Comparing experiences gives an invaluable insight into how others in the same business are doing. These four retailers share views but also have different stories to tell
CARINA BAVERSTOCK COUTURE
Where: Bradford on Avon
Year opened: 2010
Main labels carried: The very best of the British designers including Suzanne Neville, Sassi Holford, Caroline Castigliano, Jenny Packham
Average price achieved over the past year: £2,800
Busiest month in 2019: We have had a steady year but noticed an increase in sales in June as next year appears to be a hugely popular year for weddings with the fabulous 2020 date line.
Percentage of your brides planning to marry abroad: As always weddings abroad in guaranteed sunshine remain popular, covering 25% of our brides, which leaves 75% wanting traditional British weddings in village churches, marquees and manor houses.
Silhouette most in demand: The full skirt is worn with a real sense of enjoyment at being a ‘real bride’, wishing to be glamorous and feminine on her big day and a bride that everyone will remember. At the same time, we are seeing a continued love affair with long sleeves and open backs, creating a mood of innocent flirtation.
Your opening days/hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm with VIP appointments available out of hours.
Have brides been challenging your pricing? Our price point is always accepted as brides have often been to visit other local shops and seen similar prices but can immediately see a difference in the quality of the British designers we offer.
Have you bought more or less than in previous years? We offer a wide variety of dresses from each of our designers and we are premiere stockists for Suzanne Neville and Caroline Castigliano holding some 30 dresses of each designer, as well as soft countryside-feel dresses from Sassi Holford, theatrical glamour from Eliza Jane Howell, and chic sophistication from David Fielden.
Do you reckon department store closures will benefit independents? Online shopping and department stores do not affect us as our type of bride wants personal service and individual advice and styling, as well as superb after sales fittings, all of which are guaranteed at Carina Baverstock Couture.
Where: Southsea, Hampshire
Year opened: In 2004, but we have been in the industry for 28 years this year, designing and making from scratch before becoming a retailer.
Main labels carried: Justin Alexander, Sincerity, Mark Lesley, Maggie Sottero, Sottero and Midgley, Lillian West, Eliza Jane Howell.
Average price achieved over the past year: £1,200-£1,800
Busiest month in 2019: July and August
Has business been better or worse than expected – and what do you put it down to: It started slower this year, with a number of brides opting for 2020 weddings, but we are now on par with last year.
Percentage of your brides who are planning to marry abroad: The numbers are Increasing more and more. We estimate that at least 25% of our brides will be opting for destination weddings.
Silhouette most in demand: Crepe fit and flare with an illusion back, or sumptuous Mikado ballgowns.
Accessories carried: We certainly do! We stock Ivory & Co and Twilight Designs Hair Accessories and veils by Daisy Day and Bianco Evento.
Menswear: Not at present. However, we do stock Mother of The Bride by Gill Harvey, Ian Stuart, Ellaboo, Lizabella and Gina Bacconi.
Your opening days/hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm with late night appointments available on Tuesday and Thursday until 8pm.
Have brides been challenging your pricing: Absolutely not. However, we do find that there are shops in the surrounding area who are trying to undercut significantly.
Have you bought more or less than in previous years? Minimums haven’t changed, but we have adapted the way we buy. We no longer buy everything we like but rather work out what we are missing from our collection or what we are selling well and we plan our buying from there. We also consider the mark ups on dresses, and analyse our location, ensuring that we are sticking within our average bride’s spend. Saying that, there will always be a couple of dresses we fall in love with and simply HAVE TO HAVE!
Which trade events have you visited? London Bridal Week, Barcelona and Harrogate.
Harrogate – was it good for you? There were some extremely strong collections, and we found the majority of it easy to buy. Mark Lesley was a real stand out. It’s always great to connect with our designers.
Were you planning to see existing suppliers or to look for new names? Mainly existing, although we are always open to new collections especially if we feel that there’s something we are missing.
Did you spend more or less than you planned? Of course we spent more!
Do you reckon department store closures will benefit independents? Yes, and that’s another reason why we have recently launched Mother of the Bride instore. In our area alone, we’ve seen the closure of John Lewis and we are set to lose Debenhams shortly, too. We are now able to offer the same level of service to Mums of the bride and groom, as well as other members of the bridal party, that we offer to our brides themselves.
Will 2020 be a good year for bridal? It certainly seems to look that way…
THE PANTILES BRIDE
Where: Tunbridge Wells
Year opened: 1997
Main labels carried: Enzoani, Jesus Peiro, Sassi Holford (since we first opened 22 years ago!), Suzanne Neville (for 20 years) and Willowby.
Average price achieved over the past year: £2,500
Busiest month in the past year: Unbelievably, December! We doubled our target for that month which put
us ahead of our annual target by about 10%.
Has business been better or worse than expected – and what do you put it down to: Better in the sense of selling more and a higher conversion rate and at a higher average price point. I put this down to how we qualify and pre-sell to our brides and particularly charging for Saturday appointments. I would prefer three quality appointments rather than a packed diary of eight who are “just getting ideas” and just wearing out my carpet and my team. We are a tight team of three who have 18, 19 and 28 years’ experience in bridal so we’re pretty skilled.
Worse in that the brides are more demanding and are still taking longer to make up their minds. And don’t get me started about what happens on fittings days!
Silhouette most in demand: There isn’t one! The trend is for comfort over corsetting with more relaxed, outdoor weddings trending at the moment.
Have brides been challenging your pricing? Not at all. When they make an appointment we’re very transparent over pricing and what our average price point is. If they want to spend under £2,000 (unless it’s Willowby) we direct them to our sister shop Go Bridal.
At the other extreme my customisation queen – Alexandra – did a £13,000 bespoke Sassi Holford complete with monogrammed veil; this was also what helped our bumper December!
Have you bought more or less than in previous years? Much, much less as we dropped three brands this year. Two of them we had carried for 18 years. Sadly, for two to three years they hadn’t been giving a good enough Return on Investment and one label was making unrealistic demands for minimums so the time was right to say goodbye.
Which trade events have you visited? London Bridal Week, Barcelona and Harrogate.
Harrogate – was it good for you? Most of my buying had been completed for this year. However, I was at Harrogate to buy for Go Bridal where I am venturing into Prom so needed a couple of days to get my head around that market as I have my ‘L’ plates on there!
Were you planning to look for new names? As well as prom I’m open to a label that would complement and not compete with my existing brands as that would just confuse my bride and increase my costs.
Do you reckon department store closures will benefit independents? Not many department stores have carried bridal over the past few years so I don’t think that it will make a difference.
Will 2020 be a good year for bridal? There is a certain ring to ‘2020’ and lots of weddings planned for 20.06.20 so possibly it will be a good year. If a retailer keeps their costs down and focuses on Return on Investment and measures conversions as a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) then I think that any year can be a good year.
Where: Ripley, Surrey
Year opened: 1988
Main labels carried: Jesus Peiro, Suzanne Neville, Lilly Ingenhoven, Eliza Jane Howell, Anna Kara.
Average price achieved over the past year: £3,000+
Your busiest month in the past year? Revenue, June and August; number of weddings, May.
Has business been better or worse than expected – and what do you put it down to? Better; strong branding, unique identity, status as a destination retailer, excellent sales and customer service personnel and a highly-skilled atelier.
What percentage of your brides are planning to marry abroad? Circa 15%
Silhouette most in demand: No single standout silhouette, bestsellers range from fitted to soft to full skirted dresses. There is a stronger trouser and jumpsuit presence than ever before.
Accessories? Veils by the dozen, a steadily growing headdress offer (nowhere near yesteryear but showing a move away from flowers) and the odd pair of shoes here and there.
Your opening days/hours: Monday to Saturday, 9am to 6pm, Tuesday evenings for fittings, Sunday evenings and VIPs by demand.
Have brides been challenging your pricing? No, very few cases of price comparison but the products are all now unique, bespoke and customisable so less prone to suffer from the discount culture.
Have you bought more or less than in previous years? Far, far less samples.
Which trade events have you visited? None since Harrogate 2018. Direct meetings with the brands at their own events work far better for me.
Do you reckon department store closures will benefit independents? Our competition hasn’t been from department stores for years.
Will 2020 be a good year for bridal? Define bridal. I think the strong shops will continue to do well, hobbyists will struggle and those approaching the ‘10 Year Itch’ will be looking to their break clauses. Sadly, in the brutal commercial climate the strong tend to get stronger and the weak get weaker.