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Guest Services

Naturally, as a bridal retailer you market your wares to brides, bridesmaids, mothers and, often, the groom and his groomsmen. Even kids receive attention if they are participating as ring bearers or flower girls. In many stores, however, wedding guests usually don’t receive a single thought, let alone a second one. However, by turning your attention to these shoppers, your store could experience significant benefits.
    According to the “American Express Spending & Saving Tracker” released in April 2015, Americans are planning to spend an average of $673 per wedding they attend this year, up 13 percent from last year and 21 percent from 2013. Of that amount, wedding guests will spend almost $100 – an increase of 53 percent from 2014 –  on their apparel for the big day. And this doesn’t even include the funds guests will spend on bachelor/bachelorette party gifts, which is a significant amount: $86.
    For many bridal retailers, this is money left untapped, but it doesn’t have to remain that way. Offering the right products plus engaging in the right marketing could result in an entirely new customer base for your business.

Defining the Target Market,
Evaluating What They Desire
    Just as you know who your brides are and what products they want, you should also make an effort to learn about their wedding guests and what products they desire. You may discover that you already carry many items that suit their needs.
    For example, female wedding guests can shop your existing collections for their attire: special occasion, mothers’ dresses, bridesmaids, prom or possibly even flower girls. Designers for these collections often include styles that lean toward the less formal side. Sometimes these dresses can be perfect for wedding guests.
    Likewise, male guests often need attire appropriate for a wedding, something beyond the suit and tie they wear to church or work. Sometimes this means tuxedo rentals for a black-tie affair, while other times it means specialty suits like linen that are better suited for outdoor weddings. For wedding salons that already offer men’s apparel, rental or otherwise, marketing these services to male guests is a natural fit.
    Of course, accessories like shoes, handbags and jewelry also are in demand by wedding guests. And, per the “American Express Spending & Saving Tracker,” 26 percent of all wedding guests will be shopping for a bachelor/bachelorette gift, which could lead to increased sales of wedding-night lingerie.
    Yet, when it comes to stocking the shelves many bridal retailers don’t have the store space or budget to accommodate extra inventory specifically for wedding guests. In addition, those considering adding wedding guests to their clientele do not want to invest a large sum on a business move that may not pay off.
    However, as previously stated, in many cases, you already may have inventory that appeals to the wedding guest audience. For example, you could draw upon discontinued designs or end-of-season collections from your special occasion, mothers and bridesmaids collections, and market those to wedding guests.  
    “You need to clear out what you have before you can bring in new collections,” says Cathy Montante, owner of Collezione Fortuna Fashion Boutique and Bridals in Carmel, Calif. “I would have a huge 40-percent off blowout sale on existing collections to move them out.”
    Of course, if you are interested in adding new inventory, it doesn’t mean you have to go big or go home.
    “We provide a range of products, mainly accessories, at lower price points so that guests can select something for themselves,” says Kpoene’ Kofi-Nicklin, owner of Mignonette Bridal in Chicago. “For instance, we have a separate section of the shop merchandised with items perfect for a garden party or rustic wedding, including lower-priced floral costume jewelry, letterpress greeting cards and matching fabric clutch purses.”
    She also recently added such items as handmade silk and cotton loungewear that make perfect bachelorette party gifts, as well as a new line of Swarovski jewelry and hair accessories at a lower price point that allows guests to get some sparkle without breaking the bank.
    “In terms of profitability, these are great because they add another income stream and the wholesale pricing is low enough that if they don’t sell quickly, we don’t have to worry about it negatively affecting our bottom line,” Kofi-Nicklin says.
Drawing Attention Through
Clever, Focused Marketing
    Of course, having the right merchandise on hand for wedding guests only goes so far if you are not actively marketing these wares to customers.
    Prominently displaying products to attract guests’ attention goes a long way toward making a sale. At Collezione Fortuna Fashion Boutique and Bridals, Montante says she displays dresses geared toward wedding guests in a separate area of the store. By doing so, they stand out from the more traditional dress selection in the store.
    When crafting in-store displays, make it clear that the display is geared toward the wedding guest. Some ways to do this include using clear signage on racks containing attire marketed toward wedding guests, or dressing mannequins in guest attire, holding a wedding program. Likewise, group together accessories aimed at wedding guests, and include signage speaking to this customer.
    Also, Montante says she makes good use of her website and social-media accounts to further promote merchandise to wedding guests. These include her Facebook business page, Pinterest and Instagram accounts.
    “I’m now using Instagram more than ever,” she says.
    This approach provides a good foundation for reaching potential customers. According to the 2013 Vision Critical white paper “From Social to Sale,” 4 in 10 social-media users have purchased an item online or in-store after sharing or favoriting it on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. Plus, half of social-media-related purchasing takes place within one week of sharing or favoriting the ultimately purchased item. And with social-media networks like Pinterest and Instagram adding “buy” buttons on their sites, it’s easier than ever to not only advertise your products on social media, but to also make the sale.
    To make the most of your social-media advertising, it’s essential that you use hashtags related to your products and who you want to reach. Hashtags – those words preceded by a “#” sign – are search tools social-media users rely on to find what they want. Therefore, your posts should include such search tags as #weddings, #weddingguest, #weddingguestfashion and #weddinggueststyle. You can even search specific hashtags using the search features on Instagram and Twitter to see what others are posting. And Instagram even shows how many posts contain a specific hashtag.

Making the Sale – If It
Makes Sense For Your Market
    Training sales staff to effectively close the sale to brides and bridesmaids is routine in almost every bridal salon.
However, training sales staff to close the sale to wedding guests could be another story altogether. While these guests are most certainly interested in dressing appropriately for the event, they usually are not emotionally invested in the wedding itself, something that traditionally affects the decisions of brides, bridesmaids and mothers.
    Selling to wedding guests, though, is not that different from selling to your regular customers.
    “Our staff are always briefed on new items coming into the store, including price points and the story behind the products,” Kofi-Nicklin says. “We consider the total look of the wedding if we are selling to a friend, and direct them accordingly. Our staff are trained to ask a lot of questions and really get to know each person who walks through the door so they can best help the customer.”
    Of course, not all bridal retailers want to expand their product offerings to include wedding guests for a variety of reasons.
    Megan Jacks, owner of After 5 and Weddings in Bozeman, Mont., says her area is so casual that you will see guests in shorts and jeans at every wedding.
    “Crazy but true – Montana just doesn’t dress up much past jeans and boots,” she says.
    Actually, it’s not that crazy.
    “With the trend being weddings set in a barn or beach location, customers are not looking for extravagant cocktail fashions, but instead are leaning toward inexpensive casual women’s fashions under a $200 budget or less,” Montante says.
    As a result, owners should carefully consider their clientele, their location and the trends affecting their wedding business in order to decide if marketing to wedding guests is likely to reap rewards for their stores.
    “You can’t be everything to everyone, and just because some customer makes a suggestion it would be nice to see your store carry these fashions locally doesn’t necessarily mean they will be your customer,” Montante says.
    Ultimately, it’s up to you to evaluate your target market as well as the investment you may need to make to attract these customers. Only then can you make an educated decision as to whether selling to wedding guests is the right move for you. If the stars align, however, the payoff could be big for your bottom line.

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