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2004 Bridal Series II
Interpreting Today's Bridal Bouquet:
How to Attract the New Bride

The Gourmet Retailer
APRIL 01, 2004
By Michelle Moran

Echo Boomer & Bridal Registry

The bridal couple of the new millennium is better educated, more brand aware, and more technologically advanced than that of any previous generation. The Echo Boom Generation -- those now 25 years old -- is a generation of cross shoppers who know what they want and where they want to buy it. They are also a generation that embraces traditional values with big wedding plans and registry lists in the thousands of dollars. So, are you attracting them to your store? Do they know you carry the brands they want? Here's some tips to break into this new burgeoning bridal market at the onset.

Echo Boomer & Bridal Registry

Just to review -- we discussed the new generation of bridal couples in the first part of this series (January 2004) -- the Millennials, Echo Boomers, or Generation Y members who were born between 1979 and 2002. They comprise a 71-million-member generation that's expected to increase to over 100 million. These burgeoning numbers are projected to drive the engagement market to grow 14 percent during the next four years and a whooping 30 percent in the next 15.

Succcessful marketing to these couples will require educating your staff and yourself about their likes and dislikes. An e-mail survey of newlyweds by Condé Nast Bridal Group provides an intimate glimpse of today's bridal demographic -- the median age is 27 years old; $83,000 is the median income; 77 percent are white; 10 percent, African-American; seven percent, Hispanic; and six percent, Asian. The cultural line is blurring though with one in five young adults having at least one immigrant parent. Echo Boomers are much more likely to have friends of a different race and 82 percent believe that love is color-blind. Another fact to consider is the growing power of women in this generation. The women earn 57 percent of all bachelor degrees and 58 percent of all master's degrees. Also, they are the primary decision makers when it comes to wedding planning and the direction of the couple's new life. Despite women's growing power, retailers should focus on the bridal couple as a whole during the registry process.

"I think that the bridal couple is really a couple. The woman is clearly making the decisions, but there is very much of a couple approach to their wedding planning and registry. Men are selecting items that are very much tools of the kitchen instead of tools for the garage. It's pushing the registry fairly heavily toward knives and pots and pans," explained Nina Lawrence, vice president and publisher of the Condé Nast Bridal Group. "I think it's very important for retailers to recognize that these are cross shoppers, with almost all income levels behaving the same. Whether they're registering at Target; a department store; Bed, Bath & Beyond; or Williams-Sonoma, they want and expect to find quality."

Condé Nast found that this generation's goals are to land a well-paying job, maintain a good relationship with their parents, and get married. Marriage is the message of the day. These are the 20-somethings who are feeding the reality television craze for shows like "The Bachelorette," "The Bachelor," and a myriad of dating shows. It's a generation of instant messaging, the Internet, and speed dating. But interestingly, it's a generation that firmly believes in traditional bridal registries.
Bridal couples in the Condé Nast survey indicated that they were very satisfied with the registry process. Specialty stores -- such as Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma -- received a 100-percent satisfaction rating. Mass merchandisers followed with 98 percent; discount specialty stores, 96 percent; department stores received 94 percent, and mass department stores, 92 percent.

Our own interviews with bridal couples revealed that those in the Echo Boom generation were very impressed with the process -- in particular, registries with online management capabilities.

Alicia and Seth

Alicia Fedele and Seth Williams are planning on marrying in Massachusetts this year. They began their registry process with an eye toward online access both for their convenience and that of their guests.

"We chose Pottery Barn and Macy's because of the nationwide access. They have a great selection for every room in the house. We were able to walk through their 'registry' section and picked out a lot of things at one time," 27-year-old Fedele explained. "Online services were important so that we could change our quantities without going all the way back to the store. Dragging Seth out more than once for gift registries on a Sunday during football season was not an option. Online registries made it so I could print them out, bring them home, make changes, et cetera. Also, it helps when items are 'no longer available,' so we can change them online and pick out something else."

Didi Meltzer, WeddingChannel.com vice president of registry, explained that the Internet provides couples with broader access to selections, styles, and tastes.

"It's really been an evolution," she explained. "Forty to sixty percent of couples are starting their registry online because of the convenience. If they start in the store, they can see and feel the product, as well as get the expertise from the bridal consultants and that is really important for the couples who need direction. Other couples like to work on it late at night and then go to the store and get the assistance."

Regardless of the Internet experience, Meltzer said they've found multichannel couples -- those who use both in-store and online services -- are the most satisfied with the experience.

"The multichannel bride is the most valuable to the retailer as well because they create the most comprehensive registries and give their guests a great cross section of items," said Meltzer.

Condé Nast couples pointed out strengths for each market channel's registry process. Mass merchandisers were credited for having a good, fun registration process. A stress-free environment, gift return, and brand selection were the appreciated attributes for department stores, and specialty stores were credited with all of the above, as well as unique brands and products not widely available otherwise.

"Service is a funny thing. The Target registrant doesn't get much service, doesn't expect the service, gets the gun, and is happy with what they get. They are primarily concerned with price," Lawrence explained. "But if you are going to put out unique product at a high price, this customer expects great customer service and also wants the opportunity to shop when and where they want and that includes the Internet."

Jason and Carolyn

Jason Woodham and Carolyn Kenny are both 21 years old. The two Oakville, Ontario residents are childhood sweethearts who are in the midst of planning a $50,000 formal wedding. Since they're starting their first new home together -- both currently live at home with their parents, they've compiled quite a registry list. Like others of their generation, they are cross shoppers who harbor little loyalty to any specific store, but possess plenty of loyalty to specific brands. This generation registers at an average of three stores, with particular concern about how convenient it is for their guests.

The Condé Nast report shows that 65 percent of Echo Boomers aspire to be "foodies" -- just another illustration of where and why they are registering. The largest portion of the registry is casual dinnerware (80 percent), with crystal and fine china both averaging a little over 50 percent.

Eighty-two percent want their homes to be filled with quality brands, while the same number plan to informally entertain often but still register for brands that reflect luxury, quality, and design.

"We started most of our registries online. We're registered at The Bay, Sears, Linens & Things, Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, and Restoration Hardware," Carolyn explained.

Specialty Marketing

One of the most important aspects of reaching the Echo Boom bridal couple is letting them know you exist. Wedding planning is fast and furious. Rarely do brides research their bridal registries before they become engaged. One of the best approaches to a successful bridal registry is to ensure it's abundantly evident in your store and that your current brides and their guests have an excellent experience -- you can be sure their girlfriends will remember your store when it's their turn. The services you offer are also as important, with online registry management being critical.

"Everything that you print should have the bridal registry on it. Brides don't know there is bridal registry until you call it bridal registry," explained Elsa P. Pinto-Melikian, president of Your Registry, Inc. "Although everyone calls it gift registry these days, brides can't bridge the gap -- be obvious and market it as bridal registry."

For gourmet specialty retailers, this generation's trends are a boon to bridal registry. Lawrence points to the waves of "foodies" -- both men and women -- who like to cook and watch the Food Network. These are the same people who want to own high-quality cookware and knives to entertain their friends and family.

"It's a major opportunity for the tabletop and gourmet markets," Lawrence said. "One of the qualities of the Echo Boom Generation is they have a broader and tighter network of friends and are closer to their family than the previous two generations. They are going to cook for their big circle of friends. They are going to want to have top-quality brands, not necessarily formal, but definitely luxury."

Lawrence continued, "I would say the preparation that a retailer needs to do for this generation is first and foremost present product in a way that is entertaining and design driven. This is a very visual generation that expects the products to feel like it's there for them. They want a personalized relationship with the brand and the store."

The Right Image

Marketing gurus say the product, not the store, is currently the destination for today's bridal couples. If this is the case, then your bridal registry marketing plans should highlight what you have and the brands that you stock.

"I think smaller specialty stores have an amazing gift with this type of consumer. This consumer wants to feel special, be recognized as someone important. They want someone who will talk with them, work with them, and create something personal for them. The specialty store has the opportunity to offer this consumer personalization," Lawrence said.

Personalizing your bridal registry program begins with creating your own registry's identity. Bring the personality of your store into the approach.

"You cannot design a store around bridal registry. Customers like and register at a store because they like the store," Pinto-Melikian said. "Retailers should understand that they can't simply keep things on their shelves that are interesting for their brides."

Rather than stocking items you believe brides might want, develop your bridal registry around your store's personality. Bridal registry in itself is a marketing program.

Pinto-Melikian continued, saying, "Everyone who steps into your store should know that you have bridal and wedding registry. How you achieve this is up to you, but they need to know you have these services."

Commence with an in-store promotion. Make sure every customer in your store knows you have a bridal registry program through great signage and promotional materials.

"It should be obvious and overt in the store, especially during bridal planning season, which typically begins in January, February, and March and then again in July and August," Pinto-Melikian explained. "The number-one engagement month is December, so support those engagements with your bridal registry story."

Staging events is another successful way of attracting bridal couples and educating your sphere of influence about the services you offer.

Lawrence points to a recent Condé Nast/Bride's event in New York City as the type of entertainment retailers need to create for this trend-setting, brand-conscious generation.

Held last September, the Wedding March on Madison brought together designers, retailers, and bridal couples for an exclusive one-day event with a ticket price of $135. Along with traditional fashion shows, retailers the likes of Crate & Barrel partnered with vendors in cooking demonstrations and entertainment ideas for newlyweds.

"We had 800 consumers pay $135 to experience the integration of some of the world's top wedding planners," Lawrence said. "That kind of experience is what this generation wants. They want great product and great design and they want it presented in a way that talks to them. It was an astounding success."

For specialty independents, Pinto-Melikian suggests spreading the word about your registry through your own bridal networking program. Network with area bridal consultants, caterers, jewelry stores, wedding photographers, florists, and bakeries.

"Work together to create a trade discount program for any business professional that sends you someone who then registers in your store. If you give them an incentive, they will send people," she explained. "This can be time consuming, but it's a great idea. You don't have to reach every single business in the area -- start with your friends, people you know through the Chamber of Commerce. You can even create your own bridal show. Network with other wedding service professionals and create a reciprocal program. Identify the people, create the program, and make sure it happens."

Pinto-Melikian explained that by creating your own bridal show, you can better reach local brides and differentiate your store's bridal registry from others in your market.

"This second phase of the project simply requires five or six companies cooperating together to advertise, market, and promote the event," she continued. "It's my opinion that your dollars are better put to use doing your own network bridal show event with your peers than if you participate in a regional bridal show."

Eileen Monaghan, vice president of the Association of Bridal Consultants, added, "Bridal fairs are a good place to get the bride and learn about the couples who are out there. If you can't plan your own, look for upscale bridal shows."
She continued, "It can be hard to find a bride. Regional bridal planners are a good place to market your store. Brides are more inclined to pick up a regional bridal planner. Many of the regional planners are tied to online services, such as The Knot."
Meltzer agrees that reaching the bride at the beginning of the engagement period is essential to retailers attempting to capture today's bridal couples.

"It is a challenge to get noticed today because registry has become a very popular initiative amongst retailers. It's important to get brides and grooms at the point when they are forming brand loyalty," she stated.

Most couples become engaged 10 to 12 months before the wedding, so reaching them while they are selecting their wedding gowns and planning where to hold their wedding can constitute the step that cements your name in their plans for bridal registry.

"It's important to get in there when the brides and grooms are trying to figure it all out, when they are still deciding on their style as a couple," Meltzer said. "It is the critical juncture to turn the corner as a player or contender in the registry arena."

No Cookie Cutters

Despite the fact that the focus of your bridal registry focus should begin to cater to the needs of the Echo Boom Generation, you must also remember a myriad of bridal couples don't fit the traditional mold. It's important that you and your staff are amply prepared for any couple that walks through your doors -- whether it's an older couple, a same-sex couple, or an ethnically mixed couple. While prejudices seem archaic, people do have them and as a specialty store owner, you have to be sure the person in charge of your registry service either has none or checks them at the door each day.
Kristy Kirkwood of Washington State ended up not registering because of the impression she received while researching the registry process at her local department stores.

"I was given poor service -- I think because of attitude. I got horrendous looks from staff at every store that I went to. Most of them looked at me like I was crazy, a 40-year-old woman getting married, having a big wedding, and pondering a wedding registry," she explained. "I think most of them didn't want to be bothered with me, mostly because of my age."
She continued, "I would have liked to receive a new set of china, and some nice Waterford crystal; instead, we received things we did not want or need, like silver serving dishes."

Kirkwood's advice to retailers is to provide better customer service by teaching all your employees how to help with the registry process and to be sure your registry experts harbor no biases.

"Look at everyone as an equal -- don't be prejudiced against someone because of age. Everyone deserves a nice wedding, no matter who they are, what age they are, or anything else," she explained.

Christine and Kala

Still, some retailers are doing things right. Christine Miele and Kala Bokelman, both 34, did not encounter any negative attitudes when they registered at Macy's and Crate & Barrel.

"Both retailers were good. We started both registries in the store, on two different days. For us, what was obviously nice was that neither flinched at a same-sex couple registering. They just gave us our scanning guns and we were on our way," Miele explained. "We're making a decision to have a ceremony and we want to be able to walk in and register like everyone else. Our experience in Los Angeles was great, but I don't know how it is in other parts of the country."

Pinto-Melikian said bridal couples across the country should receive the same level of service and reception regardless of the couple's demographics.

"You cannot have a different program, whether it's a cultural difference, same-sex difference, or an older couple. They are brides and you need to treat them all the same. You have to treat them as if they were all first-time young brides," she said. "It's also important that the people you have in the store working with bridal registrants are the least opinionated of the bunch. You have to have the best people in your store working with the bridal registry -- the nicest, most gracious, soft-spoken person working with the bride."

Pinto-Melikian then noted, "It's such an incredibly strong bonding opportunity that the store has with this client -- you can't take a chance on losing them as a long-term customer. Don't blow it."
Monaghan said her consultants are discovering an ethnically diverse bridal population.
"They are spending more money," she explained. "They are definitely more sophisticated and they have a taste for trendy ethnic foods. One of the overall trends is to add a touch of ethnicity to the wedding and the simplest way to do that is in the food."

You may think this little piece of information isn't important unless you are catering the wedding, but you may want to remember this fact when you are designing your gift registry.
"These bridal couples are signing up for specialty food cookware way beyond the traditional pots and pans," Monaghan continued. "A major percentage of brides register and they are registering at the independent upscale gourmet stores and boutiques. They already have the basic kitchenware items, so what they are looking for are the unique pieces."

Marketing a Lifestyle

The main ingredient to successful bridal registry marketing is making bridal couples understand that you stock the products they want. Creating bundled images that speak to their lifestyle can help to achieve that goal.

"It's very important to reach out to all different types of wedding couples. The marketing strategy that we have found works best is to appeal to the style, taste, and lifestyle of a couple," Meltzer explained. "Our retailers pull together collections of merchandise and products that meet the lifestyle needs and tastes or preferences of different types of consumers, whether it's contemporary, traditional, or accommodating a busy lifestyle. These style preferences allow the couples to self-select. They are drawn toward a cross section of products that they feel is their need and tastes. This message cuts across different types of consumers and socioeconomic facts."
And it's a message that hit home with many of the bridal couples we interviewed. While most of them had good in-store experiences, some still seemed overwhelmed even after registering.

"When we first set out to register, we walked though Pottery Barn, and walked and walked and walked. We didn't register for one thing," Fedele said. "We hadn't really sat down to talk about what we needed, what colors and 'motif' we wanted to set in our home. When we went back to register a second time at Macy's, we had a better idea of what we needed after reviewing what we both already had."

Make the registry process easier for couples like this by educating your staff on how to guide them through the store to determine their identity as a couple. Although this couple did return to Pottery Barn later, getting your bridal registry consultants to recognize customers like Alicia Fedele and her fiancé is one way to build additional registries and some loyal lifetime customers.

The final installment of our 2004 Bridal Registry Series will discuss what should be on the bridal registry list and how to get bridal couples to fully complete the registry in your store. We will include comments from our bridal couples that address their in-store experiences and how they believe the services could have been improved. We'll also discover what they registered for, as well as give the results of a survey designed to determine the top-selling items in bridal registries across the country.

© 2004 VNU eMedia Inc.

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