Family Drama! - Copy 1

Cathy Montante, owner of Collezione Fortuna Fashion Boutique and Bridals in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., recalls a bride who didn’t want her family, future in-laws or friends at her bridal appointment.
    The bride booked her appointment and showed up alone, “happy as a clam,” Montante says. But that didn’t last. Somehow, the bride’s family found out about the appointment and showed up in droves: her parents, her future in-laws, some friends, even her 92-year-old grandmother.
    Everyone was pulling dresses, none of which fit the bride or were even styles she liked.
    “To make a long story short, the bride broke out in a sweat and started shaking, crying, and had a full-blown panic attack,” Montante says. “She told everyone to leave and to leave her alone. They all left, making remarks.”
    Afterward, the bride booked another appointment, which she cancelled. It turns out the bride eloped with her fiancé to Las Vegas a month later with no family present.
    “I wasn’t surprised, and they moved out of town!” she says.  
    Family drama at bridal appointments is nothing new. After all, shopping for a wedding dress inspires a lot of emotions: excitement, happiness, joy and love. But weddings tend to spur a lot of other emotions as well: nervousness, anxiety, jealousy and even anger. For the most part, these emotions come from strained relationships and other family dynamics rather than the wedding itself. Unfortunately, there are times when these emotions spill over during a bridal appointment.
    As a bridal salon owner or a member of the sales staff, you are forced to deal with these emotions if you are to keep the bride focused on her bridal appointment. Otherwise, the entire situation could blow up, leaving your bride in tears and the sale tossed to the wayside. Thankfully, there are ways to handle such situations that, hopefully, will diffuse the emotions and calm everyone down so the focus returns to the bride.

1. Mom matters.
    In a recent Facebook post, VOWS asked what was the one thing every bridal salon owner wished brides knew before coming in for their dress appointment.
    Beth Clark, owner of Bridal Chateau in Williamsville, N.Y., said she wished they understood that the dynamic of their relationships with friends and family isn’t going to magically change for the better because they are getting married.
    “I see too many brides bring their mom that they have a strained relationship with hoping that they will have some kind of moment with them or that they will just love the dress the bride loves,” she says. “The disappointment when things don’t work out the way they hoped can kill an appointment and ruin even the perfect dress.”
    So how can you stop this from occurring?
    “You are a professional, and you handle the situation just like any other appointment walking into your establishment,” Montante says. “You are there to support the bride and hope for the best. It’s a personal situation; it’s up to the bride and her mother to make it work. Be neutral, polite, smile, keep your mouth shut and listen.”
    If possible, try to get the mother involved in the appointment in a positive way.
    “I would try and find a way for mom to complement the daughter, because I know that’s all the bride wants,” Clark says. “I would say something like, ‘Doesn’t this make her waist look small?’”
    For more effectiveness, Clark invades the mother’s space a bit. She steps up behind the mother’s shoulder, saying something like, “Don’t you love the way the lace falls down her back?”
    Such a move makes the mother uncomfortable, and she tends to behave better, Clark adds.

2. Not all for one.
    Another common family drama is one bridal owners say happens often. The bride finds her dream dress, but her family and friends shoot it down. No matter what the bride says about it, her entourage is not listening, instead offering their own negative thoughts on the dress. The bride is becoming notably agitated and upset, and you can see the sale slipping away.
    For Jessica Brostron, owner of Encore Bridal in Fort Collins, Colo., that is the time to whisk the bride back to the dressing room for a one-on-one talk.
    “We will reassure her in the fitting room that this is her wedding day and it’s very hard to please everyone, and if she likes the gown she should go with it,” Brostron says. “We also tell her to come back alone to retry on the gown.”
    In an effort to control the sale, Clark tries a slightly different approach. She will allow family and friends to choose the dress they want the bride to wear.
    “When the bride tries on the dress but doesn’t like it, we reaffirm what the bride likes and hope that reaction will back them off,” she says.
    If it doesn’t, Clark resorts to the same approach as Brostron.
     “If necessary, we’ll talk to the bride about coming back with just one or two people who will support her,” she says.  

3. Joining in the fun.
    It’s not surprising when a young bride comes in for her appointment, and you learn that her sister, her friend or another relative is also engaged. What could surprise the bride, however, is when that friend or relative decides she wants to shop for dresses, too. After all, it’s the bride’s appointment. But this minor drama can be easily handled by offering to set up an appointment for the friend or relative, and returning the focus back to the bride. But what happens when mom also is engaged?
    Montante experienced this exact scenario at her store.
    “I had a single mother in her 50s recently engaged wanting to try on each dress the daughter tried on!” she says. “Her idea at the time was maybe they could share the same wedding day and wear the same dress. The daughter was in tears and left her mother at the appointment, and mom couldn’t understand why her daughter behaved so poorly!”
    To combat this drama, you have to be firm, yet professional, while exerting control over the sale.
    “You have your store policies, with each bride having the right to have her own experience of buying her dress,” Montante says.
    And, if this person continues to be a problem,  feel free to ask her to leave. After all, at the moment, the bride is your customer, not her friend or relative.

4. Budging on the budget.
    In most cases, when the bride arrives at her appointment with mom in tow, they know their budget for a dress. But, sometimes, especially when dad tags along, that budget may get lowered. After all, some dads just can’t understand why a dress could cost so much, so they refuse to raise the price. Despite the bride’s pleas – especially when she has found her dream dress – there is typically no convincing him.
    To salvage the sale and sooth the bride, try schooling dad on the ins and outs of wedding gowns.
    “Explain the workmanship on the gown and the details that the daughter loves about her dress choice,” says Nancy Fork, owner of The Dalles Wedding Place in The Dalles, Ore. “Often, educating them on why some of these details add up in the price makes a difference. Showing him something in his budget range also helps. I want to be upfront and honest with my customers. These are things they will see, and, actually, they usually appreciate you taking the time to explain these things. It puts it into perspective, and they feel heard.”

5. Blowing the budget.
    With many brides, they set their budget and they stick to it when shopping for a dress. On occasion, though, there is the bride who believes money is no object and insists on trying on dresses out of her price range. As she does so, you can see how agitated her parent is becoming, especially after repeated pleas and comments that the bride stop shopping for dresses that are too expensive for the parent’s budget.
    To calm the parent and rein in the bride, Brostron is quick to remind the bride that her appointment is time-sensitive.
    “We reassure her that it is our goal to find her wedding dress, and I don’t mind trying her in a dress over budget, but we need to stay on task of finding her gown and that means staying within budget,” she says. “They only get 1.5 hours with us, so we don’t want to waste too much time on dresses that aren’t an option.”
    For brides who continue to be insistent, Holli Owsley, owner of Dream Dress Bridal in Brewer, Maine, is quick to tell them how badly that can go.
    “We had a bride try on a dress twice her budget and couldn’t let it go,” she said. “She went to over 15 stores trying to duplicate the feeling she got in that dress. Three weeks before the wedding, she was still looking for a dress.”
    If a bride refuses to dismiss the higher-priced gowns, Owsley said they save the over-budget ones for last in the changing room in hopes that the bride will fall in love with something before she even gets to the over-budget gowns.
    Dealing with family drama is never fun, but every bridal salon owner and his or her sales staff will have to face it on occasion. The key is knowing how to respond to each situation. Although the previous examples are pretty common in the industry, they are not the only instances of family drama. Therefore, keep these top tips in mind when it comes to addressing difficulties with families.
    “Be very mindful of what you say because everybody’s family dynamic is different,” Brostron says. “This situation may be the norm for them.”
    “Be professional, and do not take sides,” Montante adds. “Family problems go deeper than just buying a dress. The dress is just an object they are using to manipulate each other. Don’t get involved. You are just there to sell the bride a wedding dress and give her the experience.”
    “You have to be very soft and honest,” Clark says. “We’re salespeople, but you can’t be pushy because they’ll push back. You really have to be the bride’s advocate. You don’t know what she’s been through before she comes in. Sometimes they’ll be so fragile, so they need someone to stand up for them.”
    “Try to remain neutral and calm,” Fork says. “Your job is to focus on what the bride wants. If it seems to get heated up, walk away for a few moments to see if it calms down. Bringing attention to the situation may cause it to flare. If the situation doesn’t calm down on its own, ask the bride for a few moments alone. Talk to her about how she is feeling about the appointment. Would she like to continue or set a new one?”
    “One person can destroy the whole appointment,” Owsley says. “If you have a strong-willed and vocal bride, you can probably step back and not intervene; she’ll pick what she loves regardless of what anyone else thinks. If you have a bride that is quiet, indecisive or worried about what everyone else thinks, it’s important to help her find her voice.”
    Bridal appointments are, of course, emotional moments for brides and their families, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t still remain a happy, pleasant experience for everyone involved. It just takes an experienced bridal professional with a firm handle of the situation to ensure the bride has the special moment she hopes for when she discovers her dream dress.

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