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Bridal Legacy

VIEWS: 103 PAGES: 4

									by Allison Deerr

A ‘‘Chicagoland’’
Bridal Legacy
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Volle’s Bridal Boutique is located in Lake Zurich, Ill., a suburb 35 miles northwest of Chicago, 15 miles from Wisconsin’s border and an hour’s drive from Iowa. Windy City brides make the trip to the elegant store, which primarily draws wedding shoppers from Illinois and neighboring states, as well as some national and European customers.

“We want to make you feel like the only bride in the world.”
-Volle’s Bridal Boutique jingle.

May/June 2005

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Whenever you call Volle’s Bridal Boutique, your first experience will be hearing the store’s charming, upbeat jingle:“We want to make you feel like the only bride in the world.” It’s a greeting that encompasses storeowner Volle Halthen’s business mission: to ensure personalized attention and treat customers just like family. “I had three sons, no daughters,” she says. “Now I think of every Volle’s bride as my daughter. It is a real joy when you see these little girls go down the aisle.” The Lake Zurich, Ill., store, located approximately 30 minutes northwest of Chicago, meets the definition of a full-service salon, offering complete outfitting and accessory needs to brides, grooms and their wedding parties. However, throughout more than three decades of business, Halthen has most notably differentiated her store by making cus-

tom-designed gowns, a talent she’s cultivated most of her life. One of the few who can say they realized their career path in childhood, Halthen began designing and sewing in elementary school. Teachers nurtured her artistic gift, and, by age 8, a neighbor recruited Halthen to design and sew costumes for her dance studio. Today, 20 watercolors done by Halthen as a young teen in 1937 decorate her store, attesting to her early talents and long-lasting affinity for the arts. As an adult, while raising her three sons, Halthen fine-tuned her skills by designing clothing for influential international clients. Four times a year she showed her designs and fabric selections to an elite clientele, some of whom requested bridal gowns for their daughters. Demand for the custom gowns soon mushroomed, so Halthen decided to launch Volle’s Bridal Boutique. She purchased a two-story, Colonial-style

Honor, respect and creativity shape a retailer’s lifelong fashion career.

building in 1970 that once housed a funeral parlor. The building was gutted, a second level was added to an adjacent structure, and the two buildings were connected. Bridal, mothers, maids and flower girls gowns were housed in one building, while the tuxedo business, storage and the alterations department filled the other.

Challenges and Creativity Confirm Volle’s Identity For over 20 years, Volle’s business grew steadily until 1995, when a devastating fire destroyed one of the store’s main buildings. Halthen spent two years rebuilding the alterations, tuxedo and storage departments until the store once again reached its approximate former size: 7,000 square feet of retail space and 3,000 square feet of storage. Decorated in soft taupe, gold, cream and beige shades, the current store provides an ambiance

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chandelier sconces, upholstered benches, three-way mirrors, pedestals and special lighting. Unlike most salons, Volle’s Bridal Boutique has always worked with closed bridal stock, which currently ranges between $800-$5,000 and is safeguarded in a special storage area. “We’ve done it this way for 35 years, and I still think it’s the best way to service a customer,” Halthen says. First, brides are interviewed for preferred gown styles, then consultants explain the dressing and fitting process. Next, gowns are brought to the bride, and the consultant assists her with trying on and pinning the samples for true fit. The store works by appointment only, which allows for efficient staff scheduling and superior personalized customer service. Establishing Stability Throughout Years of Change Halthen says she’s seen significant changes in her three-plus decades of bridal retail experience. For example, in the store’s early years, brides married at 25 years old or younger, while today’s brides fall under all age brackets, depending on if they’re marrying for the first, second or even third time. Halthen says one customer has returned to Volle’s for each of her five weddings! The retailer also views her modernday clientele as much more ethnically diverse and educated about bridal. “We see many professional girls who know exactly what they want,” she says.“It can be more difficult because they are so precise about every detail.” Key to handling today’s brides is a stable, competent workforce. Volle’s boasts more than 100 years of combined bridal-management experience among its top-four staffers: Volle Halthen, chairperson; son Kerry Dean, president; daughter-in-law Deanna Dean, vice president; and Carol Schiffler, secretary/treasurer. This core team has been the foundation of the store’s quality service, longevity and reputation. It’s no surprise, then, that Volle’s flourishes on word-of-mouth business, frequently helping second-generation brides whose mothers bought their gowns at the store in the 1970s and ‘80s. However, Volle’s doesn’t rely solely on word-of-mouth referrals. In addition

Volle Halthen decorates store walls with 20 fashion watercolors she painted as a young teen in 1937.

to the professional jingle that plays when customers first call the store,Volle’s has operated a high-quality Web site for three years, routinely advertises in newspapers and bridal magazines, runs a regular direct-mail campaign, hosts trunk shows and special events, and aggressively develops leads by phone. Dean says these consistent advertising efforts reinforce the store’s commitment to personal service, enabling Volle’s to thrive in the competitive “Chicagoland” marketplace. “You have to pour your heart out to give these girls what they want,” he says. “Brides want to be taken care of. Every day we hear stories of brides who were handed three gowns, put in a dressing room and left alone. We’re still doing what we did 30 years ago, and it works. We are determined to make customers see the value of committing to us. The way we approach every sale is: If a bride doesn’t buy from us, it’s the biggest mistake she’ll ever make,” he says. Dean also secures the store’s stellar reputation by hiring hardworking, competent staff. “We look for people who want to be decision-makers and who want to

Halthen has most notably differentiated business by making custom gowns.

May/June 2005

that brides say “feels like home.” Antique-style furnishings such as Oriental rugs and velvet-and-tapestry upholstered chairs enhance its warm, elegant feel. On the first floor, open-stock mothers and bridesmaids “boutiques” flank the cashier and seating area. Brides climb past stained glass windows as they ascend a circular stairway to the second floor, which features a mirrored viewing area and five, 9-by-14-foot fitting rooms, as well as a larger sixth room to accommodate sizeable wedding parties. The dressing rooms are appointed with
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The Volle’s reception area includes a warm, chandelier-lit ambiance, velvet upholstered chairs and product displays.

A Volle’s bride practices walking in her gown down a stain-glass-lit grand staircase.

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May/June 2005

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be a part of something that has potential for enjoyment everyday because you are touching the hearts of people everyday,” he says. “We routinely have applicants come and work for us for a day so we can see what they’re made of, and if it’s a good fit. The ones that take us up on it tend to be the right people,” he says. Every Saturday morning before Volle’s opens, sales consultants and assistants attend mandatory trainings. The store bases its training program on a company manual and conducts roleplaying exercises in four distinct areas: sales, operations, stock and company philosophy. Dean jokes, “The ideal employee for the bridal business would have a degree in psychology, a business degree with a specialty in sales and marketing, and some apparel training.” But focusing on those four training areas helps ensure each staff member, regardless of pedigree, can effectively serve, sell and cater to brides. Also unique to Volle’s workforce is its dedicated 15-member alterations staff. Halthen takes so much pride in this business aspect that brides are given tours of the 750-square-foot alterations area, where they can watch the European-trained seamstresses, fitters, finishers and presser work their magic. In this department, the finishers do rebeading, bustling and other handwork, and then each gown is hand-pressed. Four full-time seamstresses work only

At one of eight alterations stations, Volle Halthen supervises her seamstresses.

on bridal gowns, while Halthen continues her custom-design business, which she now limits to a few special gowns each year. Finally, Halthen conducts ongoing training for bridal needlework so brides can be assured their gowns are handled with utmost care and professionalism. It’s also in the alterations department where a bride might hear comforting stories of “gown rescues” that have been tallied over the years. One bride’s mother once called in tears at 7 p.m. on the eve of her daughter’s wedding. She’d

Halthen and seamstress Teresa Gabriel tend to one of the custom gowns that the storeowner creates for select bridal customers.

hung her daughter’s dress on a chandelier and burned it. That e v e n i n g , Halthen and two seamstresses stayed late to replace the entire front of the dress. By 9 a.m. the next morning, the restored gown was ready for pickup. Additionally, her seamstresses have worked many sewing miracles, such as turning size 10 gowns into 20s and vice versa. “When disasters happen, you have to be here to help,” Halthen says.

Volle’s secures its stellar reputation with a hardworking, competent staff.

On the Men’s Side, Commitment Counts Mr. Tux, the men’s formalwear business, is located on the ground floor, adjacent to the bridal area. It houses retail space, six fitting rooms and tailoring, and the staff ranges seasonally from three to six employees. The business thrives, Dean says, because the company made the commitment to purchase its stock and warehouse the inventory on-site in a separate 1,000-square-foot building. “You cannot service the clients the way it needs to be done if you don’t

High-quality spotlights illuminate a personal fitting experience in the main viewing area.

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have your inventory right there,” Dean says.The on-hand stock of approximately 26 lines also prevents many lastminute fitting problems often associated with limited stock. It’s an easy sell that Dean promotes to his brides the minute they begin shopping for gowns. “When it comes time to make the

tux choices,” Dean says, “often months later, they’ll think of you first.” The Business Philosophy: Obligations and Respect Honoring obligations and respecting customers are fundamental to Volle’s business philosophy. But when shoppers

Store president Kerry Dean conducts Saturday-morning training sessions before the store opens.

cross that line of disrespect, or don’t appreciate those who are really working for them, Dean says, the company isn’t afraid to take action. He cites an abusive, demanding father of the bride and a group of bridesmaids who ignored the store’s “No food, No smoking” policy, putting out cigarettes on the carpet and throwing food around the store. All were arrested. “They not only showed us disrespect, they also showed disrespect to our other customers,” he says. Fortunately, such scenarios are rare, allowing staffers to focusing on honoring and serving their brides, the true purpose of remaining in this industry. “If you can’t service a customer and give her what she wants, and if you can’t make her look perfect for that one day, you shouldn’t be in the business,” Halthen says. Then harkening back to Volle’s jingle, she adds, “Why shouldn’t every bride feel she’s the only bride in the world?”

The on-hand tux stock prevents many last-minute fitting problems.

May/June 2005

Bridal retailers are challenged daily, but the aftermath of the 1995 fire that destroyed one of Halthen’s buildings truly put the reputation of Volle’s Bridal Boutique – and the staff ’s skills and stamina – to the test. Raging through the storage area, the fire damaged 800 bridal gowns, 3,000 maids dresses, plus mothers gowns and tuxes; only a few garments were salvageable. Rather than throw in the towel, the retailer and her staff worked diligently to make good on promised gowns. Seamstresses moved into a different building, and the retail store remained open. “My crew was phenomenal,” Halthen says. “We worked day and night, and we replaced every girl’s dress. So many things can happen in this business and however a dress is damaged or destroyed, you have to know how to fix it.” Additionally, the store’s solid reputation and Halthen’s good rapport with her suppliers enabled her to work with manufacturers in a timely manner. “Every manufacturer that I worked with was very good to me, and they sent me every dress that I needed,” she says. “On a Monday, I would call and tell them what I needed; by Wednesday, I had the dresses here. Wednesday and Thursday, we did the alterations, and, by Friday, they were ready to go out.” Seamstresses worked 16-hour days for four months to meet the challenge, while the store dealt with panicky, distraught customers. Many appreciative brides responded with gifts and heartfelt notes of thanks to the Volle’s staff. In such a situation, Dean says, many businesses might decide to cut their losses and move on, but the bridal store was and still is “Volle’s baby.There was no way that she was going to let a single bride be disappointed.”
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Most Memorable Moment

The Volle’s Staff (top to bottom, left to right) Dawn Passella, Lori Skarb, Lorraine Mamrot, Leticia Ramirez, Elivira Pacheco, Mae Streb, Lilia Zamudio, Daniela Kachidova, Mirka Madej, Ellie Von Drasek, storeowner Volle Halthen, Theresa Gabriel, Donna Madej, Deanna Dean and Carol Eckert-Schifferer. Not pictured: Wendy Anderson, Jessica Banker, Marsha Barenbaum, Lisa Barna, Jennifer Brinker, Katlin Friebus, Kristen Hotten, Rachel Hughes, president Kerry Dean, Ann Kruk, Lukasz Kurowski, Megan Passella, Molly Passella, Tyler Peterson, Jana Poole, Susan Presto, Ann Riccio, Irina Ryskina, Maria Saenz, Concetta Salatino, Susan Stanley, Margaret Tripicchio and Denise Witczak.

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