Dear Brides to be and all of my other friends,
Be prepared. This is a bit of a rant on my part, but it's a well intentioned one. Today I'm writing to talk about the state of the bridal registry in this country. First, a bit of background. When I closed Schreibman Jewelers in 2013, we were still doing our registries the old fashioned way, pen to paper with as much one on one contact as the bride and groom needed to decide upon their patterns. Sometimes the young couple would come back three times and we welcomed that because it gave us a chance to introduce them to new merchandise and just generally get to know them a little bit better. We would enter their registries into our database afterwards so that we always had a copy that we could give to them. We handled orders by phone and shipped them out of our warehouse. There were times, especially during the heavier wedding months that we were sending out over 150 gifts a day. It never seemed like a problem.
Fast forward to last year when I decided to jump back into a retail setting during the holidays to see if perhaps I'd ever enjoy working on that side of register again. I went to work for a very well- known chain store who saw my resume as an opportunity to completely improve their bridal registry process. In all fairness, it was Christmas and this was a very busy location, but time after time I saw young couples having to wait . This confuses me for several reasons.
1. There should always be at least two registry experts working on the floor of a store that sells itself as a store with a bridal registry at any time.
2. I truly don't think that any young couple that has the ability to bring in thousands of dollars over a 6 month period should ever have to wait, without a cup of coffee for over 5 minutes. I was told when I brought the plight of one young couple to the managers attention that it was just too bad because "We were busy and they would just need to wait for as long as it took. "
3.The other problem as I see it? When a couple was finally taken care of instead of being treated to exceptional service, they went through the intake process and then handed a scanner , shown how to use it and then told to go around the store and choose their items and bring the scanner back when they were finished.
I watched this for awhile and listened while the management continued to complain about the lack of items on each registry.
Finally, one day I couldn't take it anymore. I broke the rules and walked up to a young couple standing by the high end mixer section. "Can I help you? " I asked. The bewildered looks on their faces told me everything that I needed to know. I spent the next hour frustrating my managers by leaving my "zone" but registering the young couple for everything they'd need. We chose stainless, tablecloths, service plates, colored glassware and more. We talked about who they were, what they loved and how they saw themselves using the beautiful things that they would receive.
I asked them what china they'd chosen and the bridal actually said to me, "Well we did choose good dishes but you probably wouldn't know them?" I grinned and said, "Try me!" She'd chosen Bernardaud Constance and was thrilled when I could help her choose wonderful accents to go with those dishes even though they weren't in that particular store. When we were finished we took the scanner up to the manager on duty and the bride hugged me and said, "I just want to thank you..we were just so confused and you helped us choose way more than we'd thought we would. Our friends will love this registry." I went to help the next customer and the manager later pulled me aside wanting to know how I'd gotten them to register for so much. I proceeded to tell her and she then informed me that it was lovely that time but truthfully I was only supposed to spend 15 minutes with the couple.
I was amazed and dismayed. It was such a robotic explanation and it came from upper level management sitting in offices in some other city. This is a store that should know better because the merchandise that they sell is high end. I turned in my letter of resignation two days later and when they asked me why I told them that I couldn't possibly work that way, that what they were selling wasn't a real bridal registry. I know that they could do better, but they won't in the name of easy profit. It's definitely much more profitable for them to let the customer do the work, but the customer is being cheated out of an experience and they know it.
They are not the only store doing this, in my research ( Jim and I renewed our wedding vows several years ago so I experimented with registries all over the country!) I have discovered that it's become the industry standard with the exception of small specialty stores and stores like Bergdorfs that intelligently use all of the technology at their disposal but in the background, still providing the customer service that once made our industry great.
My point? If we lament the loss of the specialty store and the service that we were once able to provide it's because we let it happen . If you are wondering why there is no one left to sell gorgeous products it's because the market has been destroyed our reliance on the technology that we embraced too quickly. We've outsourced great customer service to a scanner and we haven't provided our salespeople with the time or the training that would allow them to provide the emotionally rich experience that many customers want again. They miss it, they tell me so and in turn all of us are missing good sales.
We can do better!
We're missing out on the opportunity to create beautiful products lines, because the sales just aren't there. I hear constantly that "it's just not the same" and this is true, but it's not just the scanners fault. It's not just the economy that hampers our business , although it is indeed a factor.
There is a scarcity of great customer service and experience that is self imposed because it's just become all about the bottom line. We've stopped training our salespeople to emotionally relate to our customers and in turn they've stopped relating to us. Many of many clients tell me that their sales reflect that but that they don't know why or what to do about it. I tell them to remember that first and foremost it starts with them!
It’s such a wonderful time of the year to become engaged! If you have, then you’re already aware with the first flush of romantic fervor and excitement that there’s SO much to be done in such a short amount of time! Choosing the date, finding the perfect place for the reception, creating the perfect atmosphere with flowers and food, and in my mind, the most important choice of all, The Bridal Registry! I remember so many times when couples became engaged in our store moments after he bought the ring that she was just glancing shyly at! I’ve cried many happy tears, when years later, these same sweet girls, now young mothers, brought their new babies for me to hold when they came home for the holidays! I’ve always loved the fun of the bridal registry, watching our couples begin to create their lives together, listening to them talk about how they wanted to entertain their friends and families!
It was always such fun watching them when they saw our china room for the first time, laughing with excitement as they realized that their choices weren’t limited to just the few things that they had seen in department stores or magazines! A fine gift store will have beautiful china, crystal and silver from all around the world, and many pieces of gorgeous giftware that you won’t ever see in a “big box” store! It can be very confusing at that first glance, and I loved my role as navigator through the registry process, so that the gifts that our couples chose for themselves really reflected the two of them as well as the family that they would eventually create. Remember that the responsibility of maintaining your bridal registry is a gift for the store/s that you select and you should be treated with a lot of respect by the consultants who work there! Don’t register with a store if the sales help is unfriendly or if you are treated impatiently. They are going to become an extension of your family for a while and you’ll, need to be able to count on them to be patient, calm and caring, especially when the wedding date begins to seem too close for comfort! Make sure that the registry has a good return policy, so that you can take a few months to get settled into your new life without having to worry about being stuck with too many ice buckets or silver trays! Be sure to ask about the store policy for special ordering the pieces from your registry that aren’t in stock. Good stores will have a gift certificate that they will send before the gift is actually ordered for you, so that you can choose whether or not to keep it. If you are registering at more than one store, you’ll need to get a good journal to keep track of your gifts. This way, the stores you’ve chosen don’t have to deal with stocking and handling unnecessary merchandise, and you aren’t aggravated because you’ve received 3 Havilland gravy boats! Once you’ve been given a platter, or anything that you want only one of, please update the other registries quickly so that they can focus on selling all of the other lovely gifts that you want! Keeping pre-stamped thank you notes nearby and writing them as soon as you receive a gift or certificate guarantees that they’ll never become an unfinished chore!
Make sure that you understand what the policy and charges are for shipping your presents, as ideally you will want your gifts shipped as soon as the store receives them unless you have instructed otherwise. It is important to understand how they will handle any UPS tracking issues that they need to when a package is missing. Feel free to ask all of the questions that you need to, so that you understand how your registry will be handled. Fine specialty stores are usually very busy during the bridal season, and by being as specific as possible in the beginning, you will avoid any unnecessary problems down the road. Gift wrapping is usually complimentary, but if you are environmentally conscious and don’t wish to have your packages wrapped that’s okay too! Just make sure that the consultant that you’re working with lists ALL of your special requests on your registry so that they are not accidentally overlooked!
My last piece of practical advice is, PLEASE don’t make the mistake of choosing a store based only on heavily discounted price. The best stores offer wonderful service, knowledgeable help and the newest patterns! Please send your guests to the store that has willingly spent so much time and effort helping you select all of your beautiful gifts. The service that you are receiving from a wonderful store does come with a price tag but it’s really worth spending the extra percentage that you would be saving if you registered with one of the catalog discounters. Knowledgeable giftware consultants are expensive to hire but they are so important for guaranteeing the wonderful experience that you, your husband and grandchildren will appreciate for a lifetime!
The chances are far better with a specialty store that you’ll get the level of service that you desire. When something comes in broken, or isn’t quite right, a fine store will have the experience to handle the problem. Most will bend over backwards to deliver a package personally if a guest comes in at the last minute and says “Please, can’t you somehow get it to her today?” I can’t tell you how many rehearsal dinners I’ve taken gifts to, or how many times I ran to the engravers in the middle of the night to have something redone that wasn’t quite right and needed in the morning! Remember, you deserve the finest service that any store has to offer, but when a store has to compete with a large discounter for a sale, great service becomes too expensive for most specialty stores to provide. Because the process of planning an extraordinary wedding can be so frantic, this is one time when you’ll definitely want fantastic service!
Spend a lot of time enjoying the process of registering! It is important for you to be able to walk around with the plates and glasses in your hands, living with them for awhile. If you’re leaving the store after the first time without a clear decision, a good rule of thumb is that the first plate that you remember after you’ve left will be the pattern that has captivated you! Concentrate on choosing the dinner plate first, because if you think of the table as a blank canvas, the dinner plate will become the largest focal point in your painting! If you have them, bring swatches of fabric, pictures of your dining room or anything else that will help you convey the feeling that you desire. A great store will have consultants who know quite a lot about interior design, helping you to choose incredible combinations of color, style and texture that will allow you to create many different looks from your new set of dishes! For example, the stunning Old Imari pattern which is very formal/traditional and frequently coupled with antique sterling, can be dressed down to an almost contemporary level for an exotic Japanese dinner by using a gilded straw placemat, chopsticks and glassware whose design mirrors the strong shapes that are found in the plate. After you’ve chosen the plate, have fun getting to know the many crystal patterns available, and finally choose silverware or stainless to complete your gorgeous table setting! Don’t worry about it if you fall in love with more than one crystal pattern, mix them together! If you love colored crystal, it can be mixed with clear crystal to create an enchanting effect!
Remember to select a gorgeous pair of candlesticks for your table because mixtures of cut and simple crystal as well as different combinations of flatware are at their loveliest by candlelight! Don’t hesitate to ask the consultant if you can take your patterns home overnight, so that you can get to know them for a bit without distraction. Most stores will happily let you do this, with the agreement that they are returned unharmed the next day. After you’ve completed your registry, all that’s left to do is wait with happy anticipation for the first gifts to arrive, and once your wedding day has come and gone, the two of you can spend many quiet romantic dinners together , mixing new traditions with the old , creating the perfect blend of family!
I’m wishing you a wonderful life together filled with all of the joy and breathlessness that a great marriage can bring!
Picture of Wedgwood Anthenium courtesy of Wedgewood UK
As President of Schreibman Jewelers East, the bridal registry is a subject that I have devoted my life to quite passionately and I want to warn you ahead of time that I’m quite opinionated about the subject. I still get a thrill when as a consultant I can help a young woman create a look that is distinctly her own and not a cookie cutter lifestyle that can be purchased out of a catalog by just anyone. I can always tell by the happy smile that appears when we’ve got it just right and when that happens I know that I’ve done my job well!
I remember when my mother began our bridal registry so many years ago. She was influenced by how she had been brought up; hers was an age of beauty, personalization and exclusivity. I remember her saying to my father that her goal was to create a beautiful, easy and personalized bridal registry experience for each young couple that walked through the doors such that they felt that they had created a style that was unique and special. So, with the help of my father they slowly built a bridal registrythat by the time we closed our doors in 2003 had demonstrated that philosophy with incredible success.
Our goal was to make sure that no two registries were the same. We brought over 3500 brides and their fiancés through our doors and spent hours with them helping them to choose their patterns. We registered them for lots of other gifts too, beautiful and functional pieces that we knew that they would need not just now, but in twenty or thirty years. We displayed patterns from companies that were exclusive yet affordable and westocked a wide range of giftware that was chosen not only for its longevity but would accommodate every taste and pocketbook. We did not sell complete sets but instead helped our young brides put together mixed and matched sets for hertable that allowed her creativity to shine through. It was so much fun, definitely not the chore that registering seems to be these days. We wrapped all of their gifts in many gorgeous patterns of wrapping paper and often personally hand-delivered them. It was a wonderful time to be in the giftware business!
Mother and I fought the trend early and distanced ourselve’s from the stampede of marketing that was encouraging our customers to buy only full sets of things. We knew that the emphasis on selling china that way was a by-product of an industrythat had learned that it was less expensive to sell and deliver all of these products in boxed sets. Now for the most part because of an economy that has driven a lot of good specialty stores to have to compete with internet pricing, the full set hasbecome the industry standard.
Why? It’s more efficient and less costly for all of us to sell dishes this way because quite often we have to compete with price and not service. It’s a philosophy that kills creativity and that thought leads me directly to the point that I wish to make!
So often, my customers would come in, look at the registries and say to me, “Beth, I don’t want to be a part of a set. This young woman is so special to me and I want to give her a beautiful gift, something that everytime she sees it, will remind her that I gave it to her.”
I inherently understood that desire. I own many different sets of dishes, service plates and glassware. None of them match. They had been chosen as gifts for my parents and grandparents and it was understood that that they had been chosen to convey love, respect and individuality . It was up to the couple to decide how to use them. I’m not advocating a return to that completely, but I am a strong believer that a personally chosen gift is more satisfying to the gift giver and in many cases more delightful to receive. Quite honestly it didn’t matter a fig to me if a customer went off of the registry.. I’ve had customers who said to me, “ May I please see the bridal registry for _______.” Then they would sheepishly say to me, “I’m going to Ireland next month and I want to bring her a special piece of crystal”. Did I think to myself “there goes the sale”? To be more than honest with you, sometimes I did, but more often then not I knew that it was because this particular customer needed and wanted the experience of buyingsomething much more personal. So I would give them the information and guess what? They’d buy the wedding gift in Ireland but would always come back to me to purchase all of the shower presents!
Why did I do that? It made me happy to know that the bride was getting something wonderful and it was up to her to figure out how to incorporate it into her lifestyle! What I always hated was losing a sale due to price. There’s no magic in that sort of sale and after all, what else is the engagement year supposed to be full of?
I know that there will be stores reading this that will think that I’ve fallen off of my rocker! I really haven’t. I’m simply advocating a return to a time when gift giving wasn’t a chore. There are some wonderful gift stores in Cleveland like Peter Danford, Mulholland and Sachs, Alson Jewelers and La Bella Vita to name just a few that still provide the experience of quality and service that let the bride and her guests know that their happiness is the most important thing at stake while providing the service that demonstrates it.
But enough said! Here I’ve compiled several things to keep in mind if you are wanting to purchase a personal gift for someone that is not necessarily on their bridal registry.
If the stores gift registry is a good one, they will really have captured the very essence of the couple on their registry. Ask to be shown who they are , not simply what they want. At Schreibmans we spent hours “interviewing “each couple to discover their personal likes and dislike and that’s the knowledge that we brought to each sale.
Even though you want to purchase something unique, let the sales associate show you the pieces that the young couple truly loves. Often you’ll find something right there that resonates with your desire to purchase a truly special gift!
Don’t worry about not being a part of a matched set. Yes, that’s what the bride may think that she wants, but in the end she’s not going to remember who gave her which bread and butter plates. If you want to buy the bread and butter plates that’s great, but it’s not necessary.
In the very beginning of my career as a registry expert, the dishes, stainless and crystal were considered to be shower presents. A bride’s sterling and fine china was usually a gift from the parents or grandparents. The wedding gift was always to be a unique and beautiful demonstration of love . Let that impulse guide your choice and you’ll never go wrong!
Finally, in the end if there is nothing that you like on the list, you absolutely have my permission to have fun and buy what you want to! It’s up to the young couple to be gracious, write their thank you notes in a timely fashioned and be honored that you took an hour or two to choose something unique just for them!
Picture courtesy of William Yeoward Inc
Freelance Writer, Herbalist, Aromatherapist, Lover of all things Fragrant and Beautiful, Lifestyle, Bridal Registry ~ Gifts and Tableware Consultant, Personal Shopper and Food Concierge!