How to Open the Bridal Shop of Your Dreams: A Comprehensive Guide
If you love weddings and have a keen eye for fashion, opening a bridal boutique might be the perfect new venture for you. Your passion can be a foundation to build a successful business. However, there is a good amount of planning involved to ensure that your bridal business is successful.
With all the planning involved, opening your own bridal shop can be extremely overwhelming. This blog breaks down the process of how to open a bridal shop, complete with actionable tips and advice from industry veterans.
- Get started with market research
- Figure out your finances
- Organize and file your paperwork
- Set up your bridal shop
- Plan your promotional activities
Before we take a deep dive, let’s talk about the modern-day bride and set some context if you’re a novice in the industry.
Brides today are generally in their late twenties to early thirties and have a good income. They expect to be offered dresses by well-known designers and are happy to pay for superior quality, variety, and exceptional service.
The bridal store industry is highly competitive. Every boutique offers a wide range of gowns along with a highly personalized shopping experience. Keeping this in mind, focus on creating a unique selling point for yourself to build a prosperous venture.
Without further ado, here is your comprehensive guide on how to start a bridal boutique!
1. Get started with market research
The bridal store industry is highly dynamic as fashion and wedding trends change every season. Ideally, you will conduct market research at different levels of maturity in your business.
Currently, the purpose of such a study is to understand the bridal store industry, recent trends, and your target audience. When your venture has matured, you may look for a new niche or customer segment to target.
Additionally, it is prudent to perform competitor analysis. This will give you an idea of what everyone is already doing and how you could differentiate yourself.
a. Acquaint yourself with the industry
First and foremost, familiarize yourself with the industry. Before you open a bridal boutique business, visit wedding fairs and trade shows to get an understanding of what is trending in the business.
Talk to the vendors at the fairs and ask them questions about what brides look for in their shopping experience. It is highly suggested that you talk to people who own a bridal boutique. This will give you perspective on how to go about opening a bridal shop and growing your business.
b. Is my store needed in the market?
Before you go all-in, it is crucial to know if there is a desire for your services. You need to ask yourself questions like-
- How many people would be interested in my store?
- How much do my potential customers earn?
- Are there similar options available to them?
- What do they pay for these alternatives?
- What is the maximum they’re willing to pay?
Evaluating these questions will provide valuable insights that’ll help you decide a niche that fits consumer needs and define a USP for your bridal store.
This step is especially important when venturing into the bridal business. The number of weddings per year is decreasing. You want to make sure that you open a wedding dress shop near a community that wants your store, and has the disposable income to spend on a wedding and a wedding gown.
- For instance, after conducting your market research you may find out that the brides in your community are particularly budget-conscious.
- You may establish yourself as a budget-friendly yet elegant boutique and create a niche for yourself in that customer segment.
c. Identify and analyze the competition
Now that you have an understanding of your customer, get to know your competitors in and out. Evaluate them on their strengths and weaknesses- this gives you your window of opportunity to enter the market.
Your store should address problems that no other store focuses on; this creates an incentive for brides to come to visit you and potentially buy from you.
For instance, Emma Swain from Nora Eve Bridal quit the wedding planning business and decided to start a bridal shop business after she couldn’t find any store that provided a luxurious shopping experience to her brides. Similarly, Zara Wakefield opened a bridesmaid store, Confetti Bridesmaid, after facing an uphill struggle to find herself a bridesmaid’s dress for her best friend’s wedding.
2. Figure out your finances
The key to any successful business is preparation. Before you open a bridal boutique, you will have bills to pay, and understanding your expenses will help you launch smoothly and successfully. Additionally, you will need a business plan to help set your short-term and long-term goals and map out how you’d want to reach those goals.
Finally, we get to funding, one of the first and most important financial choices you will be making as a business owner. How you choose to fund your boutique could affect how you structure and run your business.
a. Calculate your start-up costs
When you’re starting a bridal shop, there are some common start-up costs that you’re likely to incur. This checklist by the Small Business Administration is a great place to begin:
- Office space
- Equipment and supplies
- Licenses and Permits
- Employee salaries
- Advertising and marketing
- Printed marketing materials
- Making a website
Now estimate how much this will cost you. Costs like licenses and equipment are pretty straightforward as they’re readily available. However, estimates for costs such as salaries tend to be less certain. Similarly, the cost to rent space will vary greatly from city to city and even by the specific location you plan to open your store in. According to this blog by Profitable Ventures, opening a bridal shop costs a minimum of $250,000.
b. Create an exhaustive business plan
A good business plan guides you through each stage of starting and managing your business. Usually, a business plan is used as a roadmap for how to structure, run, and grow your new business. It’s a way to think through the key elements of your business.
You will use your business plan as a tool to convince people that working with you, or investing in your store is a smart choice. Typical elements of a business plan include:
- General business description
- Inventory description, analysis, and strategy
- Promotion plan
- Start-up expenses
- Projected statement of sales and expenses
To get started, have a look at this sample business plan for a medium-sized wedding dress shop.
c. Raise funds for your bridal store
Your start-up cost estimates and business plan will help you answer the question, “How much money do I need to open a bridal shop?”. If you don’t have that amount on hand, you’ll need to either raise or borrow the capital.
Bootstrapping or self-funding lets you leverage your financial resources to support your business.
- Self-funding can come in the form of turning to family and friends for capital, using your savings accounts or even tapping into your 401(k) plan.
- With self-funding, you retain complete control over the business, but you also take on all the risks yourself.
- Be careful not to spend more than you can afford, and be especially cautious if you choose to tap into retirement accounts early.
- You might face expensive fees or penalties, or damage your ability to retire on time — so you should check with your plan’s administrator and a personal financial advisor first.
If you want to retain complete control of your business, but don’t have enough funds to start a bridal shop, consider a Small Business Loan.
- To increase your chances of securing a loan, you should have a business plan, expense sheet, and financial projections for the next five years. These tools will give you an idea of how much you’ll need to ask for, and will help the bank know they’re making a smart choice by giving you a loan.
- Once you have your materials ready, contact banks and credit unions to request a loan. You’ll want to compare offers to get the best possible terms for your loan.
- If you have trouble getting a traditional business loan, you should look into SBA-guaranteed loans.
3. Organize and file your paperwork
Paperwork lays the legal foundation of your business. With your paperwork in order, you can safeguard yourself against any unlikely lawsuit and potentially save yourself thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees.
It is important that you are aware of the basic business structures that exist, along with the specific permits and permissions you may need before opening a wedding dress shop.
a. Pick a business structure
Your business structure affects how much you pay in taxes, your ability to raise money, the paperwork you need to file, and your personal liability. When you open a bridal shop, you’ll need to choose a business structure before you register your business with the state. Here are some common business structures:
A sole proprietorship is easy to form and gives you complete control of your business.
- Sole proprietorships do not produce a separate business entity. This means your business assets and liabilities are not separate from your personal assets and liabilities. You can be held personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.
- Keep in mind that it can be hard to raise money because banks are hesitant to lend to sole proprietorships.
Partnerships are the simplest structure for two or more people to own a business together. There are two common kinds of partnerships: limited partnerships (LP) and limited liability partnerships (LLP).
- Limited partnerships have only one general partner with unlimited liability, and all other partners have limited liability. The partners with limited liability also tend to have limited control over the company, which is documented in a partnership agreement.
- Limited liability partnerships are similar to limited partnerships, but give limited liability to every owner. An LLP protects each partner from debts against the partnership, they won’t be responsible for the actions of other partners.
Limited Liability Company (LLC) lets you take advantage of the benefits of both the corporation and partnership business structures.
- While the limited liability feature is similar to that of a corporation, the availability of flow-through taxation to the members of an LLC is a feature of a partnership rather than an LLC.
- LLCs protect you from personal liability in most instances, your personal assets — like your vehicle, house, and savings accounts — won’t be at risk in case your LLC faces bankruptcy or lawsuits.
b. Register your business
Your location and business structure determine how you’ll need to register your business. Once you determine those factors first, registration becomes very straightforward. For most small businesses, registering your business is as simple as registering your business name with state and local governments.
If you don’t register your bridal business, you could miss out on personal liability protection, legal benefits, and tax benefits.
The next step would be to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) if you do not have one already. It is important to get an EIN as it serves as your federal tax ID. You need it to pay federal taxes, hire employees, open a bank account, and apply for business licenses/permits.
You may also need a state tax ID. The need for a state tax ID number ties directly to whether your business must pay state taxes.
- Sometimes, you can use state tax ID numbers for other functions, like protection against identity theft for sole proprietors.
- Tax obligations differ at the state and local levels, so you’ll need to check with your state’s website.
If you plan on serving Champagne at your boutique or giving away a bottle of bubbly with every purchase, check with the local authorities if a liquor license is required. Chances are that you will need one, and the type of permit will change from state to state.
As the last step, it is important that you get your business insured. Before choosing an insurance plan, assess your risks.
- Think about what kind of accidents, natural disasters, or lawsuits could damage your business.
- After making such an assessment, a commercial insurance agent can help you find policies that match your needs.
- Make sure you compare rates, terms, and benefits for insurance offers from several different agents and pick out the best deal.
4. Set up your bridal shop
Now that your paperwork is complete, you can take a deep dive into setting up your bridal shop and getting the specifics right. You would want to start with choosing a location, aesthetic, and decor for your shop, and then move towards vetting suppliers, ordering inventory, and hiring staff.
When opening a bridal store, keep in mind that your dress collection and the overall vibe of your store are what will set you apart from the competition. We suggest that you take your time with this process and tailor it to the market you wish to target.
a. Pick your ideal location
While you could start a bridal shop from home, for your business to be frequented by customers, consider setting it up in an area with high traffic. That way, potential clients can see that there is a boutique that can cater to their wedding needs. You might want to set up a wedding gown shop near other wedding businesses, such as cake shops, print shops, wedding venues, and beauty salons.
Jane Watson, who runs a highly-successful bridal business consultancy has the following advice to offer-
- Contrary to what you may think, having no competition in the area is not necessarily a good thing – if there is more than one bridal shop in the vicinity a bride may be keen to come to the area and spend the day looking for her dress.
- Try to avoid a shop with two floors – the rent will be higher and you will need more staff. Premises on a five-year lease with a three-year break clause are ideal – this gives you time to establish your business, start slowly and build up your knowledge of the industry. Once successful you can decide whether to renew the lease or move to bigger premises.
b. Design your store interiors
According to interior design consultancy Design CLD, when opening a bridal wedding gown shop, you need to choose is your theme. This should be unique enough to stand out, but at the same time should be suitable for your target audience. They have pinpointed four themes for your bridal boutique – romantic, natural, modern, and classic.
Now it is time to set the right atmosphere. You want to open a bridal shop where brides-to-be feel comfortable and relaxed. To avoid your boutique becoming cold and unfriendly, opt for soft, warm lighting instead of fluorescent. You can also use spotlights to add focus to any dresses on display.
When designing the interior of your bridal boutique, it’s important that you get the layout right. You want your stock to be easily accessible by your customers and the simplest way of doing this is through free-flowing spacing.
Jane Watson also recommends to:
- Have lots of mirrors strategically placed, small tables and chairs for an intimate chat with your clients, and good-sized fitting rooms. Make the showroom inviting and play soft music so it is not deadly quiet when a customer walks in.
- Plugin scented air fresheners, buy fresh flowers…and display stock so that all the dresses can be seen easily – just five or a maximum of seven dresses per meter rail. And change the window display weekly.
c. Order your inventory
When you start a bridal salon, it is very important that you evaluate multiple options before finalizing your suppliers. Reach out to manufacturers directly or visit trade shows. Online marketplaces are a fantastic way to shop for merchandise without leaving your store. Physical marketplaces are a great idea as well. Some of the popular places include:
- Magic Las Vegas
- Project Las Vegas
- Dallas Market Center
- Fame New York
- Off Price (Las Vegas and New York)
- Stylemax (Chicago)
- America’s Mart Atlanta
- Accessories The Show (New York and Las Vegas)
- NW Trend Show (Seattle)
If you’re considering selling bridal accessories, decide if you want to use domestic or overseas designers. After you have found your manufacturing supplier, it is advisable to visit them before you start ordering as it will allow you to check the quality of your future inventory.
Jane Watson adds:
- Avoid any designers which are stocked by your competitors; most designers will not want to supply you if they already have successful stockists in your area. Start with four collections and about 40 to 50 samples in total so you can purchase a good representation of designs from each supplier.
- Building up a relationship with your suppliers is fundamental to the success of your business. If you are loyal to them, you can expect loyalty in return. Make sure you understand their policy in supplying the competition, how many new samples you will be expected to buy at each show, what the payment terms will be.
- Don’t allow your stock levels to get out of control, identify under-performing samples early and sell them off before they depreciate too much in value. Keep your stock fresh, to not only show your customers the most up-to-date collections but also keep you and your team invigorated and excited about the collections.
- Rotate your merchandise displays frequently– this will not only keep the store looking fresh but will also identify dresses that aren’t being pulled, they may be the next bestseller or the one that needs a sale ticket.
To cater to the growing number of couples who want to get married quickly, consider stocking some popular ranges in the most requested sizes.
d. Set a price for your services
Getting your pricing strategy right is very important. Ensure that the difference between the cost price and the selling price is enough to cover all of your operating costs, including your drawings. Margins in the bridal business are generally high. You are likely to add a mark-up of at least 100% (even 200% or more) to your gowns and accessories. Make sure you have dresses in a range of price bands – but don’t underprice or outprice yourself for your area.
Next, you need to decide how you’re going to charge for your services. You’re helping a bride pick out her dream dress. Trying on four to six dresses can take a while, and you can charge for this consultation. Alternatively, you can have a no-show fee attached to every appointment.
Some bridal shops charge a ‘rush cut fee’ for orders placed less than three months before the wedding day. You can also decide to ask for a non-refundable charge if a customer asks you to reserve a particular gown. If she places an order for the dress you would set the amount she’s already paid against the cost of the outfit.
Keep in mind that dresses almost always require alterations. It is important to make it clear to the customer whether or not the price includes alteration.
Managing appointments can be a hassle, which is why several boutiques use bridal store software. With offerings such as that of Appointy, you can maximise your time by using intake forms to collect information like waist sizes, the number of guests visiting, etc. to reduce in-store time.
You may consider having an online consultation over Zoom, to get an understanding of what the bride is looking for and prepare those samples. If you’re on a particularly tight budget, you can even consider starting an online bridal boutique.
e. Hire the dream team
Consider how often you want to be in the shop, handling the day-to-day business, and if you can afford to hire more than one employee. If you start a small bridal boutique, you may only need to hire one or two employees. If you open a larger bridal shop or perhaps grow a large client list, you will likely need to hire more employees to keep up with client demand.
- While a bridal store consultant does not need to have a specific degree, certain skills and experience will help them service your brides seamlessly.
- Screen applicants by looking closely at their resumes for relevant customer service experience and comfort working with people.
- During the job interview, ask them about their previous work experience and have them demonstrate their ability to interact with customers.
Experience in the fashion industry is also beneficial since consultants can suggest styles that complement different body types. With knowledge of materials, how different cuts sit, and how to pair accessories with different dresses, your bridal consultants will be able to curate a highly personalized shopping experience for your brides.
5. Plan your promotional activities
Congratulations! It is time to cut the big ribbon, but not before you lay out your marketing and launch strategy. Before you open a bridal salon, we suggest you establish your “wow-factor” on every social media account and website as well. These efforts play a significant role in driving awareness and interest around your brand well before the D-day and keep you booked and busy from the get-go.
a. Establish your boutique’s web presence
- Your suppliers will mostly have their websites – and if you become a valued stockist you may be listed on their site. Some suppliers advertise in bridal magazines, which can provide you with another opportunity for your shop to be featured as a stockist. Ask your suppliers about these options.
- Check out bridal, fashion, and beauty features in the local press and take part if your advertising budget allows. Some newspapers and magazines offer free editorial space to their advertisers – push for this.
- Get your business listed on Google My Business: Google gets traffic of almost 3.5 billion per day! By listing your business on Google My Business, you not only improve your local SEO ranking but also increase your visibility owing to the incredible number of daily visitors of Google.
- Add your business to Reserve with Google: To help the local businesses further and improve the user experience, Google has introduced “Reserve with Google”. It enables the users to directly book appointments with the businesses and reduces drop-offs to a great extent.
- Create a website: Developing a website gives you credibility and can help you get more clients for your business. It highlights your services and adding the testimonials of happy brides on the website can go a long way. Linda Hurford of Chic and Elegant says “We are often recommended to others by our customers and are always delighted by this. It is wonderful to hear what a difference our service has made to people and we have many testimonials left on our website and social media pages.” You may also want to have a booking system added to your website.
How to Add an Online Booking System to your Website
- Set up social media accounts: Social media is one of the best places you can get your customers from. Understand on what platforms your audience is the most active and leverage the platform to your advantage.
- Tip: Celebrate the “Say Yes to the Dress” moment! Things can get emotional when a bride finds her dream gown, so make her feel special. Capturing this moment also makes for great content for your social media accounts. For instance, Bride & Co. give their brides a celebratory sign for a picture with their bridal party, which with their permission, they post on social media channels. They also give them a bottle of fizz to take away and celebrate with their bridal party.
Platforms like Instagram and Facebook offer a “Book” button to users with business accounts. Instead of redirecting them to another website or link, they can complete the entire booking in the app interface itself! If you are not integrated with an online booking system for bridal boutiques, then no worries – Appointy has you covered.
b. And now, you can officially open!
Encourage clients to visit as soon as you open your bridal shop by offering special pricing and pushing your advertising to get the word out. You may decide to hold a promotion for the first 100 customers in the store on opening day, or a discount on a certain item or product during opening week. In-store promotions are crucial, too – such as designer days, and Valentine’s, Easter, and Christmas events.
Some final advice from Jane:
- The best time to open a bridal boutique business is September. Most brides will start looking then for a wedding the following year. January is also a good time as brides getting married later in the same year will start looking then.
- Keep opening times simple and regular – for example, 10–4 Monday to Friday, 9–5 Saturday. Open the same number of days as the shops around you.
And there you have it, a comprehensive guide on how to open a bridal shop! The bridal store business can be tough to crack- there are several players in the market and the competition is intense. However, a diverse and inclusive collection of samples, coupled with exemplary service can put you at the top of your game. Start small and focus on a niche- as your clientele grows, expand your bridal business to bridesmaids’ dresses, jewelry, tuxedos, or even rentals!
You might think that you have too many hats to wear, from being a bride’s consultant to handling the day-to-day admin of your boutique. What if there was a solution that could seamlessly automate your booking process, marketing initiatives and give you real-time analyses of every appointment?
We recommend using a bridal boutique appointment software to streamline your growing business. Set your booking rules, explicitly state your terms and conditions, have scheduling flexibility, and more to create an efficient booking journey with Appointy’s bridal studio booking software!
Our client Helen, owner of The Brides Project, used Appointy’s offering during her post-pandemic reopening to streamline her booking process and ensure the safety of her customers and staff. The results were phenomenal- the boutique’s sales conversion rate stood at 66%, a huge improvement from 25%, and boosted her revenue during a very uncertain time for the retail and bridal industry. You can read more about Helen’s experience with Appointy here!
Additionally, Appointy will also help with personalizing client experience, taking online consultations, and even getting detailed real-time reports. Try it free for 14 days if you don’t believe us!
We at Appointy, help business owners grow and run their businesses with our online scheduling software. This blog was a part of our ‘Manage your Business’ category, where we provide expert tips, resources, or simply talk about the challenges that small and medium businesses face every day.
If you have any thoughts on this blog, or would like to chat about your business struggles and achievements, let us know in the comments below.
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