The bridal industry -- and everything related to it -- is like no other. Because many people love weddings for their romance and their beauty, there are a lot of professionals who want to enter the business, particularly the wedding dress business. After all, wouldn't it be great to just have an idea, find a pretty spot for a salon, buy what you love, open the business up to the public and away you go with the register ringing all day? (Easier dreamt than done!)
Other bridal professionals often ask me for advice pertaining to my experience of owning and operating a bridal salon for over 30 years. So, here are 10 of my secrets to success that I hope other would-be salon owners can take to heart.
1. Retail is detail. The personal connection you make with each client revolves around one very important occasion. And the planning of the event itself is a completely absorbing process for the bride, her fiancé, her family -- everyone involved. So, naturally, these heavily invested consumers notice everything in a bridal salon, from non-matching hangers to soiled necklines and hemlines to lack of proper writing utensils when they need a pen handy to write down a style number. They also notice everything about you: While I never enforced a dress code with my employees, I did ask that they dress as if they were going to church -- stylish, yet also conservative.
2. Location, location, location! It is one thing to love wedding gowns and quite another to know the consumer to which you are selling them. Buying patterns for consumers in different regions vary, as do the sizes you'll need to stock. For example, in the northeast, the average size in bridal is about an eight, while, in the south, the most ordered gown sizes are 12-14. You'll should ask the designers you are interested in carrying what the average sizes are on orders from your region.
You'll need to know what the price points are for your customers. You may absolutely love Vera Wang, but you might not be able to sell her price point in your area. Or you may think Mori Lee sells great bargain priced items, yet the other salons in your area carry designer labels. Homework and a little reconnaissance will serve you well. With that critical information, you can set the stage for your salon, and reflect your individuality.
3. Check your mirrors. Large and good quality salon mirrors are critical, but leave them out of the dressing suites. Let the bride be as surprised as her entourage is when she sees herself for the first time in each gown -- good or bad.
4. Always give every bride the full experience. If a bride is shopping with her mother and/or father, have a veil and blusher handy to slip on just as she leaves the dressing suite. These are priceless moments for the family and you are a rock star for making them happen.
5. Keep your tools handy. Leave a measuring tape either around your neck (unless your salon is very formal, then have one in each dressing suite). It is a frustrating waste of time when the bride is ready to order and you have to hunt down your tools.
6. Empower your staff. Assign each staff member her own dressing suite: She will make it her own space as she becomes comfortable with her personal selling style.
7. Stock necessary accessories. Having a selection of try-on bras and shoes will not only make you more of a service salon but also helps the bride truly envision the fit of the garment. A gown worn without a bra, no matter the woman's bust size, looks, well, shlumpy.
8. Elevate your baggage. Delivering a gown to a bride in a plastic bag is like handing it over in a trash bag. Invest in cloth zipper bags and, for a few pennies more, have your company name printed on them. Whether white, pink, baby blue or whatever color you choose, this is the right way to hand the garment off.
9. Go for traditional touches. Cardboard bust forms covered with tissue paper under your completed gowns ready for pick-up may seem old-school to some, but let's not forget that "old-school" is typically "classic." This is a mighty fine touch and the sign of established retailing.
10. Continue to serve after the wedding. Offering the preservation service once the wedding is over is an excellent source of revenue. Creating an alliance with a cleaning company that provides the service -- and using the proper packaging -- is an excellent perk to your clientele and your pocketbook.