed stationery to brides-to-be. When I exhibited at my first wedding fair with that range of products I knew instinctively that I wanted to be involved with wedding dresses; it was the perfect career for me as I had a fashion degree and a love for providing the very best customer experience.
Where do you do most of the buying for your shop?
The majority of our buying is done at Harrogate and London Bridal Fashion Week. As a small boutique I feel it is vital to see the collections I am interested in before I make a purchase and therefore I try to visit the shows whenever possible.
How did your venture, your ‘Bridal Extravaganza’ come into being?
For a few years I had toyed with the idea of holding an event for brides-to-be, but it seemed pointless to think in terms of yet another wedding fair – they can be overwhelming at times. I wished to create a special event for brides to see what is planned for 2020 weddings and enjoy themselves at a fun and exciting evening out – I wanted this to be an escape from the traditional world of wedding planning.
We came across Nicole Spose’s Aurora at London Bridal Fashion Week, after having already emailed the company to see what was available in the area. As soon as we saw the dresses and spoke with Rosie and Suzanne, we knew the collection would complement those carried at Caroline Clark Bridal Boutique.
Right then, I knew the time was right for a big launch to celebrate the label’s arrival at the boutique. I wanted to shout out about it – I knew my brides would love it. I also wanted to offer brides an event where they could get tips and advice from the best local suppliers and have an evening of fun where they could plan their wedding. A catwalk with a selection of fantastic and reputable suppliers seemed the natural way to go. There’s been nothing like it in the area, so the project was new in every respect.
How did you start formulating your plan for change?
To be honest the idea had been forming in my head and this year everything fell into place. Luckily I found the perfect venue quite easily and they were really keen to be part of it and could see the potential benefit it could bring for both of us. Once we got into discussions we were able to formulate a list of suppliers who were able to help and my designers were really keen to support the event as well.
We have been saying for a while that retailers need to broaden their approach, as you have. Now you have been there and done it, how would you advise others?
Don’t be afraid to try something different. If you have an idea, do some research and find out if it will work. I think sometimes we are too quick to dismiss a concept, but you know local brides and your local area. If you have an instinct it is normally for a reason, so be ready to try something different. In a busy online society it is important to find a way to stand out and offer your brides something new.
Has your Italian promotion set the stage for future special and on-going events?
I hope so, following the first Extravaganza I hope to create at least one a year. Both the brides and local suppliers seemed to benefit from the event, and liked the concept of an alternative offering.
How difficult was it to pull all the elements together?
Overall the event went very smoothly. We did encounter a few problems in the weeks leading to it – the makeup artist cancelled and some of the models did not turn up to the try-on session. However, we overcame both problems by finding a replacement makeup artist and arranging another session for the models who could not make it the first time round.
So how did you get the message out to brides?
We use a variety of promotional methods including leaflet drops, press releases and email campaigns telling brides who we saw at wedding fairs about the event. We also had a campaign of paid and organic social media posts, specifically Facebook and Instagram. Prior to the event, I put in a six-week launch strategy where I created the content in advance and scheduled everything to go out automatically. This combination of methods worked very well and meant we were able to target and attract the right brides.
Do you feel you pulled in a bigger and newer audience than you would have done through more traditional communications?
Our Extravaganza gave brides-to-be a more relaxing and one-to-one option than the typical overwhelming wedding fair. As the event was ticketed I think it appealed to a more focused and serious audience than just posting and advertising online or in magazines. It also was noticed by fashion-conscious brides who wanted to experience something special as the event gave them the opportunity to preview new designs before they launched in the boutique. Overall our promotional methods did the job for us and delvered an interested audience.
Tell us about the charity aspect…
All along I wanted to charge for tickets to ensure that the brides turned up on the evening. It seemed natural to give the profits to two local charities, as I knew this would add another dimension to the event, and it would also help brides feel good about attending.
We were delight with the £200 we raised in support of St Richards Hospice and Primrose Hospice.
Did you get the local media involved in the run up to the Extravaganza?
I sent out a number of press releases prior to the event which gave us some free coverage in the local newspapers and magazines.
The relationships you have forged with local suppliers – will they continue?
The suppliers who participated in the event found the evening very useful and I hope to continue working with them in future. I plan that the next event will be held in a more city-central location to add a different dimension to the offering. However we will continue to support the venue we used this time.
Did you sell more dresses and accessories as a result?
We have booked in an additional ten appointments as a result of the event, so hopefully yes, we will sell more dresses and accessories.
Any special lessons learned that will shape your business moving forward?
Through the first experience I have seen that these events are worthwhile and let brides get to know you and your business. The purchase of a wedding dress is a big investment and for me it is all about creating an extraordinary experience. That is exactly what we offered.
For future events I would increase the number of suppliers involved to provide even more variety and I’d also ensure that the venue does not hold any other bridal events within the same two weeks (they had held an open day three days before our Extravaganza, which meant that some of our potential attendees had already visited the location).
Overall, I have learnt that even though it is hard work, brides appreciate companies offering something different to help them plan their weddings.