Retailers prepare for same-sex marriage boom
A resounding majority of Australians said ‘yes’ to marriage equality earlier this month, prompting millions of revellers to dance and sing in streets across the nation.
Flags and handmade signs proclaiming ‘Love Wins’ blanketed the crowds, while apropos anthems like ‘Love is in the air’ played on loudspeakers. Even foreign nations got in on the party atmosphere – New York City’s Empire State Building was lit in rainbow colours that night.
Since then, legislators have been hard at work, hammering out the details of a bill to legalise same-sex marriage in Australia. Malcolm Turnbull said he is confident it will pass before Christmas, meaning thousands of gay and lesbian couples could finally tie the knot as early January 2018.
The impact of this change will be profound, and not only on the brides and grooms and their families. Businesses involved in the wedding industry can expect to see significant growth in the months and years ahead, as their pool of customers grows.
According to a 2015 study from ANZ Bank, the total economic benefit of same-sex marriage could be $1 billion or higher within the first year of legislation passing, with $500 million of that due to nuptials alone.
The report estimated that up to 38,000 same-sex couples may wish to say ‘I do’ if given the opportunity, with a quarter tying the knot within 12 months of new legislation, and the average spend per wedding coming in at $51,000.
“Marriage equality will be a fresh and much-needed source of demand for the Australian economy,” stated the report from ANZ Bank researchers Cherelle Murphy and Mandeep Kaura.
More recent data suggests the $500 million boost to the wedding industry could even be a conservative estimate. According to the 2016 census, nearly 47,000 same-sex couples live in Australia, and more than half would like to be legally married.
Small business and the service sector stand to gain the most from the potential wedding boom in 2018 and beyond, with many players, including marriage celebrants, florists, venue providers, jewellers, suit and dress retailers, among others, all playing a role in the lucky couple’s big day.
Say yes to the suit
Michel Boutin, director of Black Bear Holdings, who has recently revitalised failed suiting and shirting brand Rhodes & Beckett, estimates that 10-15 per cent of sales are wedding-related, but the figure could be as high as 40 per cent if you include wedding guests.
“We absolutely expect to see an impact [from same-sex marriage]. The wedding market has been pretty stable with around 120,00 weddings a year in Australia. That has pretty much stayed constant for the last 10-odd years, with a little dip here and there,” Boutin tells IRW.
“But if you look at marriage equality in the US, there was about 15 per cent growth in the sector. There’s no reason we can’t anticipate the same here. We’re looking forward to it. It’s a great positive movement in the community. Hopefully that will be reflected in people wanting to spend some more money celebrating it going forward.”
Rhodes & Beckett, which is set to relaunch next month, offers suits and event wear for both men and women. And as the average price of Australian weddings has skyrocketed in recent years, it’s no longer just the fluffy white dress that commands a hefty price tag, says Boutin.
“The wedding gown isn’t the only high price ticket item anymore. You have everyone from the groom to the bridesmaid spending more money on his or her clothes. We have no idea who’s going to wear what with same-sex marriage, but it’s safe to say that most suiting retailers that cater to a male or female audience will see an impact, including us.”
Rebecca Lau Marsh, founder and general manager of online bridesmaid dress business, White Runway, says she expects to see more customers who are part of same-sex weddings in Australia, similar to what the US experienced in 2015.
“We were quite excited to see a couple of bookings here and there for same-sex marriages, then we started noticing a lot of images come through on our Instagram hashtag with two brides. That was really exciting for us and quite a celebratory moment,” Lau Marsh tells IRW.
White Runway launched as a pureplay, but now has showrooms where customers can view and try on dresses in person. It now has three showrooms in Australia in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and one in New York City.
“I think we’re going to start seeing more and more same-sex couples in Australia. I do expect an uplift. I’m not sure how much more, but I assume with our biggest showroom being in Sydney, we’ll see most of the impact in our Alexandria showroom,” she says.
While White Runway predominantly offers bridesmaid dresses, the retailer also has a line of simple, white gowns, which Lau Marsh believes will appeal to couples who may have held a civil ceremony or overseas wedding in the past, but want to mark the passage of marriage equality legislation in Australia.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of the older same-sex couples who have decided to celebrate their marriage. It won’t just be ‘fresh’ proposals,” she says.
When the legislation does pass, Lau Marsh says White Runway will start using marketing campaigns and images that feature same-sex couples in Australia.
“We currently use same-sex couples in our marketing campaigns in the US. As soon as the legislation passes, all those photos will be shared with our Australian audience as well,” she says.
James Wakefield, co-founder of made-to-measure suit business, InStitchu, tells IRW he also plans to highlight more same-sex couples in the brand’s marketing and social media.
“We have imagery from same-sex couples that we have used in our collateral, but it’s definitely something we’ll be putting a focus on in the coming months or years,” he says.
One thing that won’t change, is the level of service InStitchu provides to customers, with a dedicated stylist on hand to help pick out the perfect fabric, colour and fit.
“For us, we see it as business as usual and look forward to looking after new customers.”
Meanwhile, Boutin says Rhodes & Beckett has always included same-sex couples in its marketing campaigns, and he’s skeptical of brands that are only changing their strategy now.
“We’ve never shied away from showing different kinds of couples in our marketing campaigns. We’ve shown two guys in a shot and two girls in a shot. It doesn’t matter. We’re trying to sell clothes and make people look good,” Boutin says.
“If brands or marketing firms are changing the way they market, then they should be seriously questioning their brand DNA and their work so far!”
This story first appeared in issue 2167 of Inside Retail Weekly. To subscribe, click here.