There were more weddings in 2022 than there had been in at least 40 years. So many people postponed getting married during the pandemic years that the backlog created a huge surge as conditions improved. So, of course, one would think the bridal business would be booming.
Earlier this week, after agonizing reports of its impending doom, David’s Bridal – the largest specialty retailer in the business – filed for bankruptcy, the second time in five years and according to the company, a precursor to a sale or total liquidation of the company.
Not only that, but reports have surfaced that wedders-to-be are bailing out of bridal registries at Bed Bath & Beyond, which has been one of the biggest such players in the space for decades but is now in a massive retrenching that will reduce its store footprint by two-thirds…or perhaps totally if it too is forced into bankruptcy.
So, what’s going on with the bridal business? David’s, in its filing says weddings aren’t quite the glam affairs they used to be and that big bridal parties decked out in fancy attire are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Instead, more casual affairs are gaining in popularity and that means fewer white wedding gowns…not to mention less party dresses and all the other accoutrements that came with elaborate weddings.
“The demand for formal wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, and related accessories has decreased substantially in the current environment,” the company said in its filing.
David’s visited chapter 11 the first time in 2018 and while the company says it has worked to remake itself since, like many retailers, it couldn’t have anticipated what the pandemic would do to social events in the country. Still, the move to less formal weddings certainly predates Covid and as the dominant player in this specialty category with no serious national competitor one would think they could have adapted better to the changes in the marketplace.
David’s, in its filing, said it would be looking for a buyer while it remained open for business but that liquidation was an option if things didn’t work out.
The BBB story is simple arithmetic. With only a third of the stores still open that it had as recently as three years ago, the home products chain is just less widespread as a place to go to register…not to mention a place where gift-givers can shop for registry items. The chain has also had serious inventory issues with some reports suggesting it is only 40% in-stock on many key products. Of course, underlying the whole thing is that shoppers are worried that BBB won’t be around to fulfill orders if it goes out of business.
Fortune magazine, quoting data from the online wedding services platform Zola, reported earlier this week that “since January, several thousand couples have removed Bed Bath & Beyond items from their registries…(representing) a decline of more than 50% versus registries for nuptials that were held last year.”
BBB didn’t address the Fortune report directly but said it remains “steadfast” in its turnaround efforts.
All of those weddings still on the books for the rest of 2023 and into next year will of course not be deterred by these two retail developments. Local independent bridal shops should pick up market share as will any department stores that still carry clothing suitable for weddings.
On the gift registry side, those same department stores with home assortments should gain as will the national lifestyle stores like Williams Sonoma, Crate & Barrel and West Elm.
Only in the current retail climate where nothing is going quite as expected can a boom in demand cause two of the biggest players in the space to suffer. The “I do’s” will continue even if the “I buys” will not.