The 6 ‘Rs’ of Bridal Selling
Richard Branson and I have something in common and, sadly, it’s not that I’m his Necker Island neighbour. In 1997 we both opened bridal shops and expanded to multiple sites. There the similarity ends. For the launch of the London flagship store Sir Richard, shaved his beard, wore a wedding dress and stirred up a PR frenzy compared with my two eighth of a page ads in You & Your Wedding and Brides (the only magazines around then). “I’m doomed” I thought as his zillion sq ft one stop shop on London’s Northumberland Avenue complete with illuminated catwalk was only 50 minutes from my modest 350 sq ft shop on the historic Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells with the only illumination being the street lights.
The honeymoon was soon over for Virgin as London closed in 2003 followed by Manchester in 2007. According to Wikipedia this was “due to the company not being able to make any profit because of an intensively competitive bridal market”. So how can independent retailers without a global brand succeed in an even more competitive and saturated bridal market?
“Big is best” isn’t always true in bridal as I know. From 1997 to 2003 we opened one shop a year culminating in 6 shops from Tunbridge Wells to Huddersfield. Expansion was more organic than organised! The idea of franchising was replaced with downsizing as we realised that bridal is more of a “Ma & Pa” business. The slickest systems are no substitute for the soul and spirit of an owner working in the business. Recognising that success is synonymous with small we deliberately downsized and by 2014 we consolidated to two shops in Tunbridge Wells having closed down two and successfully sold two.
I’ll share what I’ve learned over the last two decades in bridal and also (pre bridal) while working for a global training company (TMI) running customer service and coaching courses for clients as diverse as British Airways, Atlantis Paradise Bahamas, Cunard and even Harry Ramsdens.
Bridal’s “6 Rs”.
Confession time. I started in 1990 as a home trader hiring gowns from a back bedroom of our Kentish Oast House. I’d got married on a Caribbean island and while visiting California found a factory outlet with bridal gowns at $60. With an initial investment of $600 I played at bridal for 6 years continuing to work as a training consultant. Research conducted was zero compared with the extensive research prior to opening The Pantiles Bride. The benefit of having “played at it” was that I knew what was trending. The 90s bride who hired is today’s bride buying our sample or a once worn gown. I knew that my local area was saturated with bridal shops selling satin, sequinned meringues and when one closed (interesting that they were a multiple retailer with 5 shops in the South East) I decided it was time to find premises. I had neither the confidence nor capital to start at the very top with Catherine Rayner and, even years later, I was given “The Pretty Woman you can’t afford to be here treatment” at Harrogate. Harrods was the only closest shop stocking designer bridal gowns (until Virgin) so I decided that was my niche and my first designer secured was Sassi Holford who is still one of my best brands. When opening subsequent shops it was based on thorough research of competitors and availability of strong labels. The decision to open a concession in a Birmingham department store was dependent on securing Maggie Sottero.
Question – when attending a trade show what does your “to do list” look like? Is it have hair done, eyebrows tinted, what to wear, where to eat or a military style operation of I pad loaded with brand performance data and an Excel spreadsheet with all appointments mapped out with pit stops allocated for the loo and re-fuelling?!
My relationship with suppliers is more like a marriage than speed dating or a one night stand. There is a huge investment (both financial and emotional) in getting to know a supplier. What I’ve learned is to listen to advice re best sellers and I’ll accept that I may have made a poor choice on samples. I’ve never dropped a label because of one poor season.
The downside of close relationships is when it’s time to say goodbye. |
Questions – does your heart rule your head when it’s time to move on? What’s your criteria for keeping a supplier? If trust is important then ask yourself “How many of them would I trust to pack a parachute for me?”
Too many shops have too many labels that compete with each other on the rail and a high stock inventory affects profitability. One possible reason for this is that we, like our brides, are suffering from the new “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out). Many of us have been guilty of label hogging to block our competitors. Maybe we should all learn to just “Let it Go” like Queen Elsa in Disney’s Frozen!
Questions – how do you measure your ROI and how ruthless are you in taking action? My new measure is not just what my return is on a brand but how long it takes me to get it.
REFRESH or RETIRE
Stocking leading brands can equal complacency and getting stuck in your comfort zone. Naively I thought that having two shops in the same town would secure my territory. The opposite happened and it attracted two new retailers. This was one wake up call and the second was when one of our designers said “You’re a little safe in here”. Instead of getting defensive we realised we were missing the boho/festival look which we successfully filled with Catherine Deane and Willowby.
Questions – have you got stuck in your comfort zone? When was the last time you took on a new label and who does the buying?
RRP or RIP
When offering that discount or free veil to close the sale do we really know how much that is costing our business. At our recent RBA conference I was shocked when our Action Coach speaker shared this example of the way discounts and reduced prices may impact profitability.
If you sell your product or service at a gross profit of 40%:
Offering a 5% discount means you need to sell 14% more volume to make the same amount of gross profit.
Offering a 10% discount means you need to sell 33% more volume.
Offering a 20% discount means you need to sell twice as much!
Offering a 30% discount means you need to sell four times as much!
Offering a 40% discount means you don’t break even no matter how much you sell!
These numbers also work in reverse. The higher your price, the less volume you have to produce for a given amount of profit! Even a small price increase can generate significant additional profit. More information at www.e-myth.com/cs/user/print/post/the-impact-of-pricing-on-profits.
Question – work out (if you dare) the cost of discounts and make a decision to make small price increases.
As the bridal market becomes increasingly saturated it’s even more vital to decide on what slice of it you want and don’t want and to take action. Tough decisions need to be made from people to premises and designers to décor. When I’m dithering (and I can) I remind myself of Anna Wintour’s “What people hate the most is indecision” and that helps me re-focus.
Question – are you decisive or a ditherer? A question I often ask myself is “What result do I want?” – this is the first of 6 question in NLP’s (Neuro Lingusitic Programming) “well-formed outcomes”.
REVIEW & RE-TRAIN
The bottom line is that we are in sales. Twenty years ago when the bride didn’t buy first time I would say “She’ll be back”. More often than not she was back to buy and if she didn’t there were plenty more out there to ensure we did target (did we have them then?).
We track and review each sales consultant’s conversion rate and we aim for one in three. We follow up most of our brides who didn’t buy first time and have our list of “Hotties” in a prominent place – by the Nespresso machine! We would love it if our brides bought first visit (without a discount) but this is dependent on their “convincer strategy” – another bit of NLP! There are two elements to a convincer strategy: one relates to the way information is presented and the other is the time factor.
With a saturated market and very savvy brides then our bridal consultants need to have a different skills set from even 5 years ago. Having a training background and being a Master Practitioner of NLP I’ve designed sales training courses for new and seasoned sales consultants.
Question- do you know your conversion rates and do you follow up your brides? Would you like to know more about Convincer strategies and other sales strategies? If so then contact me.
Susi over to you to…
View this site for info on Maria’s sales training course and contact her on +44(0) 7768 297 290 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org