How to Start a Bridal Store

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If you have a background in fashion, your finger on the pulse of the next new trend, and a love of helping people look and feel their best, then starting a bridal store could put all of your talents to use. Bridal store owners get to help brides find that perfect dress for their big day and can use their fashion sense and creativity to share new styles and ideas with brides to be and their wedding parties. Witnessing the moment when a bride finds the perfect dress is just one perk to opening a bridal store.

Business Overview

Bridal stores sell bridal gowns, dresses, and accessories for brides and wedding parties to wear on wedding days. Some bridal stores are more of a boutique, offering limited selections or lines of upper-scale dresses. Others, like industry giant David’s Bridal, stock a variety of dresses and lines, relying on brides and bridal parties to order dresses well ahead of time. Many bridal stores stock veils, jewelry, hairpieces, and even shoes, allowing brides a one-stop shopping experience. In-house tailoring and fitting appointments can also give brides the complete package, and bridal stores can charge a premium for these services because of the convenience they offer.

Unlike online retailers, brides and wedding parties can try on dresses, thanks to the presence of brick and mortar stores. This can offer a significant benefit and draw for brides who are uncertain about how a particular dress ordered online might fit or look. Bridal stores also offer brides a meaningful shopping experience for a dress in person with friends and family.

Industry summary

Because bridal stores’ sales correlate with the number of weddings held each year and the budgets for each wedding, decreasing marriage rates from 2013 to 2018 resulted in a slight decline in bridal store industry profits. According to IBIS World, over the five-year period, the bridal store industry revenue declined by 0.1 percent to $2.4 billion in 2018. However, the average cost of wedding gowns increased from 2013 to 2017; gowns averaged $1,211 in 2013 but cost an average of $1,509 in 2017. Fewer couples may have gotten married between 2013 and 2018, but the couples who did get married tended to spend more because of disposable income growth.

This increase in disposable income is good news for the bridal industry. In 2018, the bridal store industry was predicted to bring in $2 million. However, as more brides seek out more affordable gown options, bridal stores also need to keep up with trends in terms of both dress styles and customer demand for affordable choices. These changing customer demands have been responsible for the bankruptcy of wedding brands Alfred Angelo and David’s Bridal.

Industry trends

Couples are prioritizing different elements of their weddings. According to The Knot’s 2017 survey, the average cost of a wedding in the United States is $33,391. Guest experience, personalization, and cultural elements are currently top priorities for couples on their wedding day. Couples are holding fewer black-tie weddings, opting instead to hold their ceremonies in nontraditional locations. Wedding spending averages fluctuate in different areas of the country, with wedding cost averages in South Florida, Long Island, Manhattan, and Cape Cod ranging from $40,634 (South Florida) to $76,944 (Manhattan).

While brides may look for affordable dress options for themselves, there is also a demand for affordable bridesmaid dresses. Buying used bridesmaid dresses and even renting the dresses have become popular options, and with the availability of new bridesmaid dresses under $100 each, bridesmaids have plenty of more affordable options. Bridal stores need to take note of and accommodate lower-cost options to stay competitive within the industry.

Media has played a role in encouraging brides to splurge for the perfect dress. Pinterest and Instagram showcase wedding ideals, quickly spreading the latest wedding dress trends and ideas. TV shows like Say Yes to the Dress further glamourize the process of shopping for “the dress,” showcasing brides who travel across the country in their search for their wedding dress. This increased focus on the wedding dress industry can prompt brides to seek out and spend more on dresses that they wouldn’t have otherwise purchased.

Who is the target market for your bridal store?

Any bridal store’s target market will be brides and their wedding parties, though the target market may be more defined depending on a store’s branding and focus. Boutique-type bridal stores will target brides with higher wedding price points, while stores that offer options for lower budgets can appeal more to the general population.

Skills, experience, and education useful in running a bridal store

While a bridal store owner doesn’t need to have a business degree, certain skills, experience, and education will help them manage the store better.

Familiarity with the bridal industry. Any bridal store owner needs an in-depth knowledge of the bridal industry. Being able to identify and source dresses that are on-trend and popular at the moment will help ensure that customers can find what they’re looking for. An entrepreneur will also need to stay on top of emerging trends to ensure that the store stays up to date with what brides see on Instagram and in bridal magazines.

Fashion experience. Experience in the fashion industry is also beneficial when operating a bridal shop business since store owners can suggest styles that complement different body types. With knowledge of materials, how different cuts sit, and how to pair accessories with different dresses, store owners can better help customers.

An eye for design. Good aesthetics are essential in bridal stores. An eye for design is necessary for setting up both a store and visually appealing window displays.

Customer service skills. A huge part of running a bridal store is offering quality customer service. A store owner will need to help brides realize their ideas for their wedding and need some creative thinking skills to solve any problems or obstacles that arise.

Management experience. Most bridal stores need at least a few employees, and management experience can help store owners train and manage those employees.

Costs to Start a Bridal Shop

Because of inventory cost, starting a bridal store is a more expensive undertaking than starting a more general clothing store. The cost of starting a bridal store can range from $35,000 to well over $70,000, plus the cost of any real estate if purchased rather than leased.

Common startup costs for a bridal store include:

  • Renovations to the retail space to accommodate for fitting rooms, mirrors, and lighting, as a well-lit and well-laid-out store is important to customers
  • Initial inventory
  • Store signage
  • Supplies
  • Working capital to fund the first three to six months of rent, internet, utilities, payroll, etc.

Exact startup costs will vary according to the store’s size, the type of dresses stocked, and the amount of inventory needed. Carrying dresses that are made to order can help to keep inventory costs down.

Steps to Starting a Bridal Store

Step 1: Write your Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a business plan.  The business plan forces the entrepreneur to get their ideas from their head and focus on important aspects of the business, such as market research, promotional strategies, information on the completion from other bridal shop owners, and projecting the business’s income and expenses.

Not only will a bank or investors require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.

How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2: Select a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from, which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and LLC.  Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

Step 3: Name the Business

Finding the perfect business name for a bridal shop can be challenging. Not only does the name have to resonate with your customers, but it also has to be available to use.

Related: Tips and ideas for naming a bridal store

Step 4: Select your Location

The cost of a building’s lease will vary according to the property’s size and location. Spaces in prime shopping locations can command higher prices, but they can also help spread awareness of your business.  When selecting your location, consider locating close to another business that also serves the bridal market, such as florists, event centers, etc.

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

There are no special licenses to start a bridal store, but there are several common local, state, and federal registrations for most businesses, such as a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, and Occupancy Permit, among others.

Related: Common business licenses, permits, and registrations by state

Step 6: Set up Accounts with Suppliers

After you get your entity created and licenses in place, you can start contacting suppliers and wholesalers to get pricing and information about trending fashions in your area.

Step 7: Find Financing

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a bridal store is another.  Funding to start a bridal store business can be difficult.  To get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.

Related: Finding the money to start a business

Step 8: Open a Business Bank Account

Keeping your business and personal finances in separate business bank and credit card accounts makes it easier to track the business’s income and expenses.

Step 9: Get your Marketing Plan in Place

A solid marketing plan is essential to both the early stages and the bridal store’s long-term success. Marketing can be done on many different budgets, and different marketing types and scales will carry different price points. A bridal store’s branding is particularly important since it can help the store connect with its target audience and be reflected in all future marketing. Professional branding costs can be multiple thousands of dollars, but with an established brand, you can explore different marketing options.

Common marketing activities for bridal stores include establishing a website, managing social media pages such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, developing an email list, using print advertising, and sending out direct mail advertisements to targeted lists. Holding contests and special events can also help to draw potential customers into the store.

Also, consider contacting other wedding vendors that serve the same audience, such as wedding planners, florists, salons, photographers, etc., and see if they would be willing to work together and cross-refer clients.

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 10: Get Insurance

Bridal stores need to be covered by a few different insurance policies to be fully protected against potential liabilities.

  • General liability insurance pays for medical bills and even lawsuit expenses if a customer is ever injured while in the store.
  • Commercial property insurance offers coverage if a store and/or its inventory are ever damaged by a flood, fire, or other events.
  • Worker’s compensation insurance can pay for an employee’s lost wages or medical bills if the employee is ever injured while on the job.

These policies’ costs will vary according to a store’s location, the value of the inventory, and the number of employees on staff. Coverage limits and deductibles will also affect the overall price of an insurance policy. To determine the most accurate cost for insurance, contact multiple insurance companies, and receive quotes so that you can compare costs and coverage.

Step 11: Hiring Employees

A bridal store will need multiple employees to cover all shifts and ensure that customers receive adequate assistance. According to PayScale, bridal store managers make an average salary of $49,569.

Besides staff salaries, store owners need to budget for other staff expenses such as paid time off, health insurance contributions, and workman’s comp insurance.

Related: Hiring your first employee

Step 12: Set up an Accounting System

Setting up an accounting system for your bridal store is critical to the long-term success of your business.

Staying on top of taxes not only keeps the business out of trouble with the government, but the numbers can be used to track and monitor trends and cash flow in the business and maximize profits.

Related: Setting up accounting for your business

How much can you potentially make owning a bridal store?

Your income in owning a bridal store will vary according to the store’s size, target audience, location, and the price of the goods that you sell. The age of the store will also affect its profitability. While no salary data exists specific to bridal store owners, BizFluent did reference a number of stores with reported earnings. One store’s owner averaged $70,000 to $92,000 in income each year, while another owner reported an average income ranging from $46,000 to $56,000.

Generally, dresses’ retail prices are marked up 100%, but more money is made in alterations and wedding accessories.

Things to consider before starting a bridal store

With so many bridal stores already in existence, a new store will certainly have competition and underscores the importance of a strong business plan. It’s also important to carefully consider local competitors and identify something that your bridal store can offer to consumers different from what they’ll find elsewhere. An awareness of local wedding trends and the demand for a bridal store’s services can help ensure that the store fulfills an existing need, positioning the store for success.

Having a seamstress in-house is optimal but may not be in the budget when you start. Whether you have someone in-house or are outsourcing alterations, be sure to have a backup just in case, as if your primary person falls through, you may not be able to deliver what the customer ordered.

Wedding International Professionals Association
International Association of Wedding Industry Professionals
National Bridal Retailers Association

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