David’s Bridal wants brides to say yes to the dress — again and again.
When David’s Bridal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2018, the chain was held up as an example of a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer losing touch with consumers and their shifting shopping preferences.
Other forces were disrupting — and continue to roil — the bridal industry, including upstart digital brands such as Floravere and Brideside, which offer brides a more convenient way to try and buy gowns. Couples delaying marriage, a decline in weddings and frugal Millennials also took their toll on the $3 billion bridal industry.
James Marcum, the newly installed chief executive officer of David’s Bridal, is aware of the brand’s history and baggage. “To a certain extent the customer changed and we didn’t change with her,” he admitted. “David’s became too conservative,” he said, after the company’s presentation on the first day of New York Fashion Week: Bridal. “People didn’t want to take risks. This year, we have 27 new core styles for January, compared to 12 last year, and nine the year before.”
Prior to the filing, David’s set itself up to disappoint customers and built a bad experience, Marcum said, explaining that retailer’s rules for e-commerce were different than its rules for stores. The former didn’t accept returns, but online did. Brides would receive their online orders in days, while gowns took four weeks to arrive from stores.
Marcum said a mea culpa for David’s e-commerce site, which he admitted is dated and busy. “We have an online presence, but we can do much better. Today, it’s a sea of dresses,” he said. “We’ve more than doubled the size of our investment to support our digital strategy. We’re investing heavily in the digital world.”
David’s Bridal’s new e-commerce site will bow before the end of December with a much more contemporary feel and better presentation of assortments.
Marcum believes David’s can “pivot to be the preeminent leader in the bridal market.” While some might say that’s wishful thinking, Marcum’s strategy includes introducing web-enabled tools and technologies, and creating capabilities for consumers to access and download wedding planners. Brides will also be able to track and share ideas and dresses with bridesmaids.
“We don’t do a good enough job of telling our stories and telling the stories of our customers,” Marcum said.
Many of David’s 300-plus stores are being remodeled or updated. “They’re a real strength,” he said of the stores. “They’re positioned throughout the U.S., and service brides who want to try on the dresses. Ninety percent of brides want to try their dresses on in a store.
“We’re [reimagining] some stores,” Marcum said. “We have a lot of different tests going on. We’ll continue to refine and refresh. We’ve opened new stores and we’ll continue to open new stores. You may see a repositioning of the stores to a different center or part of town. The footprint of 300 stores is a good base.”
David’s commands a significant share of the bridal market, including 25 percent of bridal sales, and 38 percent of sales under $1,500, Marcum said. Part of the reason is the brand’s prices.
“We deliver a value proposition,” he said. “We control our supply chain, so we can offer a tremendous amount of value. A dress takes 54 hours to make by hand. We have a gown with 10,000 hand-sewn beads for $1,500.” Most of David’s Bridal’s prices are between the range of $300 to $800, going up to $2,000.
The retailer offers sizes 0 to 30 and has seen success with its size inclusivity. Brides across all ages are consumers, but Millennials are a focus. “They’re our future,” Marcum said. “That’s why we built out our organization to launch the new e-commerce site.
“We’re spending a lot of time on our brands and building collections,” Marcum said. “We’re looking at other opportunities but we have a close relationship with Vera Wang. I think it’s a work in progress. The customer today wants a great dress and wants to look beautiful in her dress. She’s less sensitive to the label. If we can bring that great dress and great style….”
Marcum said he’s considering partnerships along the lines of David’s Bridal’s hookups with the Men’s Warehouse and Shutterfly, and added, “The opportunities are limitless.”
As for competition, Marcum believes David’s value proposition and shopping experience trumps bridal specialty stores, where only dress samples are available, and not in every size. “They don’t have the presence in bridesmaid dresses,” he said. “With bridesmaids wearing different styles in the same color, we can match the color exactly and de-stress the entire process for the bride.”
David’s Bridal provides styles for the extended wedding party, including flower girls and mothers-of-the bride, as well as gifts and everything for throwing engagement parties. “We have honeymoon dresses,” Marcum said. “It’s a real opportunity for us. Resort wear, the possibilities are endless. We have an opportunity to sell her an entire event.”
After David’s Bridal succumbed to the weight of its $750 million debt load and filed for bankruptcy protection, it reemerged in May, and was acquired by investors led by Oaktree Capital Group LLC. “They’ve been incredibly supportive,” Marcum, said. “They’re excited about the vision, strategy and future. I don’t see any sense of urgency. I think we have a lot of runway and a lot of years.
“We have an opportunity to put the customer back in the center of the universe and raise the level of service and experience,” he added. “We’re expanding social media capabilities and we are putting a lot of focus on our merchant teams to make sure they stay in touch with consumers.”