As couples are faced with rescheduling weddings or re-imagining their big days, we reached out to a few bridal shop owners around the state to see how they and their couples are doing.
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Here’s what owner Belle Manjong had to say:
Q: How has COVID-19 affected your business?
A: The crisis has impacted us in that we can no longer maintain consistent open hours. In order to better manage, we are now strictly by appointments. In the past, we served walk-ins if we were not busy assisting other brides. The crisis has also affected us in that we’ve had to reduce the number of appointments we take at a given time and stagger them so that the space does not have a high number of people. Doing so provides our brides and clients with the comfort to engage in the experience and maintain physical/social distance.
We are also very cautious, and we are prioritizing health and sanitation with regard to how all activities in the boutique are conducted. We request that a bride-to-be brings a maximum of two guests (three people total including the bride) to style appointments. Both the bride and her guests are asked to wear masks. Also, brides and guests are given disinfectant wipes to clean their hands upon entry into the boutique. Everything is wiped down after appointments.
It was always important before, and it’s now imperative, that the brides bring with them their own strapless nude bra and seamless foundational undergarments. We used to keep spares to help brides who forgot, but we will no longer be offering those.
Q: How are you handling fittings on previously sold dresses?
A: We have moved appointments around to make it as convenient for brides as possible. We schedule pickups for brides at their convenience and make sure that we conduct the pickup within CDC/WHO guidelines with regard to interaction. The only two brides whose alterations we could not rearrange were out of state. We were able to find someone close to them to perform their alterations.
Q: Are you seeing any cancellations or change of gown? Why?
A: We have not had any cancellations on orders, but we have had brides call to indicate that their weddings have been postponed to a later date. Those brides have been requesting that we hold their gowns until they have more concrete plans. One bride went ahead with her wedding but kept it simple with just her, her fiance, their brothers and sisters, and the officiant; fewer than 10 people. They had their wedding in their home.
Q: What advice do you have for brides or bridesmaids?
A: Now more than ever, it is important to buy local so that you create an in-person relationship with the shop. Thay way the shop is available to speak with you and advise you. Even brides who purchased just over the border in Ohio or Virginia have had difficulty communicating with those bridal boutiques. I suspect that their state’s stay-at-home orders vary from West Virginia’s.
We have had a number of brides buy second dresses from us because the gown they ordered online would/did not arrive in time for their weddings. When some of the gowns that were purchased online did arrive, they did not fit as expected and many were of poor, poor quality. Eighty percent of wedding gowns are manufactured in China. We belong to the 20 percent of bridal shops that support U.S. designers as well as quality designers from Canada, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, and Australia.
Some of those brides whose dresses did not arrive were not issued refunds. Those who purchased from online vendors could not reach the vendors for assistance or refunds. Those online vendors whose phones did ring had really long wait times, and answers were not forthcoming since everything and everyone was in crisis mode.
I would advise both brides and bridesmaids to do their research. Ask the boutique where their gowns are coming from, when the order is anticipated to arrive, and what the refund policy is in the event that the order for their purchase cannot be fulfilled. It is important to know what to expect and to trust the vendor from whom you are making the purchase.
If your wedding is between now and December 31, 2020, I would recommend purchasing showroom samples if the boutique is willing to part with their inventory. That way, you have your gown in-hand and you can take it to a local dry cleaner if it needs a refresh. This means that you will not have to worry about whether or not your gown will arrive on time, if at all. Also, if the gown has to be ordered, confirm when the gown is anticipated to arrive. Have it noted and printed on the receipt.
There will be increased demand for bridal appointments and alterations in the coming months. Book bridal style appointments as soon as possible. Also, book alterations appointments at the time of purchase—that way you don’t have to compete with other brides who are still in need of bridal style or alterations appointments. Something else to think about: The vast majority of people who do bridal alterations are older and therefore are in the high-risk category for contracting this virus. This means some alteration specialists may choose not to return to work. Or, they may return with very limited availability and flexibility in order to protect themselves. This will put even more pressure and demand on the options available to have alterations performed.
I would also recommend that, since things are in flux, it is important to be flexible. Try not to be stuck on one particular style of dress or designer. Keep your options open. Sometimes your perfect dress is just on the other side of the unexpected. You don’t want to limit yourself and be stuck on an unrealistic ideal that will leave you disappointed. Complementing that recommendation, avoid gowns that will require a lot of customization, as these often require more time. Time is truly a luxury these days. I would recommend that brides look at a gown as a whole and avoid nitpicking and making too many changes. It will also save money.
Q: How do you foresee this affecting you in the short-term and long-term?
A: We are fortunate to have grown into a new space that doubled in size from our previous location. We were known for large dressing rooms, and now we have even more spacious dressing rooms at 150 to 250 square feet. These fitting rooms will make it possible to maintain physical distance when doing stylings and fittings. I think physical distancing and heightened sanitization are here to stay.
Our stylists will continue to wear face masks and gloves. We will also ask our brides to come with face masks of their own until the curve has been flattened, the spread of the virus has been significantly reduced, and the CDC/WHO indicates that it is safe to do otherwise. Mandatory use of hand sanitizer and handwashing for both our team and brides will likely remain permanent moving forward. We were already cleaning after each appointment, and we are now deeply sanitizing every surface contact point after each appointment as if it is the end of the day.
Unfortunately, we will no longer serve our complimentary champagne and beverages during appointments. We are working to bring this back in the future by sourcing single-serve champagne beverages.
Q: Are you accepting new clients right now?
A: Yes, we are currently accepting new brides. We are also taking names and pre-booking appointments on a first-come, first-served basis for when the safer-at-home order is completely lifted. There is high demand, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that we will be able to meet the demand.
Q: How can people best support you right now?
A: Shopping local in brick and mortar bridal boutiques is the best support now and always. Booking appointments well in advance is helpful, too, so that the boutique remains well-positioned to continue serving brides and providing the highest level of service. Coming prepared for appointments with masks and proper foundational garments will also be incredibly helpful.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: We have picked up a brand new collection making its debut. It is by one of the great American bridal designers—Justin Alexander. The collection ADORE Justin Alexander will be in by the end of the month. We are one of the first boutiques in the world to carry ADORE. What is truly great about the collection is not just the great quality and cut of the gowns, but also the on-trend styles, as seen all over Pinterest. The price point is great, too, with dresses beginning at $900 and topping out around $1,500. This will be helpful to brides who have had to adjust their budgets because of this crisis. We are even better positioned to help them so that they have the bridal experience they planned to have without straining their budgets. We are really excited about the collection.
We also want people to know that our stylists and team members will be stringently trained on how to provide the same high-level service and experience while meeting recommended guidelines by CDC/WHO and other authorities.
If you are getting married within the next 12 months, buy your gown now. The health crisis is expected to return in the late fall and winter. Things will no doubt continue to be in flux, so do not lose the opportunity to get your gown without stress, without competition from other brides, and in a timely manner. You cannot put a price on peace of mind.