10 Questions with Bridal Galleria's Grace Young
Our Rachel Leonard sat down with Bridal Galleria's Grace Young for an in-depth chat on
1) How long have you had your store?
We have been in business for over 31 years.
2) How did you get into bridal retail?
I was in my early twenties and had friends that were getting married. They all had the same complaint – that there were not many bridal stores to choose from in San Francisco. Alan and I had always dreamed of being entrepreneurs one day and thought this might just be the opportunity. So we researched the industry for 2 years and prepared a comprehensive business plan. In our youthful naiveté, we thought to ourselves, we are business graduates of Berkeley…how hard could this be? How I laugh now at this very thought!
From our research, we determined that opening in October will be optimal. At that time, there were no such things as internet, cell phones or email. Back in those ancient days, the most important form of local advertising was the Yellow Pages. But their deadline was in May. How could we possibly commit to an ad with no inventory, no store front, no anything to speak of? Well, our goal was to locate on Union Street, then the hottest retail area in SF. But we hadn’t even begun looking for storefronts, let alone sign any lease until August.
Then we decided to do something crazy…we took out the largest ad in the bridal salon section with only Union Street as our address with no actual street number. We went all in on the assumption that we would eventually find a space on Union Street. We also hooked up an extra phone line at grandma’s house nearby and listed it as the store’s phone number…Yeah…crazy…
In August, we indeed found a space on Union Street. It was only 1,500 square feet with 2 dressing rooms. We scraped and borrowed money from family. We built the store with our own hands with lots of help from college friends.
When the Yellow Pages finally broke in September, we hooked up an answering machine with a message that we were in the process of remodeling and would “reopen” in a month.
By the time we opened in October of 1985, our phones were ringing off the hook from the Yellow Pages ad. In fact, Pacific Bell Yellow Pages found our story so intriguing that they filmed a TV commercial of us touting the power of advertising with them.
3) How educated are the brides today when shopping for a dress?
This is the information age where consumers hold new power. Brides are more educated than ever before, coming in with their Pinterest board, loaded with endless gown inspirations. It’s a double edged sword. They can either be more focused on a particular dress/designer, or be on a forever chase of an illusive dress.
4) What dress trends are selling?
The look is trending more demure than years past i.e. less sexy, less bare, less beading, less lace and tulle. Though brides still want styles that enhance their figure, they are looking for a decidedly feminine/romantic look. Plain silk gowns with modern interpretation and dramatic accents are making a major comeback.
5) What criteria’s are important in choosing designers you carry?
The key criteria I look for is the following:
- Branded label with strong social media presence and following
- Innovative styles
- On-time delivery
- Organized infrastructure
- Open terms
- Flexible minimums
6) What are the biggest challenges that you face?
In the last few years, I’ve seen new challenges emerge. Keep in mind that SF is the epicenter of fast moving tech so I may be seeing rapid movement not yet prevalent in other regions.
- Secondary/Resell Market: Shared economy has hit our industry by storm. I see an increasing trend of millennials buying previously worn dresses from past brides at massive discounts. And every week, our past brides call to get info as they prepare to resell their dress.
- Inventory Control: Because of the resell market, the viability of new inventory has now been reduced to 6 months after its arrival. Why 6 months? Because that’s the time frame it takes for dresses to arrive and be worn at a wedding. After that time, hundreds, if not thousands of past brides become our new competitors, shaving our inventory shelf life to as little as 6 months. We would be lucky if a style reorders well beyond a year.
- Shrinking Demographics: The number of U.S. marriages have hit a new low. Stores across the country are simply seeing fewer customers.
7) What’s your strategy for dealing with these challenges?
- Strategic Buying: Look for new innovative styles/designers that are unique and therefore sought after by brides.
- Inventory Control: Turn inventory at a quicker rate. Sell off stock gowns that are not performing
- Cater to High-End Clients: Brides with higher budgets generally don’t want an used dress.
- Maintain High Level of Customer Service: Personal attention just can’t be replaced.
- Alteration Services: Emphasize alteration services that are high skilled & critical to the final product.
- Improve Marketing & Social Media Presence: The pie may be shrinking, so hunt for more pies.
- Cost Control: Form buying groups for store supplies, discounts, etc.
8) What changes do you think are ahead for the industry?
Shopping behaviors have changed. Consumers are now accustomed to ordering everything online and returning what they don’t like. Our industry could be the only industry left where customers order an expensive garment that they don’t actually try on in their style, size, and color, yet they are stuck with a final sale, regardless of fit or taste. This business model has given rise to alternative lines like BHLDN, among others. How do we, as an industry stay relevant to a changing tide? These are provocative questions we collectively need to address.
9) How would you like to see the bridal industry change?
Better understanding and cooperation between designers and stores will go a long way. Understanding each other’s challenges is a start. Perhaps we can find some middle ground and work together.
10) What keeps you motivated in this business after all these years?
We have chosen one of the most challenging businesses there is to run. Outside of the business aspects, I’m motivated by the human side of our business. I think I love the idea of love. For every crazy bride story, there’s a better story about how a couple fell in love. As imperfect as this crazy industry is, it still thrills me that I get the privilege to create beauty that completes someone’s love story.