The White Dress Society Retreat Chicago

Last month we celebrated the third annual White Dress Society Retreat in Chicago.  55 bridal stores from 32 US States, 2 provinces of Canada, and Australia gathered for 3 days to learn, share and be inspired. It was such an incredible experience – everything from the venue, to the food, to the speakers exceeded my expectations. And the best part was that I too walked away from this 3 day retreat feeling inspired and armed with information that I could put into practice to change my business immediately!

I founded The White Dress Society in 2015 as a forum for independent bridal store owners to share ideas, gather inspiration and to be educated. As the sole owner in my business, I often felt like I was on an island by myself with no one to share ideas, frustrations, failures..or successes with! As we were entering into a season where the industry was rapidly changing with increased competition, growing online sales, and an ever-evolving bride, I felt it was the perfect time to create a community that would allow us to support one another and to grow stronger together.  I never imagined that it would have the impact that it has!

This tiny powerhouse, my dear friend, Beth Bernstein, of SQN Events was a HUGE reason why we decided to host The Retreat in Chicago. She sold us on this beautiful and generous city and the incredible network of talented vendors.  We feel so fortunate to have had Beth help us to make this event such a success! We could not have pulled it off without her guidance, support and organization.

For the second year in a row, our dear friend, and sponsor, Sara Gabriel created the SWAG bag for the event.  The sentiment that was printed on the outside (and inside!) of the bag, literally brought me to tears.  She could not have summed up the mission and vision for The White Dress Society any better!

And a HUGE thank you to Lauren Melkus, founder and designer of The Denim Blonde, who created these custom denim jackets for Charlotte, Beth and I for the event.

The White Dress Society would NOT be where it is or what it is without the help of this lovely little lady, Charlotte Poling.  She is our Chief Marketing Officer…but, I also like to refer to her as The Chief Organizational Officer.  She is the most creative, detail oriented (and gracious) person that I have ever met and I would be LOST without her. I am so grateful that the bridal industry brought us together. Charlotte owned her own bridal store, The Bride Room, for 15 years.  She sold it right around the time that I created The White Dress Society and she has been instrumental in helping me to grow it ever since!

We pulled together an incredible line up of speakers for this year’s event. Each shared their expertise and insights and provided us with powerful tools to help us to navigate through the changing face of our industry.  I opened The Retreat with a talk about selling within our new reality.  Things have changed a lot in our industry and it is important that we change our approach to attracting and selling to today’s bride.

Lindsay Fork, owner of Luxe Bridal LLC, the parent company of La Jeune Mariee and Luxe Redux Bridal, spoke on the EOS Management System and instilled in us that with the right management system in place, it can enable you to work ON your business instead of IN your business. It can also allow you the freedom to step away from the business when you want or need to.

Ingrid Heilke of the Butterfly Revolution has been instrumental in assisting White Dress Society members in changing the financial face of our businesses over the past 2 years.  She is a Profit First expert and a CPA and has immersed herself into the bridal industry. She has come to understand the financial challenges that we as bridal store owners face and developed strategies to help us work through them. At this retreat, she spoke on the importance of inventory management and also led two financial break out sessions.

Kristi Drago Price of Editor’s Edge is a branding expert and she spoke on creating a stand out brand.  She provided tangible tips for creating a brand that truly represents your company’s vision and allows you to attract the right bride.  She also provided us with one the best quotes of The Retreat: “I would rather be someone’s cup of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea.

Kelsey Malicote is a photographer and marketing educator through her company Seed & Harvest. She is also a sweet, southern firecracker, who flew in from Kentucky to school us on Instagram.  She provided some incredible tangible tips for creating an impact on instagram that many of the retailers put into practice right when they returned to their stores (including me!)

Mark Chapman (who is not my husband, btw!), founder of Everette and Andrew Marketing, and I both spoke at Wedding MBA in Vegas last fall and I knew the second that I heard him speak, that he HAD to be part of The Retreat! I feel so fortunate that he obliged, because he helped to demystify Facebook and Google ads for our attendees.  He was able to break the process of creating ads into ‘layman’s terms’, gave us all of the do’s and don’ts, and allowed us to see the advantages that this form of advertising can have on our businesses.

Tech guru to the bridal industry, Myrna Daramy, is a TWDSR OG! She has spoken at all 3 of our retreats. In Chicago, she spoke to us on “5 things that every bride expects from your digital brand” and she introduced her latest project, Style Locator , a tool that is sure to benefit all of us in managing our inventory.

A fun fact about Myrna is that she is a Zumba enthusiast, so we had her lead us in a dance party to open up our 2nd day of The Retreat!

This was photographer, educator, and soon to be author, Mary Marantz’s second time speaking at The White Dress Society Retreat and she brought the emotion, the insights..and the tears! I simply adore Mary and I feel so fortunate to be able to share her with our attendees. Mary spoke to us on creating a legacy brand. This lesson was woven among her powerful story of perseverance and strength.  We collectively got to celebrate the news that she just signed a deal to write 4 books! The world does not know how lucky they are to be able to read her words of wisdom!  We feels so fortunate that for the past 2 years she was able to share them with us.

We closed the first day of The Retreat with a fabulous cocktail party co-sponsored by Chambord and Anne Barge. We mixed and mingled while enjoying delicious nibbles and a grilled cheese bar (!) from Boutique Bites . Everyone got to unwind by taking fun pics in the photo booth provided by Snapbooth Chicago.

Below I am pictured with the Designer Director and President of Anne Barge, Shawne Jacobs and her Executive Director of Sales, Jennifer Weinberg. It was such a treat to have them join us for both this event and the designer panel the following day!

Day 2 opened with a dance party..because we had to work off those grilled cheese sandwiches!  The focus of day 2 was our store and designer panel discussions.

But first, we heard an insightful, and entertaining, talk from Bernadette Baille of The Knot.  We were fortunate enough to hear Bernadette speak twice over two days! Her first talk was a recap of The Knot’s fashion study and the second talk was about selling to millennials and Gen Z.  Both talks were chock full of incredible information to assist us in relating and marketing to today’s bride.

This year’s store panel was made up of smart, charismatic women who are all running successful and innovative businesses. Each are making an impact in their market, and in our industry, in their own way!

From left after me: Ashley Krauss of A Little Something White– Darien, CT (she is a competitor of mine and I loved having her be part of our panel! ),  Ty McBrayer owner of Twirl Lexington and co-owner of Meant to Be Boutique– Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen Barstowe, of Vocelle’s Bridal – Tallahassee , Florida, Liz Coz, co-owner of Mean to Be Boutique and Manager of Twirl Lexington- Lexington, Kentucky, Lindsay Fork, owner of La Jeune Mariee and Luxe Redux Bridal – Columbus, Ohio, Rachel Apple, owner of The Bride Room– Nashville, Tennessee.

New to this year’s retreat was a designer panel. We gathered together designers who are leaders in our industry and who are open to innovation and doing things in a whole new way.

From left after me:  Industry icon and the Executive VP of sales for Ines di Santo, Lori Weil,  Accessory designer, Sara Gabriel, President and Design Director of Anne Barge, Shawne Jacobs and Designer, Kelly Faetenini.  We heard how each one of these women is dedicated to putting their stores first and how together we can evolve the way that the industry is currently run.

The lunch on our second day was sponsored by jewelry designer, Kendra Scott.  We were thrilled to hear how this innovative, female founded brand, has grown and evolved and each attendee was gifted a gorgeous piece of jewelry.

Each meal at our venue, Brique Chicago was exceptional, but I think that the breakfasts were by far my favorite! The catering company, Boutique Bites is innovative in their food display and they did not disappoint with mini pancakes, bacon bird’s nests filled with eggs and a bagel wall!  And a huge thank you to Ines di Santo and The Knot for sponsoring our breakfasts.

Day 3 was all about in depth education.  We broke out into break out sessions and dug deep into profitability, goal setting, branding, work life balance and the nuances of Bridal Live, an industry point of sale system.

 

The Retreat closed with our keynote speaker, Heather Vickery. I met Heather through the Engage! Luxury Wedding Conference. Heather was a wedding planner for years and has now evolved her business into being an industry business and leadership coach through her company Vickery & Co. Heather guided us on how to take all that we learned in the past 3 days and put it into action in our businesses and lives.

There are few words that can describe my level of gratitude for all of those who came together to make this event such a success- from the vendors, to the speakers and the attendees. You all contributed your time, your talents and your hearts, and the end result was no short of spectacular.

I need to provide a very special shout out to the exceptional humans below.  They are part of the AV team from Luxe Productions. Thank you Jamie and Sean for making sure that we sounded great and that our presentations looked fabulous and ran smoothly. We would have been lost without you and your incredible team!

And a huge thank you to our photo and video team – Rebecca Ickes of Rebecca Marie Photography and Charlie of Charlie Hilbrant Films. The shot below is of Char and I watching the video montage that Charlie put together of the first 2 days. It was my DREAM to be able to show a recap before we wrapped The Retreat and Charlie surprised me by making it happen! You can watch the incredible video below!

The group below is what REALLY made The White Dress Society Retreat Chicago the success that it was!  They took time away from their families and businesses to immerse themselves in 3 day of learning and networking. THIS is the future of our industry!  I could not be prouder to sit among them!

Thanks for everything Chicago!  We already can’t wait for next year’s Retreat!

Images: Rebecca Marie Photography

Thank you to those who sponsored this event:

SQN Events

The Knot

Sara Gabriel

Vermont Simple Beauty

Ines Di Santo

Anne Barge

Kelly Faetanini

Rebecca Marie Photography

Persephone Floral Atelier

Charlie Hilbrant Films

Luxe Productions

Snapbooth Chicago

Chambord

Kendra Scott

Tieks