Fall 2011
Working Wedding Wonders By Heather Johnson Durocher

Bridal Buys

Here's a breakdown of spending in key wedding categories:

Invitations and Print Items: $650
Guest books: $52
Menu cards: $81
Place Cards: $59
Thank you notes: $76
Gifts and Favors: $717

To see what average spending is in your region, and perhaps adjust your pricing to be competitive, visit theweddingreport.com to access regional spending statistics.

Wow your brides-to-be by stocking the very best for their special day. Their satisfied word-of-mouth recommendations mean you’ll have many more customers to have and to hold.

Brides, bridesmaids, and brides’ mothers are still shopping for the essential items you provide to make the wedding day—as well as engagement parties, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, rehearsal dinners, and more—perfect and memorable. So while the economy might be putting a small dent in the wedding market, the category will always remain one worth taking a look at.

While it is true that the wedding market is seeing a slight decline in spending right now, some sectors remain strong, says Shane McMurray, owner of the wedding industry survey site TheWeddingReport.com. With 2.4 million brides tying the knot annually, gifts and accessories for the big day promise to be hot movers always. According to McMurray, couples are cutting spending by reducing the number of guests, eliminating or reducing travel, planning cocktail party receptions rather than sit-down dinners, and spending less on flowers. These are not sectors that impact your services. In fact, brides hold invitations and gifts as high-priority wedding elements they’re willing to spend more on.

Trending up

Country superstar Carrie Underwood’s nuptials, as well as the garden-lovely elements of the royal wedding, have catapulted rustic weddings as a top wedding theme. To capitalize on this trend, offer many different sizes and styles of mason jars, including caseloads for brides to buy in bulk as favors. Brides can place flowers or candles within them.

Other rustic trend products include baskets, ribbons, a variety of metal lanterns and wildflower-patterned papers and linens.

The romance of flowers sells strongly in wedding designs, with blooms ranging from formal roses, tea roses and gardenias, to the Duchess Catherine-inspired lily-of-the-valley. Peonies are also popular in wedding print and décor.

Inviting presentations

Diane Morrow, owner of Seasons Gifts & Home in Madison, NJ, sees traditional white and ivory as continuing to be top-sellers when it comes to wedding invitations and stationery. “But brides want brighter-colored ink and motifs so that the style stands out,” Morrow adds. She reports an increase of invitation sales over the past two years, which she credits to her knowing her customers’ tastes and stocking lines accordingly.

Gene Arrington, owner of Pretty Papers and Gifts in Hilton Head Island, SC, has seen a jump in orders for menu cards as well. “For these and for invitations, brides love lots of layered looks, and we’re also seeing folders popular for invitations,” Arrington says.

Anna Griffin, president of Atlanta-based Anna Griffin Inc., says brides want a touch of glamour—with creative textures and embellishments—in their invitations. Anna Griffin’s Old Hollywood-inspired invitations and print items feature shimmering silver and gold palettes and elaborate die-cut shapes that are romantic and timeless. “Our top seller has been a vellum wrap invitation printed in metallic silver ink with a dusting of silver glitter, all tied up with a double-face satin ribbon,” Griffin says.

“All our invitations have some three-dimensional aspect to them, like flocking, embossing, a vellum sleeve or glitter. We think brides want their guests to experience their invitations and feel like they have received a special gift,” she adds. Anna Griffin also supplies coordinating thank you notes, place cards and reply cards so that brides “can easily create their entire ensemble.”

Patricia MacArthur, executive creative director at Weddingstar Inc. in Alberta, Canada, says the company debuted four new stationery collections this year: Classic Orchid featuring beautiful, classic orchid flowers; Homespun Charm evoking the mood of a garden party with wildflowers, banners and playful flags; Rustic Country featuring vintage etched country-style design; and Wine Romance featuring grapes hanging off lush vines on a beautiful rustic background. MacArthur advises retailers to display samples in store so that brides can see how items relate to each other.

Fab favors

According to Jen Warchol, marketing manager for The Aspen Brands Company’s Kate Aspen line, favors allow brides to make a personal statement—be it related to fashion or otherwise. “Personalized choices featuring fleur de lis, chandeliers and lovebirds [are big],” Warchol says. “Interestingly, more traditional icons like hearts are still strong choices, especially when we deliver them with trend-right designs and colors,” she adds. The Aspen Brands Company is based in Duluth, GA.

Beach-themed items have long been a staple of the Kate Aspen favors line, “especially given the steady growth of destination weddings,” says Warchol, who says that beach-themed candle favors are being given to guests as favors and also used as table décor.

Beautiful and eye-catching presentation and packaging are important in all of gift retail but especially so when it comes to wedding favors. Melanie Faye, owner of Pretty Personalized, which wholesales a variety of favor boxes, says the damask motif continues to be extremely popular in black and white, and also in a variety of colors such as hot pink and eggplant. Best sellers for the company include the Cube Box and Scalloped Bags. Six bright new box colors coordinate with the best-selling Flower Top Box, which has seen sales increase by 50% since the summer launch.

“Customers love garden-inspired floral motifs that tie in with the wedding theme and add a pop of color,” Faye says. Two years ago, the company launched personalized natural cotton bags for an eco-friendly offering that brides and bridesmaids love.

To complement favors, personalized labels and ribbons are also in demand—with monograms in an array of colors as the top choice. Pretty Personalized offers different label colors to coordinate with favor packaging and the event’s theme.

Bearing gifts for the bridal party

Brides want to give gifts personalized by style or by names, monograms or initials. At the same time they want to stand out and give something unique and worth treasuring, and will spend a bit more to do so. Diane Forden, editor-in-chief of Bridal Guide magazine says that according to a recent Bridal Guide online survey, over 80% of brides plan to spend an average of $60 each on bridesmaids’ gifts. What’s hot in this category?

Totes: Stylish fabric totes personalized with the bridesmaid’s name, initial or monogram.

Jewelry: Chunky, bold colors sell well for necklace and earring sets. Stacks of colorful bangle bracelets are increasingly popular jewelry items.

Trays: Stylish serving trays work well as bridesmaids’ gifts as well as for parents. Trays may be large such as the Mariposa Tray Chic lines, or the traditional bridal oval tray with a pearl-design border. Small silver-toned statement trays bearing engraved words, such as ‘Friend’ and ‘Family’ are also popular.

Mix and Match: A new trend is giving different items from the same line as custom-chosen items for bridesmaids. Kate Aspen’s Bridesmaid’s Boutique, for instance, offers the “Kensington” collection which includes a matching apron and oven mitt, personalized cosmetics travel bag, and a personalized reversible tote with wristlet. “A bride can also choose the same item in different colors for each bridesmaid,” says Warchol. For groomsmen, gifts still include monogrammed money clips, beer mugs, and bar sets, also custom-selected.

For the big day

Elegance and beauty define every wedding and brides can look to your store to supply the perfect accessories for the big day. Here are some popular offerings:

Cake toppers: Cynthia Miller, Director Giftware Development at Bloomingdale, IL-based Roman Inc. says that the sophistication and elegance inspired by the recent royal wedding are captured in the company’s Language of Love figurine cake topper collection. The collection by artist Gina Freehill includes the rhinestone-embellished designs ‘First Dance,’ ‘Embrace,’ and ‘Kiss.’ “These graceful cake toppers can be used for the main table centerpiece when florals are used to decorate the cake,” says Miller, a reminder that your display of these items as a centerpiece can spur sales.

Décor: Christine Mahoney, sales manager for the Manchester, MA-based Mariposa, say the company’s Andiamo collection features silver centerpiece bowls in a contemporary style that appeals to young brides. “We use 100% recycled aluminum, which makes the eco-friendly bride and gift-giver very happy,” she says.

Wedding moment Items: Champagne toasting flutes, engraved cake knives, and engraved champagne buckets all complete products to stock for an elegant wedding. At many weddings, trays are used in cultural traditions such as presenting the bride and groom with good-luck wine, bread and salt—something to bring up to customers as they browse your store.

Finally for little emergencies, Ms. and Mrs., an Arlington Heights, IL-based company, offers their version of the traditional bride’s supply tote with a line of stylish Minimergency Kits for the bride, bridesmaid, moms and grooms. These are filled with such essentials as lip balm, breath freshener, dental floss, earring backs, hand sanitizing towelettes and more.

Attracting brides

If your advertising budget is limited, create a Facebook page (if you don’t have one already) and post images and information about your products and sales. Host contests and giveaways that will entice local brides, as well as national brides to shop from your website. Use Twitter’s #weddingwednesday hashtag to point customers to your site, and thus to your shop.

Diane Morrow of Seasons Gifts & Home says the majority of her store’s business comes via word-of-mouth. “Brides are very quick to share an excellent retailer experience with all their friends in person, on social media, and on message boards. Mothers too, are influential in referring quality gift shop experiences for event planning and gift needs,” she says.

When brides talk, they’re discussing not just the quality of your products, but the personal service you provided, and the experience of ordering their invitations. “We’ve set up a very comfortable, roomy space with a large table and easy access to our over 75 invitation sample books,” says Morrow. “Our ‘meeting’ to discuss the bride and groom’s wishes is made very comfortable by making quality space for them to spread out and easily look at multiple samples side-by-side. Our brides tell their friends about the experience we provide.”

Morrow says that the initial sit-down with a bride and groom begins with an overview of what her shop offers, and she provides the couple with a printed checklist of what they’ll need, from menu cards to place cards, table cards, and more. “My couples may order Save the Dates and invitations on their first visit, then come back a second time to order additional items, then a third time to order their programs.” The checklist helps motivate additional purchases.

Drawing them in

Morrow says that her store windows always showcase fresh invitations hanging from ribbons. The colors, fonts, and typestyles draw customers in. “We also create inspiration boards for different types of occasions, showing invitations, note cards and other items on display boards we hang in the back of the store near our invitations center,” Morrow adds.

If you have room, create tablescapes to show off bridal place settings, frames, candlesticks and other pretty pieces. Remember that brides don’t like visual clutter. They prefer artistic arrangements of bridal items arranged in a lifelike setting. Have several bridal ‘stations’ throughout your store while yet another table could feature formal frames, albums, and other higher-end gift items. Scatter these displays throughout the store to get brides browsing.

To have and to hold

“Gift shop owners should recognize that wedding customers can and should be returning customers,” says MacArthur of Weddingstar. “Relationship-building is the most important area to focus on in order to ensure they see that customer return for the many other gift-giving occasions that will follow the wedding. Wedding customers want to feel like they matter. High qu ality and responsive customer care is critical in order to be successful in the wedding market,” MacArthur adds.

Mouse over images below to view.

Heather Johnson Durocher

Durocher is a northern Michigan-based journalist who writes frequently about business for newspapers and magazines. She has contributed to USA Weekend, Woman's Day, Parents and American Baby. Visit her website at HeatherDurocher.com

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