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What It Really Takes to Sell Bridal Gowns

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Brick and mortar retail is no easy task and I will be the first to admit that the challenges can be excruciating. Most consumers, at least in Beverly Hills -- where I had a salon for 30 years -- are used to being catered to. Having it their way or no way is the reality.

But there is no excuse for a staffer to be of disservice, no matter what the situation. Whether it is a commission-only arrangement, or an hourly/salary position, every hour worked is an hour paid. Therefore upholding the company culture -- and hopefully it is a positive one -- should be without compromise.

When I go shopping, I am (inwardly) critical. I look at the cleanliness of the environment. I check out the merchandise, the selection, and how it is displayed. I notice hangers, seating, dust, carpets -- everything. But even unsightly details can completely disappear when the service is impeccable.

Likewise, when the service is bad all the loveliness in the world can become ugly in a moment.

After selling bridal for years and watching a litany of brides find their dream gowns, finally, one of my children is engaged. I couldn't be happier. My son's wife-to-be, Sarah, is a beautiful young woman, inside and out. And I am thrilled to do something I've always dreamt of: gift a wedding gown to my son's bride.

This happy task led us to a high-end department store in Beverly Hills so Sarah could try on some gowns. Right away, I knew something was amiss: There was no designated person to greet us as a receptionist. Once we were acknowledged, no one introduced themselves or asked us who was along on the appointment... or even addressed us by name.

But, most importantly, the stylist who helped us had no interest in the wedding vision, only the date and the budget. There was no "romancing the sale," as it's called, just a focus on the bottom line. This, to me, is a sure sign of someone who's in the wrong line of work.

The stylist instructed us to walk about the department with no narrative of what was what. She didn't describe the merchandise or try to differentiate the gowns the salon offered by her knowledge of the designers, materials, and styles.

Once gowns were chosen, she didn't assist us into a dressing room. One gown was too large and, yet, she didn't clip it. She didn't escort Sarah to the pedestal. She didn't help her up. She didn't fluff the train. She didn't offer her any accessory options. Need I say more?

Granted, maybe the salesperson recognized me and simply figured I wasn't buying retail, so why bother putting effort into the appointment. Perhaps she just didn't like her job.

And, of course, selling bridal gowns isn't easy: They are heavy. They are enormous. They can be expensive. So, when a customer announces they'd like to try gowns on "just for fun," I understand how this can really deflate a consultant's energy.

Still, at its heart, selling bridal gowns must be more than about making the sale. It's much like theater: The experience must be entertaining and the delivery should be sincere and always professional. The players must look the part and the audience must feel good about the experience they have.

Therefore, if a bridal consultant is only engaged and present during her appointments so she can make the sale then and there, then she is in the wrong business. Trying on wedding gowns is the one time in a woman's life when playing dress-up gets to be a fantasy come true -- and this is an experience salespeople are paid to give. If nurturing and providing confidence to the brides who come into their stores is not something a consultant enjoys for the salary she earns, then she is in the wrong trade. And if the company encourages its employees to believe that nothing else matters but closing the sale, then the company culture is all-wrong for bridal.

When bridal service falls short, disaster can happen... and the reviews are going to be ugly. The power that social networks like Facebook and Yelp have should not be underestimated: Statistics I've seen show that of 90 percent consumers will rant and only 10 percent will rave. These (mostly) negative evaluations reach much farther than old fashioned word-of-mouth and can even close a business down, much like bad reviews can shutter a Broadway play overnight.

My experience highlighted this essential lesson for bridal business owners: In the end, it is much more expensive to be of disservice than it is to be of service and not close the sale.