Romantica of Devon, the market-leading brand with a 35-year pedigree is responsible for five separate brands – Romantica itself, Opulence, Olivia Rose, Pure and Silhouette – plus bridesmaids and prom-wear ranges. Jill Eckersley got James Waddington in conversation…
Romantica, born in Tiverton and the child of Sally and the late Mike Waddington, has remained firmly in the family way over the years. Today, James Waddington is sales and marketing director, his brother Kelvin is managing director, and his sister-in-law Jennifer is a leading designer.
“I joined nine years ago,” James told us. “The company actually grew very quickly. We began with Mum making the dresses and Dad selling them but soon we had to employ seamstresses and we ended up having to outsource our production to the Far East. We started off in a small factory in the Devon countryside but had to move to larger premises 20 years ago. We now have a staff of around 25, of whom five work in production, five are in sales and others make up the warehouse team and office staff.”
The choice to return production to the UK for one of their newest labels – Olivia Rose – was made, James says, because that is the way the market is going.
“We wanted to make the range affordable without compromising on quality in any way,” he says.
“The brand is named for my two-year-old niece – yes, she has her own bridal collection already – and features stunning dresses which retail at up to £1,500. We were finding that high fuel and transport costs from the Far East were making prices higher – more than some of our customers could afford. Sourcing fabrics and embellishments and manufacturing in the UK meant that prices were more affordable and, because we own our own premises, we do not have the overheads of many major corporations based in the UK or the USA. Decisions about fabrics, colours and so on are taken by the team as a whole and we look for the best value available.”
James gave us an update on the company’s big portfolio:
“Romantica – well, that’s the name above our door and it remains our most popular brand,” he says. “We think of it as ‘affordable luxury’ with price points between £600 and £1,200 at retail.
“Pure is our lower-priced range, a fresh, youthful look often in lightweight fabrics with all dresses below £800, while Silhouette is our curvy collection. It is often a huge challenge to get retailers to stock gowns in appropriate sizes, as well as producing styles which are suitable for bigger girls. Ultimately, if larger sizes are not available in shops, brides will simply not buy. We produce dresses in a wide range of sizes and make sure that our samples and photographs feature curvy brides, too. Events such as Designer Days are pointless unless the right sizes are available for the brides to try on!
“Opulence is our upscale brand, but is also very price-sensitive. The gowns tend to be rather more traditional in style with slightly more luxurious materials and embellishments. They retail at between £1,200 and £1,800 because we know that our brides really can’t afford to pay more.”
Focus on quality
Whether their dresses are manufactured in the UK or abroad, Romantica never compromises on quality. Every dress is carefully checked at its Devon base before it is sent to one of their 250-300 stockists all over the country.
“We have a purpose-built ‘steam tunnel’ which can steam-clean 120 dresses per hour,” says James. “Whether they have been packed in China or made here at home, we steam all of them and check for marks and creases here, rather than expecting our stockists to do it. Once we have steamed all the creases out of a gown – and heavy creasing can be very hard to remove – any marks or faults can be seen very easily and we can deal with them there and then. All my stockists love the fact that our dresses are as perfect as we can make them, so we have very few returns. It’s cost-effective for us and the shops appreciate our work as it saves them so much time – one tiny run over with an iron and the dresses are ready to display.”
Romantica stockists are chosen for their knowledge and passion for bridalwear and many have been part of the retail network for decades.
“We are always looking to create a good business relationship,” James says. “Naturally we have limited numbers of stockists in each geographical area, but we are always looking for more in the areas where we are not well represented. Our stockists vary in size – some are major stores others small bridal boutiques, depending on the individual brands and the area.
“We don’t believe in minimum orders and are quite happy to receive an order for one dress! Perhaps with the first order I’d expect a retailer to take a reasonable number – say six to eight pieces – but after that there is no pressure.”
Romantica has also exported to Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia and when we spoke to James he was about to set off for Barcelona. Like all exporters he says the company has not been helped by the uncertainties over Brexit, and wishes that more information was available from the Government.
“Our Dutch colleagues have had help from their Government, and they’re not the ones leaving the EU,” he points out with exasperation. “It has been a constant conversation piece and our Irish customers have kept asking us what was happening, too. But so far, all seems OK.”
Where marketing is concerned, Romantica uses a combination of digital and traditional methods, both of which they find work well for them. “We employ a full-time social media manager and so far have achieved about 70,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook,” he says. “We also have a strong Instagram presence and contacts on the largest wedding websites such as ‘Hitched’, and we advertise widely in the national press. Then there are Designer Days most weekends – we feel that our collections are something to shout about and that brides-to-be appreciate seeing the entire collection.”
So what trends has the company identified this year and what will we be seeing at Harrogate?
“Crepe, softening silhouettes, fewer very slinky fishtails which can be uncomfortable to wear, and more fit-and-flare,” says James. “Perhaps brides are becoming practical? And of course we always offer great value for money. We love Harrogate, the atmosphere is always really good, and it is the only stable show that has been around for 20 years or more!”
In addition to their five bridal brands, Romantica also offers bridesmaid ranges with more than 60 colour options so there is something for every style of wedding. Most recently the company has also diversified into promwear and their launch range was well received; James feels that this was at least partly because, once again, the focus was on value for money.
“The inspiration for prom dresses came originally from America,” he says “and their brands tend to be very expensive. Ours come in at between £250 and £399 whereas US dresses can easily cost twice that, which is more than British prom-goers – or more likely their parents – are able or willing to pay! We have always been customer-centric and have moved with the times; these days we are much more eco-conscious and try to avoid using plastics as well as continuing to believe that the Romantica brands can offer a dress for every bride!”
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