In My Humble Opinion

hgrass by hgrass @
It’s the day before my favorite holiday, and most bloggers are probably “scrambling” to finish their Thanksgiving Blog.  Seeing how my last few posts talk about all I that have to be thankful for (Career, Family, Namesake, Health, etc) – I’ve decided to go in another direction and tell you a story…

It’s almost a year now since I started my Private Facebook Group Grass Clippings by Howard Grass, and I really am not even sure where the idea came from.  I knew Social Media had "arrived", but Facebook was really not "my thing".  I guess I'm just too private of a person, and still prefer the phone if I really care to interact with someone.  I use a ton of email in communicating with my stores (although email is often overused in areas where a phone call is a better medium), and anyone who knows me knows how often I still use "snail mail" - whether it's a Newsletter, a Thank You Card, or a Holiday Greeting.

But Facebook is here to stay, and it may have been my friend Laura (when we were brainstorming about my new website) who mentioned that there was such a thing as a "Private Facebook Group", and that it might help supplement my newsletter Grass Clippings to stay in touch with my stores.  And so Grass Clippings by Howard Grass on Facebook was born.  

I have to admit that I envisioned the group as a kind of business self-promotion, but it really has morphed into something beyond that.  Since only bridal and social occasion storeowners are allowed to join, it has really ended up more as a "safe haven" for stores to connect with one another.  I rarely post anything about my lines, but do occasionally "share" something newsworthy to our industry - or something interesting to me that relates to business in general.

Formalwear storeowners have so much in common, and since it is such a unique subset of the world of retail, their problems and concerns are unique.  I love it when someone starts a thread on a particular problem they've encountered, and then see 20 - 30 comments from other stores who "chime in".  Sometimes its a great idea on how to handle a specific situation, and sometimes its just an "aha moment" when people get to laugh at the brides (or even at themselves) on what it takes to run a bridal store.  My sense is that a camaraderie has developed between the group members who have become quite friendly, despite having never really "met".  My decision to not allow other sales reps or owners from other companies to join does seem to make people feel "safe" about speaking their mind.

But something happened early this season that was totally unexpected, and it is what leads me to my story.  Without getting too specific (you should join the group and read the whole thread - its worth the price of admission)… Kay - a woman who owned a store in my territory and whom I am very fond of had something tragic happen to her; and I ended up being involved in her life for a short period of time.  She lost her husband suddenly and totally unexpectedly, to a massive heart attack while they were on a business trip together.  She has 2 young children and decided that she needed to stop being a bridal storeowner, either by selling the store (her preference) or by closing it if she couldn't find a buyer.  Now anyone who has ever “wanted out” knows how difficult it is to sell a store in this business climate, and the chance that she would both find someone interested AND have the financial means to purchase her store were slim at best.   Especially since she wanted to get out so quickly so that she could begin the next phase of her life, which was putting her family "back together" and beginning to heal.

This story does have a "happy" ending (although Kay may question my use of the word "happy").  Kay was one of the first members of the group, and initially she used it as a place where she felt "safe" in talking about her grief.  The outpouring of support and compassion she received from so many group members warmed my heart; she got tons of advise on selling the store right in the forum, and my take was there were many additional private messages, texts, and phone call behind the scenes as well; both with advice on areas of concern in the transaction, as well as some phone calls "just calling to see how you are holding up".

I'm happy to say that Kay posted in the forum last Wednesday evening announcing that she had found a buyer, had closed on the sale that afternoon, and was no longer a bridal store owner, which although bittersweet was what she felt was best for her family.  She is a very good writer (many artistic people are), and her posts were touching.  I am including an excerpt of the posts below, and encourage you to read the whole thread on Facebook.  She thanked everyone in the group for their help and support, and wished everyone in the group "all the best".  There were many subsequent follow-ups to her post with heartfelt warm wishes from other group members, and they brought a tear to the eye of this group moderator.  Partly for the sadness that Kay still has to deal with, but equally for the sheer outpouring of humanity that "my" group showed throughout Kay's ordeal.    

And lets face it.... read the papers any day of the week and its pretty obvious that the world could use a little outpouring of humanity.  So I want to publicly thank my group members for what they did for Kay.  Some members post more than others and that is fine.  As administrator of the group I do "see" how many people actually followed Kay's story by either reading it or posting to it, and it became the most "followed" story all year.  The group is only as good as its members.  They made a real difference in the life of a friend, and they should all be very proud of themselves.  I certainly am proud of them, and of the little “family” that has blossomed here.

So in closing, I want to extend an invitation to all of the stores out there who are not yet members of the group to please join.  Click here to send me a short message, and I will email you a link to join.   I assure you it will be both informative and entertaining.  And to Kay from all of the members of Grass Clippings… “We wish you all the best in the next chapter in your life, and hope that you keep in touch and let us know how you are doing”.

Peace, love, and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Kay Bigelow Kirkland
November 19th at 7:30 PM

As of 4:15 today, I no longer own The Paisley Bride. I had settlement & then had a good cry. This marks just another thing gone from my life since the very sudden and unexpected death of my husband, Dwight.
Not sure if I should be happy or sad, but I will say that I am grateful to have sold my business instead of the nightmare of trying to close it. But still, it was hard to walk away from all that I have worked so hard for.
I want to publicly thank Howard Grass…. He and I go back a long, long way. His professionalism goes without saying. More importantly, his kindness is above measure.
Dwight and I were at market and spoke with Howard mere hours before his passing. Howard has been in constant contact since..not just as my rep, but as my friend. I appreciate it more than you will ever know.
So to all of my colleagues out there, both known and in cyber land, I wish you all the best.
Kay Kirkland
The Paisley Bride

Kay Bigelow Kirkland‪
Thank you all. This has been one of the hardest things I've ever been through. My heart is broken and life is so very different. Just trying to find my way. It helps to know people care. What a wonderful group you are‬
November 20 at 7:59pm · Like · 2‬
hgrass by hgrass @
One of advantages in having your own blog is you get to “say” what’s on your mind, and I will attempt to do that without offending anyone.  

My accountant told me a long time ago - "If you put 10 business owners in a room together, they will all argue that THEIR business is the toughest."  That being said... Retail is a very hard job (I’m an ex-retailer) - and the bridal business may be the most difficult of all retail businesses.  And it seems to only be getting tougher.  I have relationships with most of the top bridal stores in The Northeast and I hear it all the time: "The brides are getting more difficult every day.  They are so demanding, and expect a "deal" on everything."  The demanding part is a sign of the times, and is by no means exclusive to bridal.  Walk around a grocery store and listen to how parents speak to their children (and vice versa), and its no surprise that there is little respect for a store owner, her staff, or her property - or for elders in general.  But the "deal" part is something quite different...

The Internet is here to stay, and brides are much more informed shoppers than they ever were.  As opposed to 25 years ago when I started in this business, Bridal Magazines are becoming less relevant; brides-to-be are far more likely to walk into a store with printouts from designers' websites than with torn out pages from a magazine.   An educated consumer is not a bad thing, especially if you have quality sales consultants who know how to turn the preconceptions of what a bride "thinks she wants to wear", into what she REALLY wants to wear (and that you carry). LOL

Where it gets a little dicey however is with price - and how that relates to the world of e-commerce.  Pick a line: A & B, C. D. Bridal, E and F Couture .... - chances are you can buy it on line from an e-commerce website.  An MSRP set by the designer to “support” their retail partners?  Meaningless when the collection is available on line.  What bride in her right mind would buy a bridal gown from a website for the same price that she could get it from your beautiful salon and its knowledgeable staff, with all of it’s full service amenities?  The answer - "she's NOT paying the same price".  I don't care what the posted price on the website might be, all it takes is a quick email to the e-commerce site to find out what the "real/best" price would be, and your sale is lost.  The brides these days have no compunction about booking an appointment in your salon, "wasting" 2 hours of your consultant's time to find their dream dress (AND the size she would need to order), thanking you for your time, and then running out to the car to order it from HXXXE of BRXXXS on her cell phone.  And if you're lucky.... she may even have the gall to tell you that's exactly what she plans on doing as she thanks you for your time and leaves the salon.  An easy business....  hardly!

And speaking of "ordering it from a cell phone", don't these designers have any pride in their brand.  They spend all of their time, energy (and money) to build their name into something "special", and then make it available on every schlocky website run by <<pick a name>> and his wife from a desk in the corner of their kitchen... but I digress.  

Now don't get me wrong; this is America and I believe in the free enterprise system.  There are some very professionally run e-commerce bridal sites out there, and they have every right to choose their business model and run their business any way they see fit.  All I’m saying is that you have just as much right to choose who you do business with, and you DO have choices.

There ARE designers out there that do not allow their brand to be sold on line, and I am proud to say that Paloma Blanca and Mikaella are one (two) of them - and there are others.  I love it when I hear the following from a store owner:

Howard, I called the owner of XXXX last week because I had enough of this bullshit about them selling to all of the e-commerce sites.  The answer I got from him was "I know it makes it hard for my brick and mortar stores, but I do so much business with these sites that I just can't stop working with them".


Trust me, when Marty made his decision 5 years ago to stop allowing ANY of our gowns to be sold anywhere in the world on line, we lost accounts that did big business with us - and some of them were in my territory.  But you either support the full service bridal store or you don't – it’s as simple as that.  Kind of like "being pregnant" - you either are or you're not!

Now I’m not suggesting that any store should totally eliminate these lines that work with these websites, but you will limit your frustration if you limit the number of them that you carry.  Hell… the 4 or 5 biggest “culprits” all look pretty much the same and are all in the same general price range.  And don’t be afraid to tell your sales reps and the owners (if you can get them to take your calls) what you think about this.  We do live in a democracy and we should celebrate our freedom of speech.

If I go missing in the next few weeks, you’ll be sure to know where to point the finger

In addition, don't shy away from explaining to your brides the pitfalls of buying their gown on line.  Who's going to alter it?  What happens if it comes in wrong - or needs last minute repairs?  And don't apologize that your price is higher than the websites...celebrate it!  Explain why it's worth every penny of the few extra hundred dollars you charge, and why they'd be a damn fool to deal with anyone else (especially someone they can't even look in the eye to decide whether they'll "be there for them" on their special day - if need be.  

I know... It's easy for me to stand on my soapbox and preach - I don't have to deal with the brides day in and day out (and I'm thankful for that).  Like I said, "What you do isn't easy”, and I have the upmost respect for all of you.  But you do have choices, especially in your business partners.  Choose wisely.  IMHO…

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