The recent closing of Sophia Wedding Collection kept me up at night for the past few days. We, at La Belle Couture, have been receiving calls from distaught brides asking us to help them out. My thoughts are with the couples who are stranded with nowhere to go, and especially so for the couples who are having their weddings in the upcoming weeks. After all, I have been a bride myself and I know that preparing a wedding is no easy task, much less having to deal with unexpected situations like these.
Up till today, couples usually do not see that wedding businesses’ closure is something that can actually happen to them. Following the closure of some businesses, more notably Calla Bridal and Sophia Wedding Collection that has affected many couples, it is perhaps time for couples to make more informed decisions when they are selecting a wedding service provider.
In this post, I would like to share some industry background and insights that can hopefully help you to better screen your shortlisted bridal boutiques to minimise your risk of selecting an errant boutique.
- Shops that push hard or give you incentives to pay in full
When unfortunate incidents like these happen, very often, the first question friends ask the couples are: “How much have you paid?” It is hard for both sides when the truth is that they have made full payment.
While it is not an uncommon practice for full payment to be made, do be aware when the sales person starts pushing you to make full payment when you clearly asked about a payment schedule and a deposit. Any decent shop should be entirely neutral whether a full or partial payment is being made.
Warning bells should go off when the shop starts offering you perks for you to make full payment. This is definitely a tell tale sign about the financial health of the business.
- Do the owners and directors have deep roots in the local community?
In the case of the above two mentioned businesses, both are owned by people with no deep roots in the local Singapore community. When things get tough, what has happened is that they may have a higher tendency to pack up and return to their own countries, without the intention of ever coming back.
In fact, this situation has happened over the last few years, though not well publicized. There have been cases of couples who signed with overseas boutiques who have no physical presence in Singapore, but just came over to take part in guerilla sales methods, often illegal, and usually in shopping malls or random locations like night markets (pasar malam).
Some instances are:
- Not being contactable after the sale
- Shop closed down or is non existent in the country
- Couples are subjected to hard selling tactics with lots of hidden costs upon arrival in the country
- Unsatisfactory albums and frames production as it costs more to fly or mail over to rectify the mistakes
As such, there is virtually no chance of recovery of funds or seek recourse, and even if there is a way, it will most likely cause so much trouble or money that it will not make any sense to pursue.
However, this is not the case for boutique owners who are well rooted in Singapore. Their families, friends and reputation are all based in Singapore. Running is simply not an option. After all, Singapore is a really small country and it is really hard for anyone to get away with anything. They have a lot more to lose than just dump and run, hence they usually engage in sustainable business practices, because they are in it for the long term.
- Ask employees about plans about the business, new initiatives and brand values
Healthy businesses plan for the future and plan for growth. Good businesses have clear communication about programs like new services, new gowns, new partnerships or other initiatives. Investment in improving products and services, constant updates and refreshing gown collections, improvement of staff capabilities are all signals of a well run bridal boutique. New business partnerships are also good signs as most businesses will also be doing background checks on collaboration partners.
Ask staff members questions about their company, about the issues mentioned above. If they are able to share with you satisfactory answers, chances are, you are safe. If there hasn’t been much going on or staff members are not able to give you a clear answer, do probe further.
Businesses that do not change and adapt are also signs you should look out for. This is because, companies who are here to stay will see value in investing in change to be prepared for the future.
Also ask about the company’s values. Do they value transparency and integrity? Or does the company not have guidelines and principles for employees to uphold
- “If something is too good to be true, it probably is”
This is by far the biggest warning sign that every couple should take note of. From the industry observation, shops that are showing signs of closing, often start offering deals that are too good to be true. This tactic is usually tied together with pushing the customer to pay in full upfront.
The bulk of costs of running a bridal boutique come from rent and staff costs. Bridal happens to be an industry that requires quite a fair bit of space for gown storage and fitting area, on top of photography studio premises.
Most people will also know that for spaces that are almost similar, for example, shop house spaces in a similar area will probably be of comparable costs (with some variation). Manpower costs, vendors costs e.g. printing, are also similar, with market norms ‘governing’ rates for certain vendors. Hence, as a smart consumer, it should trigger an immense amount of curiosity in you when you see price variations of more than 25%
Questionable sales tactics like dropping prices (sometimes even more than $500 or even a whooping $1000) to entice couples to sign up should also ring alarm bells about the business ethics of the company.
Perks like including made to measure gowns and actual day photography services are also dangerous signs you should look out for. For example, supplier costing (not retail price) for tailoring a basic dress can easily cost more than a thousand, excluding crystals, beadings or other special materials used, like lace or silk. Depending on the complexity of the dress, costs can easily add up to a much higher amount.
Hence, how is it possible for a bridal package, with pre wedding photography to cost 3 thousand plus, or even the low 4 thousand range, and yet have the above services ‘thrown in’? Not having a profit aside, what is left to pay for basic wages and rent?
Therefore, instead of being happy about snagging a great deal, be savvy and know that if you go ahead, you risk the shop closing down before your wedding, which is not the scenario you want to be in.
- Industry market perception (Not reviews related)
This last point is often overlooked. And the market perception that I am referring to is not customer reviews online or offline. It refers to what industry insiders have to say about the company. Casually strike up conversations with staff from different boutiques about the boutique you are researching on, and take note of responses.
Filter out the “gossip mongers” – i.e. staff engage in petty bad mouthing, e.g. who has poor gown quality or who is copying whose design. This is an indication of poor discipline.
What you should pay attention to is when a self-respecting bridal consultant declines to comment about a particular boutique or if any boutique has an industry reputation of engaging in ‘spoiling market’ practices. It may give you subtle hints about what industry insiders know that consumers don’t, which can be very important.
Hope the above pointers will come in handy in helping you to better identify a trustworthy bridal boutique for your big day. Good luck!
This article was written by Teo Pei Ru. All opinions expressed in this article are purely hers and have no intention of hurting any party.