It’s no secret who’s the star of the show. Bridal retailers may not want to admit it, but sometimes they do play favorites, choosing to give their undivided attention to their golden child: bridal attire. They lavish time, money and effort on displaying this category to best effect, putting the spotlight on gowns that brides have tagged as their dream dresses.
    But while bridal gowns typically take center stage in most salons, savvy retailers cannot forget they are also dressing other members of the wedding party. And if bridesmaids, flower girls or mothers of the bride and groom are ignored or given short shrift, ultimately these may be sales you don’t close.
    Indeed, lines for mothers, bridesmaids and junior attendants can suffer from a form of unintentional benign neglect. Yes, there are racks of dresses present in most salons; they may even be ensconced in their own departments, large or small. But is your store making the most of these categories’ potential? Are these dresses being displayed and merchandised to best effect?
    Just because the majority of your sales come from dressing the bride, that doesn’t mean that outfitting her bridal party doesn’t deserve some special attention. Below are 13 tips for ensuring your complementary categories receive the time, attention and ultimately sales they deserve:

1. Make a commitment to display. First and foremost: if you want shoppers to take each niche you carry seriously, then you must show them that you’re committed to these categories. Doing so not only makes your store look impressive upon first glance, but it also sends the subtle message that you provide professional service.
    What does this commitment entail? Basically don’t just place a rack or two of your “other” niches in a corner. Instead, create mini departments for each category within your store. There are many ways to do this, including with different lighting, wallpapers or paints, display racks and signage (more on each of these later). The bottom line is each category must stand out visually and be easily identifiable to shoppers.
    In some cases, it makes sense to create a “department within a department.” Retailers told VOWS their mothers’ gowns are usually displayed in a special occasion section, for example, because that seems to make the most sense. The idea is that the shopper will think “special occasion” and look at other retail possibilities before or after heading into the bridal shop. Regardless, it’s important to let customers know you cater to their dress-up needs for all occasions including weddings.
    Speaking of mothers there is one side note: no mother wants to look matronly, so keep your displays for this department young, chic and fashion-forward. A mom-and-daughter mannequin combo can capture that special moment for both and remind the bride her mom will want to look amazing as well.

2. Don’t forget those precious little girls. Flower girls are innately adorable and the merchandise is small.  Take advantage of this and display dresses for the youngest bridal attendants on tiered racks or rounders. Use the wall space above your rack(s) of flower girl dresses for an eye-catching display of fanned out skirts with trailing ribbons. Hats and gloves make great additions to a display.
    You can set off that area with a small-print floral or soft pastel backdrop. If you have a “little girls’ department” that also offers dresses suitable for First Communion and other very special occasions, take the time to devote part of it to wedding attendant attire.

3. Keep things neat. Pristine, well-organized racks are key to success in any department. Staying ahead of the chaos that can occur when a large party wants to try on every dress possibility in the store isn’t easy. Retailers told VOWS that what works for them is having a system, no matter how small the staff.  For example, try having a consultant who’s not with a shopper return dresses to the rack from the dressing rooms or “put-back” racks ASAP.
    Another idea is to program an hourly dressing room check to make sure the space is ready for the next shopper. This can take a minute or two and make a big difference in how your store is perceived. Small stores with small staffs really have to be especially diligent about giving the racks a regular inspection because there’s really no place to hide when racks don’t look well-maintained.

4. Think about signage. In the flower girl section, for example, intersperse signage with words like “cute”, “adorable”, “independent” and “spunky” above the racks against the wall. Attractive, distinct signage can alert shoppers to the other categories and again remind them that the whole wedding party needs to be dressed for the occasion. You can use a specific font and/or color scheme for each department’s signage to help distinguish them from one another.

5. Update or upgrade your fixtures or mannequins. No, this doesn’t mean a wholesale change out, but just the addition of something fresh and new. Look for mannequins that offer different and non-traditional poses to add some excitement to your vignettes. Even a single “action” figure in the display can make it more eye-catching. One example: a window display with demure row of maids, with just one rebellious maid with her back to the camera, tossing her bouquet in the air or wearing a baseball cap.
    Stay on the lookout for interesting fixtures or mannequins from non-traditional sources. Have your staff think about dress stands, mannequins or pieces of furniture that can be used to showcase dresses and accessories or be mixed into vignettes. A vintage wardrobe or armoire might be just the thing to store those flower girl dresses and accessories. Antique and thrift shops, auctions, yard sales and estate sales are good sources, as fixtures are often offered for sale at great prices when a store goes out of business.

6. Embrace opportunities.  Reconsider your ideas about display. A good example: think about hiring live models, be they professionals or staff members. That way customers can get a better idea of what a dress looks like on a real person, not just a mannequin or a hanger. And, it’s yet another reminder to the bride about this item on her checklist.
    Retailers say that many sales have occurred because other shoppers see a mom or maid trying on a dress, and like how the style looks on them. Live models are a subtle reminder that you have these dresses in stock and can even provide feedback on important aspects of the dress you might not be aware of (how it feels, easy or difficult to get into, etc).

7. Move it, move it, move it. That may sound simplistic, but sometimes just relocating a display can change the look of a department. Moving a mannequin or vignette to another area creates the impression that something is happening and there is something new to look at. Likewise, turning a rounder 90 to 180 degrees showcases different merchandise without adding a thing.
    There are simple steps that can enhance a display and make it appear fresh and new. Instead of just offering shoppers the side view of racked gowns, turn a sample so that it faces out a few feet. It’s an easy task to change up the full-view dresses every day or even during the day to focus on a new arrival or a popular style – based on the favorable responses of brides and their maids.

8. Change one thing. When time is the limiting factor, don’t worry if you can’t create entirely new displays with fresh new themes. Rather than keep the displays static, however, simply focus on making one simple change. For example, switch out the dresses displayed on your mannequins or add a simple prop like a basket of flower pedals. Simple actions can change the entire look of the display.

9. Put it on the schedule.  Having a game plan improves the odds that you’ll succeed. When you map out your advertising and promotions for the year, review the departments or categories beyond bridal and make a note to include them in your schedule.  It might just be adding a maid or mom to a large vignette or including maids in the window display once in each of the four seasons.

10. Maximize your media channels.  While your primary focus will always be providing first-class service to the bride, don’t let the needs of the rest of the bridal party suffer. Dedicate a portion of your blogs to the rest of the bridal party. For example, one topic might be the ever-changing arena of what mothers seem to want.
    Highlight stories, from your own store or celebrity weddings, that focus on what the moms wore. Mix in Facebook posts that mention categories other than bridal. Photos of attractive maids, whether models or real wedding participants, trigger visits to your Web site and your store for brides and their attendants.
    And, if a department is large enough, such is often the case with prom, consider creating separate social-media pages just for that niche.

11. Use those visuals. Re-purpose (with permission, of course) those photos that happy couples share with you.  When you ask your brides to send you a photo or two of the big day, suggest they include a photo that shows off other members of the wedding party as well.  Candid or professional shots of maids, moms or flower girls can be great examples of how well you work with brides to complete their vision. Those photos showing the bride and her attendants in whimsical moments also show off how the dresses look on various maids with their own distinct personalities.
     Think of it as just another version of pinning an idea that appeals to the bride. She may not want to replicate another bride’s wedding look, but she does want to get a wide perspective of what ideas are being incorporated into many different and distinctive weddings. These photos can be used on testimonial or “Our Brides” pages on the store Web site, posted on Facebook, or printed and slipped into old school photo albums or look books

12. Re-purpose your images. Update your Web site frequently with photos from inside the store. It’s not enough just to change the displays. Photograph them – don’t we love digital cameras and smartphones! – and use them anywhere an image is a possibility. In-store images can also do multiple duty on any of your social-media channels. Another is to go beyond the bridal stock when you are designing seasonal displays or special presentations for the holidays. Winter wedding-hued or elegant maids’ dresses in black show off beautifully among the seasonal sparkle.

13. Don’t neglect windows. Window displays serve as great reminders to street and pedestrian traffic of what your specialty is. Along with creating an ongoing brand message, they can also be a subtle reinforcement of all the components of a wedding you can service. As such, don’t forget to include maids, moms and the youngest attendants in your window displays. Of course space will dictate what displays are possible, but even the smallest frontage window can present a vignette.
    Periodically dedicate an entire front window or series of windows to the entire wedding party, or at least the female half of the group. If there are large adjoining windows, you can recreate a wedding processional by spacing the mannequins through a series of windows. A cluster of flower girls makes for a need-we-say “adorable!” display.  
    Vary the backdrops and themes and the effect can be interesting and eye-catching. The whole idea is to call attention to all of the niches you carry. You want your displays to say to shoppers: Yes, we carry a variety of categories. Yes, we have many options in terms of style and color. Come visit us and see for yourself!