By Erin Black
When a large couture bridal shop in our community closed its doors in 2017, it was up to us at Old Point National Bank—the secured creditor for the business—to manage the remaining retail assets. That could have spelled disaster for the shop’s clients. But bank employees went above and beyond to connect brides with their dresses, often volunteering their own time to assist in the reunions. The majority of the unsold gowns were then auctioned to contribute to the repayment of the debt. Only a small selection of gowns remained.
So our marketing team had an idea.
We staged a “special day” of our own.
Customers started lining up at 5:30 a.m., armed with lawn chairs and giant cups of coffee. It was August in Virginia, so the heat index teased triple digits. But we were ready: coffee for the morning, water throughout the day, snacks and doughnuts while you wait, and tents for shade if the lines extended beyond the building. We had over a dozen volunteers, dressed in black, armed with tape measures, and stationed throughout the building, ready for the green light. The dresses were arranged in order of size on huge racks throughout our bank’s sixth-floor meeting space. The accessories were painstakingly arranged on folding tables. We had plenty of light, makeshift dressing rooms, and tufted mirrors to set the scene.
Who says a banker’s job has no surprises? There we were, hosting a “bridal flash sale.”
Initial advertising for the Friends and Family Bridal Flash Sale offered gowns at 75 percent off wholesale prices, a startling reduction from their original showroom price. Some of the couture dresses had an original price tag of $10,000 or more, and the hand-sewn lace veils were just as pricey. We opened Old Point’s antique bronze doors at 9 a.m., matched each bride with a staff member volunteering “bridal consultant,” and welcomed them into the sale.
It was the customers who were in for the real surprise.
Although the brides likely expected long lines and amazing deals, what they didn’t expect was the surprise at checkout. After choosing their dress and veil, the brides were escorted into a private office to “pay” for their deal of the century. As they prepared to pay, we would say, “Your total is… free. It’s all free. Thank you for being part of the Old Point family.” And then we would all cry…over and over again.
If you’re like one of the thousands of people who responded to this event on Facebook and Instagram, you’re probably thinking: This is amazing! If you’re on a bank marketing team, you’re probably thinking: This is amazing…but we would never do this at my bank. But stay with me for a minute.
How a bridal gowns became a bank marketing win.
First, understand that the shop closure posed a potential crisis with highly emotional fallout for many members of the community.
Imagine the joy of a bride finding the perfect dress for her wedding. Add to that all the emotional, cultural, familial, and financial weight that often accompanies this rite of passage. Maybe the dress has been purchased with a bride’s very last penny. Or maybe the funds were thoughtfully gifted from a grandparent, who had since passed. Maybe the dress was ordered a year earlier and has been waiting, safely pressed and hemmed, for the upcoming wedding day.
Now imagine it locked inside a bridal shop, behind a hand-written sign, taped to the door, which reads CLOSED. Imagine hundreds of dresses behind that door, each with its own story, each inaccessible to its owner. The air gets harder to breathe, doesn’t it?
Take it a step further. Every one of those moms, dads, brides, grooms, siblings, friends, coworkers, and community members was going to tell everyone they knew about their dilemma. Even though the bank was not to blame for their dilemma, its name had become inexorably tied to their end result. It was our job to turn it into an amazing result.
Lessons learned in the trenches.
Your future crisis may not involve an angry mob of brides and their mothers. But you can still prepare for it using the same thought process. Here are some of the ways that we navigated our bridal shop success story:
- Marketing has to be everywhere. I remember sitting in a management meeting, listening to our chief lending officer mention the potential closing of the shop. He said it almost as an afterthought, not because it wasn’t important, but because employees outside of his silo rarely took interest in these types of events. I remember holding up my hand and saying, “Wait, go over that again.” If it affects a current or potential customer or employee, it needs to matter to marketing leadership. Marketing directors, we need to be a voice in crisis, but also in projects, products, and strategic decisions. You are the advocate for how customers and employees could perceive the communications and decisions made by the bank as a whole.
- Widen your net. Many of you are a marketing team of one. At Old Point, we enlisted employees from all over the bank to sort dresses, take calls, and console brides. If you think you don’t have enough people in marketing to make something like this happen, you’re right. But you do have enough people in your bank. This near-disaster lifted morale in a way that we could never have expected at our institution. “Our company is made up of people who love to give back, it’s at their core,” says our human resources director, Rachel Blankenship. “When you let people share their gifts at work, they result in extraordinary moments like this one.”
- Take the more difficult road. Another bank might have sold the merchandise and moved quickly ahead. That road looks easy. Bank employees working in the shop, driving dresses across town, connecting with fathers of the bride—all of that sounds time consuming. We could have donated the last 20 something dresses (easy!). But instead we showed our customers exactly who is important to us. (And, after the sale, we donated everything remaining to Brides Across America, a nonprofit that serves military and first-responder brides.)
Note that the Bridal Flash Sale was not a crisis response maneuver. We prevented the crisis by responding to bridal customers within 24 hours, reassuring them, and finding their dresses and accessories. The Bridal Flash Sale was a public relations victory atop a crisis that we averted. Our very own happily-ever-after sounds something like this,
“I’m still crying tears of joy at the pure selflessness of these people.”
“Wow! Makes me want to switch to this bank because of their generosity to others!”
“I love my bank and my employer—35 years at Old Point! You make me proud to be a part of this family!”
Want to know more about the details? We’d love to share—just reach out!
Quick facts about the flash sale.
- 30,000+ emails sent to our customer base.
- Pre-sale advertising had an organic (unpaid) reach of approximately 15,000.
- 300 people downloaded our Look Book and we added their email to our distribution list.
- The post-event social post was viewed by over 20,000 people, had over 500 Facebook likes, and 100 Facebook shares.
- Total Expense: Just coffee and donuts for those waiting in line and our bridal gift bags. Not including employee time, total expenses for the event were approximately $400. (Take that to your CFO!)
Erin Black, CFMP, served as SVP and marketing director at Old Point National Bank, in Hampton, Va. from 2010-2018. She is now consulting with KBS Results as their executive vice president and chief experience officer. Email: [email protected]. LinkedIn.