Stepping into the enchanting world of weddings, the bridal industry stands as a beacon for those passionate about uniting couples with their dream attire. 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 of opening a bridal boutique.
There are several elements to consider when starting a bridal store business, and this guide will help by providing an overview of the industry, steps to get started, and answers to common questions.
Opening a bridal store involves more than just selling wedding dresses. It entails creating a magical experience for brides-to-be during one of the most important times of their lives. Your store could offer a variety of services including selling wedding gowns, bridesmaid dresses, accessories, and offering alteration services.
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 bridal wear 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 uncertain about how a particular dress ordered online might fit or look. Bridal stores also offer brides a meaningful wedding dress shopping experience while shopping for that dream dress with friends and family.
With so many bridal stores already in existence, a new store will certainly have competition which 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.
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The bridal industry is a robust and evergreen sector, with weddings happening year-round. It’s worth billions of dollars globally, and its size is a testament to the significance and tradition of weddings in cultures worldwide. This industry thrives on both the tangible—dresses, accessories, decor—and the intangible—emotions, memories, and experiences. As couples look to create memorable wedding experiences, bridal stores play a critical role in setting the tone for the entire event.
Couples are prioritizing different elements of their weddings. The average cost of a wedding in the United States has grown to $30,000, which is $2,000 more than last year, and the price of wedding gowns has increased from an average of $1,509 in 2017 to between $1,800 and $2,500 in 2023.
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.
Even though the increase in costs to have a wedding have gone up, of concern to bridal stores is the number of weddings held each year. The bridal industry has experienced decreasing marriage rates and is still rebounding from COVID event restrictions. As a result, the industry saw a decrease in revenue over the last five years by 1.7% annually. A turnaround is expected in 2023, with a slight sales increase to $26 billion.
In recent years, the bridal store industry has seen several emerging trends. One of the most notable is the shift towards personalized experiences. Brides today are seeking unique, custom-designed gowns that reflect their personality and style. As a result, bridal stores are increasingly offering custom design services and personalized consultations.
Sustainability is another growing trend in the industry. More and more brides are opting for eco-friendly wedding dresses made from sustainable materials. Bridal stores are responding by sourcing environmentally friendly products and promoting sustainable practices
Also, 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.
A 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 offering lower budget options can appeal more to the general population.
Checklist To Start A Bridal Store
If you’re thinking about starting a bridal store, it’s important to do your research first. Here is a checklist to help you get started.
Step 1: Assess the Market
Opening any retail business requires a significant upfront investment, and bridal stores, in particular, stock specialized inventory and high-price point items. The foundation of a successful venture lies in understanding the market and recognizing the demand. Before you even think of patterns, fabrics, or store interiors, you need to be assured that there’s an audience eager for what you’re offering. Doing this research can help you assess whether there’s enough customer interest to sustain your business and identify gaps in competitors’ offerings, which you can then exploit.
Here are a few cost-effective resources and strategies for conducting market research:
Local government data: Local government offices and municipalities release data on marriage licenses. This can directly indicate the number of weddings and potential customers in an area.
Social media: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest can be used to gauge interest in wedding dresses and related products. You can also use these platforms to conduct informal polls or ask questions to your followers about their preferences.
Competitor analysis: Visit competitor stores (both online and physical) to understand their offerings, pricing, and customer service strategies. Online reviews can also provide insights into what customers appreciate or dislike about existing businesses.
Local wedding vendors: Network with other wedding vendors such as planners, florists, and caterers. They often have firsthand insights into bridal trends and can provide feedback on market demand.
Attend bridal shows: These events can be goldmines of information. Observe attendee numbers, interaction levels, and even direct feedback from potential brides.
The goal of market research is not just to validate your business idea but also to refine it. The insights you gain can help you tailor your business model, marketing strategy, and product offerings to better meet customer needs and preferences, giving you the best chance of success in the competitive bridal store market.
Step 2: Write a Business Plan
After researching and gathering data that points to your market supporting a new bridal store, the next step is to start working on a business plan. Writing a business plan is a lot like preparing for a wedding itself: it requires foresight, preparation, and a clear vision of the desired outcome. A business plan stands as your wedding planner, organizing your dreams into tangible goals and actionable steps.
In addition, the business plan has you dig into your numbers to indicate the feasibility of the business, in addition to being the document lenders will look at if funding is needed.
If you will be seeking funding, there are a few sections that lenders will focus on. From my experience, these include:
Market analysis: This section should present the results of your market research, including the size and demographics of your target market, customer needs and preferences, and an analysis of your competition. For a bridal store, it’s important to highlight trends in your local market and how your store will be better than the competition.
Sales and marketing strategy: Detail how you plan to attract and retain customers. This might include your branding strategy, advertising plans, and sales approach. For a bridal store, the focus should be on creating an exceptional customer experience, so consider detailing the unique services you’ll offer, such as personalized consultations or exclusive designer collections.
Management team: Banks often look closely at a company’s leadership team because the success of a business is often tied to the people behind it. Highlight the relevant experience, skills, and qualifications of your team members. For a bridal store, this could include experience in retail, fashion, customer service, or event planning.
Financial projections: This section should provide a clear picture of your business’s financial outlook. Include detailed forecasts for income, cash flow, and balance sheets. For a bridal store, you might also include the cost of inventory, overhead expenses, and the expected profit margin on dresses and other services.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Secure Funding
Once the business plan has been completed, the path to realizing your dream bridal store often hinges on one pivotal aspect: funding. Given the substantial upfront inventory investments required, obtaining sufficient startup funding can be challenging when launching a bridal retail business. Here are some common funding options:
Personal savings: For many entrepreneurs, personal savings are the primary, if not the sole, source of capital. The advantage of using personal savings is that you don’t have to worry about loan repayments or interest rates. However, it’s recommended to maintain a sufficient financial cushion for unexpected expenses or if the business doesn’t go as planned.
Starting a bridal store can require a substantial investment, considering costs like inventory purchase, store setup, marketing, and operational expenses. Therefore, while personal savings may only cover a part of these costs, additional funding sources might be necessary.
Bank loans: Banks are a traditional source of funding, and they can offer sizable loans with relatively low-interest rates. However, lenders typically require borrowers to invest 15% to 25% of their personal funds into the business, have a credit score above 650, and provide sufficient collateral. If a bank deems the loan too risky, they might need a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guarantee.
SBA guaranteed loans: The U.S. Small Business Administration provides a guarantee to banks for a portion of the loan amount, reducing the risk for lenders and making it easier for small businesses to secure loans. The SBA doesn’t lend directly to businesses but instead works with approved lenders.
Friends and family: Borrowing from friends and family is another funding source. It’s important to formalize these agreements in writing to avoid misunderstandings down the line. Make sure the terms, including repayment schedules and interest rates, if any, are clearly defined.
Microloans: If the cost to start your bridal shop are low or credit isn’t available through a bank, microloans could be a viable option. These are smaller loans provided by local economic development organizations, often targeted at those who aren’t eligible for traditional bank funding or underserved entrepreneurs.
Angel investors: Angel investors are individuals with high net worth who provide capital for startups, usually in exchange for equity in the company. They’re often local people who have an interest in your type of business. However, securing investment from angels can be challenging as they typically look for businesses with high growth potential and scalability.
In conclusion, while each funding option has its pros and cons, the right mix for your bridal store will depend on factors like your financial situation, creditworthiness, business plan, and the potential profitability. It’s crucial to carefully consider each option and perhaps consult with a financial advisor to make an informed decision.
Step 4: Choose a Location
After securing the funding, the next step is obtaining the location for your bridal shop. Acquiring and preparing the right location is an essential step in setting up a bridal store. While scouting for a location can begin earlier, before diving into lease agreements or property purchases, it’s important to have your funding in place. This ensures you’re not trapped in commitments while waiting on delayed or potentially denied funds. Also, verify that the chosen location is zoned for a retail operation.
When evaluating stores, there are a few unique considerations to consider.
Having a location with high visibility is important. This could be in a popular shopping district, near other wedding-related businesses, or in an area with high foot traffic. A good location could also be located close to another business that also serves the bridal market, such as florists, event centers, etc. The location not only has to be accessible and appealing to your target customers, but it also needs to provide the right environment for showcasing wedding dresses and providing a memorable shopping experience.
A bridal store’s clientele often arrives in groups – brides accompanied by friends or family. Hence, opting for a location that’s easily accessible, with ample parking and proximity to main roads or public transport, can be a significant advantage.
Also, unlike regular apparel stores, bridal boutiques need larger fitting rooms to accommodate voluminous gowns and, often, a bride’s entourage. Additionally, think about storage for stock, a section for accessories, and possibly a comfortable waiting area.
Last, wedding dresses, often made of delicate fabrics, require a temperature-controlled environment. Ensure the location has effective heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to maintain optimal conditions for the dresses.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 5: Register the Business
Starting a bridal store is not just about understanding fabrics and fashion; it’s also about ensuring the business is legally set up to operate. Every state is different, but here are some common types of registrations to consider:
Choose a business structure: Before anything else, decide on the type of business entity your bridal store will be. This decision affects taxation, liability, and even day-to-day operations.
- Sole proprietorship: This is the simplest business form under which one can operate a business. It’s not a legal entity, it merely refers to a person who owns the business and is personally responsible for debts and liabilities. Its main advantages are the ease of startup and lower costs.
- Partnership: If you’re starting the venture with someone else, this is an easy to start option. A partnership is a single business where two or more people share ownership, just like a sole proprietorship.
- Corporation: A more complex structure, a separate entity from its owners. Owners are generally not personally liable for the company’s debts or liabilities. It’s more suitable for larger entities with multiple employees or those seeking investment.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC): This combines the properties of both the corporation and sole proprietorship or partnership. It offers protection from personal liability, like a corporation, but with tax efficiencies and operational flexibility of a sole proprietorship or partnership.
While each structure has its merits, the choice often depends on individual business goals.
Related: Comparison of business structures
Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular LLC formation services include:
IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
ZenBusiness - Best for beginners. $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Northwest - Best privacy protection. $39 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Business name registration: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.
During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.
Obtain business licenses and permits: Depending on your location, there will likely be a variety of general licenses or permits needed before opening. This could include a business license, seller’s permit, and Employer Identification Number (EIN).
Related: What licenses do bridal stores need?
Step 6: Design the Store
While the earlier steps were a lot of work, there wasn’t a lot to really show for your efforts. But now, we will tackle designing the store and preparing it for customers. Here are some points to consider:
Store layout: The layout of your bridal store should be spacious enough to accommodate various dress styles and sizes comfortably. Keep in mind that bridal gowns can be quite large, and customers will need ample space to browse and try on dresses. A well-thought-out layout can also guide the flow of traffic and highlight key areas or products in your store.
Lounge area: Consider offering a plush seating area with refreshments. This ensures that family and friends accompanying the bride are comfortable during the selection process. If space permits, a small area with toys or interactive games can keep children engaged while their families shop.
Dress displays: How you display your dresses can make a significant difference in attracting customers. Consider using mannequins to showcase your dresses, as this gives potential brides an idea of how the dress might look on them. Rotating the dresses displayed on mannequins can keep your store looking fresh and exciting.
Lighting: Proper lighting is crucial in a bridal store. Soft, warm lighting can create a welcoming and flattering atmosphere. Spotlights can be used to highlight specific dresses or accessories. Additionally, natural light can be beneficial, so consider this when choosing your store location.
Fitting rooms: Your fitting rooms should be large enough for a bride-to-be and a couple of her companions. These rooms should have good lighting, large mirrors, and hooks for hanging dresses. Some bridal stores even provide pedestal stages with 360-degree mirrors for a full view of the dress.
Decor: The decor should complement the gowns you’re selling. An elegant and clean aesthetic is often preferred. You could consider adding comfortable seating for customers’ companions, as bridal dress shopping can be a lengthy process.
Storage area: A bridal store needs a secure and appropriate storage area for expensive inventory items such as wedding dresses, veils, and accessories. This area should be organized and climate-controlled to keep your inventory in perfect condition.
Remember that each bridal store is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Visit other bridal stores, speak with industry experts, and gather as much information as you can to make informed decisions about designing and setting up your store.
Step 7: Set up Accounts with Suppliers & Order Inventory
With the store coming together, it’s time to start filling the shelves. To do this, getting the right mix of products your customers want can have a big impact on the success of your store. Some tips for setting up suppliers and vendors for a bridal shop include:
Start by researching potential suppliers of wedding dresses, accessories, and related items. You’ll want to look for suppliers who offer high-quality products that align with your store’s style and target market. Suppliers can be found through industry publications and online searches, but bridal industry trade shows can be gold mines. They allow you to meet multiple suppliers, see their products firsthand, and it’s also an opportunity to build personal relationships and possibly negotiate better deals.
Once you’ve identified potential suppliers, reach out to them to establish a relationship. It’s important to note that most suppliers won’t often provide pricing or set up accounts until your business is registered.
It’s a good idea to have more than one supplier for each type of product you sell. This can help ensure a steady supply of inventory and give you more flexibility in terms of product variety and pricing.
Step 8: Hire Staff
Our next step in starting a bridal shop is hiring employees. The type of employees you might need would largely depend on the size and scope of your store, but generally, roles might include store managers, sales consultants, and tailors or seamstresses. Store managers oversee the operation of the store and manage other staff, while sales consultants interact directly with customers, helping them find their dream wedding dresses and accessories.
Having a tailor or 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.
Before hiring employees, there are several legal requirements that a bridal store owner should be aware of:
- Employer Identification Number (EIN): You’ll need to obtain an EIN from the IRS. This number is used for tax purposes and to identify your business entity.
- State tax ID number: Depending on your state, you may also need a state tax ID number. This is typically used for state tax reporting.
- Labor laws: Familiarize yourself with both federal and state labor laws. These can include minimum wage laws, overtime laws, and more.
- Employment eligibility verification: In the United States, you must verify an employee’s eligibility to work using Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification.
- Worker’s compensation insurance: Depending on your state, you may be required to have worker’s compensation insurance if you have employees 5.
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.
Step 9: Create a Marketing Plan
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.
In addition to a professional-looking website, a popular method is to leverage social media platforms, particularly visually-oriented ones like Instagram and Pinterest. These platforms allow you to showcase your dresses and accessories, share customer testimonials, and engage with potential clients in a personal and visual way. Facebook and Instagram ads can also be highly effective in reaching your target demographic.
Claiming your business on relevant online business directories is another essential step. Not only does this improve your online visibility, but it also allows customers to leave reviews, which can be an influential factor in attracting new clients. Google Business Profile is one such platform where you can claim your business, but there are also wedding-specific directories such as The Knot and WeddingWire that are worth considering.
Partnerships can also be a valuable marketing strategy. Collaborate with other local businesses that cater to brides, such as florists, photographers, and event planners. This can lead to referrals and also opens up opportunities for joint marketing efforts or events.
Hosting in-store events and trunk shows is another effective way to draw attention to your store. Invite bloggers and wedding magazines to these events to increase your reach and potential publicity.
Last, joining your local Chamber of Commerce can provide networking opportunities, enable you to participate in community events, and enhance your reputation as a local business.
Step 10: Prepare to Open
As you edge closer to turning the key and opening the doors of your bridal store, ensuring that all administrative, operational, and strategic aspects are in place is vital. The needs of each business owner will be different, but here’s a rundown of some of the remaining steps to might consider.
Business insurance: Protecting your investment against unforeseen circumstances is necessary. Given the value of inventory in a bridal store, having comprehensive business insurance will shield you against potential losses from theft, fire, or other damages.
Bookkeeping: Setting up a bookkeeping system is crucial for tracking income, expenses, and overall financial health. This can be done with software like Wave Accounting (FREE) or Quickbooks or outsourced to an accountant or bookkeeping service.
Contracts: You’ll want to have contracts in place to avoid misunderstandings or unnecessary costs. For instance, in the bridal industry, it’s common to have a contract with brides that outlines payment terms, alteration policies, and cancellation policies or consignment contracts if you accept gowns on consignment.
Bank account: Opening a separate bank account for your business is important for keeping personal and business finances separate, which simplifies bookkeeping and tax preparation.
Point-of-Sale (POS) software: There are industry-specific software systems that can help manage various aspects of your business. For example, BridalLive and CloudBridal are software programs designed specifically for bridal boutiques, offering features like appointment scheduling, inventory management, and point of sale. Other options include LightSpeed Retail and Vend, both of which offer robust retail management and point-of-sale features.
Credit card processing: If you’re not using a point-of-sale system with merchant processing built-in, you’ll need to set up a system for accepting credit card payments. This involves choosing a credit card processor like Square or Stripe.
Grand opening: Plan a grand opening event to generate buzz and attract your first customers. This could involve special promotions, a trunk show, or partnerships with other local businesses.
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Common Questions When Starting A Bridal Store
How much does it cost to start a bridal store?
Starting a bridal store can be a substantial investment, with costs ranging from $50,000 to $150,000, and more depending if the building will be purchased instead of leasing.
While the exact costs can vary depending on your location, store size, and business plan, here is an example of the breakdown of these costs:
Lease deposits: Depending on your location, the initial lease deposit for retail space can vary widely. For a decent location in a moderate city, a first and last month’s rent deposit might be around $6,000 to $10,000.
Renovation and store setup: Turning a raw space into a beautiful bridal store can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000, depending on the size and level of luxury you aim for. This includes fittings, lighting, decor, dressing rooms, and more.
Initial inventory: Stocking your store with a variety of dresses is one of the most significant expenses. Depending on the brands and variety, initial inventory costs can range from $20,000 to $60,000 or more.
Business licensing: Getting the necessary business licenses and permits might cost around $500 to $1,000, varying by state and local regulations.
Initial marketing: Setting up a website, initial online advertising, print brochures, and possibly a launch event could cost $3,000 to $10,000.
Insurance: The initial cost for insurance (liability, property, and possibly others) might be around $1,000 to $2,500 for the first year, based on the coverage.
Software: POS systems tailored for retail and any industry-specific management software can range from $1,000 to $5,000.
Miscellaneous costs: include office supplies, initial staff training, and other unforeseen expenses. This could add another $2,000 to $5,000 to your startup costs.
Professional fees: Legal and accounting services to ensure your business starts correctly could range from $2,000 to $5,000.
Also, it’s highly recommended that new store owners have three to six months of operating expenses set aside as a buffer. This can help cover unexpected costs or slower-than-expected initial sales.
While these figures offer a general idea, it’s essential to conduct detailed market research tailored to your specific location and business model.
How profitable is a bridal store?
The profitability of a bridal store hinges on various factors, including location, store size, inventory type, overhead costs, and sales volume.
On average, the retail price of bridal gowns is between $1,800 to $2,500. Using $2,000 as an average price, along with industry data, here is a rough estimate of profit for a new bridal shop:
Let’s assume a bridal store sells an average of 15 gowns a month at an average price of $2,000 each.
Monthly Revenue = 15 gowns x $2,000/gown = $30,000
Annual Revenue = $30,000 x 12 = $360,000
– Inventory: Typically, the cost of the gown (COGS) is about 50% of the retail price.
Annual Inventory Cost = $360,000 x 0.50 = $180,000
– Rent: Assuming a monthly rent of $3,000 (varies based on location and size).
Annual Rent = $3,000 x 12 = $36,000
– Salaries: Assuming two employees with a combined annual salary of $60,000.
– Utilities, marketing, & miscellaneous: Estimating about $15,000 annually.
Total Annual Expenses = $180,000 (Inventory) + $36,000 (Rent) + $60,000 (Salaries) + $15,000 (Utilities & Marketing) = $291,000
Annual Profit = Annual Revenue – Total Annual Expenses
Annual Profit = $360,000 – $291,000 = $69,000
In this hypothetical scenario, the bridal salon would make a profit of $69,000 annually, but we didn’t factor in the potential sales of alterations, bridesmaid dresses or wedding accessories.
Please note that these numbers are generalized and can vary widely depending on multiple factors. It’s vital for entrepreneurs to get localized data, detailed market analysis, and consult industry experts when determining the profit potential of their specific venture.
What skills are needed to run 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 updated 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.
What is the NAICS code for a bridal store?
The NAICS code for a bridal store is 448190, which is classified under Women’s Clothing Stores.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.
Related: What is a NAICS code?