Bridal retail is a unique category, rife with high expectations and stress for many shoppers, built on decades of dress shopping sameness. But Vow’d Weddings says it shouldn’t be that way. With a focus on hospitality and service, Vow’d is bringing new energy to bridal retail, including a vibrant new store at Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio (full disclosure: a Chute Gerdeman project). The Columbus store is the brand’s entry into the Ohio market, with retail shops now in seven states.
We recently sat down with Vow’d SVP Nicole Sewall, VP of Stores Ana Angarita, and Director of Brand Marketing Rebekuh Browning to talk about the new store design and reimagining the bridal experience.
Q. Experience, experience, experience. That’s what all the retail brands are preaching these days. With e-commerce always standing by for a transactional purchase, brick-and-mortar retailers must give shoppers a reason to come to their store—and return. What kind of experience does the Vow’d Weddings concept bring to brides?
Nicole: Today’s bride is not different from the overall consumer; she wants more from her shopping trip. We know it isn’t just about getting a beautiful dress; she wants an experience. We are putting most of our eggs in the in-store basket, and that’s why we are working with Chute Gerdeman to bring our brand to life on a large scale.
Ana: We have spent more time studying hospitality than retail. We are not just selling dresses; we are selling an experience. We are here to hand her a tissue and a glass of champagne. It’s a different approach. It should be a pampered experience.
Rebekuh: It’s interesting to talk to people about bridal shopping. There was always an awkward and bad connotation to it. You wonder why people even go to these bridal shops! We are working to destigmatize it and let people know it doesn’t have to be stressful. It is a huge purchase, and we understand that. It should feel that much more special. Our store teams just want to make women feel beautiful, and that’s really cool to see.
Q: So you mentioned Vow’d’s focus on the in-store experience. Can you tell me why the brand chose to focus on physical retail as opposed to e-commerce channels?
Nicole: When we launched the brand, I came in with expectations around our e-commerce business. But the guests quickly told us they weren’t interested in that. We aren’t leaving digital—it’s more like the gateway to our (in-person) experience. We can be transparent about our offerings and use the website more like a showroom.
So there really has been a shift in how we use e-commerce. We use it as a purchasing channel, but the focus of the website is to drive appointments, showcase our store locations and show our assortment. For us, our digital spend is geared toward store locations, not e-commerce transactions and product sales. There was an intentional shift there. The business we want to create is hospitality rich. We don’t want to deter e-commerce, but we can’t give her our best in that experience. It feels impersonal for what is a very personal purchase.
Q: While traditional bridal shops can feel stuffy, pretentious and cost a fortune, Vow’d has a very different vibe. What were you going for with the new store?
Nicole: We want to offer a wide assortment of products that service all types of brides, not narrow ourselves—and with wedding dress shopping, there is usually a bit of anxiety and unknowns there—the velvet rope, the rules, and expectations. Also, many brands only offer one sample size, and she can’t touch the dresses; at other bridal shops, the stylists pull the dresses for the bride.
Rebekuh: Vow’d offers three sample sizes and makes the experience more casual. Why should this be so different from other shopping experiences? We didn’t want it to feel like a wedding. We wanted it to be fun and playful. Let the dress be the star of the show and give her the space to visually and mentally be able to see it for herself.
Ana: It’s really about how we approach our brides. We offer one-on-one service, with one appointment per stylist, and we think about it as the 90 minutes that she has with us. How can we make it personalized? Is she a vibrant bride or a shy bride? How do we manage that interaction and create an environment for her to remove obstacles and tension within the party? We need to become her best friends. It’s about celebrating her and what she wants in the moment. We recognize that we can delight and surprise her with little things that are meaningful to her. Brides fall in love with the brand so quickly because of that experience.
Nicole: We want it to feel like a different type of wedding brand. We want the initial touchpoint—website and social media—to feel differentiated and we want it to feel accessible. And not just from a price point perspective. We want it to feel organic to her, like a continuation of her life, not stiff and formal.
Ana: And we like to celebrate! There is confetti everywhere in our stores, which is released when she says yes to the dress. A bride walks in and is like, “what is this?” You just walked into the best time of your life!
Q: You know the Vow’d target market very well, and just like every industry, I’m sure bridal changes all the time. What trends are you seeing now when it comes to weddings? And what do you think is driving those trends?
Nicole: I think wedding trends right now are less driven by social media and more about having something personal. It’s less about trends and more about interpreting it for herself. Our bride is sentimental. We are not necessarily seeing bigger weddings, but we are seeing more thoughtful weddings. The couples are really thinking through what they want their day to look like, and it makes it that much more special. She’s finding a way to bring in her “something borrowed” and having something from Grandma or Mom, but I think that traditions for tradition’s sake are getting thrown out. When it comes to dresses, she’s looking for something more “wow,” not something that fits into her everyday life. She really wants an experience, something special. After being cooped up for years, she is ready to be with friends and family and create real “wow” moments—not just when bridal shopping but also at her wedding. This generation is contributing more to their wedding than ever before, so they want it to be uniquely their own, not necessarily what mom and dad want or have done.
Rebekuh: We’ve been seeing a lot of what I call “trendy with a personal touch.” Brides are taking trends like first-look photos but doing them with mom or dad instead of the groom. We are seeing couples put their own spin on the ceremony, with flower men instead of flower girls. You’ve seen those videos, right? Social media is driving this in a big way.
Q: And what about the wedding gown? What’s hot right now?
Nicole: More! It’s all about more. We are seeing longer trains and more embellishments. It’s not necessarily glitz and glamour but more fabrication, handwork, and unexpected details. There’s a bit of traditional influence there, updated in a more modern way. There was a trend toward slight color, and now we are seeing ivory, not nudes. It’s classic with a modern twist. What’s waning in the industry is the interest in the handful of well-known designers in the wedding dress space. Younger generations seem to be less interested in that, but she wants a gown that fits her venue and meets important requirements, like whether she can dance in it or whether the train covers the mountaintop at her outdoor ceremony. It’s really less about what fashion trends are indicating and more about what meets her specific desires.
Q: It sounds like Vow’d is doing things differently in an industry that has been the same for so long.
Nicole: We know that we aren’t the only place she can go to get this incredible experience; there are so many fantastic independent boutiques. But that experience isn’t being replicated today on a larger scale, so we have the opportunity.
Q: The Easton Town Center store is beautiful. It really feels like a differentiated experience. When you came to us to design your new Easton Town Center store, what were your goals?
Nicole: When designing the Easton store, we thought about how we can better service her within the space. So we added more spaces for moments of hospitality. For example, with the fitting room experience, there is now more privacy with the stylist, while keeping the excitement and energy on the floor of the space. We take appointments and walk-ins, and this will push our business forward, given the visibility and foot traffic of Easton.