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Ask Jo: recruitment and merchandising

Jo answers questions on how to recruit the right team members, deliver effective in store merchandising and how to give a reply to "I don’t want my gown anymore". 

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“Winning isn’t a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” - Vince Lombardi

Carols Bridal - Owner Carol & Lauren

Q: How can I give a positive response to a bride who calls the store to say, “She doesn’t want her gown anymore”? But the gown has already arrived in store.

A: Such a hard position to be in, especially now in these unprecedented times. However, you should have a strategy in place early on to assist you in overcoming obstacles like this. Create a code of practice which helps with business continuity for every situation and ensure everyone of your team understands it and can articulate it effectively.

This is a loaded question as there are a million ways to look at it. However, to keep my answer simple ‘Use the 3 No’s to get to Yes’

1. Abbie, your gown has already been pattern cut and made for you by the designer and delivered as agreed.

2. Abbie, I have already connected with you numerous times (in different formats) to let you know your gown has arrived and your balance needs to be paid.

3. Abbie, we will arrange payment of your balance today. I promise to keep your gown safe, stored free of charge and will put it back out to resell in our exclusive sample sale, as a gesture of good will. If I cannot help you during the sample sale, I will return your gown and you can try to resell it.

The above method comes from the most compassionate place - transferring confidence and trust between you and your consumer. However, this format is superficial if you have not already created intent and rapport from the beginning of your brides first visit. Trust is a two-way street.

Make yourself aware of The Consumer Rights Act 2015 which clarifies statutory rights on faulty goods, time frames and refunds. Plus ensure your contacts/T&C’s are of good faith and fair to your consumer.

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Mimis Bridal & Formalwear/Mississippi – Owner Cindy

Q: I need to recruit seven new staff members. Where do I begin?

A: Firstly, recruitment can be a minefield if you do not set the standard of excellence from the offset. I was an HR Manager before I opened my store which helped me embed the basics of recruitment, induction, training, coaching and connection. I ensured these processes were standardised throughout employment for all my employees.

I would say you need to begin with the right hiring mindset: be objective, be optimistic, be oriented toward growth – this MINDSET MATTERS!

Remember that the person you may need to recruit to open a business, ultimately isn’t the person you may need to recruit to grow a business after a 5/7-year stint. Usually, that person looks very different.

Be objective: What is your unbiased goal? Consider what does the job description look like? What is the person specification? What type of quality person do I want to work in my store with me and my team?

Be optimistic: Be confident and enthused by this exercise. Where do I find my people? How will my advert attract them?

Be oriented toward growth: Be focused on your future expansion (development – or not). Ensure you find the best person for the job advertised, who will ultimately do what you need them to do… Usually to grow and develop to the next stages of business development.

Begin your recruitment process with “to hire the right person you need to tell people who you want”. Otherwise, you will have lots of people applying for your vacancy who are not qualified in this field. If you do not state clearly what credentials you need, you cannot expect to find the right people.

Think about what are the ‘Desirables and Essential’ job specifications. For example:

  • Fashion degree – desirable.
  • 2/5 years working within luxury fashion – essential.

This specification implies: I desire a fashion degree candidate OR at minimum I want a person applying for my vacancy with 2/5 years work experience within a luxury fashion brand.

I could write forever about recruitment and induction. Begin by remembering to have the right mindset and that you are hiring to enhance your ‘store culture of excellence’. You need to advertise with a call to action, plan closing dates, create a job description and person specification, have a screening of applications, set first interview dates, set second interview dates, complete contractual needs and have a start date! Have a positive interviewing philosophy which captivates your audience (your new starter).

Bridal Boutique Baildon – owner Tracy

Q: Have you any hints on merchandising Jo?

A: The key to our business - how we buy and how we merchandise. We would all be millionaires if we did not have to buy gowns and rotate them to fit with the current bridal trends. However, this is the nature of our business. Remember, if you are not moving inventory at your bridal store, you are not making as much money as you should be. Buy wisely with an understanding that all gowns fit within a category of: 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!

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.

Store Merchandising – In my view your inventory should not be merchandised in size or designer block order. But in luxury silhouette styling and complimentary fabric order, with the colours of each dress enhancing the consumer visual. This way of merchandising is simple for the consumer to read and highlights that your gowns are luxe, clean, and loved. This also simplifies your ‘stylists gown choice’ during bridal appointments. Offering maximum delight! Hangers should be spaced exactly (stand back to be accurate and use a measuring tool to have consistency throughout). Labels faced outward looking delightful, hanging from branded coloured ribbon, with accurate information written in the same hand/same colour pen or printed. Crucially all your labels need to have the FULL correct information, ensuring stylists complete the sale with a deeper understanding of the personalisation of each gown and reorder it with confidence and accuracy. If you use a techy version of gown personalisation ensure your content is updated and checked frequently.

Reorders - Be consistent in how you receive stock. You need to have a good ‘Quality check’ area with enough space to ensure you can see all the gown in good lighting. (Tip: have a thorough reconnection routine, how do you connect with a bride to tell her that her gown has arrived? (text messaging has a 99% open rate – emails do not). Store your brides’ gown in the safest place in your store (mine were stored behind another locked door). Create a bridal gown filing system which is simple for all staff to understand and process in wedding date order. Label client gowns with their name, PO number, wear date, contact details, try on dates, payment and collection dates and other relevant personal information. This extra piece of information ensures continuity and stability in all correspondence to her. Ensure the dress pick up reinforces the bride’s confidence in you, your staff and your brand.

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

If you have a question you would like Jo to answer, you can email her at

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