Celebrating that big day | Starting Out | Small Business Connect

As a bridal shop owner, your stock will include goods needed to dress the wedding party such as bridal dresses.

For those who are enchanted by the sheer beauty, lavishness and joy of a wedding day, what better creative outlet is there for your entrepreneurial talents than to offer the bride all she needs for her big day. This is what a bridal shop is all about.

With 300 000 people getting married in South Africa each year, weddings are big business.

Much of the spending goes on clothing and accessories for the wedding party, which is what a bridal shop puts on the shelves for its customers.

Your stock would include brides’ and bridesmaids’ dresses, attire for the groom and pageboys, as well as evening wear and a range of accessories such as shoes, veils, tiaras and wedding lingerie.

Many bridal shops also offer a rental service – which is a more affordable option for wedding parties.

Could you do it?

Running a bridal shop means keeping up to date with fashion trends. You will need to know what’s in style – not just for now, but for next season – and use your creativity and passion for clothes when putting together a collection for customers.

You also need an eye for bridal accessories that will add style to a wedding.

A good network of suppliers is vital, so you can get quality stock at a price that you can mark up enough to make a profit.

Suppliers should also be a source of good ideas for what customers will be looking for next.

You don’t need a qualification to do this, but there are fashion merchandising courses you can take at places like Intec College (www.intec.edu.za), or courses on wholesale and retail at places like Damelin (www.damelin.co.za).

Who are your customers?

Your customers will be mainly prospective brides and grooms – although the buying decisions are usually driven by the bride and her family.

They will also include other members of the bridal party – bridesmaids, flower girls, page boys and parents – many of whom will look for their outfits at the same outlet to ensure matching styles, fabrics and accessories.

You can cater to “specialty” customer markets such as plus-size brides, petite brides, or older brides.

Wedding guests will also be among your customers: about 18 million South Africans attend a wedding every year. In fact, over three million adults say they attend a wedding every month! Most of them will be looking for gifts or accessories to present to the bride.

The competition

Your most direct competition will come from bridal-wear outlets like your own, as there are a number of these in most South African cities. To find out where they are, look in your local media, bridal magazines and the Yellow Pages. As part of your market research, look at what these shops offer and what they charge; your products, services and prices will have to compete with theirs.

Large clothing retail stores – especially upmarket ones – also keep bridal lines.

And check out the web to see who is selling online; the number of people shopping online grows each year – whether it is for computers or wedding gowns. Consider setting up your own sales facility on your website.

Promote your enterprise

There are a number of basics that you need to get right when promoting your shop. These include:

An exciting window display to attract passing trade, reflecting the fashions and mood of the current wedding season.

A well-designed, stylish shop floor that shows off your dresses and accessories and makes customers feel like royalty.

Trained and helpful shop staff, who can help customers with products as well as offer advice.

It’s also important to network with other wedding professionals like photographers, florists, wedding planners, hair stylists and limousine-hire companies, so that you can advertise each other by word-of-mouth. You can even agree on a referral fee with other businesses.

Keep a stock of smart business cards for all customers. This always helps with repeat business, as well as referral business from their friends and colleagues. A colourful, picture-rich website is a cost-effective way of allowing your customers to see what you offer. Just make sure that your target market uses the internet!

Advertise regularly in your local newspaper, as most of your customers will usually be local people. If you can afford it, exhibit your business at wedding exhibitions.