Neil Westerby of MK Prom sat down with marketing expert David Ciobanu from Hanco Global Solutions recently, to answer a few questions about day-to-day operations at MK Prom.
David: How did you get started in formal wear for women?
Neil: It’s a really good question, and to be honest it all stems from starting our alterations shop, at the time it seemed like a good idea to set Diana up, as I run an IT Company, and so was completely new to retail.
David: Diana is your partner?
Neil: Yes, that’s right. She’s been vital from the start, especially on the alterations side of the business.
David: So you expanded on the idea?
Neil: Yes. In our first year we got loads of girls coming in with dresses for their proms, bridesmaids and wedding dresses, it seemed a natural progression for us.
We started almost 3 years ago and so this has really been our first full season.
But it’s been scary too because the first year we got shut down because of Covid.
Last season we were selling dresses from the discontinued lines which I sourced from some of our suppliers, so to invest so heavily in expensive dresses was a gamble.
David: Is that a gamble that has paid off?
Neil : Well David, the only thing I can say is that our 2022 Prom Season has been spectacular.
I thank all the girls that have put their trust in MK Prom this year. I am very proud to say that we have delivered every single dress despite all the challenges we have had.
David: What sort of challenges did you face?
Neil: Wow, where do we start?!
Firstly, as you know, we are a family-run business and whilst everything seems smooth at the front end, there was a lot of work going on in the back end to meet this prom season’s demands.
We sold over 400 dresses!
David: Really? 400? How did that go?
It went quite well, thanks to some great relationships with our fashion houses, designers and suppliers. They all had major challenges, as most are also family-owned businesses. Many were basically out of work for the last two years because of the pandemic, and had to cope with a surplus of out-of-date dresses.
Financially, the designers who supply MK Prom really struggled. Where they would usually produce 5000 dresses for an order, over the pandemic period, they were down to 1000 at a time. Then of course, add the War in Ukraine and local transport issues, everything had got delayed getting the dresses to the shop.
Imagine having to tailor the majority of these dresses in less than a month! All I can say is that I am so thankful to our wonderful MK Prom team, who have all been working tirelessly to make sure every single dress is delivered. It has all been a big challenge and a great accomplishment.
David: So in day-to-day operation, what techniques work best for you?
I think that our friendly approach where we are never pushy about a sale. Also the fact that we are a family run business has gone down very well, and where Diana and I have different views, we always finally agree on the dress that would suit the girl best.
Actually, it is pretty easy, you see the big smile on the girls face and it says yes!
Word of mouth spreads really quickly when you deliver a good friendly service, plus the fact that we have invested in having the right dresses, has made a huge difference.
Our website and marketing has also provided a good experience for all the girls being able to look at our current dresses, right the way through to booking their appointment I think makes the whole experience fantastic for everyone.
David: Yes, it’s clear you have a winning strategy in place. Coming up, what is next for MK Prom?
Neil: Trust me, we have been working seven days a week from early in the morning to late at night, bank holidays and weekends included. Both Diana and myself are shattered! So, a nice holiday is scheduled, moreover our daughter needs to have some family time. After that, it is like everything, we then have to plan for 2023.
David: How exactly do you plan for the next season?
Neil: Well, I am off to several suppliers to see their new collections, and then in September I will be visiting a number of other shops to see what they may be doing differently.
Then we will be off to a huge expo, checking out the new designs, and importantly, chatting with other stockists, comparing notes. Once we have our strategy clear, we will finalise plans for a complete facelift in the shop for 2023. We already have some wonderful ideas, but you will just have to wait for that and come in!
January we will be planning a couple of our own prom events, will be inviting local girls to come and preview our 2023 collection, then we have no doubt it will be another busy season in 2023.
David: So what is the secret of MK Prom’s success?
Well, as for the real secret of our success, I think it has to be seeing the smiles on the girls’ faces once they have found their dress. You should see it, it’s magic.
But it is also about having experienced seamstresses and our particular knowledge of prom dress. We can do some amazing things to make dresses fit.
One particular story happened when the prom season was coming to the final weeks, and suppliers were no longer taking orders on certain dress sizes.
David: Wow, really?
Neil: Yes, it happens! And around then, we had a lovely lady come in to try a dress it turned out that particular dress was too small.
I could see in her eyes that she had her heart set on this dress, so I told her not to worry! I showed her what we would do to get the dress to fit and look great on her.
She went from being in actual tears to a huge smile. It was brilliant.
David: That’s great, that really shows the upside to your work Neil. But what are your biggest challenges running MK Prom?
People see the smiling and fun guy side of me, I joke around and make everyone feel comfortable.
But they do not see the business side of me.
David: Oh? How so?
Neil: Behind the scenes, I do need to be a task master and knowing how much these dresses mean to our clients, I expect excellence nothing less.
This is what our clients deserve, so I can be a bit overbearing in getting things just right.
It does take a lot to make sure we get the job done and everybody happy!
David: Thank you so much Neil, I think we know understand a bit more about what MK Prom is all about!