It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve sent out an email and over a month since my last blog post, so I decided to sit down today and try to continue to stay “connected” with my stores (and the industry I love) via a new blog post. It’s so hard to get a good sense of where things stand right now, especially since “things” are so different in different territories of the country. I have spoken to several stores earlier this week and here is the consensus:
You are way past being bored and would love to open tomorrow if the law allows. But…
You are still very concerned about your own health, your employees' health, and your customers’ health. But…
You can’t afford financially to stay closed much longer. But…
You want to open safely and have it make sense financially.
You have been keeping busy communicating with current and future brides, tracking orders that are due in soon, general store housekeeping, applying for and accounting for loans and government programs... whilst doing your best to continue to market your business in preparation for the soft opening. And yet…
This is exactly the opposite of what comes naturally to you which is opening your doors every morning, mingling with employees and brides, and selling wedding dresses. It’s hard to make sense of it all.
So what does the future really hold for all of us? I’m an optimist and a realist so here’s my take:
I expect that most stores (even in The Northeast) will be partially open within the next 2 weeks but there could be some pockets which extend out even longer. Even when stores open it will not be at full capacity; from an employee standpoint nor from a customer standpoint. Stores may choose to limit how many days of the week they are open, and try to rotate the employees who are willing to start working - to give their staff an opportunity to earn a paycheck.
Brides will have been stuck at home for 3 months, and they are going to be rushing in as weddings approach. They are going to need things quickly, be willing to buy off of the rack, and will be less likely to travel long distances… nor feel the need to visit 5 or more shops to make a decision. There will be many opportunities for quick decisive shopping, but there may also be some price resistance to higher tickets with uncertainty about future earnings.
This rush of business will be an adrenaline rush, and a much needed cash influx; and selling dresses off of the rack is rarely a bad thing. But…
At some point these quick sales and sample selling are going to lead to a situation where you may not have enough of the “right” dresses on your racks, especially when fashion changes so quickly. And everyone will not be getting married this fall so there will still be plenty of time for many brides to shop discriminately, and be comfortable waiting for a special order. And yet...
It is possible that the pandemic will see a spike this fall/winter, and it is even possible that there could be additional shutdowns mandated by the government before this is “over”. And how does one define “over” anyway. Until there is a vaccine (which looks like next year at the earliest) we are living in a new normal. Most of us will be wearing masks whenever we go out for the foreseeable future, and that includes working in and shopping at a bridal store.
At the end of the day, a return to a "new normal" will be dictated far more by the comfort level of individual shoppers than by either what business owners want nor what the government dictates.
I’ve spent the last "600 words" talking about your side of the business and rightly so. As difficult as it is for the manufacturer and the sales rep, I feel for you guys and wish I could do more. But this is tough on our side as well. How do we move forward with such uncertainty? Do we design a new line for Spring 2021 or just “roll over” the Fall 2020 line into Spring? What do we do about markets? My guess is that trade shows will be one of the last things to be allowed to return, and it’s conceivable that the next market will be AFTER there is a vaccine. Now you obviously can’t wait that long to replenish your stock so how do we best mimic the “normal” buying experience. Will you be comfortable having a sales rep visit your store working with folders and swatches and iPads that were being worked with in another store just yesterday - or even earlier the same day? Does working virtually through email and dropbox images - and zoom meetings make more sense for the near future? I realize I have posed more questions than answers but...
The bottom line is that I’m just as bored as you are, and my income has been drastically effected as well. I want to get back to work just as much as my bosses do, and as you do. How and when is the question I am grappling with. Several of my stores have already written their orders for the season, and the reaction to the new product has been excellent. The images I have are crystal clear, and Paloma Blanca and Mikaella even produced video fashion shows to help you compensate for the lack of a "live" experience at a market.
My companies have been preparing for the reopening, and it is really only a few weeks after NY market would have ended - when the majority of my stores' orders get placed. Even orders placed in early to mid June will arrive in your store in plenty of time for the selling season. And I’ve always prided myself in being flexible - this season will be no different.
My plan is to re-send all of the information you will need to review the collections next week, and then to begin to reach out to you - giving priority to the areas that re-opened the earliest. Should you be ready to speak to me before I contact you, feel free to reach out. Until then stay positive and keep seeing what I’m seeing - The Light at The End of The Tunnel.
If it isn’t obvious how fast things are changing, ponder this… I usually write 3-4 blogs a year and this is my third post in 3 weeks! It has gone from “No Chicago - See you in NY” to “No Markets - See you in the Store” to “My In-Store Visits are Cancelled for the Immediate Future” in a matter of days. Here is the latest chapter:
On Sunday at Noon my car was packed, I had 8 appointments in New England for the upcoming week, and I had all intentions of leaving Monday morning for my first sales trip of the season. At 8PM I had a frank phone conversation with my son Andrew, who respectfully questioned my plan to leave home. I have always encouraged my sons to speak their minds with me, and he “made the case” for delaying the trip. After a sleepless night I awoke the next morning with some clarity:
Delaying my road trip was in the best interest of my safety of my customers, my personal safety, my family’s safety, and for the good of the country.
I immediately called both of my companies and explained my decision. I think I know my bosses very well, but one never really knows how an owner will react to something like this - considering that I have started my Fall road trip by the first week of March for 30 straight years. They totally understood my decision and were completely supportive, which meant a lot to me. As it turns out, my thoughts mirrored most bridal reps in the country; it seems that no one is on the road right now. In case I needed confirmation, I received cancellation emails from 5 of my 8 appointments by 10AM Monday morning…. before I even had a chance to cancel with them.
With the 2 phone calls out the way - I pondered: "now what?" My first inclination was to begin setting up phone meetings with some of my clients. I often work with a store over the phone using images and dropbox links so this is something I am quite used to. And then I took a step back. What was going on in the minds of my customers? These people have been my friends for many years and the news reports were alarming. I do have thoughts about what constitutes ethical journalism in a time of crisis, but that is a subject for another day. My accounts are smart people and it was obvious that the bridal business was changing by the hour. I decided that rather than try to make appointments, the “right” thing to do was to first contact as many stores as I could and try to get the pulse of where their heads were. I spent the past 2 days connecting with about 60 of the top stores in the Northeast - some by phone and others by text. It was quite an enlightening experience.
To summarize, most bridal stores in The Northeast are closed, or quasi open at best. To say they are alarmed is putting it mildly and many are down right scared - and I can’t say I blame them. So instead of calling for appointments I decided to first write this blog.
One of the first things I did when I started my career in bridal about 30 years ago was to design my business card, and I needed a “tagline” to define myself. I came up with:
I love my logo and have used it ever since. It is on my website, my letterhead, my newsletters, and in the signature of my emails - and I send a LOT of emails. If ever there was a time to live up to the “SUPPORT” part, it was now.
I pride myself in being an optimist and I am sure we are all going to get through this. What I can’t be sure of is when, but I do know that we all have to stick together and be strong until things get back to “normal” - AND THEY WILL! Until then I want you to know that I am here for you if you need me. Whether it’s a specific question about an order or a clarification of a company policy… or if you’d just like to chat about business in general (or even life), I am just a phone call or an email away.
Despite all the news right now I am choosing to look at things as follows:
Brides are not going to other stores right now to buy their gowns because any sane bride is sheltering in place, and there aren’t many open bridal stores for the “insane” brides to shop at anyway. This is not like a restaurant or a yoga studio, where a sale missed today is gone forever... and we should all be thankful for that. When some sense of normalcy and safety returns, the brides will be out en masse - and probably will want to shop local. They will be looking to you for the latest fashion, and you need to be able to show them dresses you are confident will arrive on time. They will probably be nervous, and close wear dates may be the norm for a while. Please know that Paloma Blanca and Mikaella can handle these tight wear dates, and Calla has a ton of hanging stock right now and an on-line portal where you can check real time inventory.
For another perspective on some specifics a store may want to consider for the short term, as well as his outlook for the future of the independent bridal store and the bridal industry at large, I am including a link below to a the March 19th post called "This Too Shall Pass" by Peter Grimes, the editor of Vows Magazine (See Below).
At some point soon it’s going to be time to start thinking about ordering new samples, but it isn’t today. Please know that when you are ready I am prepared. And my companies are prepared. I have dropbox links, e-catalogs, and pdfs of all of my new collections. I will have a video by early next week of Paloma Blanca and Mikaella’s new collections on live models, with motion and closeups. I am becoming an expert with Zoom, and feel confident that we can work together this season through a video conference, should face-to-face meetings be avoided for a little while longer.
I have had a few stores already reach out to me this week. They are “stuck” at home waiting things out with time on their hands… and would like to use the time to begin working on their orders. I have sent them the images and early reaction is that the new collections are very strong. If/when you find yourself in a similar mindset, please contact me and I will get some things sent over to you. In the meantime I will do my best to keep you updated with general information and things specific to my companies. Should you wish to speak to me before I next contact you - I am but a phone call, text, or email away.
I will close by saying that The Bridal Industry is strong and as Peter says: “Bridal retail is uniquely positioned to survive, based primarily on its fundamental ability to adapt…”. In the meantime please take care of you and your loved ones and stay safe and healthy,
A lot has changed in the 10 days since my last post, so I am choosing to write another one. There is always so much going on at the start of a new season anyway, and I am using this blog in lieu of my standard “Intro email for the season”…where I update my stores on what is new and important for the upcoming season.
News travels fast in the Bridal Industry so I’m sure you have heard by now that the Chicago Bridal Market was cancelled for the F20 Season. I have been to 2 Chicago shows a year for the past 25 years and it’s inconceivable that there would be a season without Chicago but…. While I have NO firsthand knowledge, my “guess” is that the NY Show will be cancelled as well, so everything that follows in predicated on the idea that this will be the first season in “forever” without any bridal markets. It’s not really bad, it’s just different.
I usually see about 2/3 my accounts on the road and the rest at market so my road trip will be extended significantly. I actually prefer the “one on one” nature of an in-store meeting anyway, as it allows a little more time to go over things than is possible in the hustle/bustle of a market setting. If you are used to placing your order with me in the store - it will be “business as usual”.
If you are accustomed to attending a market and prefer to see the dresses live I understand why, and wish I could offer you an alternative. That being said, the majority of my stores buy from pictures and there are never any issues. Both of my companies supply me the nicest sales folders in our industry, and I have swatches for EVERY new dress - including the lace and beading patterns. As Marty often says: “Our dresses are way nicer in person. If you like it in the photo you will LOVE it when it comes in!” To further allay any concerns… should you receive a dress that you are unhappy with and feel it was one you would not have chosen if you saw it on a body… I will exchange it for you no questions asked. That goes for Paloma Blanca/Mikaella and JTAA Fashions (Calla Blanche, L'amour Bridal, and La Perle). It’s like an insurance policy against a “bad decision” on a dress.
The bottom line is that if there is no market, we need to either work with an in-store appointment - or we can do it through email, website, and e-catalog. My preference is to see you in your store. Should I be wrong about NY Market and it does happen, you may review and change anything that was previously written at the show.
To help you prepare for our meeting, here are a few things to consider:
PALOMA BLANCA AND MIKAELLA
Paloma and Mikaella gowns are manufactured entirely in their own factory in Toronto Canada, are we are virtually unaffected by what is going on in China. We can do any style, and color, any size in 10 weeks with NO rush fee and significantly less than that if need be.
Paloma Blanca and Mikaella announced yesterday that there will no longer (effective April 15th) be ANY uncharge for our large sizes through size 22. That goes for reorders as well as any stock pieces you place with me (even if it is before April 15th). I think this makes us a very important resource for your plus-size bride.
Several of the new pieces incorporate some embroidered words and sayings, and many of these can be customized by your bride. There are also new veil packages that have customization options. We can discuss the details when we meet.
JTAA FASHION DESIGN
Calla Blanche has introduced a new division called La Perle. It is chic, outdoorsy, and whimsical. There is a real need in the market for these types of fashion forward designs - and ours are at a more modest price point (and with a great markup).
Calla Blanche and L’amour factories are up to full speed after the Chinese New Year, and there has been NO change in our regular delivery schedule. Rushes are still available and we have a ton of dresses in stock. The on-line portal is available 24/7 for you to check hanging stock, as well as incoming production.
The new collections are gorgeous (particularly Calla), and early indication is that Julia did a great job with La Perle.
I sent out e-catalogs and price lists for all of the collections last week. Many of my stores review these with their staff to prepare for my visit. If you need me to re-send any, just let me know.
I can’t really call everyone in the next few days and I know how busy you are. My hope is that this blog post updates and informs you about my companies, programs, and policies and what’s new and important for the F20 season. I’d be happy to chat with you at any time should you like to discuss the season. The bottom line is that I have 2 great companies with completely different looks, and I feel I have something to offer every store in my territory.
I will be contacting you shortly to set up an appointment. As always…feel free to contact me at any time you have a question about my collections. Be safe out there.
It’s only been 2 weeks since my last post but it was 9 months before that so…
Relatively speaking, very few people read my blogs. I’ve been writing for years now (30 or more issues of my Grass Clippings Paper Newsletter and about 20 blog posts) and I do enjoy it. The purpose of my writing is many facetted. Sometimes it gives me a chance to express myself and “get stuff out”. Other times it allows me to reflect on my life (and it’s blessings). Occasionally it lets me pontificate on things that interest me, including mindfulness, health of mind and body, charity, etc. And sometimes it allows me to express proudly (hopefully not brag) about my sons - and the family Carol and I have built and nourished. And hopefully it informs the reader about my take on the world of bridal and bridal retailing - an industry that I love and have worked in for over 30 years. At the very least, I hope my writing gets the reader to think a little, and reflect on what is on my mind.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this particular article as it touches on a complicated issue, and it’s important to me to maintain my positive approach to life - and what lies ahead. The coronavirus is a very serious issue that we all should be thinking about. I have no doubt that this pandemic will be “in the past” at some point soon… and that things will get back to “normal”. The questions are: “How long will it take?” and “What will things be like until it’s over?”
From an overall perspective this effects people lives, their health, and that of their families. It is a “world” problem. I firmly believe that if you remove the governments (and maybe the religious institutions) from the equation, that people are basically the same all over. North Korea (just as an example) is a terrible place to live but the North Korean people themselves are very much like us. Their lives and health are no less important than ours and I feel for them and worry about them as fellow human beings. As of today there are very few cases of the virus in the US and I am thankful for that. But the number will probably go up before it comes down and there could be some short term effect on how we need to live our lives - depending on where in the country we live.
But this a bridal blog. Our industry is in fine shape and we should be approaching this from a “business as usual” standpoint. Girls are going to continue getting married and the large majority of bridal gowns are still being purchased in brick and mortal bridal stores. That being said… most bridal gowns are made in China and China is the country that has been hardest hit so far - by far. New brides are going to be walking into your store every day and they probably will have questions. So you need to be prepared. A candid conversation with all of your suppliers is appropriate (and necessary); you need to know that the dresses you already have on order for your brides will arrive as promised… and certainly “in time”. Almost as important is what about new special orders placed today. While I can only directly speak to the effects (or lack thereof) on my lines… it is obvious that several manufacturers ARE being affected. Some have increased their lead times substantially, and some have eliminated rush service. There is even talk of companies “suspending” the acceptance of new orders until further notice. As is always the case…you and your staff must be prepared to know what you can show your brides depending on their wear date - and promise them (with confidence) that their dream dress will be in when you say it will.
To further cloud the waters, things are very “fluid” in China right now and can change quickly. Hopefully vendors will begin to return to their normal lead times very soon. But things may also get worse before they get better, and this information is vital to your day-to-day operations. An open line of communication is critical.
Here is the latest information I have:
Paloma Blanca and Mikaella Bridal have experienced no issues. They manufacture 100% of their garments in their factory in Toronto, Canada - and continue to offer 10 week delivery (if needed) on special orders with no rush fee, and can still accommodate rush orders in as little as 6 weeks (and in most cases sooner).
As of today - Calla Blanche and L'amour Bridal are are on regular shipping schedules; 16 weeks for a regular special order and 12 weeks with a $100 rush fee. (I even requested a $250 super rush for a store today and was given a 2 week ship date.)
Both company’s Fall 2020 Collections have been designed and photographed... and are on schedule to be launched well before the Chicago Market on March 15th.
As a new season approaches let's all be optimistic. Even though it is Fall… tons of brides are going to be shopping this summer and will expect the latest fashion from you. My new collections offer that and more (see below). They offer products you can count on for quality, value, AND on-time shipping. Being a bridal retailer is tough enough without this added stress but the coronavirus is real and we must deal with it. I assure you that I will be honest and open with all of you - and notify you should anything “change”.
I pray for continued health for everyone and a speedy recovery to anyone affected by this. We are all one village…
Its been a while since my last blog post and my life has been busy. Mostly good stuff - but not all. The sad thing first:
One of my dearest friends in the whole world Steve Blumberg passed away on Thanksgiving evening after a long battle with his health. I’d been friends with Steve for almost 50 years and he was a groomsman in my wedding. He lived with me in my first house away from my parents, and we lived together in various locations until I married Carol. Steve worked at both of my furniture stores in the “first half” of my business career. He decided to change careers shortly after I did, and we worked together in the bridal industry for over 20 years; until he retired in 2017. Everyone who knew Steve loved him; he was well respected in the industry by his accounts, his fellow sales reps, and the designers he worked for. He was a true family man, and was most proud of his 2 sons Matt and Michael, and his 2 grandchildren. His sons took charge near the end and made some difficult decisions that young men shouldn’t have to make. He "cared" for his wife Gigi who had MS for over 25 years, and cooked all of the meals. He LOVED to cook!
I was able to spend some quality time with Smokey in the last few months - driving him to treatments and doctors’ appointments; he’s always been Smokey to me and his close friends (he was nicknamed Smokey in grade school - after the Pittsburgh Pirates’s catcher Smokey Burgess). He never lost his great sense of humor, and I treasure the memories of the last times we spent in the car together - reliving all of the good (and crazy) times we’d had. You could write a book of "Smokey stories". I spent Thanksgiving afternoon with him as well, and while unconscious… I hope he heard my side of our final “conversation”. I loved him like a brother as did Carol; she was his favorite Grass. He will be sorely missed.
Continuing the circle (backwards), I attended 3 weddings in the last few months. Amanda Moreadith (my co-worker and Fred’s daughter) was married in October in Hershey, PA and the wedding was beautiful. She wore 2 different Paloma Blanca gowns (OF COURSE) and rocked them both.
I also attended my first destination wedding in Jamaica in December. Not only was it enlightening from a business sense, but it was a great excuse to get out of the cold. The son of a very close friend since high school Mike Margolis (and best friends with Steve) was the groom, and I can see why destination weddings have become so popular - the wedding was very cool. Some of Steve’s friends were there as well, and it was cathartic to laugh and tell “Smokey stories" on the beach for a few days. In late December Steve’s son Matt was married in Philadelphia. It was an emotional day for all, especially Gigi. Steve had so hoped to be able to “make it” to the wedding but…
Completing the circle (backwards again), my 3rd son Dan and Rebecca has their first child Noah Jacob Grass in January. Momma and baby are doing fine, and Dan is already learning how to be a great father (no surprise there). Noah is our 5th grandchild and we are now 15 people during family get-togethers. The Grass Family is truly blessed.
Life is a gift and we should all take time to marvel at “The Circle of Life”. Rest In Peace Steve.
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!"