Royal Beginnings Bridal and Formal: Buying for a Boutique
In the fall of 2013, Anna and Jack Oleson, the owners of a full-service bridal shop in one of Michigan's Upper Peninsula's small communities were preparing for their annual six-hour drive to Chicago for the National Bridal Market. They would be making merchandise buying decisions for the upcoming season. However, this year's trip would be very different because the Olesons were reevaluating previous suppliers and potentially selecting new ones. In operation for 23 years, the shop prided itself on offering a full range of services, including alterations by a full-time seamstress. Because brides typically placed special orders for wedding gowns - after seeking consultation and trying on samples in the store - rather than buying them "off the rack," receiving timely and reliable deliveries from suppliers was critical. While vendors' corporate headquarters were located in the U.S., their gowns were often manufactured overseas, primarily in China. After incidents of "miscommunication" regarding deliveries, delivery failures, and suppliers' inflexibility regarding minimum order quantities for samples (i.e., unwillingness to grant concessions to smaller shops), the owners needed to re-conceive their buying criteria and sourcing strategies. To add complexity, the growing population of millennial brides (those turning 27 years before 2030) were brand- and quality-conscious, sought unique products, and increasingly turned to online retailers to make purchases. The case provides a general overview of retail operations within a small apparel (bridal and formalwear) shop, as well as insights into its market and suppliers' policies and operations, and challenges associated with online competitors.