Thank you to 195 retailers who participated in the survey, which is a great sample of the industry to learn from. I developed the survey to better understand what retailers are doing to help their business. I also wanted to create an opportunity for retailers to focus on marketing and think about what they are doing to help their business and look at other options that were covered in the questions. There are some observations that follow on certain questions on the survey but please view the survey results before viewing the observations. To view the results click here.

Some observations:

Question 1 on what marketing strategies are important to attracting local customers

Word of mouth, internet, bridal shows and networking were used and ranked important to a vast majority surveyed. Ironically, to those that use yellow pages and newspaper, only a minority of respondents ranked these strategies as important. This is very revealing to the shift of importance to web presence being far more effective to getting local customers than the off-line methods, whose effectiveness continue to decrease. I did neglect to include wedding magazines, which I think is also important because of the target audience. However, magazines that are strictly handed out at bridal shows or left at random free distribution points are less effective than paid magazines or those that are also distributed through more individualized distribution points like bridal registries or other distribution points that have access to the bride on a one-to-one basis in an early stage of the planning process.

Question 3 – Networking

A majority of the dealers survey network by actively recommending their associates which is very important. However, only a small percentage exchange client information. Because there are gaps of time that may pass between the time a referral is made and the time the actual planning for that service is started, the most important networking initiative between vendors is exchange of information so that follow-up can be done to reinforce the referral made. For example a caterer, gives out your business card and says some nice words about your business. If the wedding is not for another year, months pass and it is likely she will forget about the referral. If you have the contact info, you can call, mail or email incorporating that you were referred by the caterer and that referral will much more likely come to fruition.

Question 5 – Bridal Show follow-up

The only method that the majority of respondents use to follow up with bridal show attendees is email. At the show make some sort offer for a limited time that creates urgency. An integrated approach of phone, mail and email will generate much more response than email alone. I know that telemarketing is sometimes frowned upon but how about looking at it as a voice advertisement. Considering calling in the late morning knowing you will mostly likely get their voice mail and leave a short, enthusiastic message. A few people will likely call back, it will be as effective as direct mail or email and there is little time wasted on the phone even talking to someone who was not prepared for the call. That same strategy can be used for any referral names you get from your networking group.

Question 6 – Maintaining a data base of customers

I was pleasantly surprised to see how many dealers maintain customer data bases. Calling satisfied customers to see how they are is not a cold call, if it is by the person who worked with them on their invitations and a good rapport was built. Call to wish them a happy birthday, happy holiday or anniversary and ask them if they know anyone who is planning a party.

Question 7 –  Referral Incentives

Very few dealers use referral incentives. I feel they can be effective to motivate customers to refer you again once they receive a gift for doing it the first time. If at all possible at least acknowledge every referral if you can identify who your new customer was recommended by.

Question 8 – Testimonials

Testimonials that are authentic in the eyes of the prospective customer can help make a sale. Enhance the presentation of thank you cards you receive by pairing them with the invitation you did for that satisfied customer.

Question 9 – Promotional Material

Almost all participants hand out business cards. However, since invitations are such a visual and tactile product, using actual promotional invitations or 4 color pieces with quality photos can help drive customers to your store and help leave a more lasting impression on customers who left undecided. Also hand out materials that help with the planning that the customer might refer to see your name. Some suppliers also provide materials that you can hand out and some will personalize it for you.

Question 10 – Public Relations

Most marketing experts will tell you that the right editorial exposure is better than the best ad because you are being given credibility by an outside source rather tooting your own horn. Yet hardly any dealers surveyed do any PR because they do not have the time or do not know how. In your local market reaching out to editors of special sections for local magazines and newspapers explaining that you would like to be a resource to help educate their readers if a relevant opportunity comes up can be the easiest pathway to getting free publicity. The end result in enough publicity is being postured as an expert or entity that creates buzz and demand for your business. Ac customer seeking out a business because they are impressed with an article written or a photo seen associated with the local business is less likely to be discount driven or comparative shopping than a customer that responds to an advertisement. PR is worth doing and becoming educated on how to do it. PR firms may be cost prohibitive for the average retailer, so it is something that you need to take on in-house.

Questions 11-15 Having a web site and marketing online.

I think that the statistic of 72% of those surveyed that reported having a web site probably exceeds the actual industry percentage. Every invitation business should have a web site because almost all customers looking for invitations are researching online. Having a web site is becoming an issue of the credibility of a business to customers other than referrals. Equally as important to having a web site is making sure that the web site is found and only minority of dealers even market online. This is to the detriment of the entire retail environment as the online environment is dominated by online retailers. Retailers do not need to be found nationally but it is essential they are found locally. I feel that at this point you know you have a successful online presence if over 30% of your retail customers found you online.

Below are a list of advertising and marketing ideas that might be helpful from comments given by dealers surveyed.

  1. Have an in store bridal show or event if you have the space. Another off-shoot of that idea is to have a planning seminar with an outside speaker if you do not feel comfortable doing the seminar yourself.
  2. Marketing to bridal consultants and party planners to refer you (if they do not already sell invitations).
  3. Temple and Church Bulletins.
  4. Joining local chamber of commerce and woman’s clubs.
  5. Join local chapter of NACE and ISES which have caterers and other vendors to network with.
  6. Seek out holiday boutiques and temple events to display at
  7. Donate gift certificates for exposure at fund raisers

Many dealers also expressed interest in some of the marketing services offered by Local Traffic Builder.