Sadly, Sheffield saw the closure of another bridal boutique last week, that’s 2 in the last month, 4 that I know of (one trading for 25 years and another for 15 in the UK and that clearly doesn’t account for the boutiques I don’t even know exist)… It evokes worry in the industry, bridal is small, we all know of each other, some of us speak regularly from Brighton to Aberdeen so when big and established names close their doors, we all think “What the hell went wrong?”
Are less people getting married? Are there too many shops? Are labels saturated? Do you buy a replica on-line? Or use shops as a ‘try on’ space to get the experience then buy 2nd hand? Do you just get fed up as a retailer? Do you run out of money? Does someone new come along? Face too many hurdles or simply lose interest?
Putting it all out there, The White Room is my labour of love. It has to be because for all the beautiful decor, stunning gowns, attentive service and city centre location it sure is hard work! I have worked my ass off for 2.5 years. I have lived, breathed and dreamt bridal. I worked 56 Saturday’s in a row. I burnt out and simply couldn’t get the work/life balance. We then hired Georgia. My wonderful husband has supported us financially so I can plough every penny we make in to making sure The White Room looks, feels and is as amazing as I always wanted it, and for that I will be forever grateful. I am not even making close to what I was when I was employed, my designers ensure to that by asking us to re-invest in samples annually, as does my continual strive for brilliance, making new things, investing in adverts, shows, new designs and concepts. It doesn’t end, so really, if you don’t love it, it sure as hell won’t love you back.
When we planned The White Room, you wouldn’t be to blamed in thinking we were bonkers. The UK was crawling out of a recession, banks didn’t even give us the time of day (thank you Barclay’s!) and we had to beg, steal and borrow to be able to turn around a dilapidated Grade II shop space in Sheffield and afford a few dresses to put in it! We were faced with the ‘minimum expectations’ from the designers in regards to how many samples they wished us to buy (at least 8 each!) and add to that the set up costs of the space, marketing and website, we were soon looking a £50K plus…
Then you have the day to day running, the rent, the brilliant thing the council call ‘rates’ (council tax to you and I) – this is around £1000 a month (yes, really!) and all the little things you have to factor in to make the business work, phone, chip and pin, carrier bags, bon bons (you girls eat lots!) VAT (20%, thank you Mr Government), staff… and then we have to still be on top of our game to make you, the bride, want to be part of our gang!
And I imagine that is the part where businesses fail? No one wants to play in your shop any more, you don’t want to try the dress on that your best mate did in 2009 nor do you want fake sales patter from someone who still thinks Princess Diana’s dress was crease free. You don’t want to try on another lace fishtail or have someone dwindle away your individuality by styling you the same as they did 5 years ago and God forbid, bring out the Taffeta…You have to be excited by this industry, you have to take risks. You have to buy what you like, know your bride, keep up to date, engage in social media, relate to the woman who is in her underwear about to put on the most expensive piece of clothing she’s worn and is shitting herself that her mum won’t like it. You have to look good. Harsh but true. You have to work hard, really hard and when you miss lunch and have a bride still in a fitting 40 minutes after she should have left because her bridesmaid is stuck in traffic on the M1, you have to recognise how much that moment will mean to the both of them and your tea will have to go cold!
Obviously you need money to survive, so you do have to sell, but of course that is why you are there! It is a business, you make money by selling something, yes, its a wedding dress, not a car or a bag of crisps, but its still a transaction of money. Money you need to be there at 9.30am 6 days a week to be able to open the doors. Yet, I am a firm believer, you need more than that. You need passion, faith. You need to know that the crumbling building can be turned into something beautiful.
You have to be aware of your brides, what the hell you are doing in the industry, how you want to be perceived, who you stock, what brides want, how far you’re prepared to go. You have to ignore the 9 to 5 rule, that no longer exists. You have to be prepared for long hours, stressing about the exact length of hem you ordered and if that will be right when the brides gown arrives. You have to be prepared for putting 4 hours work, knowledge, style and charisma into an appointment, all for someone to buy 30 miles away cause there was a discount. You have to love the labels you hold and, most importantly, have them respect you. I know hand on heart, I need help, I hope mine will back me because I work hard for them. You have to be aware people will copy your boutique, wallpaper, logo, website and then you have to dig deeper to re-invent yourselves. You have to know you won’t please everyone who walks in the door, but you’ll give it a damn good go!
So, why do I do it? I do all of that because I love it! I love walking in to my boutique and saying Hi to my ladies (gowns!). I love that sense of pride when I hear how brilliant we are, that I have given someone a job and inspired her to love bridal too:
“This was my first bridal gown experience and wasn’t sure of what to expect….it was more than I could have ever hoped for!! Georgia put me at ease instantly, walked me through the gowns and made some really great suggestions, taking on board my preferences and dislikes. She was friendly and informative, and made the experience a pleasure. Being the first shop I have looked in, I have been in a further 3 stores and none have matched up to The White Room”
I’m deviating away, but I guess my main point is this. Bridal will (I don’t think, ask me when I retire) make you a millionaire because the money you have to spend to offer the environment that brides expect to buy in, the gowns they need to see to select the elusive one, the staff and extras you have to provide will rarely be less than your intake from selling those gowns. That is the industry we are in. It is intensive, with high expectations from everyone who crosses the threshold. There is fierce competition coming in from every angle, Davids Bridal, TK Maxx, Online China stores ripping off designers for £300… So, you have to love what you do because if you don’t fight for it, the competition will win.
Maybe after 5 years, 500 brides, dresses made wrong, couriers loosing gowns, a new boutique poaching your designers, no free weekends, 10pm finishes, difficult mothers, cancelled weddings, samples which don’t ever attract a bride to buy and lack of love then it is time to call it a day? Or maybe you just decide you want a quiet life?!
I can’t even begin to imagine how those boutiques who closed are feeling. Maybe it was a choice, maybe it wasn’t – no one can say. However, I wish them a peaceful and dignified end to their reign. It’s the right thing to do, if you’re failing, bail out. Don’t flog something that you no longer love because, if you love something when the joy has gone, it sure as hell won’t love you back and no bride, no matter how amazing the wallpaper will thank you for being dress-less 6 weeks before their wedding…