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…