Mamfii celebrates its 10th anniversary in August 2012. Now in its third location, and the proud winner of two Best Bridal Retailer awards and three Best Bridal Retailer finalist certificates, owner Samantha Neville has plenty to smile about
Just two years after opening her first shop, Samantha Neville’s Mamfii won its first Bridal Buyer award, and business increased so much as a result that Samantha ran out of space. This precipitated a move to a much bigger shop two doors away. “We refurbished it in exactly the same way as the previous shop - most people didn’t even realise we had moved!” she says.
Mamfii fast established itself in these new larger premises, with ample space for an office and storage. But last year Samantha began to feel that the parade had gone downhill and she wanted to get out. Hence her most recent move, to what is a destination venue, set within a development of three other barns with a green in the middle and ample parking. It’s beautiful, tranquil, unique - and the perfect spot for something as special as shopping for a wedding dress. “The new location is stunning,” she says. “One of the barns, which houses the office and is where I do my beading and make tiaras, is very modern - all glass fittings and oak floors. The other used to be the old forge and has original beams and a much more vintage feel.”
Samantha put a huge amount of careful thought into planning the design and layout of the interior. She has created a serene ambience with cream carpets, hints of dusky pink and a combination of vintage elegance and modern glamour. Elaborate chandeliers add a touch of grandeur. Four spacious changing rooms, each with their own seating, mirrors and accessories, lend themselves to really positive trying-on and fitting sessions.
A people business
Any retailer knows that management and staffing are three key elements of success. Samantha has one full-time and two part-time staff, one of whom is her mother, who has lots of experience. One of the other staff is a friend whom she has known for years, and the other is a past bride who loved the whole experience so much that she applied for a job! “I train the staff myself and I don’t let them loose with a bride until I know they will do things how I want them done,” says Samantha. On-call alteration ladies work their magic to ensure that every dress leaves the shop a perfect fit. While confident of her own managerial style, she has used Helena Cotter’s services a few times and has found her input invaluable.
Being hands-on in all areas means that Samantha can retain complete control of her business. She took the decision to close on Mondays to allow her to catch up on admin, so that from Tuesday to Saturday she is free to answer the phone, see brides, do fittings, sew, bead, work on the website and even make the tea and do the cleaning. “I’m in at seven in the morning and rarely home before eight at night but I love every minute of it. However, I’m far too much of a control freak to even consider a second shop - I need to be here all the time,” she says.
The bridal world is a very different place to the one Mamfii opened its doors to in 2002. “The internet and the magazines have changed everything,” claims Samantha. “Brides have far too much information at their fingertips and they come in thinking they know everything. It’s not until they put a dress on that they realise we know better! Often they have seen an entire collection online and want to try the whole range on, which means us ordering them in; nine times out of ten they prefer the ones we had here in the first place.”
Over the years Samantha has whittled down the number of designers she carries, sticking now with those with whom she has a great working relationship, and who she can trust - Essense, Fara Sposa, Forget Me Not, Ian Stuart, Justin Alexander, Nicola Anne, Two by Rosa Clara and Novia d’Art. She is open to new labels but has to be careful about having too many dresses. She does nearly all her buying at Harrogate. “My suppliers are fabulous. I ring them up with random requests and they more than likely say yes every time. They get the dresses to me on schedule and I know that I can rely on them to get it right. For my part I always pay on time and I make sure that my staff and I are courteous to them - that tends to go a long way.”
Promoting the business is something Samantha takes very seriously. “I advertise everywhere - national magazines, numerous websites, local wedding venues and a few select wedding fairs. On top of that I make sure the website is bang up-to-date with the latest news. The website is really important for letting people know about us and where we are. I was delighted to be able to put on there that we had been shortlisted as a finalist for Bridal Buyer’s Best Bridal Retailer 2011! I think the awards help hugely with business and our reputation - a lot of brides say that because we have won awards they feel confident buying from us and recommending us to their friends. You can’t buy that kind of feedback - trust is the most important part of what we do.”
Like most bridal retailers, Mamfii has ridden the recession well and on a personal level Samantha has found a good way to cope with the highs and the lows. “It’s hard to keep a steady pattern with bridal sales. If you compare them week to week or month to month then you can easily become obsessed and panic in the down times. In my opinion, as long as the year as a whole equals or betters the previous one, we’re doing fine!”