A deep dive into the results of December’s VOWS Industry Survey reveals something a bit curious. . . and a bit overdue: boutique owners fully understanding that they may be the primary brand in bridal, not necessarily the designers they carry. Or that, at the least, they consider brand recognition for bridal and wedding apparel in their marketplace as an equal partnership shared with designers.
   What they report is fewer brides asking to be shown a specific designer’s gowns, seeming to rely more on the stylist to provide educated and appropriate suggestions for their perfect dress, within an intently personalized experience they crave.
   It’s the reputation of the salon that draws their attention, not just the designers it may offer.
  I’m not suggesting that well-promoted, advertised bridal designers and collections have a diminished role in salon merchandising. Quite the opposite actually, as store buyers continue to look to their key designers for styles that make the most sense for their particular bride and their specific marketplace.
   Successful buyers have always looked at both national trends and local appeal. . . the subtle shift we see now is less on national trends, with more concentration on the national trends having local appeal.
   A shift from the “you can’t see the forest for the trees” adage that reminds us not to get so immersed in small details that we overlook the big picture, to more of a “think global but act local” perspective in which we stay aware of the global or national picture, but act in the best interests of our local marketplaces and businesses.
   Essentially, as one subscriber explained it, deciding “who is running my store: Customers? Manufacturers? Or me?”
   Part of the answer is increasingly knowing your brand’s worth, and understanding that brides frequent your boutique based on your reputation for providing the emotional intimacy they demand throughout the process, and within an experience that is professional, creative and personalized to their needs.
   One possible indicator of a salon’s professionalism and prestige to this generation of brides: appointments required. There’s anecdotal evidence suggesting that a no-appointment environment encourages “play time”. . . a disregard for the value of your time, and may factor into her indecision to commit to a purchase.
   Yes, she is buying a gown. From you. And will long remember you for how you made her feel throughout the buying experience.
   Maybe longer than she remembers the actual gown. And that’s your brand.