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The Better Bridal Group (BBG) was founded by Jon Saltzman in 2006.  Feeling a strong need to give back to the bridal industry, Jon created the BBG community.  Although Jon has since retired from bridal, he has had a lasting impact on our industry.  This is how it all began....

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Jon Saltzman  

My wife Robin and I opened our first bridal store in 1994 in Allentown, Pa. In 1999 we opened our second store in Tampa, Florida. With our Tampa store I was primarily responsible for the business operations while Robin was responsible for all buying and inventory control. Occasionally, I would travel with her to the national bridal markets in Chicago, New York and Las Vegas.

At the bridal markets, since I was not the one doing any buying, I had a lot of time on my hands and I would attend the seminars that were offered. I quickly realized that the presenters were primarily manufacturers and the information was not really on target many times when it came to benefiting retailers. I often felt that the real purpose of the manufacturer given seminars was just a way for them to get a foot in the door and establish a relationship with the retailers that were not already their customers. Of course, there were some valuable nuggets of information to be gained, but overall I felt that these manufacturers did not really understand the day to day challenges that faced retailers.

After one of the markets I came home and wrote an outline of what I felt should really be covered at a market seminar and asked Robin to approach the heads at the next set of markets with my proposal for a seminar. The head of the Las Vegas market agreed to give my proposal a try and I was scheduled to give my seminar at the Fall Market in Vegas in 2005. Up to that point it was my observation that the average attendance at a market seminar was about 30 people. When I showed up in Vegas in 2005 to give my seminar I was informed that almost 600 tickets had been requested and given out to the store owners. Clearly there was a strong need for some retailer to retailer interaction.

I then went on to give seminars at the Spring markets in Atlanta and Las Vegas in 2006. Soon after that, due to manufacturer objections my seminars were canceled. We have all heard the expression about a door closing and a window opening. When my seminars were canceled I harnessed what I considered an unmet demand for retailer to retailer interaction by doing two things. In 2006 I created a forum board called the Better Bridal Group where membership was restricted to brick and mortar bridal store owners who did not sell wedding gowns over the internet. I also set up what I called the Better Bridal Group Annual Seminar where owners could get together and enjoy several days of retailer to retailer information sharing. This educational convention has now been continued every single year since 2006 with exponential growth in attendance every single year. I remember Peter Grimes, the owner of Vows Magazine telling me that our group was the only place that bridal retailers could get truly “unfiltered” information.

One of my proudest accomplishments has been the creation of the Better Bridal Group. Initially started as a way for me to “pay it forward” and give back some of the blessings God has bestowed upon me and my family through the bridal business the Better Bridal Group has grown into so much more and exceeded my expectations in so many ways.

Over the past 10 years I have seen this group grow from being a place where retailers could just exchange information to a venue where bridal retailers could escape their sense of isolation and form lifelong friendships. I have also seen many smart retailers recognize the value of the BBG forum board and use it to grow their tiny fledgling businesses into amazing prosperous enterprises. The Better Bridal Group has truly afforded me with a legacy I will always cherish. Thank you to everyone who has left me richer in so many ways that have nothing to do with money.

Jon Saltzman
Founder of the Better Bridal Group

 

Michelle McFarland - President  

In December of 1999 I opened The Wedding Shoppe – Veils & Accessories. Owning a bridal boutique can be very lonely and isolating. I am lucky to have my sister, Danielle Simone, on board as my General Manager. But I know many owners that work alone or don’t have anyone to confide in. I joined BBG in 2007. At the time my boutique, The Wedding Shoppe, was a bridal accessories store and we were struggling. I attended my first seminar later the same year. I can use all kinds of cliche terms to describe my experience at the first seminar I attended…mind-blown, amazed, in awe, humbled. It really changed the way I approached my business. I love being able to ask questions in a closed, safe environment. That’s what can be scary about other groups, you never know who is lurking and reading your vital business information. On BBG, you are territory protected, you can see who the other members are, you get to know them at the seminar and see them at markets.

With the encouragement of BBG, I took the leap in 2008 and began selling wedding dresses. I feel I learned how to sell dresses the right way from so many store owners that willing shared their experience, their missteps and their successes. I feel very fortunate to have had their guidance. The impact they have had on my life is immeasurable.

Robin Garrison and I are honored to lead BBG into the future. We are passionate about helping other store owners to grow their business. I wouldn’t be where I am today without BBG. I am forever grateful.

Michelle McFarland, The Wedding Shoppe, Berkley, Michigan
President of the Better Bridal Group

 

Robin Garrison - Vice President  

After I completed my degree in Fashion Merchandise and Design from Washington State University I went to work for Nordstroms in Seattle.  I quickly learned the business and worked my way up through management.  One day when walking up the staircase to a regional meeting I noticed the photographs of all the vice-presidents on the wall.  It occurred to me that they all had the same last name, “Nordstrom”, and I realized I had no chance of ever making it to that level.    

Shortly after, I decided to take my veil making side business to a new level.  I opened my Seattle store, I Do Veils in 1997. Focusing on Custom Veils and Accessories.  Within the first year I ordered a line of dresses and changed the name to I Do Bridal.  Those early years were a real struggle.  I had a design and business background but, no understanding of this industry.  There was no group or easy way to connect with other retailers at that time.  

When internet chat boards came on the scene I was smitten!  Suddenly, I wasn’t sitting with strangers at lunch during market.  I had friends who understood the stress, struggles and day to day of bridal retail!  I joined every group I could, including the Better Bridal Group when Jon started it.  At the time, I ran one of the smallest bridal shops in the country at just 1260 sq. ft.  

After much encouragement, in 2013 attended my first BBG conference where I had the opportunity to speak to my fellow members about how to do a high volume in a small space.  It was in sunny Tampa and I didn’t even put my toes in the sand for the first 3 days because I was so busy learning and meeting new people.  I truly felt that I had found my tribe!

In 2014 I bought my own building and moved my Flagship store into the new, custom built space. In 2016 I purchased the neighboring property and expanded my store adding an off the rack area and our new state of the art Diamond Suite.  Although my store is not as small as it once was, my focus is still on the personalized one on one service that has built my business.

It is because of the many other store owners whom have helped me along the way that I am still in business.  My motivation to volunteer my time to help with BBG is fueled by my unique perspective on the important relationships between manufacturers and retailers.  As the industry is rapidly changing it is more important than ever that our voices be heard.  I will continue to advocate for us by speaking at industry events and encourage new stores to join.  BBG has not only helped my business grow but has given me the support and friendships that I value so much.

After running my store for a few years, I happily married my husband Greg in 2000.  His unwavering support and financial wisdom has also been a great catalyst for my success.  When I am not at my store, I can usually be found on the sidelines cheering on my two boys at their games or playing on the lake.  

Robin Garrison, I Do Bridal, Seattle, Washington
Vice President of the Better Bridal Group

 

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