In this series, we learn from small businesses across the country how they are adapting in the world of COVID-19.
Bridal Connection at Stone Oak is a 25-year-old award winning family-owned business serving San Antonio and surrounding areas, though brides will fly in from all over the country to shop in their boutique. They cater to the budget conscious bride as well as the couture bride with gowns for every size and price point. They have built their business on unmatched customer service and are San Antonio's Exclusive Retailer for Randy Fenoli Bridal, Rosa Clara, Paulain Fashion Group and Nicole Milano, as well as the the premier retailer for Morilee by Madeline Gardner.
What was the first thing you did when you realized this situation was about to affect your business or daily life?
Brides love the experience of choosing their wedding dress with their family and close friends. When we learned that we were going to have to close our doors for the 1st time in 26 years we knew we had to come up with a plan to take care of our brides and still remain relevant and keep the business afloat. The first thing we did was have a meeting with our team and brainstorm about how to take care of our brides. We came up with several ideas that are working very well, including attending webinars about the bridal industry and how we would be affected. Our biggest concern was taking care of our brides and keeping them calm since they were already under so much stress due to having to cancel their upcoming weddings and postpone to upwards of a year or more.
What are you doing now that you weren't doing one/two months ago?
We had to get creative so one of the first things we did was offer virtual appointments. We weren't sure how it was going to work since this was uncharted territory for us. Via a virtual appointment, we talk to the bride via FaceTime, Video FB Messenger or whatever video app is best for the bride. We talk about her love story, what her vision is for her dream wedding, her vision for her gown and her budget for her gown. Once we do that, we show her dresses and zoom in on the details of the dress, make a list of the gowns she wants to try on and send images of her favorites. We knew after the 1st one we did, this was a great idea, it was fun for the bride and our consultant. Once we are able to open the doors, we already have a starting point and can get straight to trying on dresses because we've already discussed everything we need to know previously during the virtual appointment.
Another solution we came up with is a bridal registry. Covid-19 has affected many of our brides/couples from losing their job or decreasing their hours significantly, etc. The bridal registry allows family and friends to contribute to the bride's wedding dress and there are no fees involved. 100% of all payments go towards the dress, whether she's ordered it already or putting it into an account that will be used towards the purchase of her dress when she's able to come in.
Normally, we require that brides pay off their dress within 7 days after it arrives but now, we are allowing brides to make payments on their dresses and they have no fear of losing their dream dress. We've always worked with a bride who was struggling after the dress arrived but now, this option is available for all our brides. They are loving these new options and we're building incredible relationships with them.
What challenges are you concerned about in the weeks ahead?
Our challenge is how to bring enough cash flow into the boutique because we still have business expenses to pay, such as rent, payroll and our designers for our stock. We have faith and know once we can open our doors, we will come back strong.
How are you taking care of your customers?
Including all the new options we are offering, we have updated our website and all our social media to show brides what we can offer during this time. We are also now able to offer curbside pickup. The bride can pay the balance of her dress over the phone and we bring it out to them. We are available by phone from 11am to 2pm M-F to answer calls, take payments over the phone and offer curbside pick up. We are also available 24 hours a day by email, FB/IG Messenger and we respond in less than 24 hours. We have a great relationship with our designers and can get dresses quickly for those brides who need a dress immediately once we're able to open including discounting rush fees significantly. We are also very active on social media and posting positive ideas and real brides' wedding photos. We will continue to follow CDC guidelines by keeping our boutique clean and disinfecting between brides.
Another thing we are doing is giving back. We are asking our brides to follow our Instagram account and share their story with us because we are giving away a wedding dress from a curated collection to one bride.
What precautions are you taking to reopen your business?
We are limiting our capacity to 25% occupancy per state guidelines. We are also cleaning and disinfecting per CDC guidelines. We are taking the brides to wash their hands and all their guests are required to use the hand sanitizer that we provide. We are also asking our brides/guests to wear a mask or we are providing one.
The biggest challenge was how to disinfect the dresses without causing damage to the garment. We steam each dress after it’s been tried on.
What opportunities do you discover coming out of this situation?
We had to get creative to keep our small business viable. We now offer a bridal registry to allow family and friends to contribute to the bridal gown/accessories. We’ve also discovered that continuing to offer virtual appointments is very helpful to our brides.
What advice or tips do you have for other small businesses who are about to reopen?
We recommend updating your website and all social media. Remain active and show your customers what you’re doing to help keep them safe. Stay in compliance per your state regulations and keep a positive attitude. Your customers will gravitate to that.