Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Turning Rebellion Into Money

Picture credit

Having a pop at shopkeepers is not a new phenomena, Napoleon described England as a 'nation of shopkeepers' to suggest it was unfit for war against France. Source The country has been governed by a shopkeepers daughter in the divisive figure of Margaret Thatcher. The health of our High Streets acts as a barometer for the health of the economy.

As a child I grew up knowing nothing other than a family retail business. My family had two electrical retail businesses operating, still in the 1970s,  a pre war economic model. The company, CF Hall & Co Ltd, bore my grandfather's name and employed my mother, father, elderley aunts, uncles, my grandmother and various seemingly ancient retainers. As babies myself and my siblings were parked outside the shops in prams as the shop never generated salaries large enough for childcare. Customer service, the kind where you know every customer by name, their address and their personal preferences was automatic.

As a young teenager - actually twelve if the truth be known - I was 'made' to work in the shop. This was not a matter of forced labour but economic fact. Money was earnt. The shop I worked in was in an extremely affluent location populated by titled and/or wealthy inhabitants. These customers patronised our shop in the old fashioned meaning of the word and very often patronised me in the more contemporary sense. I 'served' in the shop - I didn't function within an articulated customer service policy.

Growing up in white middle class Surrey can do one of two things. It can make you a lifelong Tory or a rebel. I chose rebel, I chose punk, I chose counter culture. My Dad wanted me to go to University as a pioneer for our family - I wanted art college. The era, the early 80s, gave me a a fabulous set of mouthy left wing role models Morrissy, Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, Siouxsie Sioux, Boy George.

After a year at Art College I ended up at The  University of Warwick in the last few golden years where a poor kid like me from limited means could get their fees paid and a full maintenace grant because of now divorced parents. My natural rebellion and embryonic politics were developed with a fine line in Marxist Feminist rhetoric. Laura Mulvey was a way of life.

Post University I worked extrememly hard for barely more than an intern's salary in London until a surprisingly speedy marriage and even speedier unplanned pregnancy necessitated a move back to Surrey.

Major recessions and life changing moments for me seem to go hand in hand. There was no 4x4  and Venture photo shoot lifestyle for me. Like a lot of Mothers work was not a choice but a financial necessity. I joined my own Mother in her bridal wear business as a temporary measure.

That was nearly eighteen years ago. I didn't start the business because I was in love with weddings or because I wanted to live like a princess in perpetuity. I joined as an employee and I brought to the business an independant feminist streak. A lack of fear in being outspoken. An age very close to the clients - 26 at the time. I bought fashion in a time of frills.

Why, you ask, do I need to explain all of this to you? I have recently read an article that has incensed me so much that I still cannot be calm about it. I very much appreciate the freedom of expression that Blogging brings to the world. There is a line though between opinion and trolling. The article purported to be an undercover investigative piece looking at a wedding dress shop ( not my shop to be absolutely clear) - the first in a series.

The BBC, arbitor of all things fair, has an editorial policy that reads -

"When we make allegations of wrong doing, iniquity or incompetence or lay out a strong and damaging critique of an individual or institution the presumption is that those criticised should be given a "right of reply", that is, given a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations before transmission"

In a new age of social media the law governing what is fair and just is foggy. I accept hurtful and spiteful reviews on Review Centre. These are opinions and are read as such. They have also, on some occasions, been  useful in highlighting areas that need improving. I would still welcome a complaint directly. A letter or email clearly pointing out where Miss Bush has gone wrong and where we can improve. ( A full time receptionist would be one area if the budget allowed - interns wecome!)

I feel that blogs that are set out in a magazine format, accept advertising revenue and move to publish a magazine should have an articulated editorial policy to protect victims from smear campaigns as much as protecting themselves from legal action. I would hate  them to diminish through poor editorial judgement.

The reason for the brief synopsis of my life is to demonstrate a belief in rebellion as a force of good. Free speech as a fundamental right. I also believe that women working in service industries such as retailing do not deserve to be patronised as I was when I was 15. If acting like a rock star, posturing for the praise of strangers, is the driving force behind one's strategy I suggest picking up a guitar.

I am not presuming to talk for all women in bridalwear shops. I know I and my team work long, hard hours - we love playing dress up, we adore the clothes and most of our customers get on with is brilliantly. I fully expect some people not to find my service deferential enough. I refuse to tell you you look beautiful in everything if you don't. I reserve the right to integrity. Once - an only once -  have I asked a customer to leave.

I have stood strong and upright in the shop in the face of huge personal adversity because I have an commitment and obligation to my clients.

This is hardcore


  1. Nice work, I am really glad to be 1 of several visitants on this awful site : D

  2. Nice work, that awful blog represents everything wrong with the wedding industry today. Its so refreshing to see such a well thought through, measured reply

  3. I see a lot of blogger (a few, no one in particular) comments on Twitter and elsewhere and have seen suppliers, brides and even sponsors derided at times, as well as it seems an increasing dash of snobbery. Have your opinion of course and expose the bad in a fair way, but using your position to be just rude at times is going to do you more harm than good. This article has gone too far, the 'bride' went in with one outcome in mind and if you go in expecting to be treated a certain way, you probably will be. Even before you get to the right of reply issue...
    Blogs are as good as the talent they feature, turning on certain quarters isn't going to go down well. I feel, or hope, a few may be having a good think today, it's hard enough out there for suppliers already.

  4. Sending you a little round of applause Emma. I have only met you the once, but it is obvious how hard you work, and how invested in the bridal industry you are. Hats off to anyone running a small business, going self-employed was a huge step for me, I still feel like I'm stepping, no one in my family had ever done it before, we had all, always been employees. As an employee, you can put a lot of work in, but generally you work your hours, and get paid every month, you know your income, you know what to expect. Running a business is so much more, it isn't just customer service, to be looked down upon, it is a whole other world, of trying to do a million things, and probably not getting paid for it. I will allow that people may have bad experiences, but they should also get their facts right too, and look at the whole picture, one expects good customer service, but this isn't jim'll Fix it, making dreams come true, it is also a business, where bridal shop owners can spend up to two hours per a bride, potentially for free, for no reason whatsoever. Some of those negative points in 'that' piece were so weak!

  5. Blimey you lot - thanks for battling the complicated commenting function on this to leave a message. I promise this is not a crusade or a witch hunt - I just felt really angry and depressed thinking that this could have been my business randomly selected for a kicking. I am very happy for bloggers to cover any topic but with integrity. I have supported Kat as I think her blog is a fundamentally good idea in celebrating difference. I think this article shoxed a gross error of judgement.

  6. Thanks Dawn - i thought it might have been you that commented on the piece after your Tweet! I have no problem with exposing poor service - it does not serve the industry well. The article was poorly written and I feel that brides shouldn't be encouraged to waste time in shops to copy dresses. I hope to see you soon - any sign of bridesmaids baby yet? xxx

  7. I hate that blog and stopped following it months ago when i was a bride to be and looking for inspiration. LOOK AT ME!!!! is all it seems to ever say. Well no thanks. I hope the owner of the bridal shop sues. Who on earth takes 7 people to a dress fitting. How rude.

  8. I have responded appropriately upon the aforementioned blog, giving my views and expressing the unfair negatives and expectations of the boutique visit that was made.

    Going forward though, perhaps this highlights a need to somehow prepare the bride for her visit - what to expect etc. and explaining anything that might sound rude if said off the cuff?

    For example:

    While all of your guests are welcome to come to the boutique, we encourage that you choose just a handful of your closest friends to come along. This causes less confusion and distraction when choosing your gown.

    Our sample sizes are 14's, during your fitting we will fit these gowns to you to . . .

    We ask that drinks and refreshments are taken away from the dresses, we hope that you appreciate due to the delicate nature of the dresses, we wish to avoid spillages.

    (Ok, so I'm not a great writer when trying to write quickly, but you get the picture hopefully)

    But this should not just be a set of rules - it should inspire some excitement too, such as . . .

    Bring along a scrapbook of your images to share with us so we can create the look you're dreaming of!

    Just an idea anyway . . . :)


  9. Hi Charlotte - I agree! I send an FAQ document to every bride booking an appointment via email. I have tried to post it in this reply but it's too long!! I'll add it to the blog...
    Thank you so much for your comments. I really wanted to show that wedding dress shops ought not to be hostile environments populated by dragons. If there are some complain properley and accurately. xxx

  10. Well done Emma, I was horrified when I read the blog. Imagine if every customer was like that, there would be no bridal shops.

  11. Thank you for posting this Emma! The post you stated has sparked controversy, which is what they wanted.
    I agree with everything you put in the comments and have enjoyed reading your post today.
    Love your work!

  12. Thanks Rachael - great to have your support. Emma xxx

  13. No, no baby yet :) Baby shower went well, and we almost got her to cry - for all the right reasons, but clearly it wasn't exciting enough, no twinges or anything!! :) xx

  14. I agree wholeheartedly with this response to that very poor blog post which in my opinion was never going to be anything but an attack, but perhaps the sponsors of the blog should vote with their feet, I noticed that Miss Bush Bridal is a sponsor though?

  15. I am a sponsor - i had no knowledge of thE ROCK N ROLL BRIDE post prior to publication- as I think is right. However I did object to it when I felt it crossed a line into a subjective witch hunt. I find myself in an odd position. I support the blog community for their honesty but question their integrity on occasions. The lack of editorial control can lead to dangerous territory. The bigger question is how one polices Blogs - not my speciality, but I know the ethics of traditional journalism should be a starting point. I am pushing for an answer!

  16. Whilst I would hate to lambast any platforms or the subjective opinions of others, I applaud you and your integrity for shining a light on this prickliest of issues. I am a trained journalist, so when I blog I endeavour to abide by an editorial policy of parity, but common decency too. I think it all goes back to that playground rhetoric of 'If you can't think of anything nice to say, then don't say anything'. I only feature those on the blog who do this (on the whole) wonderful wedding industry proud and thus have a below-the-line edit that means those who don't meet expectations or are outrightly rude, cold or dismissive don't feature, and I leave it to the intelligence and judgement of the reader to discern why some folk may not appear on the blog. I would always try to pluck up the courage to tell someone if I felt it was more than my own neurosis and sensitivity to blame for a disappointing experience and feel that a lot of this article was centred on a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby the bride set herself up to expect a fall. If you are going to offer an expose, it should be handled with tact and diplomacy - and always giving the person to whom criticism is directed the opportunity to rectify any wrongdoing. Personally, I think taking a gang of 7 ladies with me to a trying on session is a little unfair (especially if there are more brides looking and trying on in the shop, it can be a daunting experience at the best of times)on the shop owners who have to tend to these extra guests, and probably would avoid offering a drink to the bride as she'd get seven other pleas for perfectly made cuppas!
    Thank you Emma, for shining a light in dark places. I'd love to blog you by the way - I know the lovely Janet Mohapi Banks and trust her implicitly when she raves about you.

    1. Many thanks for your reply. If I were a proper journalist and not a hothead this is what I would have written.
      I have been criticised for 'attacking' the article when I was defending the right of reply and fellow retailers. I have made it clear publicly and privately that I would not interfere in anyone's choice of editorial content as long as it was legal and moral.
      Please drop me a line and we can arrange to talk further.
      Janet Mohapi banks is a very good moral barometer who I use frequently!

  17. Shucks, you guys!! But goodness Emma, what a responsibility you've bestowed upon me. I'm incredibly flattered and I'll try not to let you down. :o)

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