Head vs. Heart

By nature of working in the bridal business, you have almost certainly encountered situations where something tugs at your heartstrings.
    Perhaps it’s an “against all odds” love story, a special moment between the bride and her mother, or even a hard-luck tale from an employee. Regardless of the specific scenario, its impact on a sale, your day-to-day business operations or even the purchases you make for your store could be strong. And sometimes, making that decision with your heart as opposed to your head could have unforeseen consequences for your salon.
    To avoid negative results, it’s crucial to take a step back and thoroughly evaluate each situation, no matter how emotional it might be, before making a choice. Although it’s impossible to outline every scenario that you could possibly encounter at your bridal store, below are eight common circumstances that many bridal salon owners face at one time or another, along with expert suggestions for how best to proceed.

Situation 1: Tight Purse Strings
    Many bridal salon owners have heard this familiar tale: A bride has fallen on hard times and is facing financial difficulties. She could really use some assistance paying for her wedding dress, alterations and even accessories. You empathize with her and want to help but cannot afford to be too generous. So how do you respond?
    For Cathy Montante, owner of Collezione Fortuna Fashion Boutique and Bridals in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., the answer involves providing a concrete way to help the bride without affecting her own bottom line.
    “I will sell her a dress off the rack and at a price that is fair to both of us, and the same with accessories,” Montante says. “I have offered layaway for up to 60 days on off-the-rack dresses and accessories, and a payment plan option where they can make payments on a monthly basis so they are not hit with a large balance by the time their dress arrives.”
    This is a good approach, says Paul Schwada, managing partner for Locomotive Solutions, a business-consulting firm in Chicago.
    “A longer-term payment plan – if the customer could be a good payer despite the immediate hardship – might work for both of you,” Schwada says. “Of course, the price should be higher than for immediate payment, both for the risk of non-payment and the hassle of collecting over time.”

Situation 2: Terminating an Employee
    Every business owner faces a time when an employee just isn’t working out, and you must let that person go. But what do you do when you have personal ties to that employee? Perhaps it’s a relative, a close friend’s child or your daughter’s best friend. You don’t want to damage your personal relationship, but you cannot afford to have this employee remain on staff. Although terminating this person won’t be easy, there are steps you can take to ease the process.
    “Talk to the employee, and be honest,” says Jennifer Martin, business consultant with Zest Business Consulting in San Francisco. “If it’s hard for you to share this information with them [due to your relationship], then let them know. Tell them that, as a business owner, you have to make tough decisions for the best interest of the business and you can’t afford to think personally.”
    As you explain why you have to let them go, it’s important to keep your tone sincere and empathetic.
    “If you are sorry, then say that,” Martin says. “Close with a reminder that you love them, care about them or want to support them in whatever way you can, but only if this is genuine.”
    And, like removing a bandage, do it quickly.
    “The goal is for you to share this information in less than two to three minutes,” Martin says. “Don’t fluff it up or over talk. This just muddies the waters and won’t do either of you any good in the long run.”

Situation 3: When Ailments Hit
    It’s not uncommon for illness to affect a bride’s wedding plans. Someone within the bride’s family might be facing an ailment, and these medical setbacks could be affecting the wedding budget or dress-ordering process.
    It’s a tough situation and you want to be accommodating, but there’s only so much you can do. Keeping on task and helping the bride find a dress within her budget is a fairly routine response for most bridal salon owners. But dealing with the emotional aspect of a bride whose family is facing illness could be more difficult.
    “It’s important that you respect the dignity of the customer,” Montante says. “I have seen couples postpone their wedding indefinitely because they can’t handle the stress of planning a wedding and dealing with severe illness in the family. It becomes overwhelming and difficult to make the right decisions. It may not be the right time for a wedding.”
    For brides who don’t postpone, remember to stay firm but compassionate.
    “If she is intent on having a wedding, then you need to stay focused on helping her get everything that she wants for that special day,” Martin says. “As the owner of the salon, you and your staff need to be considerate and patient, and yet allow the customer to be in charge. Honor your boundaries for time. If you need a deposit by a certain date, ask for it; the same goes for fittings and any other pre-delivery dates.”

Situation 4: Discount Demands
    You face discount demands on a pretty regular basis from your customers, so you are likely pretty good at dealing with those requests. But how do you respond when that request comes from a family member or close friend who expects favorable treatment? Unless you have a policy of offering discounts, the simple answer is to politely say no. If that person presses the issue, then explain your policy.
    “If it’s policy, it takes some of the pressure off you because you’re not having to negotiate on a case-by-case basis,” says Jennifer Reitmeyer, business coach and business owner of WeddingIQ and Firebrand Messaging in Annapolis, Md. “Also, it’s important to recognize that your business is, in fact, a business. You need to respect that first and foremost if you want others to respect it.”
    Whatever you decide to do, stand by your decision and shift the focus back to how happy you are to be a part of the bride’s Big Day.
    “If you don’t want to extend discounts, you don’t have to,” Martin says. “Be appreciative of the business, and let the customer know how honored you are that they are giving your business the opportunity to support them for their wedding.”

Situation 5:
Severing a Business Relationship
    During the course of business, it’s not uncommon for bridal retailers to develop long-term, close relationships with their sales reps. Unfortunately, these relationships can get a little tricky if that rep’s line is no longer doing well in your store or perhaps you need to make budget cuts. But how can you reduce or even eliminate orders from that rep without leading to bad feelings?
    The best approach is to be honest.
    “You can’t continue to buy a line that doesn’t sell,” Montante says. “Honesty is the best policy in this business.”
    However, don’t just leave it here; instead, use this as an opportunity to find new avenues to generate sales.
    “Be proactive. Don’t wait for the rep to call you; you call them and see if they have solutions or ideas to help their product do better in your store,” says Stacey Ansley, business coach with ansleyRDgroup in Ocala, Fla. “They may also have insights into new competitors that have taken your business or what their top-selling shops are doing around the country.”
    The bottom line: Don’t wait until it is too late.
    “Invite them into your store, and get their feedback,” Ansley says. “Any rep worth their weight will be honored that you thought that much of the relationship.”

Situation 6: Friendly Promotions
    Recently, a friend or family member started a business – jewelry, handbags, etc. – and wants to sell or promote it in your store. Or maybe they started a wedding-related service – photography, DJing, alterations – and they want to advertise throughout your store. The first question here should be, “Do you already work with other vendors in this manner?” If not, then it is quite easy to turn them down; simply state that you do not allow any vendors to promote within your store.
    If you do work with other vendors on promotion, though, then carefully consider the product or service to ensure it fits in with your own brand.
    “Would your clientele find them appealing? Is your friend’s business one with whom you would want to be publicly aligned?” Reitmeyer asks. “If the answer is yes, then by all means, explore the possibility of allowing them into your store. If not, then you shouldn’t feel any obligation. You should, as a business owner, evaluate every business opportunity completely independently of your personal feelings and relationships.”

Situation 7: Rush Job
    It’s not an unfamiliar situation: A bride is facing a major time crunch. Maybe her fiancé is getting deployed, a loved one is in danger of passing away before the wedding, or she has to move for a new job. As a result, she wants you to rush everything, but doesn’t have the funds to pay for it. Unfortunately, as you well know, timing in the wedding industry isn’t very flexible on short notice.
    In most, if not all, cases, the only way to achieve any flexibility is by purchasing it through rush fees. Therefore, unless you are willing to absorb these fees yourself, you need to lay it all out on the table for the bride so she will fully understand why these fees are required.
    “Don’t waste their time or your time if it’s not a good fit,” Martin says. “If you find yourself in the middle of fulfilling an order and the timeframe changes, be honest. If you can’t do it, say so.”

Situation 8: An Adverse Reaction
    Unfortunately sometimes in spite of your best efforts, there are brides, employees or business associates who will not be happy if things don’t go exactly as they wish. Sadly, their response is to retaliate in a negative manner. If this happens, you must remain calm and professional.
    “If someone takes to the Web to slander you or makes a scene in your store, you need to focus your response on how you’ll be perceived by the other, more reasonable people who may read the review or witness the conflict,” Reitmeyer says. “Remember that by staying level-headed, sticking to the facts and addressing the potential concerns of future clients you’ll come across as the more reasonable one, while the bride looks crazy in comparison.”
    Successfully dealing with emotional brides, employees and business associates already takes a smart and savvy business owner; adding your own emotions into the equation could complicate the process. Therefore, it’s important that you remember to put your business needs before anyone else’s special circumstances.
    “People who work in weddings are among the most compassionate people in the world, yet it’s easy to get overrun by special requests and favors,” Reitmeyer says. “Remember that you have an obligation to yourself, your employees and anyone who depends on you, such as your spouse or children. Operating a good, solid business with integrity is nothing to be ashamed about, and assuming you’re doing your best to do right by people (yourself included), you shouldn’t lose too much sleep over anything that happens day to day.”
    When all is said and done, you are the one who has to live with the consequences of your decisions, so make sure those decisions are right for you.

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