Selling is all about solving problems, and we are all in the “Sales Business”. In order for you to get your bride to say “yes to the dress” TODAY, you have to handle her objections (aka “reasons for not making a decision”). Things like “This is the first store I’ve been in” or “I need my Mom (and 14 of my closest friends to see the dress before I can commit” are the makings of a future article/blob post. To get her to agree that “This is the perfect dress”, you have to overcome all kinds of things (jump through hoops) to get her “there”. The ability to customize a gown can go a long way towards countering these objections, and Paloma/Mikaella offers a myriad of these options.
The first things that come to mind are necklines and backs. Deep Vs and notched necklines have become very popular over the past few seasons. If your bride wants a notch filled in with lace or fabric, or the depth of the notch raised a few inches - NO PROBLEM. Suppose her “perfect” gown has a low back, but she needs to wear a bra which would require the back to be raised a few inches - NO PROBLEM.
Let’s say the last bride on a Saturday comes in and informs you that she is getting married in Jamaica in 10 weeks, and hasn’t bought her dress yet. You may be inclined to advise her that she will need to buy off the rack because manufacturers typically require 4-5 months to produce their gowns. But instead of being “negative” (plus there is an unwarranted stigma for many brides about buying off the rack), you could inform her that you carry Paloma/Mikaella and it would be NO PROBLEM to get her a dress in 4-6 weeks (if need be... and even sooner for extenuating circumstances) and meet her deadline. There is a rush fee of course, but it is a reasonable one and depends on how soon the wear date is.
Now suppose your bride is “a little out of proportion”, and would require you to order a larger size to accommodate her hips… but then require the bodice and bust to be taken in substantially during alterations. What if ordering a size 10 top with a size 14 skirt would eliminate most of the required alterations, and make the sale easier to close? If she has chosen a Paloma/Mikaella gown this is NO PROBLEM.
I’m sure you can see a pattern here… but let’s take it even further. Let’s suppose that it is 4:45 on a Saturday and you close at 5PM. You have been working with a bride for over an hour and she has narrowed it down to her 2 favorites. And then it happens! She informs you that she loves the bodice of one gown but wants the skirt of the other. Instead of looking at your watch and saying “Maybe we should set up another appointment so we can try on some different styles”… wouldn’t you love to say “NO PROBLEM - because these are both Paloma styles and the designer could combine the 2 dresses for you!" It kind of mirrors a separates program, but without you having to invest in tops and skirts that will be difficult, if not not impossible to ever sell off.
I haven’t even mentioned “closing a slit (without a seam), lining a bodice, or adding straps” and I could go on and on. Owning our own factory in Toronto (not in China) gives us the ability to make all of these changes or meet a close wear date - and even both if need be. Now there is a charge for all of these customizations, but they are reasonable under the circumstances. There are rare occasions when there is something that we can’t do. But there will be a good reason why… and it will be communicated to you.
Stores have been getting more and more calls from their brides for clean and simple designs, and no one does “Clean and Simple” like Paloma Blanca and Mikaella!
If you are already carrying us, you know full well what I say here. If you are not currently working with us and any of this intrigues you, feel free to reach out to me. Either way I wish you a successful season. HG
Ps. My Family is doing great! Wishing you all the best. Peace and Love, H
If in fact this is true (and I believe it is), this is good news for Paloma Blanca and Mikaella. Technically, it is much more
difficult to produce a bridal gown with clean lines than a heavily embellished one. Most Imported Bridal Companies can “get
away” with producing their heavily beaded gowns by simply “hiding” the seams with “stuff”.
I get to go to the office in Toronto twice a year for a Sales Meeting, and a walk through our factory is fascinating! You could literally eat off of the floor, and the
computerized cutting machines are amazing (this is why our garments are so consistent in design, fit, and sizing).
My favorite part of the factory is the fusing machine. This little used additional step (which other companies don’t use) heat
fuses a backing on our dress panels, insuring a perfect seam every time. There’s a reason why a simple gown can be more
expensive that a heavily beaded one, but not all stores have the clientele to appreciate this. That is why we realize that we
are not the right fit for some stores - either because their customers can’t appreciate the simplicity of a design, or because
they can’t justify why a “plain” gown could sell for $2000 when the heavily beaded one is only $1500. One of the many
reasons for our increased reorder business over the past few years is that while our prices really haven’t gone up in the past
5 years... 2 years ago the “beaded one that is now $1500” was only $1200. And as time goes by, the price of the imported
bridal gowns are going to continue to rise, making our gowns even a better value!
As this move towards “Clean and Simple” continues, stores will need to re-evaluate the collections they carry. As less brides
are asking for heavily beaded gowns, you will need to have product to show them. If a buyer of a “typical” store analyzes her
inventory (and is honest with herself), she will most likely realize that she carries too many similar collections. How many
imported, mainstream, $1500 - $2500 companies that require 20 weeks (or more) for a reorder do you really need? If you
carry any 2 or 3 of the following, you probably have this look covered to a “T” - especially with their 3 or 4 divisions and their
high minimums. I’m referring to Maggie, Allure, Essence, Mori Lee, Pronovias, Justin Alexander, and Mon Cheri (and
maybe, Eddie K, and Casablanca…). All very good companies by the way, but how do you spell “O.V.E.R.K.I.L.L”? If you
talk to any Investment Broker, the word you will hear more than any is “diversification”, and it applies equally to bridal.
So please don't drop all of your other lines - there is still a customer for the “imported” look. But do be smart about who you
are carrying. Chose a few of the imported lines who offer the best service, and maybe even carry a 2nd division that they
offer because is makes sense based on your area and distribution. Unless you are a super store doing millions of dollars of
volume and feel like you HAVE to have every line out there, I suggest you choose wisely and consolidate your resources a
little. If you have also seen this trend towards “Clean and Simple” and are not currently carrying Paloma Blanca and/or
Mikaella; and any of this resonates with you... give me a call. if you already carry us then you know exactly what I mean, and
why we are known as the "Yes Company", and end up being your favorite resource to work with.
Whichever companies you choose to carry this season, I wish you health, happiness, peace, and love... H
Paloma Blanca F18 Intro
I’ve been “threatening” to write a blog post about Bikram Yoga for a while – it really has become a big part of my life. I read a lot about Bikram, and most of the blogs are written by teachers and geared towards people who have been practicing for a while. Kristen, the owner of Bikram Yoga Exton (and my Yogi) recently mentioned to me in passing that I had practiced at her studio over 500 times, and last month she approached me to do an “interview” for her monthly newsletter.
In sitting down to answer her questions, it occurred to me that the only people who would be reading the BYX Newsletter were people who were very familiar with this specific genre of yoga, so I tried to respond with an eye to my "audience". But for the purposes of my blog, almost everyone who reads this probably has no idea what hot yoga is all about. I am including the text from the BYX newsletter below, along with the link to the actual posting here. By reading both parts of this "2 part interview", my hope is that you get some sense of what Bikram Yoga is all about. (For consistency, I will refer to teachers as "she". Truth is there are probably almost as many male teachers as female).
WHAT'S IT LIKE IN THE HOT ROOM? First of all it IS hot! 105 degrees and 40% humidity, and that's on a "good" day when it's not too crowded. If there are 30 or 40 people in the room it can feel even hotter, and you'll definitely sweat more when the room is crowded. But I am used to the heat, and it never bothers me. Most studios have ceiling fans that are used to control the humidity, and are only running part of the time. There are mirrors on most walls, and are one of the important tools to maintain proper form. I prefer the front row with an unimpeded view in the mirror, but it really doesn't matter where you end up. And to all of you men out there... "Don't get too excited about seeing tons of scantily clothed women! You better be concentrating on yourself in the mirror if you want to stay in the room for the whole 90 minutes." With the exception of the teacher, I usually wouldn't be able to tell you who else was even in the class!
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO BRING WITH YOU? All you really need is a mat and a towel, and some water. There is one official water break after about 15 minutes but you can take a sip between postures as often as you like. Personally I never touch my water until the very end (the final savasanah)...but that's just me. There are no “props” – just lifting my 200 lbs. against gravity in various ways. The key to the whole yoga is your breath, which is used to control your heart rate. It's always “in through the nose and out through the nose", and if you aren't careful it can get away from you. You are better off sitting (or lying) out a posture to get your heart rate under control than to start a posture out of breath, and you should never be gasping for air. There are only about 20 seconds between each posture, and the stiller you remain the easier it is to bring your heart rate back down before the next posture. Fidgeting (or even sipping water) eats into my 20 seconds - which is one of the reasons I don't touch my water. That being said, you need to be plenty hydrated before you walk into the room, and I try to have an "empty" stomach as well.
WHAT ABOUT THE POSTURES? The basic "beginners series" consists of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, and you do them all twice (with a few exceptions) so it’s over 50 "steps"... and each posture can have 4 or 5 steps. It’s ALWAYS 26/2 - and always in the same order. There is a specific dialog that corresponds to the 90 minutes; unlike other forms of yoga the teacher doesn’t "do" any of the postures... she just says the words and occasionally offers some specific corrections when appropriate. The words "beginner series" is a little misleading, as the beauty of this style of yoga is that a class can include first time students as well as people who have been practicing for 10 years. Everyone just goes as far as they can in each posture. In theory, the first time students tend to only do the first few steps of each posture, while the experienced people tend to go "deeper”. Correct form is the key, no matter how far you go. One of the coolest parts of the dialogue is something like "you get more benefit from doing 10% of the posture correctly, than doing a full expression of the posture the wrong way"!
WHERE, WHEN, AND FOR HOW LONG? While there are yoga studios everywhere, if you want to do Bikram Yoga you have to find a Bikram Studio. There are 3 within 20 miles of West Chester, but I am partial to Bikram Yoga Exton. There are Bikram studios all over the country, and I've been to many besides BYX. Because the dialog is the same everywhere, you know just what go expect no matter which studio you walk into. Most studios have classes ranging from 5AM to 7PM 7 days a week, so you should have no trouble finding a time that fits your schedule. I rarely go to a class before noon, but it's a 2½ hour commitment... between the 90-minute class, travel both ways and a good shower afterwards. But golf is a “5 hour excursion”, and this is WAY better for me!
WHY? I detail in the newsletter below why I even tried this yoga, and why I still practice 3-4 times a week. Suffice to say the 2 things that I never saw happening growing up were "having 4 sons" and "doing ANY type of yoga". They call it a "moving mediation", but it's nothing like what I envision TM to be. But it’s the only place where I can truly “shut my brain off”, and that helps me keep a sense of balance in my life. It’s not for everyone, especially if you have a heart condition or just can't handle the heat. But I've read articles on people missing limbs doing Bikram, seen children in the hot room... and practiced with a woman in Boston who was over 75 years old and was on a streak of practicing once a day for over 750 days in a row!
There are tons of different styles of yoga, and I try hard not to be a yoga snob. All types of yoga are great for you, but I'm a creature of habit and so for me... it's Bikram. Whatever we do as we get older, it's important to do "something" to not become sedentary. Sitting on the sofa watching TV will turn your brain to mush, and it’s terrible for your body as well. So keep moving... and Namaste,
Part 2 (The Rest of The Story)
WHEN DID YOU START PRACTICING YOGA It’s well over 5 years since I first walked into BYX and met Kristin. Several months ago she told me that I had practiced over 500 times in her studio! I’ve had several memberships to gyms over the years but none that I ever stuck with for more than 6 months. I hate lifting weights; nor am I into the “standard” machines that these places offer - and I lose interest quickly in things that bore me. Something just clicked with me as my practice evolved.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO BYX? I had a very rare medical condition that was not responding well to the “traditional” remedies of drugs and physical therapy. I was in a lot of pain and very out of shape from being bed ridden for several months. I was afraid of becoming an invalid. My physical therapist Theresa suggested I try Bikram, as she had practiced it a few times at BYX. I was so desperate that I told her “I would walk on hot coals if it would make me better”, and I decided to give it a try. At first I could hardly do any of the postures, and the hardest part was lying on my stomach for the floor strengthening series. But through Kristin and Theresa’s encouragement I stuck with it, and I now try to get here 3-4 times a week… work permitting.
WHY DO YOU KEEP COMING? Besides the fact that I’ve never felt better in my 63 years… once I added Bikram Yoga to my medical treatment my condition slowly improved. I have not seen my doctor/specialist in over 3 years now, and it’s been longer than that since I stopped my physical therapy… and I am off just about all of the medication. If you look up “Male Pelvic Pain Syndrome” in a medical dictionary, you will NOT see “Bikram Yoga” listed as one of the treatments. But I am 100% convinced that it was the missing piece to my recovery, and both my urologist and physical therapist now “prescribe” Bikram Yoga to their patients with this disorder. I now consider Bikram to be my maintenance, and I’m leery of going too long between practicing for fear that my condition may return.
WHAT BENEFITS HAVE YOU SEEN FROM YOUR PRACTICE? I’m in the best physical shape of my life, and Bikram is really the total of my exercise regimen. I’ve seen improvement in all 3 of the basics – strength, flexibility, and balance, but I’m still a “work in progress” (and my flexibility has the farthest to go). My biggest improvement has been in my breathing, and I now rarely find myself needing to take a break throughout the series. But I do see myself going further in the postures than I ever thought possible. It’s pretty humbling when progress is measured in such micro steps… it took me 4 years to even try to go back in fixed firm and I still can’t get my shoulders down to my mat, but I’ve learned to be patient and hope it won’t be 4 more years before I can get my shoulders to touch the mat!
WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU ABOUT THE PRACTICING?
HOW HAS YOGA IMPROVED YOUR LIFE? How the yoga changed me outside of the room is what was really unexpected. I’ve always been a worrier. In addition to my illness, I was diagnosed with Kidney Cancer about 4 years ago. I’m happy to say that I am in complete remission, and am about as “cured” as one can be. They say health challenges can really change your life, and that’s certainly true for me. I’m a different person than I was before the surgery, but I firmly believe it when teachers say “the goal of yoga is to improve the quality of life outside the yoga room”. The yoga has helped me eliminate almost all stress from my life, and I often use the breathing to keep me calm, especially when I feel any anxiety creeping in.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITR POSTURE AND WHY? My favorite postures are Triangle and Locust. Maybe because they were the hardest to “master” (and I’ve hardly mastered them), but I got a few tips on these that really helped and I’m now “hearing” much more of the dialogue than when I first started. I’ll add that my favorite part of the whole practice is the walk to my car, especially around this time of year when it’s getting cooler. Not only do I feel so damn good physically with the cool air in my face, but I a get such a sense of satisfaction for what I have just “accomplished”. At 63 years old this practice though “simple” is very hard for me, and I am proud of myself for what I put myself through each practice - with the ultimate goal of keeping my entire body healthy.
DO YOU HAVE ANY GOALS THAT YOU DID NOT HAVE BEFORE PRACTICING? This is a tough question because my life is in a very good place right now, and my main goal is to be the “old guy” in the front of the room when I’m 80 – still enjoying my yoga.
In closing I would like to add that BYX is a special place, and has become a very important part of my life over the past 6 years. I am usually one of the last in the room before practice begins, and my long final savasana usually insures I’m one of the last to leave the studio. Except for the teachers, I really don’t speak to many students… I’m just a private kind of guy. That being said it is obvious that it is a wonderful community of people who attend BYX, and I sense that every time I show up. As in business, it all starts from the top, and Kristin is really what makes this place special. Yes she was my first teacher, and she IS my Yogi. But without her early encouragement, I am certain I would have given up and tried “the next thing”. For that I am truly grateful. Namaste,
I just mailed out my paper version of Grass Clippings - I can't believe I am up to Issue #30! The back page of the newsletter makes for a perfect Blog Post, but it is without a picture. I always try to include at least one image in all my blog posts, and am a few days away from getting any new images for Paloma Blanca and Mikaella.
So I decided to begin the blog with a little "blurb" from the front of the newsletter Titled "FAMILY UPDATE" since it included a picture. It has nothing to do with bridal but it's a great updated Family Portrait...
This picture was taken on Christmas Day 2016 in our Family Room. As a quick update, it includes my 4 sons, 2 Daughters-In-Law, and
2 Daughters-In-Law-To-Be, as Dan and Rebecca and Michael and Kelsey both announced their engagements since my last newsletter. By this time next year all 4 of my sons will be married… and there will be (God willing) a 4th healthy grandchild in the next Christmas Grass Family Portrait, as Justin and Kate are expecting their 2nd child in June. The Grass Family is truly blessed!
And now to the "real" blog...
Choosing the “Right” Collections
As a new season approaches, most stores begin to analyze their resources: Who am I carrying? Do I have the right “mix”? What are my brides asking for? Do I need ALL of the lines I am carrying?
I was looking through the latest edition of Brides Magazine yesterday, and something occurred to me. There is so much product out there, and a lot of it looks so similar. Made in China; Approximate retail falling between $1500 and $2500 retail; Approximate lead time for special orders @ 16-20 weeks. We have all been in the business long enough to know which lines I am speaking about. There is Maggie, Allure, Casa, Mori Lee, Justin, Mon Cheri, Pronovias. Within these 7 companies, there are probably close to 30 individual collections to further “complicate” things. My sense is that the average store carries 3 or 4 of these companies, and in many cases more!!! And that doesn't cover the next set of companies like Private Label, Alfred Angelo, Moonlight, Venus, Jasmine, Eddy K, Kitty Chen, etc. To be sure…these are ALL good companies, and worthy of being in the majority of stores in The Northeast, but my question is: “What is the right number?” I would never suggest you drop any specific line, especially since all of the above mentioned companies are very good resources; I'm only suggesting that you may not need all of the companies you are working with… and could service a wider range of brides with a wider range of tastes by diversifying your collections a little bit. And when you factor in the minimums for each division each season, it's no wonder stores are swimming in excess inventory, and are regularly asking me "How can I get rid of some of my discontinued samples?”
Paloma Blanca and Mikaella - A Different Kind of Company “Howard, do you have any suggestions for an alternative to all of this overlap you reference in the above paragraph?” you ask. It just so happens that I do... and I happen to represent it! Paloma Blanca and Mikaella offer just such an alternative. Manufactured in our own factory in Toronto, Canada - we offer any style, any size, and any color in 8 weeks (if need be) with no rush fee, and offer 5-7 week shipping with a small rush fee. (We can even do better in some cases). This type of delivery is virtually unheard of from any of the above-mentioned companies. We are known for using better fabrics and laces, and are known for our quality, construction and fit. We also offer a different look than these lines... "clean", "simple", "traditional", and "sophisticated" are some of the words I hear used to describe Paloma Blanca and Mikaella’s designs. We offer a myriad of custom changes... both from a design standpoint as well as some "alteration friendly" custom changes - including split sizing.
Please understand that I am in no way suggesting that you drop all of your lines and become a Paloma Blanca/Mikaella flagship store. Stores need a variety of looks within this $1500 - $2500 price point, and there are brides out there who love the more ornate beading that the Chinese factories can do at a great price; which is why virtually all of the North American companies have closed down their factories over the past 25 years and moved all of their production to the Orient. At the time it seemed like the smart business decision, and maybe it was for the short term. But Marty decided to “stay put”, modernize his factory in Toronto with the latest computerized technology, and implement the best customer service department in our industry. Stores have become used to telling their brides that the dress they love is not available to her because she is getting married in 3-4 months; or that they need to wait 3 days to get an answer about a custom change because they need to email China and wait for a response. These brides end up leaving the store and disappear into the "great black hole" where potential brides disappear into when they leave your store and tell you they will be back. No need for this to happen with us with us; you can quote an 8-week ship date to your Paloma bride without even checking with us. And if you need to know whether we can raise the neckline 2 inches on a particular Mikaella style… you can call us and we will give an answer while the bride is still in the store.
No… don't drop all of your other lines. But be smart about what you are carrying. Choose a few of the imported lines who offer the best service, and maybe even carry a 2nd division that they offer because is makes sense. Unless you are a super store doing millions of dollars of volume and feel like you HAVE to have every line out there, I suggest you choose wisely and consolidate your resources. If you are not carrying Paloma Blanca and/or Mikaella and any of this resonates with you... give me a call. If you already carry us, then you know exactly what I mean; why we are known as the "Yes Company", and why we end up being your favorite resource to work with.
Whichever companies you choose to carry this season, I wish you Health and Happiness. Peace and Love, H
I went to a charity event last month, and it got me to thinking about the concept of "charity".
When you get to be 62, your childhood does begin to fade. But I have a pretty good memory of my formative years. One thing I DON’T remember being discussed in my house was the concept of charity. Now my Mom and Dad were fine people (and loving parents), but the level of communication growing up was just different than it was when I became the head of my growing family. I really don’t know whether they were charitable people or not - mostly because it was just not something that I remember having been discussed.
So it was only natural that when we started our family, charity was not high on the list of things we "taught" our kids. I know Carol had her "causes" she contributed to (I saw the cancelled checks), but it just wasn't one of the things on our "teachable" list.
Fast forward to the above mentioned charity event - how the hell did I end up there?!?! Well it turns out that my oldest son Justin became involved in a wonderful charity called Little Smiles about 8 years ago through some colleagues at his office. Here is a link to the Little Smiles Website:
It is a great charity that focuses on making the lives of very sick kids a little more "normal" by being a behind the scenes “blank checkbook", and then allowing the caregivers (nurses, social workers, etc. that work with the children every day) to be the ones to deliver the items; whether it be an iPad or a trip to Disney World - or even just sponsoring a pizza party. Justin went from being on the Board of Directors to Treasurer - and is now the President of the Philadelphia Chapter. Suffice to say “I am very proud of him!”
They have a few fundraisers each year - The Stars Ball being the major event. The Grass Family always supports each other, so several years ago I began sponsoring a table at The Stars Ball for The Grass Family, so that all 10 of us could sit together during dinner and throughout the evening. As proud as I am of my son and DIL (Kate deserves credit here as she also contributes her time to Little Smiles), I am equally proud of how Justin's 3 brothers (and their partners) have always wanted to attend these events, and I felt it best to pay for the table as they are all starting their families and lives. One of my favorite things in life is taking my family out to dinner, and while they always offer... it has always been understood that Dad picks up the check. This "dinner" is no different.
Here are a few pics from the event, and even a picture of "our" table.
A quick story to interject a little levity to a serious blog...
About 3 years ago we were all at the Stars Ball and it was time for Carol and I to leave. We were looking for Justin to say goodbye, but couldn't find him. Carol had left her program on the table, and wanted to take it home as a memento - as she had all of the signatures from the Red Carpet Walk that always opens each Stars Ball. They theme the night around the glitz of Hollywood, and the event opens with the 10 special kids being honored that night with them walking down the red carpet and signing programs for the "adoring fans". I found her after retrieving her program, and as we were getting ready to head for the door - we spotted Justin across the room. I caught his attention and waved goodbye (with the program still in my hand). Carol turned to me and said: "Do you realize you just bid $1600 for that painting being auctioned off?" I didn't care for the painting (and had already contributed enough for one night) so luckily someone bid $1700 in time! It's a true story, and needless to say I now keep my hands in my pockets during this portion of the evening.
Getting back to early December…
For several years now, I try to send a "little something" to my accounts around Christmas - in appreciation for their business and loyalty over the years. This year I did something a little different that is spelled out in the card below, which I mailed to all of my accounts mid-December (along with a flyer giving some additional information on the charity I chose).
From the Desk of Howard Grass...
Who is in my “Sphere of Business?” one might ask. It certainly has nothing to do with how much volume we do together – there were many stores on my list who I’ve known for years, have always treated me with respect, and with whom I do NO business with currently. They are just as important of a member of the list as my biggest account!
The emails, texts, and phone calls I did receive were so lovely, and the consensus is that most people liked my idea. In fairness, it really wasn't my idea at all, but something Carol suggested one day when I asked her what she thought I should send my stores this season. We discussed it for a few days and I eventually came over to her way of thinking - and I’m glad I did.
Philosophers have been debating the difference between selfishness and selflessness for centuries - and they are really not opposites as first consideration may suggest. The bottom line is that I have become someone who was exposed to charity much later in life from my son of all people, and I am the better man for it. When I do make a contribution to a worthy cause, I do it partially for how good it makes me feel. The added bonus is the good it does in the world.... whether it is improving the life of a sick child, or buying enough desks in Africa to get a full classroom of children "off the ground".
When you grow up in a family with 4 sons, you hope that they learn a little something from their father, but you really can't "force it". I do admit that it feels good to hear them mutter something to their kids that I said used to say to them. Even more rewarding is to be able to have watched them grow into men (I almost always still refer to them as “my 4 boys”) who have so much character and compassion. This blog just happened to be about something I learned from Justin… but I could easily write a blog about something “special” I’ve learned from each of them.
Today however I feel like a more complete man, having learned the concept of “charity” from my son Justin – and for that I feel truly blessed.
In closing... "We can all use a little charity in our lives!"
I’ve been going back and forth on this blog – and Carol even advised me not to post it. I came home from yoga tonight having decided NOT to post this, and then watched the newsfeed from a DC restaurant with well dressed individuals offering up the “Sieg Heil Salute” – so post I must. I’m 62, and feel I have earned the right to speak my mind so here goes…
IMHO and Grass Clippings started out as a way to communicate with my stores, and if it included a little self-promotion… well “guilty as charged”. I think I’m past that now; I have so much on my mind – and I need a means to “get it out”. There is something very cathartic for those of us who love to “put pen to paper” whether one writes for a living… or someone like me who just considers blogging one of his hobbies. I used to be so careful to be PC, and make sure I didn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers with my posts, especially my clients. Please know that is still my goal – hurting anyone in any way is not cool. The main purpose of my writing is to get you to think. I’m not sure why, but all of my life people have looked to me for advice. That includes my bosses, my customers, and my family. My idea of advice is not to tell you what to do, but rather to help you think things through for yourself; by asking questions or offering ideas you may not have considered – and thus allowing you come to the “right” conclusion on your own.
Politics and The Presidency Let’s face it… if your customer base is The Northeast – you have a very diverse clientele. As many of my neighbors were reminded of last week, the whole world is not Chester County – and that’s a good thing. Some of my favorite customers are from upstate NY and Western Pennsylvania, and this helps me remember that the majority of the 135 million people who voted last Tuesday are good, solid citizens who care deeply about this country. People who live in rural America are no more racist than the people on my street… in fact these are the same voters who elected our first black president 8 years ago – and then re-elected him again 4 years later.
That being said we are a very divided nation, and I fear we are in for some rocky times ahead. And I blame social media and particularly Facebook for a lot of it. I admit I do go on Facebook, and find some of it interesting, informative, and enlightening. The internet is an endless sea of information, but one must navigate with caution. Many of us are not really interested in “learning”, but rather read and watch TV in the hopes of validating our preconceived notions. This is particularly dangerous in an open society, when the media and politics are so inundated with the almighty dollar.
I believe this is the greatest country in the world – warts and all. Much of what makes us great is our democracy, but Winston Churchill was right…
“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”.
Our constitution is the foundation of our government, but you can’t pick and choose which amendments you like. While requiring some “updating”, I do believe in the second amendment. But one can’t swear by the second amendment, and then say that people who are upset with something don’t have a right to peacefully protest. The first amendment doesn’t say arbitrary citizens get to decide which gripes are OK to protest about and which ones make you a “whiner”. That being said…
If you get violent in any way and/or damage property during your protest - you should be locked up. There is no place for this in a civilized society. And if you are one of the 96 million people who didn’t vote last week and are out in the streets protesting the results of the election – GO HOME!!!!
In case you can’t tell, I did not vote for Donald Trump last Tuesday. But he won and he is going to be our next president. I have some serious questions of how the next 4 years are going to play out, but rules are rules and he won. This is still the same basic country today as it was at 8PM last Tuesday evening, so we all need to calm down a little. If your candidate won, you have every right to be happy; the key however is whether the country “won” – and only time will tell that. But gloating is never pretty, and all of us should learn how to be magnanimous in our victories.
Over the past 8 years, I watched with disgust the disrespectful way our last president was spoken about on Facebook, in the media, and even in the halls of congress. I was taught that The President of the United States deserved respect above all else, and the veteran fathers of some of my FB “friends” would be rolling around in their graves if they read what I’ve read. For me, respecting the 45th president is going to be very difficult to do based on the past 18 months, but I plan on taking a wait and see attitude and am hoping he earns the respect I am willing to give to him “on the come”.
And I hope there will be just as much outrage at the recent swastikas and racial slurs (see above) being reported as there is about some young, college students who happen to have voted in their first election and are feeling firsthand what it’s like when their candidate loses. I can’t help it but I’m against ALL forms of racism and bigotry… and am particularly sensitive to swastikas.
Facebook Rules When I first joined Facebook about 5 years ago I had no idea what I was getting into, and before I knew it I had tons of “friends” – some whom I hardly knew. I sent out very few friend requests, and accepted almost anyone who friended me. That ended up not being the best of strategies. I probably should have set up a few rules first, and maybe that would have helped a little. But alas I just kept clicking “accept” and before I knew it I was up to over 500 friends between my 2 accounts. If I could go back in time, I would have probably posted the following at the top of my Facebook page on day one – just as a public disclosure:
1. Religion is a very private thing to me. If religion is important to you that’s great, but please understand... I am Jewish (mostly in theory) and have more questions than answers. I really don’t care what religion you are and I certainly don’t want to be converted at 62. Feel free to make a religious post if that’s your thing, but… I definitely don’t want to see anything on my wall professing that one religion is better than another. As if it is a “negative” to be Muslim or an atheist… shame on some of you.
2. I am equally private about politics. Someone recently asked me “what do you do when your customers want to talk politics with you”? My answer… “Democrat or Republican – I just don’t go there.” As I said to her – “It’s an art form and I’ve become very good at dancing”. However you “lean”, Facebook just isn’t the best place to make yourself an educated citizen. If you want to become President, it’s a GREAT way to reach the voters, but I didn’t accept either Clinton’s nor Trump’s friend request purposely. If you’d like to have a serious political discussion with me, invite me to dinner and let’s share a bottle of wine – I’ll even pick up the check. For most of the Facebook world, it’s virtually impossible to avoid politics, so this is not a total “ban”. But keep it civil, and respect the fact that no matter what you post, there are going to be just about 50% of the people who read it who are going to believe the exact opposite!
3. Most of what I post is business or health and wellness related, as that is my “thing”. If I do happen to break my own rule (see below) and post something bordering on politics designed to make you think, please don’t take it as an invitation to argue with me – or bully me. Feel free to respectfully disagree however – the key word being “respectfully”.
4. Understand that when you comment on someone else’s post – because you are my “friend” - that appears on my wall as well. And that allows me to “view” that entire conversation – and to see how some people spend their entire day getting into contentious arguments with dozens of people they never met. It really makes little difference to me if this is the way you choose to spend your day – but just realize that your children (assuming you are FB friends with your kids which most people are) are able to see this banter as well. In short…THINK!
A Group Email Last week I received an email from my boss with a “reminder” about paperwork procedures for new accounts. It was actually addressed to the entire sales staff but I read it “defensively” and questioned her in the email reply “Does this reminder apply to me”? As anal as I am about following instructions I doubted it, and she called me and assured me that it didn’t – but that she preferred to handle things like this in a group email, and that I could ignore it.
This post is kind of like that email. I am choosing to “send” it to my entire circle of contacts – even though it is really directed at only a few of them. Mostly because I want you ALL to hear what I have to say. So if any of this applies to you, just keep it in mind the next time you post something. I have no interest in being the “Facebook Police”, so I will not be calling you out on it – this is your only "warning". If you happen to check your list of Facebook friends one day and realize that we are no longer friends – don’t be upset. If I liked or admired you before… I probably still do. If you have something “important” to say to me, you’ll just have to do it “the old-fashioned way” – and email or call me. I promise I will still take your call!
And finally, it is Thanksgiving on Thursday, my favorite holiday. Take a look around you. My guess is that you are going to be sitting at a table with a roof over your head surrounded by a loving family and/or friends (and have shoes on your feet). All of this should not be taken for granted as much of the world is far less fortunate.
Warts and all… we have much to be thankful for.
Chicago Market is over, and it was great working with the product first hand earlier than usual. I've been on the road working with stores for a few weeks as well, and I love the collections this season. I really feel like I have a very good sense of the important pieces already, and I am excited about New York Market being less than 2 weeks away. In spite of my enthusiasm - for me it’s “just another season”, but how about for you? Maybe it’s time for you to analyze the companies you work with… both from a “How many do you work with?” as well as a “Which ones?” standpoint.
After finishing up the order with a new store last season, the owner asked me “How many lines does a typical store carry”? I responded, “While it varies based on the size of the business, in general my answer would be TOO MANY!” This particular store could see that she had way too many collections that all fell into the same category” Under $2000 at retail, Imported from China, fairly heavily beaded with “lots of stuff” on them, average lead time for special orders about 16 weeks. Now don’t get me wrong – there are some very good companies out there that fill this niche… but do you really need 5-6 (or more) of them?
So I offer you an option: “How about a company who makes their product solely in Canada, offers a clean, sophisticated look, and can deliver any style/any size/any color in 8 weeks with no rush fee (and 5-6 weeks with a small rush charge)?” Add in “offers the best fit in the industry, is NEVER late with an order, and is right at the same “$2000 price point”! I’m referring to MIKAELLA BRIDAL. A division of Paloma Blanca that has been in business for over 70 years, most of my Paloma stores also carry Mikaella – and some of them do better with Mikaella! Whether you’re currently carrying Paloma Blanca (and NOT Mikaella)… or another store with way too many collections that “duplicate” themselves, it is time for some serious introspection. Do you have this look in your store? Are you seeing a trend towards brides asking for a “cleaner” look? Do you have a reliable source to work with when a bride comes in and is getting married in 8 weeks? Are all of the companies you work with performing well, and are there some who’s poor service gives you angina? Are minimums killing you… not because a line wants you to buy 6 dresses a season… but because you have way too many collections all with minimums? If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes” – I encourage you to take a look at Mikaella Bridal AND Paloma Blanca. Maybe it’s NOT just another season! HG
Its time for another blog, and I'm in "summer mode", so I'm choosing NOT to write about business; I'm feeling more reflective at the moment. I've been walking about 5 miles a day now to stay active since I'm having a few health issues - nothing serious but enough to stop me from doing my Bikram Yoga. It's strange what pops into your head from time to time, especially when you are by yourself for 90 minutes out in nature.
At almost 62 years old, I have no choice but to look at life differently than when I was in my 30s. In the past 2 weeks,
I've had 2 tests/medical procedures looking for (or the lack thereof) 2 completely different forms of cancer. To clear up any question about where this blog is heading, both tests came back with good news; one test result was "stable" (which is the best a kidney cancer survivor can hope for), and the other ended up being a "false alarm".
A friend asked me right before my second test "What is it like mentally, preparing for this type of test? It must be very heavy". Truth be told, it’s really not that way for me, as I've stopped worrying about dying a good while ago. What I AM afraid of is becoming an invalid (and invalid), but those fears will be the subject of another blog post. The unknown does make someone like me a little apprehensive, and I HATE the tests, and the preps, and the probing that goes along with them; but the lead-up to the "results" really don’t freak me out. I will say that it is a relief when the good news "comes back", and I imagine it may be a little scary for Carol and the kids the night before the tests, but I've gone through this 4 or 5 times now and I guess I've become somewhat good at controlling my emotions during the process. I don't know if I could have been able to "handle" this in quite the same way 5 years ago, but I believe strongly that doing yoga for those 5 years has had a profound effect on me in this regard. One day I may have to deal with the "wrong" phone call from the Doctor with the test results - but for now, I'm actually pretty healthy. For that I am very thankful.
I met a man about 20 years ago whose nickname was "Widge". He was the father of one of my son's friends, and his soccer coach. He was a very nice man and I have no idea how he got his nickname - but no matter as it has nothing to do with this story. Whenever I see someone out and about, my natural greeting is "Hey... how are you doing?" Most people respond with some variable of "fine, thanks for asking". But not Widge. His standard response was always "Haven't had a bad day in my life!" I loved the attitude this response exudes, and it obviously had an effect on me because it's been popping into my head several times during my walks recently - so I decided to frame a blog post around this "tude". I haven't seen him in a long time, but my guess is that he meant it - and he may still use the “line” if you met him tomorrow. What a great goal for anyone - to never have a bad day!
About 12 years ago, I was having dinner with a good friend to celebrate my 50th birthday, and she toasted me with the following: "The 50s is going to be the best decade of your life". And you know she was right. It kind of became my mantra, but I adjusted it a little to approach my life with "TODAY is going to be the best day of my life!"
A friend called me last week for advice. Actually he called me more to talk, and to tell me his story, but what he really wanted to know was "what I thought”. After listening to his situation for a few minutes I responded as follows: "Xxxxx - are you happy?" When he said no, I said: "Whatever you choose to do about your situation, do what will make you happy." And while not always easy, that is how I try to live my life every day, and how I make important life decisions, and to instill this attitude in my boys. I can’t honestly say that I’ve never had a bad day, and I’m sure I could think of some if I tried… but I prefer not to look backwards – and always look “forward”.
Everyone has a different definition of "happy", but for me, my pleasures are pretty simple. A good day for me would include any combo of the following:
• A phone call with my kids
• Handling something for a customer (not necessarily selling them something)
• A good meal (with no red meat, a glass of white wine, and a chocolate chip cookie)
• Watching my wife water her plants and flowers
• Sweating (and then a dip in the pool)
• Spending time with my grandchildren
• Working on a Home Improvement project
• Etc., etc., etc.
Everyone's list would be different, but think about it... one has to conceptualize what makes them happy, before they can make a conscious effort to include what makes them happy in their everyday life. I don't get to do the things on my list every day, but I strive to be happy all the time, and base all of my life decisions on the basic premise that "today" is going to be the best day of my life. When you think about things this way, you avoid sweating the small stuff. Bottom line is if you wake up healthy in the morning... yesterday was a pretty damn good day!
I was going to write about "minimums" this month as a follow-up to my "provocative" blog last month about "2 seasons per year", but had a last minute change of heart.
I just finished a great NY Market, my new collections look awesome this season, and reorders are up over last year. So many options to choose for a bridal related topic, but I'm just not feeling "bridal" today. I will say that it is nice to occasionally hear that someone reads my blogs and enjoys it, but truth be told... I write them for ME because I love to write. Even more importantly - when I write about my life, it either makes me feel good to be thankful for all that life has given me - or it makes me feel better when something is bothering me to just "get it out". Today is the latter. With all of the above mentioned "positives" in the bridal world, plus I am feeling much better health-wise than I have over the past several months, you may ask "Why so glum?"
I just got back home from helping my youngest son Michael (and his fiancé Kelsey who has been living with us for the past 3 months) move into their first apartment - and out of our house. As Carol said today, “it's the first time in over 37 years that there hasn't been any Grass Boys living with us”, and I'm having a little tougher time of it than I expected. We're both used to being alone - anyone who knows a road rep knows that a prerequisite for the job (and for their spouse) is to be comfortable being by oneself, so it’s not that. It's more that "1418 Cooper Circle" has always been a place where parents and sons lived under one roof, and that is no longer the case. It is now a house which is way too big for only 2 people, but which we hope we can stay in for a long time mostly because...it is where we built our lives.
Michael is the 4th son to move out, so it's not like I have no experience with this. But the last 3 times a son moved out, Michael was still there; and so this time just didn't seem quite the same as it did today. Plus he is our "baby"... if a 24 year old can be referred to as such, and it just seems like he has always been here. I send my blog to about 300 stores, post it on my website and on Facebook, and email a link to it to about 100 "friends and family" (including my sons) so he IS going to read this. So let me leave no doubt... it was absolutely time for him to "go". He has turned into a fine young man, is engaged to be married, has a great job, and is on his way to a solid career - which is really the "place" where we tried to get all of our sons to. I can proudly say that he makes "4 for 4". If something happens to both of us tomorrow, we can comfortably say that all 4 of my sons "will be fine". He found a great condo on his own, handled the whole transaction himself (with maybe a little advice from his Dad), but this was the right move at the right time for he and Kelsey. I guess it just happened so quickly, and the last few days of packing did get a little emotional. Thursday night we had one of our man-to-man talks (I hope its not the last one), and I shared with him the story of the day I moved out when I was about 19. It was the turning point in my life, and something I HAD to do. But I "admitted" that on the last night living with my parents, as I was finishing up my packing, I cried my eyes out. I remember it vividly, and I'm not really sure why I was crying, but I shared this with him and it might have been the first time I have told ANYONE this story ever! I told him that this was going to be the turning point is his life too, and we cried a little together, and then he finished packing.
I think Carol will be fine and I suppose I will be fine too at some point soon. Realistically... as I mentioned in an earlier post – “we are VERY fortunate”! Even with this move all 4 of our boys live less than 25 miles away from us, and Michael, Andrew, and Justin are probably 10 minutes apart from each other; and Dan lives less than 5 minutes from our house. They all have their own lives now, and that is as it should be. We still live close enough that we can all be together for holidays and birthdays and Sunday Barbecue Pool Parties - and for that we are truly blessed. Its just going to be a little hard at the end of our next family get-together, which will probably be mid May for Justin's birthday. Our "parties" always end with the same goodbye ritual, which includes PopPop and Nan carrying grandchildren out to the car seats and buckling them in, and everyone kissing and hugging everyone goodbye (with 13 of us it ends up being a lot of hugs and kisses). For what seems like forever, at the end of this "ritual" - Carol and I always go back in the house to clean up (truth be told she does most of the cleaning up) - and settle in for the evening... and Mikey always came back into the house with us. From now on, he and Kelsey are going to be saying goodbye and heading to their cars just like the rest of my boys… to go "home". It will now be H and C heading back into the house from the driveway by ourselves. Luckily Skipper and Chloe will still be there, wagging their tails and begging for treats, as if nothing has changed... but it has. I will still have a great life and much to be thankful for after they all leave to head home... but it just won't be quite the same.
This blog post is for my boss Marty Bernstein. He’s one of a kind…and over the years I’ve worked for many different owners of bridal companies. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t met Marty 25 years ago. One night we were sitting on his dock having a drink discussing the problems of the world and we got into a philosophical conversation about whether Paloma Blanca’s business model is better suited for designing one line per year – or two lines per year. We discussed this at great length, and after the last cast of the day, he suggested I write a future blog post about this subject. So Marty… this one’s for you!
The story REALLY started over of a "heated conversation" over dinner at my favorite restaurant in Chicago - Japonais. No one was throwing Edamame, but it was lively. Sitting at the table were 5 people from 3 VERY different bridal companies: of different sizes, who sell to a different subset of bridal stores, and who have VERY different business models. The “debate” centered around the basic question...
Would The Bridal Industry be better off if all companies came out with one collection per year rather than two?
Many people outside of the bridal industry read my blog, so here is a little background...
Bridal Stores buy samples from the companies they chose to do business with each season - the purpose of which is to generate re-orders from these samples (NOT just to sell the samples). Companies set different minimums, but philosophically... stores who wish to remain Authorized Retailers with a particular designer (and take advantage of all of the benefits that entails) place an order for a certain number of samples from each “new” collection. My job is to "help" them choose the best styles to maximize said reorders. That is certainly an over-simplification of what I do, but it will suffice for the sake of this background.
For many years, almost all major companies came out with 2 collections per year - introduced in March and September. Everyone "lived off of the same calendar" and knew what to expect each season. Markets were at the same time, road trips all followed this calendar, and the 2 buying seasons “fell” within 2 very specific windows: “Labor Day through Thanksgiving” and “March 1st through Memorial Day”. This really doesn’t coincide with the time that brides do their shopping, nor the date of their weddings… it had just always been this way.
While I try to avoid the word "minimum" in my sales presentations (I find it unnecessary and distracting to the buying process), lets assume for the sake of this “debate" that the industry wide standard is 6 pieces per season - or 12 pieces per year. As a side note, the other 2 companies represented at the dinner table at Japonais have a MUCH higher minimum than 12 pieces per year...but the subject of "minimums in the bridal industry" warrants it's own future blog post.
Over the past few years, several companies have deviated from this basic "calendar model", and now only design one collection per year. Paloma Blanca (and Mikaella) come out with about 15 new styles each season, and this “narrow and focused” approach has served us well over the years. These "once a year companies" typically design much larger collections (sometimes over 100 pieces), and the minimum order these companies expect from their accounts for this “once a year buy” can be 18 pieces (or more). Their "argument" for this new business model is that it makes it easier on the stores who now only have to select their samples once every 12 months. It also makes it easier for the manufacturer who now only has to produce one photo shoot per year, print one catalog per year, and design one collection per year – all of which are VERY involved processes. To the “many people outside of the bridal industry who read my blog”, these arguments may appear credible. Despite the political travesty we have been watching on TV over the past few months being passed off as debates, the actual art of debating is quite a stimulating endeavor, and a good debater can choose either side of the concept - and "argue" it convincingly. But Paloma Blanca designs 2 collections per year so my "side" on this debate was chosen for me long before dinner in Chicago, so here goes...
The most important variable in this equation has been overlooked in this discussion thus far… WE ARE IN THE FASHION BUSINESS!
Most ready-to-wear companies come out with 4-5 lines a year… why? Because the world of fashion is in a never-ending state of flux, and changes constantly. Last month’s hot look can be gone overnight, depending on "who wore what (and whom)" at the Academy Awards Gala. Who could have possibly foreseen the trend towards low, sexy backs 3 years ago, but it started on the catwalks in Europe one season, and the next thing you knew 1 out of every 3 brides walked into your store wanting this look. Who could have predicted the wave of talented Israeli designers like Galia Lahav and Berta who have left their imprint on this season's collections... with their plunging necklines, exotic beaded laces, and the focus on the "derrière"?
My point is that when a designer comes out with only one line per year, and a new trend becomes relevant shortly after their collection is "finished"… they are screwed. More importantly, as a storeowner who just ordered 18 samples for the new season - none of which incorporate this brand new design trend... you the storeowner are screwed as well. With some "one line per year companies", it could be as long as 18 months before you receive your next set of samples with this “missing look”! What if the trend was short lived, and by the time those samples ordered with last year's hot trend come in - said hot trend is passé, only to be replaced by the "next" big thing?
What I am saying here is that we all have to be nimble and quick on our feet. Bridal fashion pivots on a dime, and a resource that gives you the opportunity to look at new fashion every 6 months just offers you SO much more flexibility to help you capitalize on this ever changing world of fashion.
Now Paloma Blanca is by no means the only company that still makes 2 lines per year, but being one of the few companies left that make their products ENTIRELY in their own factory in Canada (and not in China) - allows it to be significantly more nimble than almost all of our competitors. I have been at a sales meeting in Toronto 5 days before the photo shoot (where for all intents and purposes - the line is “set”), and it was decided that a good dress needed a fabric change, or a neckline adjustment, and Marty's answer was "No problem... we'll make up a new sample in the next few days and it will be ready for the photo shoot”! This kind of last second adjustment to fashion is virtually unheard of in the world of bridal, and is just one of the many reasons why we are such a "special" company (see my blog post of March 27, 2015 titled “Investing in Bridal” for more specifics).
Sales consultants can get "tired" of showing the same dresses week after week (and month after month), and having a fresh grouping of dresses coming in every 6 months can re-energize a sales floor, as well as staying current with what your brides are seeing in the magazines, on social media, and in other stores from other designers.
So when I meet with you this season and you contemplate telling me “how much you like the fact that Xxxxxx and Yyyy Yyyyy only require you to order once a year”, I’d be happy to propose the following… "If you'd like to order 12 dresses today from this season’s collection and then skip next season I'd be more than willing to write your order. I'll even spread out the delivery of those 12 samples over an extended period, and offer you some dating to help you pay for your samples”. This is the way you HAVE to do it from these "one line per year companies". But why you would prefer that buying pattern, as opposed to picking your absolute favorite 6 gowns from the new collection now (see the Paloma Blanca and Mikaella Bridal collages above); getting them on your racks in time for your Spring brides - and then look at another 15 brand new styles in 6 months and pick your other 6 samples from next season’s collection would be a mystery to me. Some of these “one line per year companies” are great, and I am by no means suggesting that you not buy from them. I am only suggesting that you take advantage of the fact that Paloma Blanca DOES design 2 collections per year for your benefit, and act accordingly.
During dinner, the debaters who “took the other side” of this concept made some strong points in defense of their companies, and I respect that. In the end, only the reader can decide who won the "debate".