Building A Better Bridal Business

Somewhere in between servicing emotionally charged brides and combating ever-accelerating competition from the Internet and big-box stores, there exists a single preeminent truth about the bridal retail industry: this isn’t a world for timid souls.
    To be successful, you have to be reflective, purposeful and consistently on your game. Take a day – or even a moment – off and brides are likely to take their money elsewhere.
    VOWS details 50 strategies, tips and best practices to elevate your game and drive store performance.

#1: Display a simple first act. Acknowledge every customer who enters your doors, even if it’s just a quick “hello.” Few will tolerate being ignored and that’s certainly no way to create positive vibes about your store.

#2: Focus on the visit. All your advertising, outreach and social media must do one thing, advises Chris Evans, who runs California-based Evans Sales Solutions and its popular Bridal Business Boot Camps: create desire for the bride to come through your door.
    “So many get tied down by the minutia like changing an ink cartridge that they lose focus on the visit,” Evans says. “Your primary focus has to be creating one-on-one opportunities to sell and you need to assess every effort through the lens of how many people it might bring to your door.”

#3: Create a welcoming and trustworthy first impression. According to research from social scientist Amy Cuddy, this is best accomplished by letting the customer speak first. Get to know the bride and her wants and needs before diving into any product-specific discussion.

#4: Inspire confidence. Speak with purpose and poise and discard those “ums” and “ahs.” You know your product and stand genuinely willing to help. Make sure the bride knows it, too.

#5: Look the part. Let’s not kid ourselves: the bridal industry is about looking your best. When selling wedding gowns, embrace a professional look. Save the trendy gym shoes or animal-print yoga pants for another day.

#6: Differentiate with technology. Despite it being 2016, many stores continue to rely on inadequate systems littered with time-sucking inefficiencies that also weaken their marketplace standing. Tom Esposito, a former bridal store owner who now runs BridalLive, which develops store management software specifically for bridal shops, says rather accessible technology like online appointment booking with real-time availability or text message reminders send positive signals to today’s brides that your store is committed to delivering a worthwhile experience.

#7: Embrace positivity. Ditch “Debbie Downer” talk of the nasty weather outside or the city’s overwhelming traffic. Instead, begin with a “good morning” and stick to the better things in life.

#8: Use the customer’s first name often. Using a bride’s first name confirms she has her own singular identity. The individual is not just another bride, but Mary or Michele with specific wants, needs and visions for her wedding day.

#9: Work your hardest to be kind, respectful and personable. Be friendly and outgoing, sincere and professional. “A lot of times a person’s buying decision comes down to, ‘Do I like you more than the other person?’” Evans says. It might be harsh, he acknowledges, but it’s also the truth.

#10: Toss prejudgments aside. Let’s say a father walks into your shop with his daughter. The father sports some tattered jeans, work boots and battle-scarred hands. You assume he’s a blue-collar guy – and you are, in fact, correct. That does not mean, however, that the bride has a blue-collar budget, bridal industry sales and marketing expert Alan Berg reminds.
    “This might be the father’s lone daughter and he’s saved like heck for his daughter’s wedding so she could have her pick of the store,” Berg says. “If you assume this bride has a slim budget and only show her discount dresses, then you could miss out on selling her a $3,000 or $4,000 gown.”

#11: Let the bride share her story. Questions about the bride’s fiancé, such as how the couple met and the proposal, heighten the stylist-bride relationship, but also help place the bride in an enthusiastic frame of mind.

#12: Learn about key wedding details. Will the event be formal or informal? On a Caribbean beach or at a Michigan apple orchard in late fall? “These questions help build rapport, yes, but will also help you sell a dress,” Berg says.

#13: Show sincere excitement for the bride’s wedding adventure. Or as one Yelp reviewer said about a New Jersey store: “What bridal store owners need to know is that [it] is the consultants who really are excited about the bride’s experience [that] truly make all of the difference in the world.”

#14: Ask open-ended questions. Close-ended questions provide yes or no answers that rarely move the needle. In contrast, open-ended questions often produce new information. “And if you listen closely, the bride will tell you what’s important and why to help you close the sale,” Berg says.

#15: Active listening. Many sales experts tab effective listening as the most important skill for selling any product, wedding gowns included. “When you find out what the bride’s needs are,” Evans says, “you can make her dreams come true.”

#16: Mind your manners. As comfortable as you might feel with a bride, remember that certain topics can prove divisive. Save talk of this year’s presidential campaign for a different time and place.

#17: Body language matters, too. Remember that the vast majority of communication is nonverbal and there are simple ways to project a more positive, welcoming persona: smile, shake hands, and open your arms rather than crossing them.

#18: Product knowledge is paramount. The staff at specialty retailers like bridal boutiques must have in-depth knowledge about every item they sell and, Evans says, “be able to articulate the features of a product that will help the bride’s dream come true.”

#19: Avoid selling the way you would buy. With a big purchase like a wedding gown, some people are information gatherers while others are impetuous. Some stick to a strict budget and others fly through their cash ceiling. Some have envisioned what they will wear on their wedding day for years and others simply see a wedding dress as a dress – nothing more, nothing less. Be mindful of the fact that we all get to a purchasing decision in different ways. “Don’t assume anyone buys just like you,” Berg says.

#20: Honor thy budget. Most brides have a budget window when shopping for their dress and though some might stretch that budget for the right dress, it rarely does any good to show a bride one dazzling dresses out of her price range after another. While it is possible the bride might toss budget aside for an expensive dress, consistently showing gowns beyond one’s financial limit can also prove frustrating and disheartening, two feelings stylists should work to avoid activating during an appointment.

#21: Identify the influencers. In many cases, a bride leans on one or two individuals more than others during an appointment. Identify those influencers and understand the importance of winning them over as well. Learn about their relationship to the bride, call them by their first names and ask them what they see the bride wearing.

#22: Be prepared to switch hats. During an appointment, you might have to play a variety of roles. At one moment, you are the product expert; the next, you might be the referee. Have the awareness to recognize when you need to play a new role and then perform that part as best you can.

#23: Show passion for your products. When you show genuine enthusiasm for your gowns, accessories and other products, that energy often rubs off on customers and increases the likelihood of a sale.

#24: Take your time. Before sending a bride out in front of her entourage or even having her look in the mirror, make the dress look as glamorous as possible. A half-hearted effort in the fitting room is far less likely to score positive reviews from the bride or her guests.

#25: Help the bride build her perfect dress. By asking questions about what a bride likes or dislikes about different dresses she tries on, you can hone in on selections that will better appease her.

#26: Link features to benefits. Note the characteristics of a given dress and spotlight how those elements benefit the bride. For instance, if the bride says she wants “to get down on the dance floor” at her wedding, then mention how the ball gown she is currently wearing provides freedom of movement so she can do just that.

#27: Steer the conversation toward value. A wedding dress is often the most expensive garment purchase any woman will make in her lifetime and the price of a gown, whether it’s $500 or $5,000, can weigh heavily on a bride’s mind and lead to hesitation. The more you can show the craftsmanship or elements that create value – the dress’ construction or how it addresses specific desires, for instance – the better you position yourself to score the sale.

#28: Be the bride’s champion. Earnestly respect what the bride is telling you she wants, even if it is not the way you or others in the bride’s party might approach the process. “Rather than being a salesperson, be an advocate for what the bride wants and needs,” Berg says.

#29: Leave talk of the competition behind. Much as you might want to tell a bride to avoid buying her dress from a different shop or an online retailer, it’s often best to stuff those feelings aside. Stick to highlighting the value you provide.

#30: Think in terms of “Yes and...” Say a bride mentions how she likes the neckline of a particular dress. You can advance the conversation and inspire positive vibes by agreeing with her assessment – assuming you sincerely do – and then adding something else the dress does well, such as accentuating her figure or showing off her fit arms.

#31: Allow space. Most people love immediate feedback, but it’s often best to allow a bride some time to consider her feelings about each of the dresses she tries on. It’s an opportunity to study her body language and then actively listen to her first reaction.

#32: Ask rather than tell. If you assume a bride knows something and she does not, it can be embarrassing for her to admit she lacks specific knowledge. If you tell a bride something commonplace, then it can seem like you are talking down to her. The easy way around this, according to Berg: ask, don’t tell. “Better to say something like ‘Would you like to know more about the construction of this dress?’” he says.

#33: Introduce additional solutions throughout the process. Well before hitting the register, pepper the bride’s appointment with additional items like shapewear or headpieces that will boost overall sales but, more importantly, help the customer look and feel her best.

#34: Use some imagination. Provide information on how the dress will better fit the bride following alterations and help her understand the finished product.

#35: Exercise empathy. Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” and it’s critical to earning the bride’s trust and, ultimately, a sale. When applicable and sincere, let the bride know that you relate to her emotions: “I understand how you’re feeling here. I felt the same way during my wedding.”

#36: Ditch the sales pitch. Sales pitches are data dumps and should be used only on an as-needed basis. “Not everybody needs to know everything about what you do,” Berg says. “In fact, you’ll sell more in less time if you speak less.”

#37: Illuminate your added value. If your shop offers in-house alterations, make that clear. If you offer complementary gown preservation following the wedding, then communicate that. If you have a 24/7 call line (or text system) to address any last-minute emergencies, then assure the bride she has nothing to worry about. Anywhere you go above and beyond the competition and add value, make it known.

#38: Smile – and encourage the bride to as well. Emotions can often overwhelm a bride as she shops for a wedding gown. Smile yourself and don’t be afraid to laugh. Ask the bride about something fun she and her fiancé recently did together. By working to maintain a lighthearted atmosphere, you minimize the risk of anxiety overrunning the appointment.

#39: Work at the bride’s pace. Creating a sense of urgency works when selling electronics on eBay or for early bird Black Friday deals, but rarely helps a bride with swirling emotions make a confident decision. As much as you want to make the sale, respect the pace of the bride’s purchasing process.

#40: Embrace the silence. “Let the bride talk more and she will generally like you more,” Berg says. Remember that this experience is about her, not you.

#41: Get answers. In the event a bride asks something and you don’t know the answer, avoid dodging the question or providing a meandering reply. Rather, acknowledge that you do not know the precise answer, but know where to get it. Then, deliver on that promise.

#42: Share information. You are a problem solver and a solutions provider. Offer sound, well-educated and well-intentioned advice and direction on what characteristics of a gown highlight a bride’s features or different accessories that can contribute to a more glamorous look. When you withhold information about things capable of heightening her look, you actually do the bride a disservice.

#43: Go the extra mile. Do whatever it takes to show the bride she is your priority. Chase down answers to her questions. Ask an alterations team member to visit and discuss possible changes to the gown. Even if you don’t sell the bride her ultimate wedding gown, she will still recall your efforts and likely relay a positive experience about your store to others, which is the next best thing.

#44: Minimize choices. A stylist’s job is not necessarily to show more dresses, but rather to narrow down the choices and remove dresses from view both physically and psychologically. “If you just keep providing choices, then you can easily run into decision fatigue and overwhelm the bride,” Berg says.
    Whenever possible, try to focus a bride on two options: Do you like this dress with the sleeves or without? Do you like this neckline or that neckline? Do you like the length of this dress or that one?
    “It’s these small decisions between one or the other that lead up to the big decision and result in a much more manageable process,” Berg says.

#45: Document everything. Brides have questions and planning a wedding – and, certainly, purchasing a dress – often ignites intense emotions and stress. By documenting everything and having the bride sign off on the specific details, “You give the bride comfort that there will not be any surprises,” Evans says.

#46: Ask for the sale. Many sales consultants fear losing a sale or being perceived as pushy, so they resist – after spending 60 or 90 minutes with a bride – asking for the sale. The easiest way, Evans says, is to ask questions with an A or B answer. For instance, “So will you be wearing dress A or dress B at your wedding?” Then, “Okay, did you want dress A with the white ribbon or the red ribbon?”

#47: A cute ending. When a bride finds her dress at The White Magnolia Bridal Collection in Jacksonville, Fla., staff members top off the experience by taking a photo of the bride and her party with a sign that reads, “I said yes!!” It’s a fun moment that keeps the good vibes flowing – and frequently results in a ripple effect of social-media attention.

#48: Show gratitude. At the most fundamental level, a wedding gown, veil, shapewear and so on are all commodities customers can purchase anywhere. Whether the bride purchases a gown with you or not, thank brides for letting you be a part of a memorable  experience in their lives. Not everyone, remember, was given that opportunity.

#49: Put pen to paper. In the digital age, handwritten notes have gone the way of bottled soda – still around, but barely – which is precisely why you should put pen to paper and share gratitude and well wishes. A handwritten note stands out as a sincere and genuine gesture.

#50: Reflect and grow. Over the course of a 60 or 90-minute appointment, you have built a wonderful rapport with a bride. She’s remained confident and comfortable throughout the process and you handled yourself with tremendous professionalism and class. Then, it happens: she leaves without buying a dress. You could be deflated, but understand this is the nature of the bridal retail game. Reflect on each experience, ask yourself what you could have done better and take that knowledge with you into the next appointment.

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