Monday, August 1, 2011

A Caveat to Delaware Brides

To any of my fellow Delaware brides, before you consider doing business with Simon's Bridal in Dover, DE, please read this post.

Back in the Fall of 2010, I spent a few weekends with my Mom visiting the area bridal salons and checking out the wedding dresses they had to offer. We visited quite a few, but after having purchased both of my prom dresses at Simon’s Bridal in Dover, we both had our hearts set on revisiting the positive experience that we had encountered there about 8 years ago.

My prom dress buying experience was a good one. Aunt Lark, my Mom, and (most importantly) my Dad all came along as my friend Jenna and I had a blast trying on a variety of dresses and modeling them. Having lost my dad in the years since then, I have fond memories of rolling my eyes as he offered his advice on dresses not only to Jenna and I, but also to the other girls trying on their prom dresses in the store.

The whole experience was fun, light-hearted, and (best of all) will always remind me of my Dad. Since he can’t be a part of my bridal experience, I was looking for any way to incorporate his memory into this process. Revisiting Simon’s seemed like the perfect way to reminisce and bond with Mom, so we headed down to Dover.

Mom and I worked with a sales associate named Debbie and I tried on a variety of dresses including some really wild ones for fun at Debbie's suggestion.

Debbie spent time with us and became a part of the experience. She encouraged me as I pranced around like a 5-year-old in dress after dress and made me feel like I was the only client in the store that day. I found my dress (or more accurately, Mom did), and Debbie took photos of Mom and I as I welled up a bit.

I didn’t put a deposit down on my dress that day, because I had a few other important women that I needed to get dress approval from. I planned to have at the very least Mom-Mom, Allyn, and Aunt Lark come down to Dover with me to see the dress. I had also planned to have the women of Alex’s family come along, but because Mary Pat was in Nebraska, she wasn’t able to come with us and it ended up just being my side of the family. Brittany brought Mom-Mom down to my house and Katie Kerr came along as well.

The whole group of us went down to Simon’s Bridal and spent about an hour. Unfortunately, Debbie was at home with her kids that day (it was Halloween) so we weren’t able to tell her the good news that we were purchasing the dress. Although we had an appointment, we had to wait a bit, but we were all in such good spirits that it didn’t matter. I tried on my dress and got the approval of everyone and took lots of pictures of this momentous occasion. Mom-Mom cried, so I knew that the dress was perfect.

After showing everyone, Mom and I were ready to put down a deposit. We let the woman at the desk know, and she sent a seamstress in to take my measurements. Marie came to the dressing room and let me know based on her measurements that I was somewhere between a 4 and a 6 and that I could make a decision on which size I would like.

Based on prior experience, I asked for a 6. I figured it was easier to take a dress in than let a dress out. Plus I knew that my prom dress wasn’t a 4, so I was sure now that I have curves, the 6 was most certainly the better choice.

Marie was very sweet and congratulated me on finding my dress. She let me know that it would be in about 3-4 months and that they would call me to let me know when it was in so that I could come down, see it in person, and try it on. I was elated. We went to McGlynn’s afterward and toasted, feeling giddy.

Now, this is where the trouble starts. In December, my maid of honor, Jenna, was in town and I was thrilled at the prospect of sharing my dress with her. We had spent some time down at the beach outlet shopping, so Dover was on the way home. I figured this was the perfect chance to stop by Simon’s and show her the sample dress!

I called Simon’s to find out how late they were open that evening to see if we could make it in time. Bert, the lady who is often at the desk, answered and let us know that they were open until 6pm that evening. I was thrilled because that gave us just enough time to get there and see the dress – maybe even try it on so Jenna could see!

We arrived at 5:25pm. I assumed this was plenty of time to take a look at the dress and maybe even try it on. I walked into the shop, beaming from ear-to-ear, ready to share my dress with my best friend and now maid of honor who had shared the prom dress shopping experience with me years before. When I encountered Bert at the desk, she seemed unhappy to see us.

I explained that I had put a deposit on a dress and that my maid of honor was here from out of town and I was hoping to show her the dress in person. I mentioned that I hoped to try on the sample to show her the dress on me if that was possible. Bert seemed annoyed by our presence and insisted that no one was here to help us and that I didn’t have enough time to try the dress on. Disappointed and a little put off by Bert’s sour mood, Jenna and I tried to make the best of the visit, taking a picture of Jenna with the dress and texting it to her mom in Florida.

At the beginning of April, a full 5 months after putting down the deposit, I realized that my dress should most certainly have been in based on Marie’s estimate back in October. Around mid-April after still not having heard from Simon’s Bridal, I called to find out what was going on. I spoke with Bert again.

She let me know that the dress had been in for “a while.” I told her that no one had called me, and asked when I could make an appointment to come down to see the dress. She said (somewhat abruptly) that it was far too soon for a dress fitting and that they wait until about 2 months until the wedding to do the first fitting.

I told her I realized it was too early for a fitting, but if it was possible, I’d love to be able to visit my dress and perhaps try it on. She said that Simon’s didn’t schedule appointments for that and proceeded to schedule my fitting for mid-July. I was disappointed, and even posted on Facebook lamenting that I was unable to see my dress in person until July.

Although a little disheartened with my two interactions with Bert, I assumed that this was just one person having a bad day and awaited my fitting in July with great excitement. On Saturday, July 9, Mom and I went down to Dover after having breakfast together to try on my dress for the first time. July was extremely stressful for me with wedding planning, a full workload, and preparing to fly to California to be in my cousin Robin’s wedding, so I was thrilled to be able to relive the day in October where I felt like a princess in my dress and let some of the stress melt away for a few moments.

We got to Simon’s about 20 minutes early for our appointment and sat down to wait our turn. When Tommi, a salesperson, realized we were waiting, she offered to pull my dress and put me n a dressing room while we waited for a seamstress to be available for my first fitting. Tommi brought in the garment bag with my dress and told me to let her know if we needed any help. I was so excited!

We closed the dressing room door, I got undressed, and Mom and I unzipped the garment bag. We were prepared to be awestruck at the beautiful dress in the bag and were a little disappointed to see that there were lots of loose threads and unfinished edges. Assuming that the seamstress would take care of these minor imperfections, we put our concerns aside and prepared to put on MY dress for the first time.

Mom took it off the hanger and put her hand through the center so I could “dive” in as Debbie had shown is back in the fall. Mom pulled the dress over my head and began to pull the skirt into place. I stopped her as I realized I was caught up. I figured the skirts underneath were just bunched up and asked her to get underneath to straighten them. Unfortunately, that didn’t help.

I was standing there with the bustline of my wedding dress at my chin, unable to pull it beyond my hips. Mom asked what size I had ordered and I said “a 6”. She checked the tag and let me know that this was a 4. Since it was now past the time I was scheduled to have my appointment, I asked Mom if she could go out and see if she could find someone to help us out.

I stayed in the dressing room, with my arms crossed over my head like a runner trying to catch my breath, trying not to panic, or cry, or get anything on the dress. My mom returned looking unhappy and reported that when she had asked Bert if anyone was available to help us and let her know that we had a bit of a problem, Bert retorted that we were early for our appointment and would have to wait our turn. Someone would be with us when they were available.

Annoyed with Bert yet again, my mom helped me out of the dress. After the dress was off, I ended up half sitting, half kneeling uncomfortably in my longline bra, waiting. Because it was warm in the dressing room, we ended up cracking the door to wait for the seamstress to be available.

Seeing the door open, Tommi peeked her head in to see how it was going. After seeing my face and the fact that I wasn't dressed, she stepped into the dressing room, obviously concerned, and closed the door behind her, asking what was wrong. When I explained that my dress was too small, she assured me that it would be okay and said she would be right back.

Moments later, Tommi reentered the dressing room with Lorelei, a seamstress. Lorelei looked equally concerned and asked if she could help me back into the dress and take a look.

She helped me into the dress and got under to pull the skirts down as my Mom had done. In the meantime, Tommi left to go get the size chart for 2010 Enzoani gowns. As Tommi returned, Lorelei agreed that this dress most certainly did not fit me. After taking a look at my measurements versus the size chart, she decided to re-measure me.

After taking the dress off for a second time, Lorelei took my measurements. She asked if I had gained any weight in the past few months and I said that I hadn’t – and if I had, it wasn’t nearly enough to make me an entire size larger, because I hadn’t noticed any change in the fit of my clothes. According to Lorelei’s assessment, it seemed that Marie had measured my hips much lower than she should have and that her measurements indicated that I should have been a size 8 in Enzoani gowns. Considering that the gown was fitted at the hip, this was a significant difference.

Lorelei suggested that she take out the seams and make them as wide as possible. Although I was hesitant about this solution because letting out a 4 doesn't equal an 8 in my mind, Lorelei assured me it would work. Tommi seconded her opinion, assuring me that if any seamstress could pull it off, Lorelei could. I agreed to come back and try on the altered dress in two weeks.

After coming up with a plan with Lorelei, I returned to the front desk and Tommi began scheduling my appointment for the 21st. Bert overheard that I was coming back for “Dress Fitting: Take 2” as I jokingly called it. She abrasively asked, “Well why didn’t the dress fit?” I wanted to retort, “Well, that’s what I’d like to know!,” but figured that wouldn’t do me any good. I finished making my appointment and left.

Extremely nervous, I returned to Simon’s Bridal on Thursday, July 21. Jessica greeted me warmly as soon as I entered, putting me at ease, and showed me to a dressing room. She pulled my dress and told me to let her know if Mom and I needed any help.

Waiting for Lorelei to be free, Mom and I hung out with the dressing room door open. Paula, noticing that I wasn’t in my dress, offered to help me. I agreed, and she put her arms through the dress, and I dove in. Unfortunately, as I feared, the dress got stuck at my hips.

Paula got underneath the dress and pulled the skirts straight, hoping to make it work. After seeing that it was still too small, she helped me back out of it. Paula asked why I hadn’t come down sooner to try on the dress when it originally came in back in the winter. When I told her about my conversation with Bert and let her know that I was told that I wasn’t supposed to come until July, she apologized for the miscommunication — alluding to the fact this whole situation could have been avoided if I was allowed to come try the dress on earlier. She went to tell Lorelei that we were still in bad shape.

Lorelei quickly finished up with the client she was working with, and came over. She had me put the dress back on. I told her that I had taken a look at her work and was impressed with how nice the stitching was and jokingly apologized for my “child-bearing hips” trying to lighten the mood.

She and Paula told me that the would most certainly rush order me a dress and have someone call me first thing tomorrow during business hours the next day to let me know when it would be in. I mentioned that I was nervous about ordering the correct size since I was very close to a size 8 and asked if I should order a 10 just to be sure that I have enough room for alterations. I suggested that trying on the sample (a size 10) might be a good idea.

Lorelai agreed and Paula pulled the dress from the back room. The two slid the dress over my head and I was happy to see that the ten was still too big on me, solidifying that a 10 would be a good choice to order. Lorelei mentioned that if worse came to worse, at least they could alter the size 10 sample and use it as my wedding dress.

I looked at the dress and agreed that that was a possibility, but was simultaneously noticing the missing beads, rips, and perspiration stains on the dress. At that point, I assumed that a rush could be ordered and I wouldn’t have to worry about wearing the well-worn sample, and that they were just trying to make me feel better by providing more ideas and solutions.

Paula commented that she was proud of me for being so level-headed and both she and Lorelei agreed that they would have both been in tears if they had been in the same situation. Before leaving, I made sure that they had my correct phone number at the desk, and left for the evening, completely distraught but hopeful for my phone call the next day.

At work the next day, I was tightly wound, waiting for the phone call from Simon’s Bridal. I looked up the open time of Enzoani in California. They began their workday at 8am PST, which is 11am EST, so I made myself wait until noon until calling Simon’s to see if they had called yet. At 12:15pm, I called Simon’s and spoke with Jessica. She informed me that Janet, the owner, was planning on calling Enzoani shortly. I asked that Janet call me as soon as possible after her phone call, and Jessica assured me that that would happen.

I opted not to eat lunch because my stomach was in knots and I didn’t want to risk missing Janet’s call, so I answered on the first ring when she called back a full hour later. Janet let me know that Enzoani’s rush order time was ten weeks, getting my dress here in mid-October. I said obviously this wouldn’t work. Janet agreed and then offered me the sample dress at 30% off of the ticket price — an additional $250 over what we had already put out.

At this point, I was in shock. Complete and utter shock. I was just told that I have no wedding dress a little over 6 weeks before my wedding.

The FACT that this woman was offering me a shoddy, pit-stained sample dress that dozens of women have tried on at 30% off as if it were priceless gold was beyond infuriating. She didn’t offer to dry clean or alter the dress for free. And at 30% off, they were asking me to put out an additional $250+ over what I had already put out not including alterations and cleaning. I began to cry for the first time during the entire ordeal and told her that I would get back to them when I could.

My coworker Doug commiserated with my ordeal, saying that his wife was equally insulted by Simon’s Bridal back when they got married. Apparently, his wife, one of the nicest women I have ever met, went to Simon’s Bridal to find her wedding dress and was told rather abruptly by the person working the desk that there was absolutely nothing there in her size. Although she was a plus-sized bride and was aware that all shops might not cater to her needs, my coworker’s wife was appalled to be discriminated against so blatantly. I commiserated, as my recent phone call left me feeling equally crappy about my situation with Simon’s Bridal.

Upon hearing my dilemma, another coworker suggested I should visit Bridal Boutique Ltd. in Milford. She had had a similar negative experience with Simon’s and found her dress at Bridal Boutique, Ltd. I decided to try it out that weekend, hoping to find my dress and be able to stop into Simon’s Bridal and ask for my money back after finding an alternate dress.

After hearing about my meltdown at work, my Mom was happy to hear that I hadn’t given up hope. She met me at my house and we went to Milford together. I wasn’t expecting too much -- I was just hoping to find something suitable to be married in a mere 6 weeks before my wedding.

After stepping into Bridal Boutique, Ltd. I immediately felt better. Pat, the owner, greeted me and listened to my war story. She helped me pick out a few dresses and set me up with a dressing room. After walking around for a few minutes, there were a few noticeable differences between this boutique and Simon’s Bridal. First, this place was well-lit and cheery as opposed to the dimly lit, musty Simon's. The staff was interested in me and offered helpful suggestions as I walked through the store. I was immediately attended to and checked in on frequently. When I stepped in front of the mirror in my first dress and looked a bit flushed from the effort of getting into it, Marcia went to the back and grabbed bottles of water for both my Mom and I.

After trying on about half a dozen dresses at this place, being fussed over, and realizing that this is what the experience should be like, I began to actually feel like a bride for the first time. This is not to say that there were not lovely people at Simon’s. Debbie, Lorelei, Tommi, Paula, and Jessica were always helpful and attentive, but at this store, it was obvious that professional customer service extended all the way to management, which makes a big difference. I met and was greeted by Pat, the owner, the moment I stepped in the door at Bridal Boutique.

The owner of Simon's, Janet, and I had never spoken before our phone call where she let me know that they would not be able to get me a dress. At this point, I still had never seen her in person despite the fact that I had been in there store over a dozen times.

Although I hoped for it, I didn’t actually expect to find a dress that I loved as much as the first dress. After trying on just a few samples at Bridal Boutique, I was pretty excited to find something that exceeded my expectations and I found myself welling up. A little because of the stress of the previous weeks of uncertainty, but mostly because I had found a dress that was even more gorgeous than the original Enzoani.

And the best part of this dress (besides the fact that I feel gorgeous in it)? It’s about HALF the price of my original dress! I commented to Marcia that it was very affordable. She said was confused at my surprise and told me that that should be the price of most dresses in this area because bridal salons were supposed to adhere to the MSRP set by the dress designer.

I found this interesting because of the price that I was supposed to pay for my original dress at Simon’s Bridal. I noted the price of the new dress I picked out (realizing that it and a few others I had tried on were brands carried at Simon’s Bridal) and wrote it and a few others down to check out the discrepancy when we returned to get our money refunded.

With this new suspicion in mind, I found out another interesting tidbit from another young lady who was also there trying on wedding dresses. She overheard my Simon’s Bridal horror story and went ahead and topped it with her own. I’m not sure if I have the details correct, because I only spoke with her for a few minutes, but here’s what I remember.

Simon’s ordered the wrong dress for her. When it came in, first they tried to tell her that it was the correct dress. After finally conceding that they had made a mistake, they promised to reorder the correct dress. Although she can’t prove it, this bride returned for her fitting and is pretty sure that Simon’s tried to sell her the sample of her original dress as new. Infuriated, she had her money refunded, not only for her own dress, but also for all of the members of her bridal party. She said that it took some doing, but don’t let them tell you that they don’t give refunds. They do.

Having chosen a new dress that I was delighted with, I was ready to go back to Simon’s Bridal and get my own refund. I assumed since they had made several mistakes and after hearing that story, they would have no problem with refunding my money.

When we returned to Simon’s Bridal, Bert was especially polite and referred to me as “Ms. Rizzuto” before disappearing behind the scenes to let Janet know that we were here to see her. Upon returning, she let us know that Janet was at lunch and I told her that I didn’t mind waiting.

Although she was only in the break room and not out at lunch, Janet did not decide to cut her lunch short to address a dissatisfied customer and made us wait a full 20 minutes. I was beginning to get agitated because I knew that she was just a few feet away and hadn’t felt the need to address us in the 25 minutes since we had arrived.

Although I was unhappy to be made to wait, the 20 minutes did give me a chance to take a look at some of the dresses I had tried on earlier in the day at Bridal Boutique and compare prices to Simon’s stock. My suspicions were confirmed – it appears that Simon’s Bridal consistently marks their dresses at twice the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Later, upon returning home, I found online that this is often grounds for dressmakers to pull their contracts with bridal salons, and I feel that it couldn’t hurt to let a few of the designers that Simon’s carries know what they are doing.

After realizing the discrepancy between MSRP and the exorbitant rates Simon's was charging, I realized that the deposit I had paid on the original Enzoani dress was probably enough to cover the entire cost of the proper MSRP of my dress. Because of this, I was even more pissed off that they had offered me the soiled, stained, ripped sample dress at 30% off and acted like it was a deal. They could have offered the sample dress with alterations and cleaning for no additional cost, sold my size 4 dress at their version of a reduced cost, and still made more than their share of profit. And, I wouldn’t have never been the wiser. Unfortunately customer service doesn’t seem to be a strong point for this store.

When Janet finally emerged, she came to address us in the middle of the showroom floor right in front of the counter. Now doubly annoyed at being made to wait and discovering that their prices were a rip off, I found myself facing her in the middle of about a dozen other customers. I was waiting to be escorted either to an office or perhaps even to the break room where she had been spending her lunch for some privacy, but it quickly became apparent that Janet was happy to hear our grievances with other customers standing around. Another bold choice as far as customer service is concerned.

I told her that I would like to have my deposit back and that I had made other arrangements, so I would no longer be needing their services. I mentioned that we had come here because of a positive experience with prom dress shopping and were extremely disappointed in how they had handled this issue. If they had practiced better customer service, I would have been happy to continue to recommend her store, but as of now I couldn’t do that.

To her credit, Janet did at least apologize and after trying to talk me into ordering something with Simon’s Bridal, she did give us our money back.

Unfortunately, I believe that Simon’s Bridal gets away with price markups and poor customer service because they are one of the only (if not the only) bridal salon in Dover. Thanks to the wonderful ladies at Bridal Boutique, Ltd. I now know how a bride should be treated. Not only have Pat and Marcia been extremely helpful through the whole process but I have also been impressed with the speed at which my situation was remedied. I put a deposit on my dress on Saturday, received a call on Monday concerning more details from the dress designer and made the decision to purchase off the rack, was fitted on that Tuesday, and have a second fitting on August 20th.

In one weekend, I was shown that customer service isn’t dead and that there is something better out there.

I have a brand new dress that I love — instead of a pit-stained sample dress that dozens of brides have been in and out of — and best of all, I was treated like I am worth something. For any bride in the Dover area, I suggest driving the extra 30 minutes down to Milford and saving yourself a lot of money and hassle and also see what a great dress buying experience is all about.

I promise, you won’t be disappointed.