Sue Lovell, of Susan Nichols Opulent Bride, has become a regular contributor to Wedding Trader with a series of heart-felt features behind her and many a thought to share for the future
Finally shops are starting to reopen, and as we grapple with social distancing in such a personal environment, it’s fair to say it’s been a very productive and somewhat exhausting time. We are all on a learning curve – but happy to share what we are doing to promote a safe and still welcoming environment for staff and customers. Shops have really stepped up to the challenges, reorganising the way we work and interact with each other whilst keeping everyone safe, but without dampening the fun and excitement every new bride wants and expects when dress shopping.
Sanitising stations, mask wearing, temperature checks and defined seating areas are all standard now, and early indications are that brides are returning, ready to buy, and happy to accept the new protocols. Facetime appointments are proving popular, involving excited bridal parties, from a safe social distance.
Staff training and run throughs, risk assessments and re-arranging changing rooms and furniture are all part of the big opening plans, with a focus on cleaning, protecting and quarantining dresses and still providing a bride with a magical experience and her dream dress.
Planning for a different event
As the new guidelines from the Government were announced, it became increasingly clear that the postponements were going to continue, probably late on into the year. Whilst small weddings are romantic and intimate, those who had planned a bigger event and dreamed of walking down the aisle with their dad by their side, hymns sung joyously, confetti thrown, cake cutting and Champagne flowing toasts with group photographs of laughing loved ones, first dances and gorgeous flower girls, will not be able to fulfill that vision. Which is why most shops have been taking more distressed calls, with more new wedding dates added to 2021.
This is obviously causing retailers some major logistical issues. Storing of dresses, increased insurance, collecting balances for dresses no longer required as wedding plans change. Looking after future brides at the beginning of their dress journey, whilst still caring for brides who should have been preparing for their big day, or enjoying married life by now, is still a priority. There is no question, 2021 is going to be incredibly busy with two years of weddings squeezed into one.
I have brides who were forced to postpone just a few days before their March wedding, and now their Autumn wedding is being rescheduled – in some cases to 2022 – as dates for 2021 have already been snapped up.
Ensuring everyone gets the service and attention they require is my top priority, but logistically I can’t store dresses for two years and I can’t hold off getting balances in as brides don’t want to try on their dress just yet. Tough decisions have to be made in order to survive and still be here to provide a service in 2021/22 and beyond.
Giving our brides a sense of security and reassuring them that they will be looked after is key. Our ‘21 alterations diary is already bursting at the seams, but with careful planning and firm organisational skills, we will prevail. No bride will be left behind, every bride deserves to be excited, and every bride needs to know her wedding matters.
And that is where independent bridal stores will always beat online, or big box conveyor belt stores. Stack-them-high-sell-them-
Right now brides need some certainty. We can’t make Covid disappear, but we can do everything possible to keep It at bay and limit the spread, and work hard to keep staff and customers safe. We can reassure all our brides that we take our commitment to them seriously and most of all, that we are here to help.
Shops are sharing their new store layouts with brides, showing customers what to expect when visiting via social media, videos and blog posts and comforting emails, showing that we take our responsibilities to staff and customers’ health as seriously as we do our desire to help them find their dress.
That applies to our suppliers too. Shops need to know that suppliers are aware of the challenges we are facing and that we need to be able to count on them, too.
Without being able to sell much of the 2020 collections, funds for investing into 2021 will be limited, and we may have to choose more wisely and have extra consideration of payment terms.
But it works both ways… we must also support our suppliers. If we can’t attend Harrogate, if it goes ahead, then we need to make sure we see reps and make ourselves available.
And most of all we need to really be honest. We all need some security, some reassurance and to know that we are seen and understood. If you aren’t concerned about where we are heading, you aren’t paying attention, but if you recognise that by confronting potential difficulties head on, preparing for future lockdowns and disruptions and by putting plans in place to minimise the chaos, we won’t just survive, we will thrive.
We need nerves of steel as there may be a rough six-12 months ahead. People are counting on us to keep focused. We need to be seen, not blindly promising fairy tales, but honestly addressing the worries, and showing we are prepared for difficult times. We have our plan, and plan B and plan C. Acknowledging the challenges we face and reassuring customers that we are ready to face them will bring confidence and trust.
Once this all over – and it will be – let’s never speak of 2020 ever again. The year hugs and kisses were banned when we needed them most; the year grey hairs were visible and smiles were hidden behind a mask.
So deep breaths everyone – masks up, crowns on, and let’s focus on supporting each other.