99 GLOBAL BRIDAL BRANDS T: +44 (0)1443 222 600 E: email@example.com have it in their hand the very next day. They can also purchase clothes online, try them all on and return them all if they aren’t suitable. These incredibly high levels of service have simply become the norm. I get it, of course I do; there’s nothing more annoying than a bride and her entourage descending on your beautiful boutique with a toddler in a buggy and 15 excited bridesmaids, all armed with selfie sticks at the ready, grabbing at your gowns and playing dress up with your veils and tiaras. From the off you are instantly on edge and can feel like you have no control over the appointment. You immediately feel like the time they are taking is being wasted – and your back is now up. At some point all of us have been in this situation. I know that I often experienced this when I had my boutique and even now, in the alterations business that we run alongside Catherine Parry, I feel myself getting prickly to say the least, when the bride arrives for her pin-fitting appointment with a large entourage, more often than not including at least two children who neither want nor need to be there. But there we go. That’s just the ‘the world of the bride’ in 2020. So what can be done to avoid that sinking feeling when faced with these situations – and how can one of ‘those’ kind of appointments be turned into a positive experience for everyone – and by that I mean the retailer as well as the bride? TERMS AND CONDITIONS Because so many boutiques have been burnt by this scenario, a logical response is to introduce a set of rules. While certain rules and guidelines are necessary to avoid costly pitfalls, too many rules, created as a knee- jerk reaction to a bad experience, can be damaging to your business. Careful thought also needs to be given as to how the rules that you decide to introduce are presented and enforced. As an example, and as I’ve already mentioned, I have a very busy alterations business alongside our bridal label, that many of the bridal boutiques in our area refer their brides to. We, too, have had to introduce some ‘rules’ or ‘ways to get the most of your appointment’, to allow us to do our job effectively. To you or I it might seem absolutely crazy that we would have to put a sign up to kindly ask people to refrain from eating and drinking in the fitting area – but without it you may well find a toddler happily munching on cheesy puffs whilst we’re pinning a bride-to-be in her wedding dress. BE CLEAR AND CONSICE So how do we get around this? Sending out information beforehand can be useful – most boutiques will work on an appointment basis so it’s fairly straightforward to send out some information to the bride before her allocated slot. For example, in this information you could include the number of people the bride’s allowed to have at her appointment, and whether your boutique is able to accommodate children. This information could also include any policies you have for charging for appointments, as in the example given earlier. I know that some boutiques will also ask brides not to use fake tan before their appointment, or wear make-up when they arrive. However, while I understand how frustrating it is to get make-up or tan on your gowns, this could be such an important part of your bride’s personality that it could put some people off. I think, that when putting rules in place, it must be considered from your brides’ perspective. Some things are non-negatable, like the idea of charging for multiple appointments to protect yourself and your business. But some ‘rules’ can add to the misconception that most bridal boutiques are run by snooty people! At a time when competition is so fierce, not only between independent boutiques but with the increasing number of high street stores carrying bridal ranges too, it is so important to try to meet the expectations of today’s bride where you can. SAY CHEESE? One of the rules I see most often is, ‘No photos’. It’s a bit of a contentious one, but today’s bride is the Instagram bride – after all they even post photos of their coffee and cake, so why wouldn’t they expect to be able to take a photo of their potential wedding dress? They will get that photo, one way or another, either by the bridesmaid pretending to be on the phone or the bride taking a quick selfie in the fitting room. They do it regardless – so why not embrace it, take control of the situation and use it to your advantage? Perhaps agree to photographs but ask that they only take photos at the end of the appointment, when they have whittled their choice down to one or two gowns – and ask that you take the photo! This way you can make sure it shows the bride and the gown in (quite literally) the best light. Find the best area in your boutique, making sure the bride is smiling nicely and holding herself properly. Be sure to tell them how much better they look in real life, reminding them that mobile phone cameras have wide-angle lenses designed for everything including landscapes, and not only can they distort the image but can fail to properly capture the subtle details. Let’s be honest, if they are going to copy a dress then they can get better images online from the designer, and they had no intention of buying from you anyway – so you’ve lost nothing! However, you may be that one boutique who allowed them to take a photo, and it might help them to remember both you and the dress. When shopping for my own wedding dress, I clearly remember that the boutique where I bought it allowed photos and, even though I was holding a plastic bouquet (yep!), whenever I looked at the picture it reminded me of how much I loved it. HANDLE WITH CARE Another rule that I have seen, very nicely printed and put in a photo frame, is, ‘Please do not touch the dresses’. This one blows my mind. After all, a bride is usually expected to pay well over a thousand pounds for a gown, but she isn’t allowed to touch any of the samples when choosing which one to try? I can’t think of many other shops where I’m not allowed to touch the items for sale – regardless of price. You can try on £10k watches, or do a little strut with a Louis Vuitton bag… but you can’t touch a wedding dress to see how beautiful the fabric feels? Again, I know that dirty marks on your samples can be frustrating and time-consuming to clean and repair – but they are there to be tried on, so why can’t they be touched? Plus in the high street bridal chains that many independents are now having to compete with, brides can touch, feel, browse and try on as many wedding dresses as they like! Don’t get me wrong, if the bride and her entourage turn up with food and drink then of course you wouldn’t want them bringing them into the boutique and touching anything! And if some are daft enough to try, then I think it is more than fair to ask them to finish their snacks before they come in and try on your wedding gowns. In summary, the bridal world and our brides are constantly changing and evolving. Keeping up with the modern bride, and ensuring her expectations are met while also protecting yourself is tough, but no one wants to create unnecessary barriers to sales. With this in mind set your boundaries – and treat your brides in the same way you would expect to be treated when purchasing a luxury product.