Sue Lovell is in her regular seat with Wedding Trader, sharing views, gathering opinion, and talking us through the restrictions and resulting difficulties our industry is still facing
Well, we are back in business. Finally, after the longest winter in living memory, a lockdown that muted Christmas and took with it New Year, Valentines and Easter, and added unwanted weight to mid-rifts and thighs – we are back!
There can’t have been a bridal store in the country that wasn’t fully booked in the first few weeks after April 12th, and what a wonderful return to work it was. Brides were out to buy, out to collect and pay balances, and ready to plan for 2021/22 weddings. I had brides in for fittings, for imminent weddings, and most hadn’t had opportunity to even see their dresses previously, as they had been delivered during lockdown. One bride is approaching her fifth wedding date; we are so close, we can almost touch it, but she is still cautious, as she has been here before.
I was struck by how calm my brides have been, they had total faith the alterations would be done in time; that dresses would be delivered in time. They were just focused on getting everything organised. I had kept in touch with my 2021 brides throughout, and I must admit to feeling very overwhelmed at how thoughtful and considerate clients were.
The local florist was becoming a regular masked face during lockdown, waving at me from a safe distance as she delivered flowers from thoughtful customers, who were just sending me positive vibes, and letting me know they were thinking of me. They understood how tough times were for small businesses.
I had cream teas, cupcakes, donuts and bottles of wine delivered –and since re-opening, the flowers and bottles of wine have continued to arrive. Hand delivered by happy brides, just celebrating the return to the excitement of getting married. Despite the turmoil and obvious stress they were experiencing, they recognised the impact that lockdown must be having on small businesses.
I was not expecting that. The wonderful kindness shown has negated the hours (or perhaps a lot of minutes) spent on my shiny new exercise bike and treadmill but I have truly appreciated the gifts… probably far too much.
While our customers have appreciated the financial woes we have all had, it seems that many local authorities have not. The confusion over whether bridal shops are Close Contact (now known as Personal Care) or Non-essential, has affected the value of the re-start grants.
The Grants offered throughout lockdown have been very gratefully received, and they have served their purpose in keeping us afloat in very tough times. Obviously, they come nowhere near to replacing the business that we have lost.
Representing BrideCo, I was asked to have a meeting with the DHSC, discussing the role bridal shops have in regards to the NHS Test and Trace, and allowing customers to Shop with Confidence.
As bridal is considered Close Contact by the DHSC, the same rules apply to us as the hospitality industry, hairdressers, beauty salons etc., with large fines are involved if we do not comply. Local Environmental Health Departments have all confirmed that bridal shops must comply with the regulations, yet many local authorities have decided that for grant purposes, we are Non-essential, so receive the smaller grant.
Although we have had an initial rush of customers, weddings are still restricted, and many are still being postponed. Confidence may be returning slowly, but we have lost our four most lucrative months the months that sustain us throughout the rest of the year. We have still had to purchase stock although many of us are overstocked, and many of us are battling customers who have changed plans, and no longer wish to honour the purchase of the original dress. The road back to normal is not paved with gold; there is no certainty in anything right now, and there is no doubt that by following the restrictions in place, we are working longer hours and seeing less appointments.
At the moment, I understand that due to the wonderful work of independent bridal shops, working together, some MPs are finally asking the BEIS to look at why our sector is caught between non-essential and personal care. Hairdressers are considered personal care and received the higher grant, and they see the top and back of a client’s heads. We are often coming from an entirely different angle, in much more intimate and personal spaces, and we have to follow the same rules for cleaning, contact tracing, social distancing etc, with the added burden of quarantining dresses, and then steaming them before they can return to the rails.
Some councils are offering a top-up for bridal shops from a discretionary fund, and some have paid out on the higher tier as they fully understand the role that we play and the impact the restrictions are having. But the overwhelming majority are steadfast in their decision that bridal is non-essential. So, the fight continues.
The most important thing in all of this, though, is that we must not lose sight of the fact that we are back, we have so much to look forward to, and if Covid has taught us anything, it is that we cannot take anything for granted. Covid has devastated lives, and my heart goes out to the families and work colleagues of those who have been lost. It has also shown us that, by working together, we can support each other, fight for each other, and just be at the other end of a message to show someone that we care. We are part of a wonderful industry, and it is what we make it – together.