Here Comes the Wedding Boom With David's Bridal CEO Jim Marcum

Welcome to the Retail Rundown, your go-to weekly podcast where RETHINK Retail teams up with industry experts to discuss the news, trends, and big ideas that are redefining commerce.

In this episode, we spoke with Jim Marcum, chief executive officer of David’s Bridal, about how the company sold to brides during a year without weddings and its plans to meet the demand of next year’s big wedding boom.

David’s Bridal is the largest American bridal-store chain and currently operates over 300 stores across 49 states, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Jim is a seasoned retail, consumer and services industry veteran with over 30 years experience leading national public and private companies.
Prior to David’s Bridal, Jim served as CEO, COO and CFO of notable companies like Central Parking, Circuit City, Hollywood Entertainment, Stage Stores and Marshalls

If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know by subscribing to our channel and giving us a 5 star rating us on Apple Podcasts.

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Hosted by Carol Spieckerman
Written and produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Trenton Waller

TRANSCRIPTION

Julia Raymond Hare:
Hi, today we’re kicking off another episode of RETHINK Retail with my guest, Jim Marcum. Jim is the chief executive officer of David’s Bridal, which is the largest American bridal store chain. David’s Bridal currently operates over 300 stores and that’s across 40 United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Jim is a seasoned retail consumer and services industry veteran with over 30 years of experience leading national public and private companies. And you have an impressive track record prior to David’s Bridal. Jim served as CEO, COO and CFO of notable companies like Central Parking, Circuit City, Hollywood Entertainment, Stage Stores and one of my favorites, Marshalls. And he’s been recognized for ability to develop innovative strategies centered around a deep understanding of businesses and their customers. Thank you for joining the show today, Jim.

Jim Marcum:
Well, it’s really a pleasure, Julia. I’m glad you invited us on.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Well, I’m super excited to speak with you because your industry has definitely been one impacted by the pandemic. And there’s been a lot of innovation in the past two years. Between the wedding industry and I would say grocery, it’s been quite the journey and hospitality of course. How did the closing of non-essential stores impact David’s Bridal, if we take it back a year?

Jim Marcum:
Well, it did have its impact and some of it good, I think from a cultural point of view and actually from how we as a management team think but what was unique about David’s and to set the stage, David’s going into that close down was unique from the point of view is we have our own dedicated supply chain. We have our own distribution facilities that are here domestically, supporting our retail stores and our eCommerce business. When David’s ended up facing the reality that we were going to have to close our stores at the beginning of April of 2020, as a management team, suddenly it was like the breaks were put on the system, right.

Jim Marcum:
We were in the middle of what we call our bridal Christmas, which I’ll tell you a little bit more about later but we had brides that were thoroughly engaged in a planning process. We had orders coming inbound on dresses and suddenly, wow. If you think of the stress in the system where now your stores are closed, what was supposed to be for two weeks, we knew was going to be a much longer period, right. And so we had to respond immediately to our customers to put her at ease as to what was the status of her dress? How do we get her that dress and those kind of things? And that’s it. But those were back in the days initially where she at the point, didn’t even connect the dots to what was going to happen to her venues, right. It was all about, “Oh, my word. How am I going to respond?”

Jim Marcum:
Right. A lot of what I will call our innovation and some of the leapfrogs actually in our business, were the result of how did we react to that event when it happened?

Julia Raymond Hare:
Certainly. And you said you knew it would probably be longer than two weeks and bridal Christmas, so April … Can you explain that a little bit?

Jim Marcum:
Yeah. It’s interesting. We’re a little different than traditional retail where you think of the traditional retailer is building inventories now. As we sit here, today is the middle of October, they’re building inventories for the all important Thanksgiving to Christmas holiday selling season, which is the most significant portion of time of the year for them. And our business is a little different, right. Our business, you have a bride who if anything, today may be inspiring in the hopes that she’s going to have that all important engagement, right but when you get into the holiday season, that’s when the majority of the engagements start to happen. And then what happens is, we actually … Our business, when you look at it, you have an engagement coming out of the holidays. In January, she’s on a mission, right.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Yeah.

Jim Marcum:
Yeah. We call it our bridal Christmas. Our bridal Christmas, believe it or not, actually starts for us in about January and it runs through traditionally, April and May under a normal cycle timeframe.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Wow, okay. And is that pretty common across the industry? Not just for David’s Bridal but for all wedding vendors?

Jim Marcum:
When you think of the venues right, there the weddings start to occur historically around that May time period, build throughout the summer season. And obviously, it culminates in October, which is a very big … It’s become now the biggest volume wedding month that’s out there in recent history. The venues are busy during those summer months right, when the weather’s nice and everything. And then the vendors that cater to those events pretty much follow suit. The bridal, the inspiration, the purchase of the dress, the wedding planning, typically takes place in advance.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Makes sense. And you said something interesting, David’s Bridal has its own vertical supply chain. Do you think that protected you more than other retailers in a lot of ways or were there still things you had to quickly adapt to when it comes to the supply chain?

Jim Marcum:
Oh, I absolutely believe it was strategically just a significant advantage for us because we control and curate our own designs, our own product development, our planning, our production, the purchase of raw materials and then the coordination of when we move it into the ports and/or when we get it into the stores. And so that is just a great advantage for us because we can be nimble. We’ve seen during this whole pandemic period some fashion trends change very quickly that we think we could have … We were one of the only parties in the industry that could probably react as quickly as we did, so absolutely, we think it’s an advantage for us.

Julia Raymond Hare:
That’s very exciting. A personal story, I did have a wedding was scheduled for this year and it wasn’t from David’s Bridal. It was a different company but the dress got stuck in Thailand and there was no way it was going to make it. Some of the bridesmaids went to Amazon, unfortunately.

Jim Marcum:
And it is extremely unfortunate. The logistics issues the country is facing is real. And that is all the way through the entire supply chain. What makes us unique, is we’re not … It is our dedicated supply chain. And I keep saying that but the importance of that is we can control that production. It’s not like we’re working through some wholesaler, right. And hopefully, we can influence that wholesaler to get to the factory who’s one of many to be able to accommodate a particular item .listen, I’ll be honest, we’ve had situations where we’ve actually produced dresses overnight because we knew they were stuck on a boat.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Wow. Oh, my gosh.

Jim Marcum:
And we air them in so we don’t miss the event day. And so …

Julia Raymond Hare:
That’s impressive.

Jim Marcum:
Yeah, yeah.

Julia Raymond Hare:
That really, really sets you guys apart. Wow. And I know I was speaking with a supply chain expert just a few weeks ago on the show and she said, “It’s crazy. In just one year, the cost of getting a shipping container from China to somewhere like a California port, went from being around a thousand, $2,000 to six or 7,000.”

Jim Marcum:
Oh, it’s actually … Even a container today is costing as much as 19 or $20,000 to move.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Wow.

Jim Marcum:
And yeah. You can understand the enormity of that and the pressure that puts through the system but again, for our us, we live it every day. We have teams of people that are tracking every event, where the dresses are and status and it’s interesting. And like I said, we’ve had to make a lot of pivots. It gets complicated when you do everything right and then it’s sitting in a port and it’s ready to go and the ship passes by. And so yeah, that nimbleness and everything and what David’s has been able to bring, I think will pay us dividends in spades as we look forward.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Absolutely. And I will say, I did get a David’s Bridal bridesmaids dress in summer of 2020 on time. And it’s still hanging in my closet because we ended up doing a wedding at their country club. And it was really a beautiful wedding but very, very small. And so none of the formalities were really carried over. It was a bit last minute, like, “Hey, it’s this weekend.”

Jim Marcum:
Sure.

Julia Raymond Hare:
But shout out to David’s Bridal, you guys are really pulling out all the stops. And were there any other strategies or tactics that you guys put in place specifically to accommodate those brides who … I think you mentioned before we started the show, there are two groups. The brides who say, “I’m going to have a wedding anyway, during the pandemic.”

Julia Raymond Hare:
And the ones who postpone. The ones who did move forward, were there other things you guys did? You mentioned making dresses last minute if they were stuck on the shipping container.

Jim Marcum:
The combination … What COVID did to us as a leadership team … And I’ve heard a lot of people refer to this but it caused us overnight to think and lead differently, right. And the result is we probably accelerated years worth of development into a very short period of time, out of necessity. To your point, we had already embarked on a transformation journey with a leadership team. And so we had a lot of initiatives identified but the day those stores came down right, some of the pivots that were made for instance, was I think within between four and six weeks, we launched an entire virtual stylist program from scratch, where we had trained up over 300 virtual stylists overnight that could take … And it was basically setting up bridal appointments, just like we’re doing on a Zoom call right, today. And so you could show product, you could show the different features of dresses and you could walk them through and she could have her entire wedding party, she could have her mother with her.

Jim Marcum:
I think those pivots were huge. We implemented curbside delivery because many of the restrictions from a point of view of having access to stores when the stores went dark, our management teams would go in the store and pull that product out and deliver it to your car window. And the list just went on and on. We had already had a chatbot and an AI type solution for our customer service but it exploded overnight to the point where almost 80% of our interactions with customers was through chatbot and chat and AI.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Interesting, 80%.

Jim Marcum:
Yeah, over 80%. Absolutely. And we were taking hundreds of thousands of calls every month. And so yeah, you could see the pivots. Our e-com business historically maintains certain ratios. What’s so unique about David’s is we’re … And part of our transformation journey is we’re true [inaudible 00:13:35], right. And that’s an important initiative for us. And when I say that, what it means is, how do we take all the friction out of the system? The bride has a unique journey, right. She gets engaged. She immediately embarks on a journey of inspiration, right. She’s online. She’s trying to curate what the vision for her wedding is. She’s trying to curate the type of venue that she wants and those kinds of things.

Jim Marcum:
And so what’s so unique is she’ll start online but oftentimes, in the majority of cases for bridal, she will immediately book an appointment and go into a store because it’s such an emotional purchase, right. She wants to touch, she wants to feel it, she wants to try it on. And we are a high touch business. A majority of our product will have an alteration associated with it right, because she wants it to be perfect. And so when this whole thing transpired, she was already in the middle of her inspiration. Now, it’s, “Oh. My God. The store’s closed. What do I do?”

Jim Marcum:
And so a lot of these pivots were about, “Okay, how do we take that customer through that journey and help her so that she can still transact?”

Jim Marcum:
Within six weeks of our original store closing, David’s started to reopen our stores, which was unheard of. We as a management team knew the emotion around the wedding and those kinds of things.

Julia Raymond Hare:
And that was a risk right, because the logistics … Operationally, you could close next day.

Jim Marcum:
Yeah. It was but we just felt it was so important. And so we had to procure PPE. We had to train all our associates how to engage at that level. We had restrictions in the stores we had to abide to from a local governance point of view but we needed to put her at ease and be able to have her try that gown on if she was choosing to go forward in the wedding. What was also interesting, is we really realized there were really several different cohorts of brides at that time that got engaged. They were either engaged in the fall of ’19 and in the midst of their wedding planning process when ’20 hit or they were recently engaged and those kind of things.

Jim Marcum:
And what you had was, you had two types of brides, right. You had the bride that definitely wanted the larger event, she would postpone that wedding, working with a venue, depending on the restrictions. And then you had the bride that said, “We’re done doing that. Let’s just go ahead and get married in a mini-mony in the backyard.”

Jim Marcum:
Type of thing. Very informal, very relaxed, smaller party, smaller venue. And we were really one of the only bridal chains that were there to really support her in that because we had all the gowns in the system, if you know what I mean. And it didn’t have to be special order. And we still have brides today that are walking in the store and believe it or not, they are getting married in two to three weeks.

Julia Raymond Hare:
That’s incredible. And Jim, you said within six weeks, you guys were back open and within four to six weeks, you had launched your virtual stylist program essentially overnight. It was a huge effort on behalf of David’s Bridal. And you think that that service to your brides would create loyalty and I know that you guys have your new Diamond Loyalty Program.

Jim Marcum:
We do.

Julia Raymond Hare:
It sounds a little counterintuitive because is a bride going to be a repeat customer? Is she coming back for multiple dresses? Can you explain a little bit about what it is?

Jim Marcum:
By the way, that is the number one asked question that I get on our loyalty program. It’s like, “Do you get two for one on the weddings?”

Julia Raymond Hare:
Yeah, right.

Jim Marcum:
Or, “How many times is she going to get married?”

Jim Marcum:
Now, the loyalty program … First of all, kudos to the team. We spend a lot of time trying to re-envision strategically how we can be meaningful and believe it or not, the loyalty program was one of those that we launched in the middle of COVID. As we sit here today and we launched it in December right, third wave of COVID, as we sit here today, we actually surpassed three quarters of a million members. 90% of them have transacted.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Excellent.

Jim Marcum:
We’ve already given out … We’re now pushing … We’ve gone way beyond … Our top prize or our top award is a free honeymoon and we’ve already issued out over 50 free honeymoons and we’re tracking north. The program, it’s pretty incredible. Now, the way the program works, it’s way beyond the dress. It’s about her event. And so if you think about it right, any purchase that is made associated with her event, it could be herself, it could be her maids, it could be all the gifts, it could be the personalized product, it could be mothers of the bride, it could be the occasion dresses that are worn in the wedding, the accessories. Any purchases that are made on behalf of her event, she gets credit for, right. It’s truly got this very unique crowdsourcing opportunity. And it’s really been incredible. Every metric that is associated with our loyalty members is better than the overall company. And we’re talking the metrics for AUR, the attachments, the return rates, customer service scores, everything.

Jim Marcum:
And so we’re very, very excited because it’s a lifetime program. And so we hope that she never goes through that wedding planning again but if you think about it, the anniversaries … One thing that David’s has, is it’s an incredible assortment of occasion dresses and accessories and those kind of things. And so we really do build lifetime customers. We’re there for anniversaries, we’re there for special events and those things and what’s starting to happen now right, and we’ve launched …We have a very big prom, a very big homecoming, we’ve launched quinceanera. And so we’re starting to build the relationships with them earlier too, and younger so that we’re hopefully there when she goes to aspire for her wedding. And that’s been part of the big David’s journey, the unlock. Everything we’ve done is trying to, “How do we move way up in the funnel with her? How do we inspire with her much more than the wedding dress?”

Jim Marcum:
Right. And so check out our wedding planning tool kits and our apps and all of that and I think you’ll see the impact of it. This is just another piece of that journey. And I would like to say, a lot of it came out of this whole COVID environment, where we had to think differently.

Julia Raymond Hare:
And really, capturing the CLV from someone going to a homecoming or prom like you said, and then getting married and maybe having kids and one day buying dresses for their kids’ homecoming. And it’s all full circle and supported by David’s Bridal because you said it’s a lifetime program.

Jim Marcum:
It’s a lifetime program. And so we’re really excited about it. To have the growth in the membership … Think about it, three quarters of a million members in nine months or nine and a half months. And they come in on a mission and 90% of them, as I said before, transacted. And so it’s great for the beginning of a new program.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Absolutely. And there’s probably a bit of an intrinsic value or intangible value to having just the peace of mind that, “Hey, David Bridal offers everything you could need when it comes to accessories, the dresses, the gifts and you can get it all right here.”

Julia Raymond Hare:
Because it is overwhelming, the process.

Jim Marcum:
Absolutely, absolutely.

Julia Raymond Hare:
And I wanted to just dabble on the AR, VR, 3D sector for a minute here.

Jim Marcum:
Sure.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Can you share any stats or insights about how your AR and 3D try on services have been working or adopted by customers?

Jim Marcum:
Yeah. That was really another initiative that was born when these stores went dark because it’s very difficult to bring a dress to life digitally on your website right, where you can really look at the intricacy and the details and that type of thing on the dress. And so we launched, we tested, we took our top styles of dresses. We had them rendered for augmented reality and put them up on the website and it’s amazing what we’ve experienced. We’ve actually expanded the program based upon the access because we see where she engages at that level on her phone and she can see the quality of the dress right, she’s three times more likely to click on that dress and transact and/or to book an appointment, which is really important for us.

Jim Marcum:
And so a lot more to come on AR with us in the future but it really has just improved the experience for which we can help her and to the point where whether it’s virtual and she can click over and do a virtual appointment or it’s going physically in the store, she’s got an idea of what that dress is really about and how we differentiate from our competitors. Good stuff.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Really good stuff. And it makes a lot of sense for the bridal industry because the wedding dresses are more of an expensive item. And so to invest in the AR representation of an item versus … I hate to call it fast fashion but any of the typical apparel retailers, it’s a matter of cost and return because the fashion changes so much. There’s probably a little bit more stay when it comes to what wedding dresses will remain in style throughout a few years. Would you say that’s true?

Jim Marcum:
Yes, I would. I would.

Julia Raymond Hare:
I wanted to bring up a very shocking statistic for our listeners. The Wedding Report estimates there will be two and a half million weddings in 2022. This is the most the US has seen since 1984. Jim, how are you preparing for a potentially record year for David’s Bridal?

Jim Marcum:
Well, first of all, we’re very, very excited and actually, our business throughout the fall of this year has been running up over 2019, significantly up. And we continue to see that all through ’22. Number one, we’re excited. We think it’s real. Through our capabilities, we’re talking to between 50 and 70,000 brides a month, as to when their event dates are and everything. As I said before, that really gives us the insight and the ability to be able to plan.

Jim Marcum:
What are we doing? A lot of planning and what I mean by that, especially around the supply chain. We have been very, I would say aggressive, let’s put it that way, on our product development and really looking at fashion and trends and trying to anticipate what we think will be those key fashions that we go into ’22 with. We are working with our production side of the house to make sure that we have the adequate levels of inventory in process and production. We’ve actually accelerated up because of the logistics and the supply chain issues that the world’s facing. We’re already moving that product and much of it. And so we’re pretty excited, we are. And as I said before and I alluded earlier in the call, our bridal Christmas, it’s really that January through May. And so everything we’re doing now is all preparation, so when she comes out of the gate, we’re there for her.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Wow. Unlike a lot of retailers, right now is the holiday season. A lot of the hard, hard work has been done. It’s still a lot of work but now it’s in flight. And for you guys, it sounds like up until December, you are going to have a lot of planning to do, so that’s very exciting. Are there any trends in the wedding space that you’ve heard are top of mind or are you guys keeping those close to you?

Jim Marcum:
Yeah, it’s interesting. We’ve seen a lot of trends. First of all, I think our teams have done a phenomenal job taking each one of our brands and really standing back and evaluating, what’s the DNA of the brand, how do we stay true to that DNA and how do we cure a product around it? I think where we’re seeing just tremendous success, is in some of the new assortments we have. And one of our brands called Galina Signature, a lot of shine and great quality fabrics and those type of things. Our accessories. I have to tell you, we’ve had some very strong collaborations with Steve Madden and Betsey Johnson that have been working very well. It’s great product and it’s exciting. And we actually have her coming into the stores, unrelated to weddings now and buying and taking away some of our accessories and our shoes and that type of thing.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Oh, how exciting.

Jim Marcum:
Yeah. On the bridal side, pantsuits have been very, very strong. Recently, it was interesting, there was a lot of press out there about the black wedding dress, which we had already curated and was in our assortment and those kinds of things. Yeah, stay tuned. Color’s big. And so there’s a lot of excitement with our merchant teams. And I think again, my hat’s off to them because they’ve done a phenomenal job.

Julia Raymond Hare:
And exciting, strong collaborations. And hearing you say these things … Because I just looked up some of the fall runway shows and it seems like color is big in fashion for the fall season. Whereas normally, it’s more muted. It’s interesting to hear that’s also being reflected in some ways in the bridal industry.

Jim Marcum:
It is, it is. And again, that’s where our teams … That’s where we have a little bit of a competitive advantage, not to be repetitive because that’s what our teams do. They’re shopping, they’re curating, they’re seeing trends, they’re anticipating and samples are in development. I’m always amazed. Every day our design teams and our centers are just pulling in new fabrics, testing new samples, looking and trying it on for fit and those kind of things. It’s exciting stuff.

Julia Raymond Hare:
It sure is. And you have so many associates I imagine, because of the nature of your business. Is there anything that changed from the associates side or how you reward your associates or incentivize them to have this hybrid approach, engaging with customers both online and offline?

Jim Marcum:
Yeah. No, nothing has really changed. This is a very passionate team that we have because we’re focused on satisfying her and we’ve put her as the mantra, she’s the center of our world, right. And it really is … It’s amazing when you see the depth of how people are sitting there saying, “How do we make better experiences all the way through every channel?”

Jim Marcum:
Right. I think that’s good. One thing that really came out of COVID that we’ve also … It’s been amazing culturally. And when the world shut down and took a pause and a deep breath, suddenly … When you think about it from a marketing point of view and a social media point of view and our website curating product and those kinds of things, we had no models. The world didn’t stop. We wanted to continue to communicate with her. We wanted to show great styles. We wanted to talk about the new trends and the fashions. You couldn’t hire a model. Think about that, right.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Yeah, that wouldn’t be the first thing I would think about but that’s huge.

Jim Marcum:
Well, with the exception of intimate apparel, which we have some new lines and everything, we have basically gone 100% in-house. It’s our employees, they are so real and in our advertising in our own website. And so if you watch any of our digital commercials, if you watch … Those are our employees and …

Julia Raymond Hare:
I didn’t realize that.

Jim Marcum:
Oh, it’s become phenomenal. And now, we’re actually setting up photoshoots where we’re going from market to market to market, so that the employees and their families can participate. The flower girls and all of your friends when you were in school and all of that, when the bridal parties … It’s become actually infectious but it just shows you the amount of emotion that’s built into this business. It’s not like your traditional retailer, right. And so I think that is probably one of the biggest transformation things that came out of it, that absolutely we’re going to keep but it is cool.

Julia Raymond Hare:
That’s exceptional. And the authenticity of having your own associates be part of the advertising and get their families involved. That’s really cool.

Jim Marcum:
Absolutely, absolutely. In fact, we’ve actually just put together a video clip that we put out there through LinkedIn for hiring and those things, where we actually took some snippets of all of the … Or some of the shoots and put them all in there to give recognition of the employees. And so even that has just been viral. People are calling up saying, “Wow, that’s a great place we want to be.”

Jim Marcum:
And so a lot of good stuff to come, a lot of good stuff, Julia.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Very cool, Jim. And I will say, the best way to go viral is to have good content. There’s not a lot of secret sauce other than having content people relate with. That’s amazing to hear that feedback.

Jim Marcum:
Sure, sure.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Jim Marcum, chief executive officer of David’s Bridal, thank you so much for joining the show today. Really fun stuff, looking into 2022 and I hope to have you on the show again.

Jim Marcum:
Thank you very much, I enjoyed it.

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