403 Nayri Kalayjian: Behind the Veil

What does it mean to create an unforgettable customer experience? One that keeps people coming back and referring their friends and family? The best businesses create magic for their customers so today we talk about how to create that magic.

I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business  we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who is an expert at creating an unforgettable customer experience.

Nayri Kalayjian (Kalay-Gee-Ann)is known as the Wedding Fashion Expert, with the country’s leading bridal brand Lovella Bridal. Her secret is in leveraging technology to delight her customers and drive unrivalled word-of-mouth for her Los Angeles bridal boutique.

Nayri Kalayjian will be here in a moment – and first

Now back to the inspiring Nayri Kalayjian (Kalay-Gee-Ann)

From being a best selling author to styling celebrity brides, coaching and educating, Nayri is an innovator who specializes in creating a unique customer experience. There is a lot of work “behind the veil” to delight brides to be … from creating and overseeing the overall business strategy to team building to implementing pioneering sales and marketing initiatives.

Nayri also advises world renowned designers, helping them refine and edit their collections. She has been featured on Good Morning America, Mario Lopez & Courtney’s Wedding Fiesta, DC Cupcakes on TLC, Season 5 of David Tutera’s My Fair Wedding on WE Network, and on People.com. Nayri has styled celebrity brides including Ashley Iaconetti from The Bachelor, Zena Foster Babbs who married R&B Singer Tank and Jazmyn Simon from Ballers on HBO.

Her best selling book, “I'm Getting Married & Have Nothing to Wear” is the ultimate guide to helping brides find their perfect wedding dress. It also serves as a training tool for store owners and bridal stylists.

Most recently, Nayri released “Bridal Store Blueprint” an online course created based on industry feedback from her YouTube channel and Podcast. Designed for store owners, her online course shares a proven and tested business formula. When implemented, bridal salons can scale and thrive.

Her favorite pastime includes enjoying quality time with family and traveling the world. She also enjoys competing and training with her Arabian horse named Time To Tango! It is rare to see Nayri without her French bulldog Nuff; at times he assists in styling brides as well!

Melinda Wittstock:         Nayri, welcome to Wings.

Nayri Kalayjian:                Thank you so much for having me. How are you doing?

Melinda Wittstock:         I'm doing great. How are you? I'm so excited to talk to you today.

Nayri Kalayjian:                I know, I'm so excited to be here. This is so fun.

Melinda Wittstock:         Well, I'm always curious about what makes somebody become an entrepreneur, were you always entrepreneurial as a little kid or did this come later in life?

Nayri Kalayjian:                That's such a great question because I was… Believe it or not, one of my earliest childhood memories was standing in front of my parent's mirror and making gowns out of a towel and then I would walk down the staircase and watch the fabric drape behind me. So I was always creating things and being very innovative at a very young age, which is pretty hysterical because I ended up in the bridal industry and in fashion. But yes, so from a very early age I always knew that I wanted to create something.

Melinda Wittstock:         How interesting. There's so many clues, if we go back into our childhood, about what our true purpose is in life, and I find that the entrepreneurs that I know and I interview, and this is true of my own entrepreneurial journey, now on to business number five, that if you're really aligned with that purpose, success becomes much easier. Do you feel that?

Nayri Kalayjian:                I do. I do. So as a child, I also would teach an imaginary class and I loved educating and helping people, which is now what I do within the wedding space. So it's so interesting that my two favorite things would be creating dresses out of towels and then educating an imaginary class of stuffed animals. It's literally [crosstalk [spp-timestamp time="00:10:36"]. I was born to do what I'm doing today, which is so crazy to think about. But I really feel that this is what I was put on this earth for.

Melinda Wittstock:         So Nayri, what was the spark that led you to grow Lovella Bridal?

Nayri Kalayjian:                Well, I was exposed to the bridal industry at a very young age through multiple different facets. My aunt was a florist and I had this opportunity to be a part of Lovella Bridal at a very young age. I actually would worked during high school and then I would come home for college on the weekends and work trunk shows and special events. And upon graduation, I would always do social media while I was sitting in class in college, sorry professors of UC Santa Barbara, and I would always be working in it. So I really loved business, especially that creative aspect of growing a business through social media and marketing. It was something that I really enjoyed from a very engaged, I mean, I was 20 years old when I started to take it really seriously.

And upon graduation I knew I always wanted to work in fashion and I just so have the opportunity to be a part of Lovella and be a part of the management. And it was in an interesting time in Lovella's journey because it was a turning point. Either we were going to expand the business into a bigger location, which is I had a childhood dream of having a bridal store in a huge location. And there's this one old sports chalet that my mom and I used to drive by and I'd always tell her that's going to be my bridal store. And she said, “That's a great idea, but it's not enough traffic there.” So she would always encourage, both of my parents were very encouraging of anything I wanted, if I wanted to dream big… And they knew that it's not like they had the funds to give me to build something, but they never shut it down. It's not like they were going to hand it to me on a silver platter, but I was very blessed that they never shut any ideas down.

So when the time came, we had two small locations and I was working in them and I just thought, “This doesn't work. It's confusing there. They're too close to each other.” Geographically, they were only 10 minutes away from one another. I looked at our management and I said, “Listen, we need to build one big location and grow that,” and that's exactly what we did with no money to do it. So we borrowed all the money to build this massive location, fingers crossed, praying that we were going to be able to make it profitable and pay back all the money we had borrowed.

And our philosophy was if you build it, they will come, and it truly was that. We had great people, a great process in place, of course it was extreme growing pains because even though it was an existing business it was like a whole new business. It was crazy.

Melinda Wittstock:         So one of the things that you're known for is creating a really unforgettable user experience and there's so much pressure on this, I guess, that women put themselves through because they want their day to be perfect, every detail to be perfect. So I can only imagine that you're working with a lot of clients who have a lot of emotion, a lot of stuff going on, what is the secret to putting them at ease and delivering that user experience?

Nayri Kalayjian:                That's a great question because at the end of the day, one of the hardest things that I think we all have to overcome as a stylist at at Lovella Bridal is when a bride walks in is changing that environment to us just being seen as a salesman. Because so many brides and even their families just see us as us selling them a dress, which yes, we are selling address, but that's not the way we think about it. Our secret is that we're finding you your dress today. We want to be a part of this special moment. We are actually going to guide you and give you the best advice. And if I don't have your wedding dress in Lovella Bridal, we're going to be the first to tell you that. So we come from a place of care and encouragement versus a prospect and I'm going to sell you a product and make money. That is not the mindset we have. But because at the end of the day we are selling something, that is the biggest thing that we have to overcome with all of our brides and really build trust and have them understand that we are in this for their best interest and we're going to set them up for success.

And the way that I've set up our customer journey is to make sure that the bride has the best experience in anything she purchases from us on wedding day. So in order for me to do that, conversations have to take place at the time of purchase. Things like, “Well when this dress is hemmed to the proper length, because of the style of this dress, your feet are going to show when you walk. Are you okay with that?” Because I have found through history that a bride would purchase a dress, we get to the alterations, her feet show, she is pissed off that her feet show because she didn't want her feet showing, and these were things in the beginning that I didn't think about. So now everything that we think about is user experience on wedding day. So when you're trying on a dress, I'm telling you this is what's going to happen on your wedding day. And it has made for such a better experience and understanding when that client is not a good fit for us. It's really not about making a sale. It's about making sure that they're a good fit so that I can guarantee a happy client at the end of this journey after their wedding day.

Melinda Wittstock:         Well there are two things there that intrigued me because, on the one hand, a lot of your clients, they've been married before so they don't know what they don't know and so you're guiding them to think about all the questions that they may not be aware of. And I suppose that would be hard to know that when you're first starting out, but how many brides now, Nayri? How many clients have you had go through this so you can start to see, I guess, patterns, pattern recognition?

Nayri Kalayjian:                It took me about two to three years in the beginning because it happened rarely, these weren't things that came up all the time, but they came up enough to the fact that I was ruining someone's moment. And that's something that I'm not going to stand for. I'm not going to make a woman feel less than, unimportant, unhappy, not confident. That's not why I do what I do. And that's not why any of us at Lovella Bridle do what we do. So we really needed to hit the drawing board and go, “Okay, what are all the things that go wrong with our brides and how can we implement a prevention plan to help prevent that from happening again?” Because it's a very overwhelming experience, you don't know what you're doing, you don't know how the process works. As a stylist, we're giving you so much information at once to consider and you have to really trust me and you don't even know me. So it's a lot to ask of a complete stranger.

Melinda Wittstock:         Right one of the other things that you mentioned though as well is qualifying your clients, making sure you're working with the right type of clients, so how do you do that and what do you look for?

Nayri Kalayjian:                That is such an amazing question, and that took time too. So please anyone listening, it takes time because you have to go through the motions with each client to be able to identify who's your client and who isn't. So if you're just starting out I would say try to document as much information as possible to try to figure that out.

Now, at this point I've now realized that if you don't have trust, if you can't trust me… So if I see that someone is questioning a lot of what I'm doing, I will turn around and say, “At the bare minimum, we are going to need trust for our relationship to work because yes, you're getting married, but in an odd way you are also marrying me for the next six to eight months leading up to your wedding.” [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:20:16"] you don't trust me and you don't trust that I'm going to deliver the product that you're asking for and trust that I have your best interest in mind, I'm going to make sure this dress gets delivered, it's in the right color, it's in the right size. If you can't trust that, I don't think that we're a good fit for each other. And I say it just like that because at this point now I'm confident in what I do. And that's something that takes time too is you really have to be confident and recognize it and see it and do something about it.

So that's one of the biggest ones that if I see not trusting or if I can tell that they lied about the wedding date because some people have been told to do this because bridal stores won't deliver dresses on time, when you lie to me about your wedding date, that creates more complication than help because I am already strategizing to make sure everything gets delivered. We've never missed a wedding and we're not going to. So when I see the wedding date constantly changing because they can't remember the date they gave me, I call them out on it.

Melinda Wittstock:         You run one of the most successful bridal boutiques in all the country, and what are some of the operational details that you have to get right to maximize your profit per square foot and all the other things that retailers have to think about?

Nayri Kalayjian:                Totally. I mean, and that took time too, but I would say is the environment, our people. So our environment… Brides always want to come back and shop us even if they find, this fascinates me and I get so impressed in a daily basis by this, brides will find the same exact product in our store somewhere else for a discount, but they'll come to us and pay full price because of our environment and our people. So that's a huge testament to the environment in which we've been able to create as a whole because it takes a whole tribe, our entire Lovella Bridal family, the way in which we all operate. If you ask the same question to five of us, you're going to get the same answer, so we are just very tuned into one another. We have weekly meetings, we do team building days. It's really important that we are all super connected so that we can best serve our brides.

Our philosophy in store is it's about them, not us. So every day we are serving our clients to the best of our ability that we can and we're always learning and changing. Our process never stays the same. I am constantly [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:23:34"].

Melinda Wittstock:         Well, it sounds like you really listen to your customers and you put them first. And you'd be surprised how many business owners think about their customers last. They should be the first thought. We should always be co-creating with your customers and it sounds like that's a really key part of your success.

Nayri Kalayjian:                It is. So yes, we listen to them a lot. So when a bride comes into our store, we have you sign in on an iPad and we have some questions that we ask things, what designer brought you in store today? That helps me understand which of my designers are driving traffic. So that helps me with strategy in terms of what designers am I bringing in our store. We're also known for and part of our success is having the largest inventory for some of these designers. When we pick up a designer, we almost pick up the entire collection. So that being said, if a bride discovers a collection, they end up flying in or driving a far distance to see everything and make their final selection. So that's something that we're known for.

And I also ask how they heard about us because I want to know is it our social media, is it our website, is it Google ads? What is it that brings them into our store? Maybe I need to focus on advertising somewhere else because I'm lacking in an area. So I really take a lot of time and energy to hear from our clients and then to structure things in our store to best serve them and to best capture them.

Melinda Wittstock:         So you have very, very successful Instagram and a lot of women listening to this podcast know they need to get better at Instagram. And we can all be sort of overwhelmed with all the different channels we have to be on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, all these things, what are some of the things you've learned along the way about what makes a successful Instagram?

Nayri Kalayjian:                So I actually just created an Instagram course, which is pretty cool. And I take everybody behind the scenes of Lovella's Instagram, so I'm literally showing you our stats where one of my favorite parts is [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:25:46"] recently who's an expert in Instagram told me that hashtags don't work anymore. I pulled up my stats on my business page and I said, “Really? Because this page has over 3,000 people coming from this one hashtag.” So [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:26:00"] to tell me that hashtags don't work.

Again, there's this level of cutting out noise of what people are saying versus numbers. I'm a big numbers person. I will have a designer tell me, “Oh well, brides are only driving 15 miles.” “Really you want to see? Because I have zip codes on where people are coming from.” You need to come up with your own stats. And so that's something that you need to experiment with and play with.

So with our Instagram, what has been so successful is that I'm constantly testing things and I'm looking at the stats of them. So I'll post one photo and I'll say, “Okay, well people didn't really respond well to that,” so then I'll create my own content. And I have found that my own content and image that they've never seen anywhere else before does so well. So it's all about testing things, trying different things out. And there are days, I got to tell you why I look at my Instagram and I'm just like, “Oh my God, I'm so discouraged, nobody has looked at this post.” So even with our big following, there are times where even Instagram's algorithm, it changes, so things are constantly changing. I would just say don't get discouraged, keep testing, keep trying. You're going to do something that clicks. And if not, please feel free to reach out to me. I'm happy to help guide you and give you some better information on what would work well for your business on Instagram or any other social media for that matter.

Melinda Wittstock:         How much time do you spend on it, Nayri? Because I think that's what puts people off, it takes so much time and they're so divided, all the different things that business requires of us. There's so many things we've got to be doing all the time. What is the time investment that somebody should put into it?

Nayri Kalayjian:                Well, I'm a little bit obsessed. It is my drug, I will admit, so I'm not the best person to ask because I am on it a lot. It does drive about 18% of our business so for me it's important for me to be on it. And the 18%, that's 18% that admit they're here from Instagram, but other people also validate our business through Instagram. So they may have gotten a referral from a friend because 52% of our business comes from referral. They may have heard about our store from a friend, but then they'll go on our Instagram to validate. So it's still important. I know it impacts more than that 18%.

However, I probably spend about an hour and a half to two hours on it a day, but I do have three different accounts. So there's Lovella Bridal, Lovella Plus and Wedding Fashion Expert. So it is a time investment, but for those who are discouraged with the time investment, here's what I recommend, write down all the things that need to be done in your business. What are all the tasks that need to be done? Assign tasks to people that you can hire to get that stuff done for you and only take on the things that you enjoy. If you don't enjoy Instagram and you don't enjoy social media, hire someone to do it. And that's exactly what I did for the bridal store owners that I consult with, I created this Instagram course, not for the owners and operators to do, but for them to hand it off to one of their employees to watch or one of their team members to watch and learn and to manage their Instagram account for them. So don't do anything you don't like doing. Nothing good is going to come with that.

Melinda Wittstock:         That's very, very true. And of course, you've dressed a number of celebrity brides as well so that can't hurt on the Instagram. Tell us how some of the people that you've dressed and what the result of that has been for you.

Nayri Kalayjian:                Of course, yes. It's very, very powerful and it does help the Instagram and our brand awareness tremendously. So many business owners and entrepreneurs are looking at things like, “Oh these influencers, it's such a fluke,” these influencers are real. So the second that you all realize that and understand the importance of having an influencer talk about your brand and somebody else talk about your brand, it's going to help you so much. So do it is what I would say.

And in terms of the celebrities, they come from different places. Some of them have contacted me directly or they've gone to a designer that they like, and I represent the designer and the designer prefers that we work with them just to make sure that everything goes flawlessly leading up to the wedding, including alterations. Because even for a celebrity, even though a lot of them have their own personal stylist and all of that, bridal is something totally different, so their stylists will join them at the appointment. And it's really wonderful to allow to see the celebrity stylist let us do our job because it's a different type of styling.

So a lot of it comes from our designers or just people who have heard about us and referred us to them. And they've all been really gracious and they've loved us so much that they have given us credits and exposure and helped us grow our business to ways that wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for them. So I'm extremely grateful for a lot of these women celebrities who've shared their platform and their voice to tell other women about our brand.

Melinda Wittstock:         Yeah, that's wonderful. So one of the things that you're doing that's really unique is your literally opening the veil on the bridal business. I mean, helping other people in this business with an online course. So what was the spark that led you to do that?

Nayri Kalayjian:                So I created this YouTube series of just answering a bunch of questions [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:31:32"] really. It bothered me that brides were so frustrated with the process because they couldn't find the proper resources online. So because of these videos, it led me to meeting different professionals within the bridal industry. And people reached out to me and stores even reached out to me and said, “You have this book…” I had a manufacturer reach out to me that between the book and the YouTube videos, answering all these questions, they were like, “You need to educate, you know so much. People, store owners need your help to be more profitable for these small businesses to stay in business,” because it's very hard to make a bridal store profitable so a lot of these stores end up closing down. Anything retail, you've so much money on your inventory.

So I had multiple people who had said, we need your help. And on my vision board, I remember when I say think big, you have to think big. I had this vision board that I was going to be a spokesperson for bridal. Anything bridal, fashion related, any media outlet would call me. I mean, this isn't the case… I mean kind now actually it is the case now. But at the time, four years ago, that was not the case. And I had said I was going to educate, I'm going to have speaking engagements worldwide. I really created this huge web and I still saved it on a big poster board and I saved it and I really… And this was encouraged through my business mentors and business friends and entrepreneurs to really think outside of the box.

That being said, the opportunity came so much earlier than I thought within the industry. I just launched this online course, it was on my vision board, I did it, and now I actually have three courses total. So I have my bridal store blueprint, I have my Instagram course, and a bridal stylist course that anyone can take. If you want to just learn how to be a wedding fashion expert and a bridal stylist, you can purchase this course and it gives you all my tricks of the trade.

Melinda Wittstock:         That is fantastic. So what's next for you? You've accomplished so much in a relatively short period of time, you are full of energy and ideas and optimism, Nayri, I've met you and you're a force of nature, so what's next for you? What do you see for yourself next five years, next 10 years?

Nayri Kalayjian:                Thank you for those kind words. I really appreciate it. For the next five to 10 years, oh my goodness… I mean, what's so crazy is that everything I thought would be happening in the next five to 10 years happened now so it's like, holy smokes, where do I… I thought I was thinking big, but clearly, to my own point, is that I wasn't thinking big enough because it came so quickly.

In the next five to 10 years, I see myself helping other retail stores outside of the bridal space. So exactly what I've done for bridal, I want to do for other businesses. So I think that I will be taking, and just literally taking this on the road, and helping stores and small businesses, anybody really who wants to just refine and understand their customer more and how to serve them and become more profitable in return. That's what I really thrive on and gets me so excited. So if I could do this in other industries, I think that would be so cool.

My why for why I do everything is helping people, and I've learned so much on profitability and how to make a retail store survive. And we've gone through a recession too, so what's cool is that we were able to stay afloat and keep going. So even a recession, in a weird way, doesn't scare me. There's still a way to survive. So if I can help others survive the way in which we have, I am so in.

Melinda Wittstock:         That's wonderful. So how can people find you and work with you and particularly, sign up for your various courses and catch you on YouTube and your Instagram and all of that?

Nayri Kalayjian:                Absolutely. So everything is on my website, weddingfashionexpert.com. There's my YouTube there, my Instagram, Instagram is @weddingfashionexpert. And if you wanted to follow the business pages, it is lovellabridal.com and @LovellaBridal, and you can find everything on our websites.

Melinda Wittstock:         Wonderful. Nayri, thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us.

Nayri Kalayjian:                Thank you for having me. Flying with you was such a blast. I really appreciate being with you here today.

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