She’s excited. She’s savvy. She’s budget-conscious. And she can, under certain circumstances, display a remarkable sense of entitlement that causes even the most seasoned retailer to shake her head.
    Who is she? She is today’s bride. And while in some ways she is no different than the countless other women who have said “I Do” throughout the years, in other ways the 2015 newlywed-to-be is quite unique.
    But the bride isn’t the only one who has changed. Indeed, the dramatic shift in social norms throughout the years has resulted in a noticeable shift in wedding trends. Behaviors that used to be considered taboo – think living together before marriage or having children out of wedlock – are now largely accepted. And this has impacted how, when, where, why and even if couples get married.
    And it certainly has great implications for you, the bridal retailer.
    What follows are four key insights to the changing face of wedding demographics and today’s bride, as well as an in-depth discussion of what it means for your business.

Change #1: Marriage rates continue to decline – but there’s a catch!
    The marriage rate in America has hit a record low and is expected to drop even further, according to the 2015 U.S. Wedding Forecast™ from Demographic Intelligence.
    The report shows a marriage rate of 6.74 per 1,000 people this year, with the number expected to fall slightly lower over each of the next two years. In 2008, the marriage rate in America was 7.09 per 1,000.
    And while on the surface this decline may seem negative, there is good news: the number of weddings per year in the U.S. has remained relatively steady, hovering between 2.1 and 2.2 million annually.
    The drop in marriage rate yet steady overall number of weddings can be largely attributed to annual population increase in the U.S. In 2010 the U.S. population was 308,760,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By July 2015, that number had climbed to 321,230,000, an increase of approximately four percent. So while the marriage rate may be dropping, the total number of people living in the U.S. is steadily increasing. As a result the total number of weddings is holding steady – and is expected to remain that way for years to come (insert sigh of relief here).
    Also worth noting: more millennials will be reaching a typical marrying age in the next five years than any previous generation. However, this group is also less likely to tie the knot than their predecessors.
    In fact a 2014 Pew Research Center report said that one-fourth of millennials are likely to shun marriage entirely. This trend is primarily being driven by four factors:

•    The shaky economy, which has seen income fall and job stability threatened. Simply put, this group would like to wait until they are financially stable before tying the knot.
•    Less faith that marriage is permanent. This is rooted largely in the number of broken homes millennials have been exposed to.
•    Rising cohabitation rates. Living together is no longer considered taboo and many couples prefer to “try things out” before making a full-time, legal commitment.
•    A decline in formal religious affiliation, which reduces the importance of getting married and destigmatizes having children out of wedlock.

    Of these four factors, three are out of your control. You cannot change the mindset of couples who aren’t interested in marriage. In the future, a certain percentage will likely change their minds and head to the altar. And when they do, your salon will be there ready and eager to serve them.
    In the meantime, however, the group to watch is those who are delaying marriage for financial reasons. When the economy rebounds – and it’s continuing to do so – they’ll be lining up at your door. So you can expect to see this group began trickling in in the not-so-distant future.
    Finally – and here’s the really good news! – the declining marriage rate correlates strongly to education level. While the marriage rate dropped more than 13 percent for young women with high school diplomas or less from 2008 to 2015, it actually increased for college-educated women (from 30 to 36 percent).
    What this means is today’s bride is likely to be older (the average age of a first-time bride and groom is approximately 29 and 31, respectively); more financially secure; and serious about the commitment she is making. In many ways, she is the ideal customer. And she is happy to have found you!

Change #2: Same-sex marriage is now legal, which increases your potential customer pool.
    The recent end-of-term ruling by the Supreme Court allowing same-sex couples to legally marry nationwide established a new civil right and handed gay rights activists an historic victory.
    It also significantly increased your pool of potential wedding customers. According to the LGBT Data Overview 2015 by Williams Institute there are nine million LGBT adults in the United States. And only a fraction – an estimated 252,000 couples, according to the U.S. Census Bureau – are currently married.
    The impact of this monumental Supreme Court decision on wedding numbers won’t be fully recognized for years. However, you can surmise that it will open the floodgates for a new wave of customers to come flooding into your bridal shop looking to celebrate their Big Day in style.
    However, much like with traditional couples, it’s impossible to classify lesbian or gay couples into one group. Their tastes and desires vary wildly. Some will want elaborate wedding ceremonies complete with formal attire, others may prefer a quick-and-easy afternoon appointment at City Hall, and everything in between. There may or may not be large entourages, family drama, quick timeframes, and heartwarming personal stories accompanying them.
    As with any other customer, you’ll need to start off the appointment by getting to know them and understanding their wedding vision. And then take it from there.
    Bottom line: The way you treat same-sex couples is no different than traditional couples. The only change is that you can expect to see more of them in the future. And if they receive the exceptional customer service you’re known for, they’ll spread the word to their families and friends.

Change #3: Grooms are more involved than ever before, further expanding your sales opportunities.
    The 2015 Best Buy Weddings Survey conducted by Wakefield Research found that 69 percent of recent brides said their grooms played a significant role in wedding planning, compared with only 49 percent of those married 20-plus years ago.
    This drastic increase is groom participation is definitely something salons have noticed, with nearly 50 percent telling VOWS it’s “fairly common” to see a groom accompanying his bride on her dress-shopping excursion.
    Of course, these grooms aren’t always involved in the final gown decision; that level of involvement is still fairly rare. However, it’s not uncommon for a bride’s initial list of gown possibilities to include her fiance’s input. She also may want to give him a glimpse of several dress choices and consider his feedback before making her final selection.
    What this means for you: You’re not just selling to the bride anymore; you’re selling to the couple. What you do or don’t say to one member of this devoted duo may very well influence the other’s opinion of your salon.
    So treat both with the utmost respect and attention. Use inclusive language, engage them both in conversation – basically show that you care about them as people and not just making a sale.
    Finally now’s the time, if you haven’t already done so, to consider adding tuxedos and other men’s accessories to your product line up. After all, if the groom is going to be accompanying his fiancée into your salon, it’s the perfect opportunity to win him over and make a complementary sale.
    Other groom-friendly strategies to consider: add a designated “man cave” to your salon complete with comfortable sofas, sports magazines and flat-screen TVs playing the Big Game. Expand the companies you do affiliate marketing with to include traditional male-dominated businesses, like barbershops or gyms.
    The bottom line is that the groom’s increasing involvement in wedding planning is a good thing. It’s essentially introducing another potential customer, as well as all of his friends and family, to your store.

Change #4: Brides are increasingly savvy, budget-conscious and, oh yeah, entitled. But overall what they’re looking for hasn’t changed.
    Today’s bride is a smart shopper. She’s typically well educated on dress styles, designer names and gown prices. This is largely the result of countless hours spent researching on the Internet, watching wedding reality TV shows and/or browsing on social-media sites like Pinterest, piecing together her ideal wedding before ever entering your store.
    And yet, well educated as she is, there’s a certain naivety to her as well. Many brides-to-be aren’t aware of the realities of the dress-ordering timeframe, and others unfortunately have been seduced by the false promises of online counterfeiters.
    As a result, today’s bride arrives at your store with an idea the fashion direction she wants to take but largely unsure of how to get there. She’s looking for a knowledgeable, friendly, personable guide – someone to help her navigate this chaotic dress-shopping experience while also being a friend (For 10 Things Brides Want You to Know, see page 78).
    Largely your role remains the same: educate the bride with the facts while also providing the spectacular, personalized service you’re known for.
    As for the entitled behavior, obviously not every bride displays it. However when you do encounter it, don’t be surprised. It’s largely the result of stress, nerves and the mixed emotions surrounding preparing for such a monumental occasion. Yes, wedding reality TV expectations play into it, which can be frustrating to deal with for certain. But the best way to counteract this attitude is to treat her with extra compassion, friendliness and love.
    Ultimately, all you can do is your best with each customer. If you can look yourself in the mirror and honestly say you gave 100 percent at the appointment, you have succeeded; everything else is out of your control.
    Remember, while certain aspects of weddings and today’s bride may have changed and will likely continue changing, the core truth at the heart of our industry remains the same: The bride is looking for her dream wedding gown and desires excellent, personalized service. Fortunately you excel at providing that.