While technology has been an obvious catalyst for small business in many ways, there are still far too many entrepreneurs who haven’t embraced tech to streamline operations and facilitate growth. That’s why I found the story of Bridal Boutique -- a Lewisville, Texas-based 8,500 square-foot bridal gown and accessory store -- so compelling.
You wouldn’t normally expect a store that sells bridal gowns to be at the forefront of technology. But Bridal Boutique is using technology in unexpected ways, helping to facilitate the sale of more than 1,500 gowns per year. And when those gowns retail for between $1,100 and $10,000, it adds up to millions of dollars in business. Indeed, Bridal Boutique has grown over the past quarter century in business with a second location devoted to mothers of the brides and bridesmaids.
I spoke with Amy Berend, who joined her mother and company founder Caroline, in this family business. Berend has helped bring a tech edge to their business. She shared some of the best ways they are using technology and what your business can borrow from their approach as well.
Use technology for valuable client research.
One advantage of being a small business is being nimble and creative to outdo your competition with amazing service. Berend admits that one way the Bridal Boutique team does this is to use technology to research clients in advance of their appointments and team them up with the sales associate that would be the best personality fit.
Doing research on social-media profiles and other information available online can help her team decipher whether a customer is laid back or a bridal diva and then, team her up with a sales associate who will provide the type of interaction that will leave the bride-to-be with an outstanding experience. Moreover, that high-level of service is exactly what sets Bridal Boutique apart from competitors and helps to engender word-of-mouth advocacy from brides to other would-be brides.
This is a great example for any small business; learn about your target customer and service those customers in a way that complements his or her unique personality.
Make your business transactions mobile.
As the Bridal Boutique expanded, Berend realized that the flow of the store was a problem. Having all of the paperwork take place at the lobby entrance meant that both brides checking in for new appointments, as well as those just finishing appointments and finalizing orders, would be in the same place, creating a bottleneck and an uncomfortable experience in the front of the store. This was especially a problem on Saturdays, when the store averages 35 to 40 bridal appointments.
To make the store more user-friendly, Bridal Boutique started using Microsoft Surface tablet computers to facilitate everything from reviewing bridal dress options to cataloguing sales and storing measurements in each dressing area, instead of in one static location in the store. This has allowed the team to be more efficient in servicing brides, getting them through each appointment more quickly, and it provides a better overall experience for both associates and bridal customers.
Using tablets has also facilitated documenting interactions with brides in a personalized portfolio complete with photos to keep tidy records for those brides who may not remember the particulars of previous discussions. For example, they use the tablets to take photos and document what size samples were tried on and the bride’s measurements, in case a bride’s size changes between the time of ordering the dress and receiving the dress.
Being mobile has also helped Bridal Boutique close more transactions through streamlining payments. Previously, a bride would decide on a dress, change clothes and on the way out, go to the front of the store to finish the transaction. This would give the bride ample time to change her mind and Bridal Boutique found that sometimes, by the time she came to the front counter, she had decided to continue to look around instead of making a purchase.
Bridal Boutique decided to start taking payments via a mobile point-of-purchase located where and when the decision on a particular dress was made by a customer -- typically in the dressing area. This mobile payment solution included using a new app and credit card reader from PayPal, PayPal Here, to allow payment to be made anywhere in the store. This way, once a decision was made, the transaction was completed on the spot and the business didn’t have to contend with the mind-changing that happened with a lag between decision and transaction previously.
Finding ways to facilitate your business, including payments, in a mobile format can help you to not only be more efficient, but to close more sales immediately.
Help your customers advocate on social media.
As many small businesses do, Bridal Boutique found that most of their business -- Berend estimates at around 70 percent -- comes from word-of-mouth referrals. So, Berend invents creative ways to let brides be the best conduit of advertising for her business.
One example is having a big chalkboard in the front of the store, which lists the names of the brides with appointments for the day, along with the Bridal Boutique logo and hashtag. She says that nearly every bride who comes in poses for a “selfie” in front of this board and distributes those photos, complete with the hashtag, on social media. This helps create amazing awareness for Bridal Boutique without them spending a dime and is also done in a credible manner, since the brides are sharing their own excitement.
Make it easy for your clients and customers to share their great experiences engaging with your company in a way that makes them walking billboards for your business.