Mar 1, 2017
You’re putting in long hours at work, you’ve hired good staff and you run great advertisements. However your sales still aren’t as high as you’d like them to be.
Your competitor across town, however, seems to be booming. So what is the secret to her success? Here are 10 things successful bridal salons around the country are doing, which you may want to adopt:
1. They dedicate time to working on their business
Last year, Lisa Downs made a big decision: She set aside every Tuesday for office work and every Thursday for forward planning for her store, Ellen’s Bridal & Dress Boutique in Wabash, Ind.
On Tuesdays Downs tries to lock down in her office and deal with payroll and finances. On Thursdays she plans events, social-media posts and marketing. To make it semi-official, she wrote these days onto her paper calendar “so it’s booked in,” she says. Otherwise, Downs is on the shop floor.
“I get so much more done now because I’m in the mode and I get to put out fires before they actually start,” she says. “Before I had these two days built in I was putting out crises as I went along.”
Now, Downs is considering going off-site for part of the time on those days to prevent the interruptions that do come – mostly from customers who want to see her.
That’s not to say everything is perfect. Recently, Downs just couldn’t make her Tuesday or Thursday happen.
“There were piles on my desk that it will take me hours to get through,” she says. “So it’s told me to put on an extra staff person on Tuesdays and Thursdays, because it’s worth it.”
2. They consult with experts
Before Lisa Bagley opened Sincerely The Bride in Vancouver, Wash., in December 2013 she worked with a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center.
He advised Bagley every step of the way, helping her examine the competition; make financial projections; create a business plan as well as the vision and mission statements for her store. The advisor also helped Bagley build out the space, put together inventory, and come up with questions for manufacturers and vendors.
Since then, Bagley has continued to work with her adviser and has seen her sales figures grow from $100,000 in the first year to half a million dollars in 2016, she says. Every time she wants to try something new with the store she consults with him – and it’s all completely free through Washington State University.
“I think the best piece of advice he’s given me is that you can’t always be working in the business but you have to be working on it,” Bagley says. “You have to look ahead and figure out what the business is going to look like X months from now and prepare for it.”
3. They work alongside their employees
Deborah Armbruster has operated Deborah’s Bridal in Upland, Calif. for 39 years but she works hard to keep hierarchy in her store to a minimum.
Armbruster is hands-on in the store and works alongside her staff, which is important to both employees and customers, she says. It helps her illustrate by example for her staff and keep her finger on the pulse of her business.
“It allows me to see patterns with young brides,” Armbruster says. “I see shopping patterns, personality patterns, generational thought processes, just by being there in the store. When you get so many people in front of you and you listen to their ideas and their thoughts and what they think is formal and what is not, it almost sets a new bar and you can learn from it.”
And of course, hearing customers’ comments on the gowns helps Armbruster keep up with trends, which helps with purchasing, she says.
4. They use checklists
Nothing is missed or forgotten at Little White Dress Bridal Shop in Denver because the store uses checklists to guide employees along every step of the way in a bride’s journey.
There’s a separate checklist for everything to do after the bride’s visit; after she’s purchased her gown; after the gown comes in; and when she starts alterations.
“We stay on top of every detail and make sure we are remembering to do all the special things,” says Owner Cate Malone. “That also ensures we have great communication with the bride.”
The checklists are on paper, though certain aspects like e-mails to the bride and invoicing also have electronic records. When an employee completes an item on a checklist she initials it for confirmation since the checklist travels between different employees – from stylist to the operations manager to the receiving department, for example.
5. They invest in their staff
One of the most important things Bridget Moore does is invest her staff, says the owner of K&B Bridals in Bel Air, Md.,
“I want to help them grow as people and in their jobs,” Moore says. “I tell them regularly how they’re doing a great job and we create a culture in which they feel knowledgeable about their work. I listen to them and help them reach some personal goals, especially with the younger generation.”
She continues, “If your team loves being here it makes your customer have a great experience. If people love where they are, it’s going to show.”
Moore takes the time to get to know her employees. For example, if she sees one having lunch, she’ll take her own lunch at the same time so they can chat.
And beginning last year she started scheduling training and built it into the year. Now there are set training days where the entire team gets together, be it informally with food and drinks or for a more formal training session.
And she hosts non-work team-building events a couple of times a year, too, she says, because it’s important to leave work behind and focus on the people. In November she throws a Friendsgiving for the team plus their significant others, and in December, a holiday party. Around Christmas she also writes gratitude cards to each of her girls and compliments them on their strong points.
Moore also brings reps in regularly to provide sales tips and impart product knowledge to her employees. The reps don’t typically offer this, she says; she has to ask for it.
“These events make my staff feel much more empowered in the dressing room when they’re selling the dress if they know about the designer and they know things they can do with the gown,” she says.
6. They prepare in advance
Before a bride comes to The White Dress by the Shore in Clinton, Conn., an employee calls her so her appointment can be as seamless as possible.
“We confirm what she’s looking for so it prepares us, and it sets the tone for the appointment and sets the customer service early,” Owner Beth Chapman says.
To begin on the right foot, Chapman invests a lot of money in her website, updating it every three to five years and keeping it fresh with new blog posts.
“It’s so important to create a good first impression with the bride,” she says.
All brides must speak to someone at the store before they come in and for that reason they can’t make appointments online – only appointment requests.
“It’s important to have that verbal contact with them and prequalify a woman to make sure she is our bride; we want to make sure we have what she wants,” Chapman says.
During these initial calls, the store gathers information about the bride, her budget, what she’s looking for, and if she’s already done some shopping. They also ask about budget, although Chapman says “that’s never our first question because it’s a hard question.”
“It’s important to know her budget because you can’t sell to her unless you know what it is,” she says. “We interject little bits of information about the store in that initial phone call to get brides comfortable with us. And we always ask if they’ve been to our website because that gives a good feel for who we are and what we have to offer.”
7. They work on their reputation at all times
Word of mouth is the most important tool in marketing your business, says Brian Fortin, who has owned Modern Bride in Bedford, N.H., for 31 years.
But you have to work for it, Fortin explains.
As such he advertises in Wedding Wire and The Knot, and encourages all brides to leave a review there.
“You build a relationship with your customers through the sales cycle and afterwards, the brides will say ‘Oh this has been wonderful,’ so then my employees give them a card and ask them to go and leave a review,” he says. “The brides walk out of here tickled pink and within an hour the review is posted.”
Through these reviews, Modern Bride is eligible for ‘Best Of’ awards from both Wedding Wire and The Knot, which Fortin then announces in an e-mail blast, on social media, on the store’s blog and on its website. In these announcements, he thanks customers for helping the store receive the award.
“We say thank you for your business; because of you we got this award,” he says.
8. They motivate employees
Employees at Carrie’s Bridal Collection in Chamblee, Ga., are empowered to make any decisions, including discounting, on their own without checking with owner Carrie Huyett or the manager.
“This gives the stylist more credibility, and it makes her feel better about her job,” Huyett says. “My manager and I always back up our stylists, and I back up my manager. By giving employees the authority to make decisions, we always have to have their backs in what they tell the customer, so we are a unified team.”
She adds, “I trust they will make the right decisions, because they know what my manager or I would say or do in any situation.”
Huyett also sets sales goals and runs fun things like a mystery gift card (anything from Starbucks to a restaurant) when a dress is sold, “so it’s a fun game instead of a pushy one,” she says. “My girls like the competition.”
She often runs these contests around the holidays so it supplements employees’ income and helps them with gift giving for their families/friends.
And Huyett does a giveaway most months to help motivate her staff. For example she might offer a Kate Spade handbag to the employee with the highest sales.
9. They support others in the industry
In addition to keeping a preferred vendor folder in her stores, Celina Vasquez, general manager of The Bridal Connection in Ankeny, Iowa, and Impress Bridal in Newton, Iowa, runs advertising for local partners, too.
At bridal shows she has tags to show who she worked with – and who brides could work with for their events (florists, booth decor, etc.). She also keeps cards for all these vendors in her booth so she can hand them out to customers.
“It’s a bonus for us to be affiliated with them, too,” she says, “because we can recommend experts and help the brides.”
Of course this works in the opposite direction, and in return, all these vendors recommend her stores.
Vasquez also personally knows everyone in her vendor folder and everyone she recommends. She doesn’t go out of her way to network with them, though.
“Our paths cross often so it’s not challenging,” she says. “I speak to them once a month and that’s important.”
10. They hire carefully
Coming from an HR background, Brenda Kilheffer hires very carefully for Tie the Knot Bridal Boutique in Green Bay, Wisc.
Kilheffer’s store has been open for a decade and she retained her first set of employees for five years. Her current group has been there for the past two.
“Bridal is a very emotional experience and I need employees who have empathy and who listen and can handle the joys but also the opinions of many people in a group,” she says. “I also need someone who can handle the disappointment of not closing a bride.”
As such, Kilheffer asks questions to gauge all these points in job candidates’ personalities, though some of it just shines through, she says.
Enthusiasm is also important, “because you have to match the enthusiasm of the bride and that’s something you can’t teach somebody,” as is the ability to retain a lot of information.
But much of the time, Kilheffer’s just relying on her gut.
“I can tell a lot by how forthcoming job candidates are with asking me questions and whether they give me a lot of information when I ask questions,” she says.
Shannon Hurd, Managing Editor, oversees the editorial content and direction of VOWS and its platforms. She writes on Social Media and the intersection of bridal business and life. Shannon's recent blog posts are below.
How to hook a repeat customer in three easy steps.
Peter Grimes, Publisher and founder of VOWS Magazine. His comments are presented in each issue's Publisher's Note, and often address industry issues and pertinent news of the day. He can be reached at 949 388 4848 or via email
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