Go, Bridal Team, Go!

When you hear the term “team building” in a business setting, it may bring to mind weekends in the great outdoors testing your physical and mental abilities on obstacle courses, mud runs or paint ball fields. The idea of these exercises is to get employees out of the workplace and into a different location and mindset.
    In bridal retail, teamwork is as important, if not more so, than in the corporate world. As such, many bridal retailers bring their entire team together around the holidays to celebrate and say thanks for the hard work of the previous year. However building a team is a yearlong experience that shouldn’t only focus on the holidays. But how can small, family-owned bridal stores bring their staffs together throughout the year? As it turns out, there are many ways.

What Kinds Of Activities
Are Good To Engage In?
    Traditional team-building programs probably aren’t a good fit, especially for today’s small retail business, says Rick Maurer, author of a number of business books whose work focuses on ways leaders can build support for change.
    “They take people away from their work,” Maurer says. “Many people feel overworked these days. Consequently, an off-site or some other activity that takes them away from their ‘real work’ just feels like an extra burden.”
    Furthermore, these programs also tend to be focused on the events themselves – ropes course, day at the beach, some game – and not on business goals, Maurer says.
    “I really question what you expect a half-day off in the woods will do for you,” he says.
    Rather, to be effective team building must be focused on an outcome.
    “We need to get better at. . . we need to improve X, whatever it is,” he says. “Maybe it’s our customer service; people complain about how long it takes for us to do X. Whatever it is, there has to be a business outcome that’s important. For example, a goal such as ‘we need a way to increase the quality and speed of our decision making’ might be a great focal point for a team-building activity.”
    Remember, team building isn’t an event; it’s a process, says Karen D. Walker, president of One Team Consulting, a Shelburne, Vt.-based leadership consultancy focusing on organizational growth.  
    “Goal setting is a part of team building; it is vital that everyone on the team knows that there are team goals and individual goals and that everyone is working toward those same goals,” Walker says. “If we reach a specific objective in sales, we’re all going to be rewarded. If the goal is to reward people for something, you might want to select an activity that is pleasurable.”
    She continues, “In team building you’re sharing information, sharing knowledge about what happened to you, what worked for you and perhaps, more importantly or as import, what failed. People have to be in a state where they trust every team member to do that. Nobody likes to talk about failure, but if you don’t, you can’t learn from it.”
    The word “no” or its relatives often occur in bridal sales; you can’t stay in this industry long if you can’t handle rejection.
    “Take a group outside and have them compete in teams,” Walker says. “Point out how we acted, what we did right and how we could have been more successful if we all worked together. We want everyone to realize that success in the store is in everyone’s self interest. You can overcome a world of obstacles if you have good relationships in place; relationships between team members and between team members and customers.”
    Not every group activity is conducive to team building, Walker adds. A spa day, for example, is more of a reward than a team-building activity. Although, there is much to be said for having a conversation about what more you can do for your brides while luxuriating at a spa with cool cucumber slices over your tired eyes.
    While the experts wouldn’t call it team building in the formal sense, it wouldn’t be amiss to plan group activities of a social nature for the entire store. Attendance should never be mandatory, but full participation is the ideal scenario. Take advantage of group rates for plays, concerts, museums, sporting or special events hosted in your market area.  Coworkers can bond over a frank and cold one at the ballpark or a few lanes of bowling at the local lanes.
    Weekend getaways for bridal stores can be difficult to schedule because Saturday is typically a busy day, at least for most of the year. But if you have reduced hours during the late fall or early winter, for example, this might be a time to pencil in some-expenses-paid getaway for just a day, perhaps in midweek. Day trips can also be a fun event. A spa day may sound counterproductive, but a little special treatment for the people who usually have to pamper everyone else can be a real rejuvenator.
    Providing a meal for your staff after the store closes or having food available during the day not only helps boost morale, it tells your team that they are appreciated. Have a suggestion box for “treats” for the shop or ask staff what they’d love to do if they had a few hours off. Keep a file and pluck an idea from it periodically. You don’t have to do all of the planning as the boss, just foot the bill. Retailers tell VOWS that it’s been part of their culture to have meals brought in on busy Saturdays or occasionally as a surprise for the staff.
    Team building is one area that cries out for a staff suggestion box (for more on this topic, see page 124). Ask your staff for ideas of what might be a fun activity to do, as well as suggestions for change or improvements in the store. Something this simple can be gold mine of great, creative and sometimes funny ideas. You may hear some things that wouldn’t be said to your face as owner or manager, but you may be surprised at the positive comments as well.
    The bottom line: “Managers need to take suggestions from the staff seriously,” Maurer says.

Working Together,
Giving Back
    “A great way to build a team is to do something on behalf of others, do something in community for other people,” says Ann A. Fishman, author of Marketing to The Millennial Woman (Ann A. Fishman Generational Targeted Marketing, 2015). “This generation believes that if a store doesn’t do good for others, they are not going to visit it. That is why Nike, Apple, all the big guns, do great work around the world. The millennials have changed corporate America. The bottom line is people are important, the environment is important, people around the world are important, and you have to leave a footprint of doing good. This applies to your staff as well as your customers.”
    So, the new way to team build is by giving to others. Take suggestions from your employees about what causes or groups might be worthwhile projects. After you select one, make sure everyone is onboard. Start off by pairing staffers together to work on different aspects of the project – you might, for example, pair your manager with a part-time prom staffer. The important thing is to mix it up.
    “You don’t want cliques to form,” Fishman says. “You want different groups of people to work together. It’s great to have someone who doesn’t work directly with a person all the time, work with them on an outside project.”
    Getting everyone involved means employees will hear opinions other than their own.
    “It’s one of the key characteristics of millennials: this generation wants to give something back; so, giving back is not only team building, it is brand building, building good customer relations, and it helps the world,” Fishman says. “Millenials not only want to be, they expect to be, part of your marketing. They expect to part of your product development and expect to part of your decision making. You can call it nervy, but that’s the way it is. I would say to them, ‘Look we’re a team so here’s some thoughts we have. We’d like to hear suggestions of what you all find great’.”
    Ideas include visiting a nursing home and putting on a little fashion show. Or go and pass out lunch bags or care packages to the homeless in your town. Involve the whole group; not everyone has to leave the store. Some employees can stay behind and gather the donations or package the items. That way, your salon is always manned; if need be, employees can switch off roles.
    You can even team build when you’re out of the store and the staff is still there manning the trenches. Videochats with staff from market are another way to keep everyone the loop and excited about what’s happening in the industry. It’s been suggested that sharing while shopping is a great way to bolster confidence in what you select and reinforce the importance of the staff’s opinions. For the consultant who’s never been to market or New York Fashion Week, a live connection can be a valuable on-the-spot learning experience. That excitement also can be relayed via social media to your brides.   
    Finally, look for everyday opportunities to team build within your bridal shop. These do not have to be big, fancy excursions but rather small incidents that deserve recognition and praise. For example, if you spot a consultant step in to assist another consultant with a bride, there’s an opportunity to publicly praise the strengths of each person. This positive feedback will result in boosted confidence and the desire to help other staffers when the opportunity arises. And always take the time to hold brief mini-meetings with your employees before the day begins. Stores that do this are reminding everyone that goals are individual as well as group-oriented, which is really the foundation of effective team-building.


How Do You Team Build?

“Every year, our team gathers at an industry conference to spend time together and gain further knowledge on our profession, best practices for clients and gain fresh inspiration! I always leave feeling inspired, loved and pumped for another great year together with my incredible team. This year, we attended Bliss in Charleston and it was just as lovely as we expected. We heard several experts in the industry share their hearts, best tips and vision for us as creatives, which sparked long nights of wine and conversation. It also sparked something even more important to our team. We realized that we were all on the same page, facing the same struggles and needed each other to make it through this crazy journey. It’s strengthened our group chat and monthly video calls, because we are connecting with colleagues and friends now. What a blessing!”
Sarah Chancey, founder and creative mentor
   Chancey Charm Weddings

“We are a close knit group of gals at our boutique and I like to get together once in a while for dinner and drinks. We are planning a paddleboard outing on a local lake, and have some fun activities planned for the summer. It’s so important to connect with each other on a different level other than work. Employees that play together stay together!”
Jessica Broston, owner
   Encore Bridal, Fort Collins, Colo


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