Victoria Kay
Victoria Kay

Problem solving

Maria Ryan of Catherine Parry Bridal suggests ways in which retailers can pre-empt and resolve issues in the wedding dress supply chain before they become an issue

We all know how stressful it is when things don't quite go to plan. There are so many elements involved in securing the bride her perfect dress that problems can't always be avoided. The bridal gown supply chain can be complex, with many factors outside of your control. Indeed, there are many people involved in the design, manufacture and shipping of your dresses, in different organisations, spanning different continents and often facing language barriers, so it's no surprise really that human error can creep in. With the aspects that arewithin your control, if your boutique's procedures are sound and your ordering is carried out correctly, you can greatly reduce the risk of mistakes that could have an adverse impact on your profit, your reputation and – just as importantly – your stress levels! Having been both a retailer and a designer, one thing I've learned is when things do go wrong, there's usually a way to resolve it – however big the problem might seem.

The one where the retailer forgot to order the dress…
A few months ago we received an email from one of our retailers asking for the ETA on a bride's dress. It became apparent that due to an IT problem she hadn't actually placed the order with us after taking the bride's deposit. We immediately checked if we had that style and size in stock, or even a slightly larger or smaller size that could be altered, or another order already in progress for a later wedding date that we could swap to solve this problem. We did but unfortunately not in the colourway the bride wanted. In this case there was nothing else we could do than to begin production immediately on a 'rush order' basis and push it to the front of the queue, which thankfully still gave the bride a few weeks before the wedding for alterations.  In this example, because of the size and specific colourway of the dress, we were unable to swap it with a later order; however, if you do find yourself in this kind of situation, it is always worth asking the designer if they have a dress in production that could be reallocated to your bride. Many designers also carry stock so check what they have available. You might only be able to get hold of a dress that's a size up or a size down from the one the bride has ordered. In these situations your seamstress becomes your best friend as it can probably be taken in or let out to fit, if the designer isn't able to do this for you.  In this case, my stockist was very honest and open with the bride about what had happened and was able to reassure her that the dress would be with her in time for her wedding. Although the bride was slightly anxious, she was very understanding and could see that the shop was committed to resolving the problem. I'm sure that if the bride was fed excuse after excuse, week after week, the situation would have been entirely different!

The one where the dress doesn't fit…
I had a few examples of this when I had my own boutique. A bride's dress would arrive and she'd book in to try it on, but when she walked through the door I just knew that there was no way that the dress was going to fit her. It can be the most daunting experience for you as a consultant and devastating for the poor bride! One example that comes to mind was a lovely girl who bought a very fitted lace gown. As was our normal procedure, before ordering the dress, we discussed her measurements with her and the size that this would translate to on the designer's size chart, so that she would understand how the process worked and which size would be ordered. This always avoided any big surprises when the dress arrived. However, when this particular bride came through our doors to try on her dress several months later, it was clear that her shape had totally changed – although she did seem blissfully unaware of this, and of our sheer panic thank goodness! When any bride came to try her gown, the first thing we would always do was to measure her again, before she had even tried the dress on, so that we would have an idea of how the dress would fit based on her current measurements. Thank goodness we did! This bride had put on five inches on her hips and three inches on her waist. The dress was now two sizes too small. No one ever wants to tell a bride that they have put on weight, or that their dress will not fit, especially when we work so hard in this industry to make our brides feel beautiful in the gowns that they choose, but in this instance we had to have that very difficult conversation. Before she put on the dress I explained that her measurements had changed since ordering and that the likelihood was it would not fit her. It helped to manage her expectations, rather than her trying to squeeze into the dress while wondering what had gone wrong. As predicted, the gown was too small, but she had braced herself for it! There were some tears and a very worried mum, however, the bride admitted that she was training for a marathon when she originally ordered her dress and that once the training stopped her weight had crept up! She was determined that she would fit into the dress, and that she did! She started running again and lost some weight, and we were able to release the dress at the side seams by a couple of inches, so in the end the dress fitted her perfectly. Having procedures in place to protect yourself from any dispute regarding sizing can save boutiques a lot of hassle. I have heard of lots of similar situations from friends in the industry where the dress size was recorded but the bride's measurements weren't necessarily discussed and noted on the order. This can lead to a blame game if the bride's figure changes, with only your word against theirs that you ordered the correct size gown. Taking measurements can help you to avoid this kind of dispute!

The one where they change their mind...
What do you do when a bride calls, or comes to the boutique, and tells you that she has changed her mind on the gown that she has ordered? We had this situation a few times when I had my boutique, and I continue to hear about it from our Catherine Parry retailers. My usual stance was to reassure the bride by explaining that it's normal to wonder whether the dress that she had ordered many weeks before was still her dream gown when she hadn't seen or tried it on since then. I'd then invite her back in to try the sample – or her dress if it was in store. In my experience, on the occasions that this happened the bride would fall in love with the dress all over again when they put it back on, so it's always better to get them back in to try on the dress as soon as possible.  But what if you do this and they don't like it? This is such a difficult situation to be in, for the boutique and the bride. But, at the end of the day, this isn't your fault. You can't be responsible if the bride has changed her mind, or if she has lost weight and now wants a different cut, or if her best friend's sister got married in the same gown a month before. However difficult the conversation, the bride has ordered that gown and has to pay for it. I understand that it isn't always that easy, but boutiques shouldn't have to bear the brunt of this cost – you will still have to pay for the gown – so the bride must pay you.  A wedding gown is probably the most emotional and self-expressive purchase that any woman will ever make, so it is no wonder that when things do go wrong, emotions run very high. As boutique owners you have to be able to think on your feet and deal with the situation as quickly and efficiently as possible. Here is some of the best advice I can give you: * Make sure you talk to your suppliers to understand their procedures and protocols. Most designers will send a written confirmation after you have placed an order. If yours do, then make sure you get one and make sure you check it carefully. * Honesty is always the best policy. If you can't fix a problem without the bride's dress being delayed, be honest with them about what has happened and how you are going to resolve it. * While some brides are purchasing their gowns later these days, where you can, make sure that you place your orders with your designers with enough time to put things right if you need to. * If you are having lots of problems, ask yourself why? Are you making promises to your brides that you or your suppliers might not be able to deliver? Are there things that you need to change about the way you work, or your policies, to minimise the chances of things going wrong? If your suppliers repeatedly deliver late or supply dresses with flaws, it may be time to make some difficult decisions with regards to continuing to work with them.