And the Subject is. . . Polls!

We learned a lot while surveying the industry. Thank you!

In the spirit of election season, and with polls having dominated much of the news cycle this past year, VOWS decided to conduct a survey of our own.

            Granted, the VOWS survey didn’t ask about political opinions (insert gigantic sigh of relief!) but it taught me a lot about what goes on behind the scenes of group data collecting – and why information presented publically is sometimes less than 100% accurate.

            Of course, I’ve always known this intellectually. In journalism school, we were taught to examine every piece of data found with a critical lens: Was it from a credible source? Did that publication, person or group have a bias? Was it relatively recent or from years ago?

            The point our professors reiterated was that almost any piece of information could be used to prove whatever point you wanted depending on how it was collected and presented.

            That said, the VOWS survey was as straightforward as they come. Our audience was clearly defined – owners of independent bridal salons. Our method of contact, e-mail, was far-reaching and certainly did not exclude or favor any particular demographic. We used a professional survey program and our questions were factual and non-leading.

            And yet there were still challenges. Take for example question #15 that asked what the total number of bridal lines a store carried was. Our idea was to take an average and present it as an industry benchmark. But when calculating that average, how should we deal with responses that provided a range of gowns (i.e. 10-15) instead of a single number? Or that answered in words (“Too many to count, LOL!”) instead of numbers? Was there a right or wrong way to handle this? Most important, in my mind, was to be consistent across the board (for the record: on this calculation, when a range was provided we used the average. And we excluded responses that did not give a number from the total). I could easily see how if you handled each response in a different manner, this could impact the accuracy.

            It was eye-opening how much work was involved, especially with the open-ended questions where our main goal was to choose a sampling of answers to present on these pages that best reflect the majority of respondents without being redundant. We worked hard at this task and I’m extremely proud of the result. I think the VOWS survey provides an excellent snapshot of the industry. I’m grateful for everyone who took the time to answer our survey. We couldn’t have done it without you!

            It was also a firsthand reminder, however, that a lot of unexpected work goes on behind the scenes even for a relatively simple survey, and results can sometimes be influenced by the methodology. Consequently, while statistics and facts are useful guidelines, they should always be taken with a grain of salt no matter where you read them.

            To close this out, I’d like to share my favorite highlight of conducting this survey. Many respondents used the open-ended questions to share heartwarming stories about personal interactions with customers. The bridal business is awesome for so many reasons, including the way it inevitably touches your heart. Here was one of my favorite stories, edited for brevity and clarity.

            “A mom, dad and daughter dropped in. They’d been over to the grocery store and were killing some time before they had to go to the train station. The girl fell in love with a dress on a mannequin. Her mom said try it on; she replied isn’t that bad luck when we’re not engaged yet? She knew she was going to be getting engaged; she just didn’t have the ring. Nonetheless she tried it on and loved the dress.
            "They do the big reveal to dad, and both dad and daughter are crying. Then we go to the accessories room to see about veils. She tries on a veil with a blusher.. . . dad comes in and takes the blusher as he would during the ceremony and puts it behind her head and kisses her on the forehead. That picture is forever burned into my brain.
             "So they decide to buy the dress and veil. Now dad is sitting down again in the store, and I’m with mom and daughter. Mom says to the daughter, “Why don’t you take your father outside while I pay?” Turns out dad had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and she didn’t want him to fret about the money. It was far more important that the father-daughter share this moment together while he could still remember and be a part of it.”

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