Meet Peter Grimes, the voice of the industry in the US. As publisher of VOWS magazine he has first-hand knowledge of the business of bridal and he’s here, with us, sharing valuable insights every month
The 2018 Wedding Attire Study from TheKnot.com indicates that 69% of all bridal gown sales in the US were conducted in brick and mortar stores, up from 58% in 2011; that 22% of gowns sales were in chain stores, down from 33% reported in 2015, and online gown purchases declined modestly from 8% to 7%.
These numbers confirm the increasing impact and importance of the Shop Local trend emerging across all retail categories, and indicate that increasing number of brides are discovering the reality that independent bridal salons provide exactly what they want: A unique, personal and personalised experience from a locally-owned, independent salon that supports its local economy, has a stake in its local community, and that offers well trained, knowledgeable personnel.
I have to believe that these numbers are not unique to the US, and that this is also the reality for UK salons.
This positive outlook and the reality it represents, however, is at risk of being overshadowed in our customers’ minds by the impact of recent US headlines and blog posts that parallel UK issues. Among them:
• David’s Bridal in deepening financial trouble files for bankruptcy protection, and attempts to assure brides that their gowns are safe and that the filing will have no impact on the day to day operations of its chain of stores… announcements that spur a new round of short sighted (and unsupported) stories and speculation about the demise of bridal retail and the impending ‘retail apocalypse’ of our category due to “changing consumer demographics and online purchasing”;
• E-commerce wedding players broadening their product offering into additional bridal categories, such as Azazie.com, the fast-growing e-commerce only bridal ‘boutique’, attacking the Mothers’ category by unveiling new inexpensive styles pitched with its Azazie Experience programme that enables moms to try on dresses at home and return. . . for $10 fee (a programme developed initially for bridesmaids that launched the firm in 2014) ;
• Continued uncertainty regarding China and import duties and tariffs, and the possibility that our category will soon be included in an effort to improve the US’s negotiating position.
According to the US Trade Representative’s office, US goods and services trade with China totaled an estimated $710.4 billion in 2017, of which $522.9 billion were imports. Tariffs increased to 25% across all categories would detrimentally impact the wallets of all consumers (including brides) regardless of price point of goods or region from which they were imported.
Any of these can create a hiccup in our businesses, as each can affect how weare viewed by our customers. Together they (and what they potentially portend) can develop into a head wind that could buffet us all. . . especially if we do not stand together and allow these headlines, assumptions and attitudes to go unanswered and unaddressed.
Assuming you will be unaffected because you don’t compete in the David’s or Azazie price points or category (or that you don’t sell Chinese-made goods) is folly. This is a crisis of confidence in retail that has the potential of injecting yet another layer of uncertainty in a normally emotionally charged transaction.
It’s particularly worrisome considering that the reality (both in the US and the UK), as described in my intro, is so very much different.
So what steps should you take?
At the risk of being simplistic, a two-fold approach is needed:
–In every interaction you have with brides, from first contact through to the completion of the sale and delivery of the gown, you must concentrate on communicating and reinforcing your unique story and reputation in your marketplace and industry.
Showcase your testimonials, community involvement, awards, recognition, reviews and membership with tasteful signage in your salon, within all point-of-sale materials, and prominently display each on your website ‘home’ and ‘abou’t pages, and on all social media pages.
–Join and actively participate in industry associations.
Retail groups and organisations may have different agendas, but all work to combat unfair competition and support the independent brick-and-click salon. Join them all. They deserve your support and need your participation. As with effort or cause, the larger the membership base, the more credible the organisation, and the more effective its message and effort.
If you’ve hesitated joining because you don’t see how it will benefit you individually… or because “things will never change”… I have a simple response: your industry reputation enhances your credibility, expands your story and sets you apart from the David’s and Azazies of the world.
We’re all in this together. By your participation, if it helps just one of us, it helps us all.