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".