By Paul Pannone
In the closing days of 2012 the wedding business is buzzing because of newZ involving major companies who are bailing out of the business, bringing investors in to shoulder the financial burden and responsibility of trying to run a profitable business in the shrinking wedding market.
Yesterday’s story, The Wedding Business in Worse Shape than First Thought, drew reaction in all social media formats and plenty of private response from industry veterans who would like to dispute the newZ– but can’t.
“I’ll also bet that few if any of the existing US manufacturers close this year or next, the number will represent an insignificant percentage of the total. Is there anyone out there who will take the bet?” says Jim Duhe.
Jim Duhe gave his usual response in his own style saying;
“Your story isn’t a cheerful launch pad for the start of the new year. Certain aspects may or may not be accurate but I’m not alone in refusing to accept that the sky isn’t falling — at least not quite yet. The average age of couples who wed has increased each decade since the turn of the 20th century. When I joined the bridal industry in the 1970’s, we advised advertisers that “brides are older, better educated, and more affluent than ever before in history.” It was a documented fact in the 1970’s. It was equally true in the 1980’s. It was true in the 1990’s. It was true in the first decade of the 21st century. It’s still true today.
However, age, education, and affluence don’t necessarily mean that a death knell is replacing wedding bells or that traditional weddings no longer represent a preferable life style choice for a meaningful number of Americans. Research conducted by Bridal Guide and all other publications as well as by prominent on line bridal sites like The Knot indicates that the number of destination weddings that take place in foreign countries is substantial.
Because foreign countries are not required to report the number of US citizens who marry to the Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare, it’s difficult/virtually impossible to determine the exact number of Americans who marry annually. Therefore, it’s difficult/virtually impossible to verify that the total number of American weddings has declined substantially in recent years. Regardless, many people who select to have a destination wedding continue to purchase bridal apparel in this country. They still create wedding gift registries in this country.
Long range business success requires much more than keeping up with trends. It’s essential to run one step (or more) ahead of them. Conceptually, the challenges to bridal retailers created by online bridal apparel sales in 2013 aren’t dramatically different from those offered by direct mail purchases (JC Penney, Sears, et.al.) in the 1980’s. However, direct mail bridal apparel had an Achilles heel that online retailers don’t have: return policies. The vast majority of online sales are generated by companies that are headquartered in foreign countries. These companies can’t be forced to comply with US laws regarding merchandise returns.
Because the majority of China/direct sites offer positive consumer reviews (that may or may not be complete fabrications) consumers are lulled into a sense of security in their buying decision. Unfortunately, prominent “money back guarantees” offered by China/direct companies generally are unenforceable. There’s little if anything that a consumer can do to secure a refund for merchandise that is unacceptable or substandard. Unlike complaints posted on Google, Wedding Wire, and others sites, there is no place for a consumer to publicize a complaint about a China/direct web site purchase. It’s a perfect storm for China/direct sites: on site comments are consistently positive; there’s no way for anyone to complain publicly.
Frankly, I don’t have answers to many of the questions that plague independent bridal retailers or tuxedo rental specialists. However, that doesn’t mean that answers don’t exist. It may well be that the number of existing independent bridal apparel stores will suffer from attrition. That’s a distinct possibility. However, I’ll bet you that new bridal retailers will launch in 2013, 2014, 2015, and beyond.
Seasoned bridal industry experts predicted that there were far too many bridal manufacturers — that there would be a “fall out” in the 1970’s — in the 1980’s — in the 1990’s — in 2000. These predictions continue today. I’ll bet that there will be more bridal brand names in 2013 than there were in 2012. There probably will be even more in 2014. I’ll also bet that few if any of the existing US manufacturers close this year or next, the number will represent an insignificant percentage of the total. Is there anyone out there who will take the bet?”, said Duhe.
Duhe’s statement started strong but seemed to fall asleep by its end. So did that of Christine Boulton, who called to discuss the story. Boulton proposed there are clients who are doing well in the wedding business. We never suggested there weren’t. But Boulton could not argue there are fewer wedding industry professionals doing well than there are doing terrible. In fact none of the discussions could challenge any of the central points of the story. Simply put, the increasing challenges against a shrinking (traditional) market will not lead to a happy ending.
The story dates back to 2009 when companies like David’s Bridal sought positive data, wanting to know when the wedding industry would recover. No such information existed but through hocus-pocus hypotheses (guessing) there would be a spring-back in the wedding business. To date it doesn’t seem likely.
An ongoing eWedNewz investigation concludes the data failed to include variables, including the languishing economy that will continue to plague a full recovery in spending for traditional wedding goods and services. The results, exacerbated by growing competition in all areas of the wedding business, dilutes the ability to command higher prices from consumers. The decline of over four years with no end in sight resulted in decisions by major wedding companies, including owners of David’s Bridal, Leonard Green and Associates, to divest themselves from a majority stake in the wedding business.
The statement is supported by an overnight shift since the story released. An ongoing poll feels the wedding business is deteriorating (29%), stuck in neutral (15%) or is yet to reach the bottom (13%).
What do you say?
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