Julie: Good morning. Welcome to our special Facebook live series Expert Connexions. We are now midway through our third week of connecting you with experts from a variety of industries all with insights to share as we navigate through this COVID-19 pandemic. We have talked with legal and tax expert advisors who can talk us through the small business stimulus money, unemployment questions, health and wellness, and even homeschooling and tech advice for working from home. Today we bring you three new experts in three different areas, starting with Jessica Brooks who is the owner of The Dress Shop. Jessica thanks so much for joining me today.
Jessica: Thank you for having me. This is an awesome opportunity to be able to hopefully help a couple of people.
Julie: Yeah so Jess we are talking about a very specific demographic of people obviously. Brides and grooms who have been planning their 2020 weddings and Beyond and so I really I know we’ve gotten a lot of questions, I know a lot of friends who are planning weddings who have had a lot of questions, so I want to really dive right in to talk about the impact of this coronavirus pandemic is having on both your business and then the wedding industry as a whole. So first of all what do brides who are still hoping to have spring and early summer weddings do so the ones that are really coming up here in the next couple of months, what do they need to know?
Jessica: Well the biggest thing for those brides is everything is just so up in the air right now and you know I’ve talked to some brides who are still planning May weddings and then other brides who have moved their June or July weddings you know to the next year. So the problem is just nobody has a solution. So I think the first thing is brides and grooms really need to decide what’s most important to them. You know we recently had a couple that they decided that they just wanted to be married and so unfortunately they had to cancel the big party and they had to in they got but they got married just the two of them with their officiant and that’s what they really that’s what mattered and that was cool but you know if your priority is having every guests present or having your dream day with no significant changes then you really need to figure out what that looks like/ That probably means moving your date at this time. It’s definitely too soon to know when this will be over, but we’re even seeing a lot of Brides move into the fall. Sunday weddings and also Monday weddings are becoming a thing. So I think the most important thing for brides is to look at their guest list, who’s going to be there, who’s going to be missing out, and then talk to their vendors too. Their venues, in particular, will be a really good resource for them with suggestions um everybody’s kind of we’re trying to figure this out as we go, but so far I’ve seen a lot of people pushing their dates further into the fall.
Julie: Absolutely I mean I was just talking to someone this morning and we were commenting that there isn’t a guidebook for this. None of us have ever lived through a pandemic before so we’re all figuring this out as we go and I love that you mentioned talking to vendors because that’s something that’s really consistent across all industries but I know for sure in the wedding industry talk to your vendors. Everyone’s in the same situation. If you can delay or postpone, push your wedding out, vendors are willing to work with you on that especially because their businesses too and so they’re looking at how this is going to impact them. They want to people everyone safe so if you can push it out a couple of months and still have that big day that you’ve dreamed of, you know what a win-win for everyone involved but I also love Jessica how you talked about you know if you want you can still have that intimate wedding, it can be just the two of you. I’ve seen some really intimate ceremonies that are happening. I know you know some videos that get shared and that really sees what at that moment now if that’s what you want and save the big party for when this is over because we’re certainly going to have a lot to party about when you all get together. So I want to ask you specifically to your store, the dress shop in Howell, should brides who have already ordered their dresses be concerned about delays? Maybe we’re talking about a bride who has a fall wedding scheduled or maybe something you know for the winter coming up. What are you seeing as far as delays? What should those brides know?
Jessica: So a couple of things. I’ve probably read the same articles that you’ve read and that a lot of our Brides have read saying that you know dresses are being delayed and manufacturers are you know in shutdown. Thankfully we have really amazing designers. I’m very blessed by our designers and they have actually all assured us that they’re still at full production and gowns are being shipped as planned. So right now the only delays that we are seeing would be due to the individual state quarantine, but shipping will resume as soon as each individual state announces an end of quarantine. So as far as the production of dresses everything is right on schedule and yeah we’re still good you know we’re very blessed and yeah I think we’re brides do not need to be concerned if they’ve got their dress through us, we’re good.
Julie: That I’m sure a lot of brides are breathing a sigh of relief hearing that and I’m sure your phones are probably ringing off the hooks just to answer those questions and Jessica I know we were talking as governor Whitmer had issued the executive order here for the states that you know stay home stay safe executive order you had actually gone into the to the dress shop which had already closed you had already made the decision to close for the safety of your guests as well as for your own staff and I know that must have been a very difficult decision to make, but I know you had gone in that day yourself in what like some 25 brides were able to get their dresses before that order went into place.
Jessica: Yeah as soon as the Governor announced that she was issuing that order I ran right into work and we actually we had received I think a hundred bridal gowns that day for brides and so literally me and one other employee we went in and we steamed as many dresses as we contacted every single bride and said if you need to pick up your dress we are here today, so thankfully we were. Yeah, 25 brides, we were able to get dresses out to that day which was a blessing just not knowing what happens next or how long this is going to be in a place and the last thing I would want is a bride to not have her dress for her day so yeah.
Julie: So Jessica what is the dress shop specifically doing right now to help brides and grooms as they’re figuring out their next steps?
Jessica: Yeah, so we actually have a lot of systems in place and our systems are changing daily so if you’re watching this tomorrow it might be different answers but most importantly we’re maintaining contact, seven days a week. Most of what I’m doing is email or website context that’s the quickest way to reach us obviously because we don’t have access to our phones, being that we’re not supposed to be going into the dress shop right now, but um every day contact me via text, email, and website inquiries, all the brides and grooms who have questions. Shipping, I’ve had a couple brides and bridesmaids who need their dresses as soon as the quarantine is lifted and so I’ve been able to go into the store on a very limited basis and get the dresses that they need and ship them directly to them, which has been I think is super helpful. I just can’t imagine being stressed about you’re stressed and brides are stressed enough with everything going on I can’t imagine not having their dress as well. So the other thing is working with designers. I was talking with the designer this morning just to make sure I mean they’ve all promised us the dresses are on time, but I’m still contacting them about individual dresses and saying hey look and so to make sure this bride is still planning for her May 15th wedding just want to make sure that this dress really is on its way you know for the last-minute orders we just got a couple of brides ordered at the last minute and I want to make sure we can get their dresses on time, but I also want to talk really quickly about some things that we’re doing for brides that might be a little bit concerned because they’re planning a fall or winter wedding and maybe they haven’t ordered their dress yet because we have a lot of brides who had appointments scheduled with us for the coming weeks to order bridal gowns or tuxedos or bridesmaids dresses so it’s important to remember for fall and winter weddings they still take up to 6 to 8 months for dresses to come in. So there’s a couple of ways that we can help brides. A lot of brides who haven’t chosen their dresses yet if they fall in love with a dress online we can actually order that still. So we’re working with brides who are calling saying I love this dress and I’m helping them get those ordered, which is an awesome thing that we’re still able to do to keep them on time or if they prefer to wait until the quarantine is lifted we totally get that would be me I would want to try dresses on person so I understand that but many of our designers actually have a lot of in stock options. So they look at what sizes are most popular or what colors they think are going to be most brides are going to want and they have dresses available. So we work with brides when a bride comes in and we look and we’ll say okay look we’ve got this hundred and fifty dresses that we can get for you before your wedding date. So we’re doing we’re going to be working with a lot of brides doing that once this quarantine is lifted. We also have a lot of sample dresses. We have a really large selection of dresses that a bride can take home today, she says yes to the dress. So that’s going to be really important. I had a bride contact me with a June wedding and she’s like what do I do I don’t have a dress yet and I said no problem we’ll schedule an appointment and as soon as this is over, you come in we’ll find your dress, you’ll just take it home. So we’re trying to do what we can you know from that standpoint. Bridesmaids are very similar. So again bridesmaid’s dresses can take six months to come in, but brides can also – we’ve been telling a lot of brides that can go online and choose the styles and colors that they want. Bridesmaids can submit their measurements through our online portal and we can get their dresses ordered even through this quarantine and so really trying to help them out. One of the other really cool things we have though is tuxedos and we’ve got some really cool capabilities that I absolutely love right now. So couples can choose their tuxedos through our online portal. They can choose you know we are tux managers, work with them still remotely and we can choose you know all the colors and vests and ties and everything else. Then the Groomsman can also submit their measurements online as well. We can ship the tuxes and even replacement items directly to each customer’s home and they can ship them back directly after the wedding. So it’s a really cool feature they actually don’t even have to come into our store right now if it’s the quarantine which we are.
Julie: I bet a lot of men are listening and loving that about the quarantine.
Jessica: Yeah it’s actually on the super popular item with men because as you can imagine that most men they’re not going into a bridal shop once or twice and they’re good.
Julie: Yeah I don’t know about having to try on those Tuxes.
Jessica: Yes, so that’s been really nice. So the shipping for the tuxes has been especially awesome and then we’re also like I said I’m just trying to help Brides plan ahead. A lot of people are going right to our website which is tdsbridal.com, they’re booking their appointments for after the quarantine. For bridal gowns, bridesmaids, tuxedos, or just contacting us with questions. While I’m mentioning our website I should say we have a lot of really helpful planning tools including blogs. We’ve got a wedding planning e-guide that’s on the blog section of our website, so a lot of tools that are super helpful right now and I guess the two other things that we’re doing. sorry, we’re doing so many things my brain is just –
Julie: I know no I love it. I love it. Especially Jessica because what I really love that I hear you saying too is you have pivoted and I mean and you just keep pivoting. I mean you we look at what is happening to all small business owners right now and you are a great example of being able to continue to provide this customer service that your brides and grooms need. In fact, Stephanie commented here what a great service you continue to provide despite this challenging time. Absolutely. I mean you talk about how you’re working around the clock even on weekends and I know many small business owners are to keep up, but it’s you know also a time when it could be easy to shut down. It could be easy to kind of say okay well we’re closed you know what we’ll figure this out when we can reopen and you’re not doing that. You’re instead able to guide these brides and grooms through and like you said you’ve been able to ship some of these dresses so that they arrive in time. Just a really great example that I think other businesses can look to for that. So keep going, tell us you know what else you’re doing because I think also not only is this really good for brides and grooms to hear but I think it’s also really good for other businesses as we look for examples and kind of generate these ideas and brainstorm what we can be doing with our own businesses to help service our clients right now.
Jessica: Exactly I mean it’s scary I mean it’s a scary time as a business owner. We’ve got you know I mean it’s a scary time as everyone no matter who you are, it’s just scary, it’s unknown and so yeah we’re doing everything we can so we want to help I mean ultimately like our Brides, are current Brides, our future Brides, like that’s those I want to make their day as good as possible and this is I can’t even imagine their stress they’re going through right now, so anything we do that’s kind of my goal. Yeah, the two other areas that we’re really working on alterations is a big one. As you can imagine if you’ve got a spring or summer wedding your dress is in alterations right now or it’s going to be really soon, so that you know rescheduling those Brides that’s been fun because every day you know their dates are changing, you know their needs are changing, and it’s super stressful for a bride saying am I going to get my dress altered in time? So as of right now yes. We’re still good with alterations where we’ve got an awesome alterations team they’re ready to come back and work so I’ve gotten everyone rescheduled and we’re just going to keep going.
Julie: And we have to point this out too Jessica as Stephanie pointed this out, thanks for pointing this out Stephanie. We shared this as well last week that your team has been sewing face masks during this crisis in order to help the nursing community.
Jessica: It’s awesome they’ve um yeah like non-stop. I mean that’s it’s really it’s kind of I’m very proud we’ve had a really awesome team and just they’re just and that was actually the last thing in my list was how awesome our team is. I’ve been in contact regularly with everyone. We have an awesome team and I couldn’t run this business without them and I like literally the other day I send messages to a girl like I miss your face. You know it’s just this way we need everybody there when we come back and thankfully everyone’s reporting that they’re safe and that they’re healthy but they can’t wait to get back and help our Brides. Actually, I can’t believe how many text messages I’ve got saying I miss our brides. You know it’s kind of cool. Everybody loves what we do and we want to be there and I’ve even had stylists and alterations seamstresses text me saying hey this bride right here, have you talked to her? I’m concerned about this and so everybody’s home and like you’re not supposed to be working let me handle this but everybody is home and thinking about work and the team and everybody can’t wait to come back and it’s we’re all going to get through this. I mean we’re helping the brides get through. I’ll hold their hands with everything and I’m just really proud of the team that we have and that they’re all going to be there when this is over as well.
Julie: Absolutely. I love to hear that too. When I was talking on Tuesday with Vicki Hamilton Allen she’s the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Capital Region one of the things she said that has really stood out to a lot of our viewers is that at the end of the day it’s your team that’s going to help you through the recovery. You know as we’re looking at small businesses, we’re looking at nonprofits, and so you know when she was kind of talking about how you know she’s been very fortunate at this point. There haven’t been any staff cuts and she’s really working hard you know just to see that through and I know it’s a very difficult decision so I’m not certainly not saying anything about those who’ve had to make that decision with their teams, but I love what you’re saying about how much your team matters because I know even for myself I’m realizing now more than ever and sappy gratitude moment but now more than ever just how important it is the people we have on our teams, the people that support our businesses because that’s what’s going to get us through this.
Jessica: Yes. yeah, and it’s true and that’s how we’re all going to survive and even just supporting each other and this strength of that you know when that we give each other and I’m not going to lie I know a lot about the dress shop, but I can’t know everything so I’ve had to reach out a couple of times and say hey I’m receiving a bridal gown and that’s not usually my job so how do I do this? You know I mean and that’s think thank God we got such strong teams and you know such strong support systems we all need that through this and you know I mean we’re really lucky and I think you’re right the teams are what’s going to help with the recovery and that’s what’s going to make all of our businesses come back stronger and better and help us to be able to continue to support, in our case the bride’s, but in everyone’s case, you know general consumer.
Julie: Absolutely well Jessica thank you for spending your time talking with us. I’m sure your Brides will have more questions than we’ve been able to get through today. What is the best way right now for them to get a hold of you right now?
Jessica: The best way is there’s a Contact Us section on our website which is tdsbridal.com. They can also email us at [email protected]. We’re not able to check our phones, unfortunately. I don’t have that capability set up but maybe after this, I might look into that but right now email and our website are going to be the best ways to reach us and like I said I am responding daily to all the inquiries. So give me up to 24 hours, but I will get back with everyone just as soon as I can.
Julie: Excellent and again I will plug your blog on your website. It is full of resources so brides as you are planning your wedding, as you’re figuring out even if you’re doing a small intimate gathering now and a big party later, lots of information on the tdsbridal.com website and on their social media pages as well.
Jessica: Yes, absolutely and thank you for the job you are doing Julie. I mean you’re doing an invaluable service to the community and to all of us stuck at home wondering what to do next, no matter what industry we’re in, so I can’t thank you enough. I mean you provided some invaluable information to me over the past couple weeks and I know you have – a lot of others too, so thank you for what you’re doing it’s pretty awesome.
Julie: Thanks, Jessica. I appreciate that. So Jessica Brooks of the dress shop thank you for joining us. Coming up today we have two more interviews coming up today, that I want to quickly tell you about. At 1 o’clock eastern Patricia Scott, she’s an attorney with foster swift, she’s going to talk us through kind of this business as usual or really unusual things we really need to think about as far as collections and payments and contracts and how we start to develop these new normal processes for our businesses. Then at 3 o’clock today Beth Peck, she is the executive director of project koru. It’s a nonprofit that works with cancer survivors. She’s going to talk to us about some of these new programs they are implementing to keep their nationwide group of survivors connected. So some really interesting ideas there and we’ll hear how the COVID-19 epidemic is impacting the cancer community. So stay with us today for two more interviews and of course, all of our interviews can be found on our website mConnexions.com. Okay, we’ll see you back here at one o’clock today.