There really is no denying that COVID-19 has been the most significant event in our lives to hit the bridal industry.
It seems like it was only last week that we were all complaining about the disruption Coronavirus was having on our supply chains when it first hit in China in December and early January. Little did we know that this seemingly distant and almost imaginary anomaly happening in China was going to wreak havoc on our industry here in the US, in our hometown, in our own homes.
As a die hard bridal retailer, and an apparent glutton for punishment, nothing could have prepared me (or anyone, really) for the heavy and taxing mandated shut down that occurred in March. Like every bridal shop owner of medium to large volume, I would sometimes move from fire to fire, with longer and longer stretches of calm between each fire as my team and I get more experienced. Honestly, I had started to think that we had seen almost everything.
But a shut down? For what was supposed to be at the time, two weeks? Wow.
As what now feels like ancient history, the shutdown ended up being much longer of course. Two months was what it ended up being in Wisconsin. We apparently were the lucky ones , able to open in mid May, as opposed early, mid or even late June for some states of municipalities. (I guess luck is a matter of perspective).
When that shut down happened, I, like many people, experienced this heavy, weighted feeling on my chest. I felt at times I had trouble breathing while contemplating all the scary “what ifs” and looming questions:
“How are we going to come back from this?”
“How do we pay our employees?”
“What’s going to happen to our brides?”
“What’s going to happen to our industry?”
“How on earth can we service our customers while not allowed to be at the store?”
“How is our family going to be able to afford this?”
“What if we get sick?”
These questions, or rather, these panicked and urgent questions, were all anxiously asked as part of an internal frantic search for a way through the looming disaster, and were to become the basis of how our team forged through the most challenging time in our business.
Once the panicked subsided, however, I was fortunately able to start thinking a bit more clearly and started to prepare for what was to come. Together with our managers we came up with the critical areas we needed to focus on to make it through:
- Communicate With Customers
- Move Our POS to the Cloud
- Get Employees Access to our Phone System from Home
- Get Paid Product To Customers
- Manage Cash Flow
- Stay physically and mentally Healthy
Communicate with Customers and Employees
We immediately went to work on an email to send our to our customers. The biggest challenge was communicating with our brides in a way that gave them confidence our business could make it through the shut down and let them know that we planned to function normally through the shut down, however long that may be.
We then sent out a letter to our employees. Our employees also needed to know that we were going to be able to make it through. Out of our 31 employees at the time, many of them didn’t experience 2008 and 2009. They were still in middle school or just graduating high school at the time. They didn’t really know what happens in a sharp downturn.
Move Our POS to the Cloud
A weird twist of unfortunate luck last year prepared us for this next step. In the summer of 2019, during the nation bridal sale, on the busiest Saturday of the year, at almost 12pm sharp, our power went out in our store. Total blackout with easily 100 people in the store. Someone drove into a telephone pole, we would later find out, cutting power to a relatively small number of customers. After a bit of panicked pondering, much like we experienced when COVID shut the world down, I called Chris at BBL. I think our conversation back then went something like this:
“Chris, its David. Power is out, really busy in store. Can you move me to the cloud?”
“Sure!” Chris declared with a bit of curiosity and eagerness. Chris is a good guy.
“By the way, can I run my internet modem off of a power inverter from my car…”
Chris had us up and in the cloud and fully functional (with payments!) in about 25 minutes flat. With NO data loss. It was pretty incredible.
Fast forward to Corona days:
“Chris, it’s David. We have to shut down. Is there any way you can move us to the cloud?”
And there is was. The Profit System was off our server in a matter of minutes and in the cloud, fully operational, with user info sent to each of the 5 employees we decided to help us navigate through the coming weeks.
It was a life saver.
Get Employees Access to Our Phone System From Home
Fortunately, our phone system is a VOIP system running on a 3CX platform in the cloud. (If you’re not familiar with a VOIP system, it’s a phone system that runs completely over the internet and not traditional phone lines). I moved to a new system that was hosted off site in early 2019 with the aim of not having to deal with in house hardware issues and an easier set up that allowed my team to be mobile, if we so desired. As it turns out, much like insurance, you really appreciate the capability when all the chips are down.
This part actually turned out to be one of the easier parts of the cloud-blitz we embarked on the morning before we opened in the cloud. I put our shut down team on a zoom call, and gave them all instructions on how to download the app on their iPhone or Android, sent them a quick email with a QR code to provision their cell phones of the extensions I assigned them, and presto. Our team now had access to our PBX phone system through their cell phones.
POS in the cloud? Check. Phones in the cloud? Check.
Get Product to Customers
Fortunately in Wisconsin we were “allowed” to go into our business to work on essential items for our business. I often wondered why all aspects of our business weren’t deemed essential, but that’s a debate for another time. I like to follow the law, and yes, wanted our employees and customers to be safe, so we didn’t open our doors. For anyone. Even curbside at the time, as it wasn’t allowed.
As it turns out, BBL once again saved our tails with a beautiful integration with Shiprush. Approximately 8 years ago or so, BBL embarked on a mission to integrate with Bigcommerce with the Profit System, and along with that integration came a very lovely integration that allowed our team to easily and systematically send items to customers.
The way our work flow was this (it really worked quite well):
Customer calls, says they want to pick up their dress. Sorry, we’re closed, but we can ship it to you, we just need the balanced paid (you know, cashflow:)). Sales associate goes to the ticket, gets the balance, creates a shipping record right in the ticket, and then emails a receipt off to the customer saying that their dress should arrive within a week and a half (we were shipping out A LOT, and did get a back log).
I was the one who held down the fort at the shop, and was therefore the one to perform the shipping. I went into the Ship Customer Items section, highlighted the item I wanted to ship, clicked ship, and it would automatically push all the info the customer gave for shipping instructions (name, address, phone number, special notes) to shiprush. All I had to do is enter dimensions of the box and the weight, press print and print the label.
At our peak shipping times, which was sometime in late April, I had shipped out about 60 boxes. With the system we had going using the ship rush integration (which only cost $29/mo) I was able to crank them out in about 3 hours, including driving to the post office three miles down the road.
Out of all the things we did to shift, this integration had a disproportional positive impact compared to its simplicity. For $29, I was able to cut my boxing time by EASILY 75% by distributing data collection to my team and using the ShipRush integration to save me the painstaking time of manually entering addresses into our USPS or UPS account.
This module allowed me to focus on more important things, like, you know, getting our PPP loan approved.
With the prospect of losing a massive amount of money, we needed find out how much revenue we could expect from balances coming in. And we needed it to be done fast.
Enter the pick up inventory report.
Our store uses the layaway feature built into the profit system that tightly integrates with the Purchase Order management system. We track the delivery of our items fairly meticulously, entering in confirmation ship date and date received for each and every order within the PO. This allows us to be able to pull a report and easily see how much revenue is set to come in from balances not paid.
In the early days of the shut down this report become my go to report, more so than the revenue report. This really was one of the only sources of income we had. As long as we kept the phone lines open like normal, and we kept shipping bridal gowns, social occasion dresses, and bridesmaid dresses out, (remember, employees were actually at their homes on their personal computers and using our phone app using Profit System in the cloud), I could see the outstanding balance slowly move down, and the revenue report go up.
What was incredibly surprising and a decidedly sign of good fortune, we ran into very few people that either couldn’t pay or didn’t want to pay. We did, however, run into quite a few people that did want to pay, but didn’t have the means to pay their balance all at once. For these customers, we used the payment plan module built into the profit system that automatically split the payments up and collected the balances on the specific due dates. I have to tell you, it worked like a charm. It was a true win-win. Customers could get flexible payment terms, we got our money collected without having to do a whole lot.
Ironically, collecting balances on dresses was a bright spot during the shut down and was able to be managed so much better with the Profit System.
As of this writing in late July of 2020, about two and a half months out of the shut down, it seems fairly unlikely we will encounter another shut down like we did. It is possible, however, that some stores may still have to shut down due to quarantine measures enacted by local health departments.
My advice– don’t give up. Don’t throw the towel in because “you don’t know how” or “I don’t see how we can do it.” Even if you are ordered to shut the doors to your business, in this day and age, even in specialty retail, there is always a way. As my father used to always say, “The champs always find a way to pull through.”
Keep fighting. It will get better.
So if you find yourself in a hairy predicament, whether the power goes out or another global pandemic hits, and you need to find a way to keep your business going, call BBL.
We are here to help! Have a special circumstance or need one on one guided help? Contact BBL Systems, creators of The Profit System and EverywhereBridal, for support or one on one individualized coaching and support. Contact us at [email protected] or 1-800-587-7277