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Ask Jo: clearing old samples & hospitality during covid

This month Jo Stott answers your important retailer questions and gives her tips on clearing old samples & in store hospitality during covid.

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Dress Dreams Bridal - How do you successfully clear older samples?

We have some tried and tested methods however, the secret is to fall in love with our gowns quickly and back out of love just as quickly, knowing when to let them go.

Before I give you some of my inventory management tips, please remember that the skill of ensuring your store is full of gowns which create return on investment, begins at how well we buy our stock and understand our consumer and our brand.

Buying Well and Moving Inventory

Bridal is not the same as other retail businesses, however, it is based on the same principle, if you are not moving inventory at your bridal store, you are not making as much money as you could be. The economic process is simple in the retail industry. Inventory comes in and inventory goes out. Inactive inventory costs you money because you must store it and pay for it with no return.

As I said previously the key to our business is how we buy and how we merchandise. Consider which gowns are in demand and sell well for you, as you may want the updated version from the upcoming season. This type of buying helps greatly with minimums and ensures your hard-earned cash works well for the future. Buy wisely with an understanding that all gowns fit within a category of either:

  • Sell Strong (or)
  • Sell Off

We also buy to enhance our marketing and branding, so it is not black and white for us. The key is to have an inventory assessment tool which helps you to evaluate the performance of a gown, for example:

  • DM’s or web enquiries
  • Re-orders
  • Try on’s

I see our bridal businesses almost as two separate parts. The front of house (maximum hospitality and the beauty of our stores) and the back of house (our inspect and collect process). Regardless of either process all gowns need to be protected, organised and identifiable to optimise the business thoroughly.

Inventory Control and Intentional Move Out’s

Merchandising a saturated store is difficult compared to merchandising a strategically, perfectly purchased package of gowns. Understand how to evaluate gown performance, as mentioned, and keep in mind; what do you have too much of, what is not moving as well and what is stuck on your rail gathering cobwebs. You will know quickly enough which gowns are a bad buy and need to be sold off the rail before the return on investment expires or simply ‘the gown life span runs out’. Steps to control over saturation of inventory and intentional move out’s:

Use an ‘A, B & C’ quality analysis:

‘A’ quality inventory – best-selling gowns/’A’ class labels/newest collections/priority styles (remember if we prioritise everything then we prioritise nothing). These gowns require a monthly review, a 30-day performance of maximum marketing. A 90-day notice of has she made it into the fitting room. A 120-day evaluation, gown trends only go up and then back down they do not fluctuate as a rule, and then a 365 repair, replace, or remove.

‘B’ quality inventory – look at samples which are valuable but not top of trend (previous collections, not a top performer, not a key label, trends but not with a proven record for you). These gowns can be a variety of different sizes, of medium-priority stock, and usually should move in six months. These gowns still do well as they cover a 30% proportion of your need.

‘C’ quality inventory – these gowns are low-priority stock which should be moved off the rail. 30% of your gowns are ‘fill gowns’ which you sell off the rail at a reduced price. (This consumer wants a quick fix. If you understand your stock enough you will be able to recognise your ‘C’ quality inventory while buying and encourage sales asap back at store).

Other tips:

Sample rail: Ensure your everyday sample rail is clean, pristine, smart, and delightful. Ask your seamstress to fix up and patch small holes, add buttons that are missing and pretty-up hem trims, so your gowns look the best they can. Fresh sprays help. Plus, fix belts and straps and match them to the right gown to ensure the look is completed for your bride. I would say you should sell 2/3 or 3/4 gowns off your sample rail each month depending on the size of your store.

Exclusive Sale Days: Be committed to at least two “Exclusive Sale Days” per year, whereby only sample gowns can be tried on, sold, and marketed during a four-week period. This helps build momentum, forge a commitment from you and your team to sell the sample inventory at a greatly reduced cost. (All full price gowns cannot be tried on during the exclusive sale day). Sample sale days help to keep on top of excessive inventory and enable you to sell in bulk on the day or a few days previous if online encouraging a pepped-up demand.

Redistribute your stock: Redistribute your inventory to other purposes. You could build relations with local businesses, hotels, jewelers, new venues, etc. who are showcasing a forever wedding area. Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I am about sustainability, so head to local charities who would value and adore to be able to sell off your gowns to raise money. (In 2012 we converted a local Cancer Research store into a bridal store and nationally the charity raised £11,000). Sustainable repurposed gift bags, gowns used as fitting room supplies, or for spare parts in your alterations department.

The more inventory a company has, the less likely they will have what they need. Taiichi Ohno, The Father of the Toyota Production System.


Brides by Solo, Newmarket - I’ve seen shops advertising appointments with complimentary fizz & cocktails. I worry it would encourage people to take off their masks and create an unnecessary risk. Do you have any suggestions to how you can give a VIP service while staying safe?

You are right, every store does what they feel is within their comfort zone of ‘safety’, albeit following the government guidelines. I agree we never want to jeopardise our team safety or the safety of our consumer while shopping with us. We also do not want to stop our offerings of maximum hospitality all together.

The simple answer to stop our consumers from removing or taking down their masks during their bridal visit would be to offer nothing during the appointment. However, if you feel you want to deliver maximum hospitality, maybe you could offer your bride a handheld branded water bottle. Which your bride and her guest(s) could sip or not, depending on their preference during their visit. Sustainability is key, especially to our newer generations so try to ensure you have recyclable bottles…

I think the big deal here is to think about the luxury and where it really begins for your consumer. Considering what else we can do to deliver the luxe and the quality we pride ourselves on. If you feel you cannot serve single serving treats in store, think about what you can do outside of store for your bride which delights and excites. I would begin by considering what appointment type you have on offer and then fit any takeaway gifts/luxe hospitality to match the appointment. For example, you can post out a handmade ‘Can’t Wait To See You’ card beforehand or a personal shout out on your socials. For a bridal appointment, an offering of a small gift as your bride leaves your store would be delightful, like a flower for her hair (she will probably be going around town to celebrate her gown find and promoting your little gift may be yet another highlight for her – this also makes you look more compassionate about your client. After all, we have all been through so much during this unprecedented time, nothing is too much trouble). The usual gifts are just as lovely, tote bags, hair slides, purses and canned pop and prosecco which she can open and then promote you as she enjoys her treats later in the evening.

Also try to consider other elements in store of how we can delight our bride and her small entourage now. We have recently completed a webinar on creating a sensory experience of touch, scent, taste, and sight. Have a think about how you can inspire the sale within your store and how delicately curated changes make the biggest impact. Always being mindful of yourself, your brand, your gowns, your team and your clients.

Please note, this is article opinion and not fact. All business owners should conduct their own research using official government guidance.

Jo’s Tip: Mindfulness can be described as the practice of paying attention in the present moment and doing what you need to do intentionally.

If you need more information, please don’t hesitate to email me at

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