The fashion industry is having lasting negative effects on the environment. We need to find ways to improve manufacturing and waste to ensure we can protect the future of our planet…We have to work hard to have retailers commit to using sustainable and recycled fabrics to lessen the burden. We must all do our part.
I had the pleasure to interview Lori Conley, the Senior Vice President of Merchandising at David’s Bridal. Lori is a dynamic merchandising executive with proven success in a broad range of retail environments. She has experience in vertical product development, strategic vendor partnerships along with a strong understanding of trends and competitive space.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was younger I had done some modeling, which was my first exposure to the industry. I can vividly remember a time when there was a buyer on set, talking about the getting the “perfect shot” of one of the dresses because of its importance to her sales plan. She spent time highlighting the key features to the photographer, because she knew that her customers would love those specific details. In that moment I understood that her job as buyer was the marriage of two things I loved most — fashion and numbers. Shortly after that experience, I made up my mind that I wanted to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology to major in Merchandising and nothing would stop me until I got there.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I find that the most interesting experiences I have always lead back to the customers themselves. A few years ago I was in one of our stores observing a bride trying on bridal gowns for her upcoming wedding. The moment she found “the one” she had a quiet moment on the platform, tears of joy falling down her cheeks, talking about how beautiful the dress made her feel. She reveled in finally marrying her best friend, after many trying years of battling cancer. Before I knew it I was crying too, realizing that it was her beauty and emotion that brought the dress to life, and not the other way around. That’s when her mom noticed me and handed me a tissue. (Luckily she didn’t mind me sharing in this intimate moment) The magic of what we do, and how our products make people feel are never lost on me. They are the reason we constantly strive to do better and exceed their expectations.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was an Assistant Merchandiser at my very first job for Levi Strauss Signature and learned early on the importance of being in the details. I had submitted a purchase order for a shipment of jeans and inadvertently ordered them with boys labels instead of girls labels. Luckily I had caught the mistake before they were sewn in, but remember feeling terrible that the goods would be delayed because they had to make the correct labels. That one misstep reminded me that its critical to take the time to ensure your work is thorough and accurate every single time — because it counts!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are in the business of making dreams come true — pure and simple. David’s Bridal is a brand that stands for inclusivity, regardless of your age, your budget or your size. Our goal is to make sure every bride can find and afford her dream dress — that’s not something that can be found at your average bridal boutique. We have the fortune of several decades in the business (6+ to be exact) that give us insight into customer needs and really be able to offer her incredible exclusive designs at great prices.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have some really interesting things in development that incorporate technology into the customer experience in a much more personalized way. Brides are looking for products and experiences that help her bring her own unique vision to life. We are working on ways to serve products to her in a way that takes that personal vision to the next level.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Take time to teach. In this hectic world of day to day business, its critical to carve out time to develop your teams. They are the future of your organization — spending time developing their talents and skill sets pays back in spades.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Always prioritize staff meetings and individual touch bases. Employees need a forum to be brought up to speed on decisions and priorities, along with a place to ask questions and clarify needs. Making yourself available to your team is critical to staying truly connected.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
1000% my husband. He has been my cheerleader since day one. We are both working professionals with demanding careers — he always partners with me to make sure we support each other in whatever way needed. As part of my job, I travel overseas quite a bit which could be a challenge for some spouses. He seamlessly steps in to support at home, taking our girls to their myriad of activities, packing lunches and generally making sure that nothing falls through the cracks. (He even mastered the art of the ponytail early on in fatherhood!) He is a rock for me and our daughters, which allows me to focus on work and my team without stressing.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
To me, it is all about maximizing the opportunities for giving back. Early in my career I was fortunate enough to be selected as a leader for the Timberland Service Corp. Timberland recognized the importance of being in the business of “doing good”, not just good business. During my time as a service leader in the Corp, I was able to organize and participate in volunteer projects to give back in our community and beyond. My favorite moment was when we rehabbed a Domestic Abuse Women’s shelter in Florida — giving the mothers and children a place to call home and an opportunity to feel at peace. There’s no better feeling than helping those who need it.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Believe in yourself — Acknowledging the journey you’ve taken, the victories you’ve won, and the successes of your past are so important. Don’t be afraid to be your own cheerleader!
- Your thoughts are powerful, make them positive — Lead with positive intent as a best practice. When you open up your mind to possibilities versus being quick to shut things down, you are able to unlock greatness.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions — Never stop learning…or clarifying. Embrace the fact that life (and business!) have lessons to teach you every single day.
- Leaders don’t accomplish things alone — Recognize that it takes a village. I have had the fortune to work with some unbelievably talented professionals in my career. So often, it is the projects that are concepted and collaborated on among a broad group of talents that are the most successful.
- Develop a life work balance — To be at the top of your game, it is so important to find balance. Stress and fatigue can creep into your work if you let it. That’s why I find it so important to take time for all parts of my life as needed. That means being present, truly present when I get home at the end of the day with my family. No phone or email during dinner or family time so I can give them the best of me. It means scheduling time to work out, so I take time for my physical and mental health. And lastly its being focused while I’m in the office — scheduling time for the important meetings with my team or carving out time to be strategic. Time is precious — it must be wisely used to make the most of it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The fashion industry is having lasting negative effects on the environment. We need to find ways to improve manufacturing and waste to ensure we can protect the future of our planet. Groups like the Global Fashion Agenda are working hard to have retailers commit to using sustainable and recycled fabrics to lessen the burden. We must all do our part.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Great people are those who make others feel that they, too, can become great” — Mark Twain. I firmly believe that your legacy is not just about what you accomplish, but actually who you helped develop along the way. It is the reason I put so much emphasis in my organization about development, inspiration and connectivity.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Easy answer — Chiara Ferragni. She brilliantly mastered the art of capitalizing on a strong social following and turning it into a lucrative business opportunity. To be relevant to customers today, brands need to understand the power of social media and its reach — something I would love to chat with her about. What do you say Chiara…spare an hour for coffee the next time you’re on the East Coast?!?