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Starting New Bridal Business

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I get many questions about opening a bridal salon or accepting an alteration job. I have worked directly in bridal stores and as an independent contractor. Both have advantages and disadvantages for the way an individual person would like to do their work.


added April 2010

Hi,
I had a quick question.  I have been trying to figure out if I needed a degree or certificate for bridal consulting.  I know they advertise on the online schooling websites for bridal consulting.  I would really just like to be an events/bridal consultant.  Is it really necessary to spend that extra money and get a certificate?

Thankyou,
Caitie

Hi Caitie,
 
Just my opinion, but no, I don't think you need a degree in bridal consulting but it would be nice to have some kind of credentials to show potential clients that you are qualified. It adds to your marketing value. Brides are not normally trusting and having that trust goes a long way to a smooth working relationship with your brides. Framed certificates on your wall help but so does a regular business phone line and a nicely set-up office space. Simply meeting with brides over your dining room table may be cozy but it's not going to impress them like a nice office/parlor space that is set aside for just your consulting functions. A spare bedroom in your home can be easily converted for this function. Most of your work will be out dealing with the various venders and you could offer to go to your bride's location for consulting and skip the office space but it is also a great tax deduction.
 
I hope this helps answer your question,

added January 2010

Hi Leanna,
                 I am doing my first wedding gown alteration for a friend and am nervous about it simply because of it being a wedding gown. She is getting married on July 24, 2010 I'm pretty sure I can do the job it's just getting over the anxiety of what if something goes wrong with it. I have made dresses from scratch and still had this anxiety and they came out beautiful. however the dress I am going to be working on is from www.davidsbridal.com it is dress # V8756 it has the split back and I'm curious if there is a certian way this is to be bustled or if the ballroom busle would be good for it....is there a best way on this style also it needs hemmed what is your recommendation on this? I think I had mine sweeping the floor but I'm seeing others are saying 3/4" off the floor please help. I haven't seen the dress in person yet but if I don't think I can do it once I see the gown I will definitly send her to a professional as I don't want to ruin her gown or my reputation for smaller alterations.

Hugs,
Cassie

 

Hi Cassie,
 
Getting over the big-important-dress anxiety is not easy. It may never go away, but that's a good thing. These dresses are precious to each bride and we need to appreciate that while we find a way to do our job.
 
The best way to do any bustle is the way the bride wants. When working with a bride I show her several ways to bustle her gown until I find a way she likes. For your gown I would try the bustle here: http://www.leanna.com/Bridal/MoreBallroom.htm#top
 
There is a long discussion about hemming gowns on my site here: http://www.leanna.com/Bridal/BridalQA/Hemming.htm
I recommend that hems be done 1" above the floor but many brides want something different. Many think the hems have to touch the floor. There is no real rule, but after explaining why I recommend 1", I do what the bride decides she wants.

added October 2009

Dear Lenna,
My name Is Bahar and I live in Dayton Ohio. I have my diploma in sewing and bachlor in fashion Design from my country Iran with 9 years of  experience as a pattern maker  and designer. I also made my own wedding gown. I have started to work in a bridal shop as a semester and this is the first time I am doing bridal alteration. I am really excited about my new job but I feel a lot of stress when I want to work on wedding gowns.
Here is one question that I have in my mind:
A bout fitting the bodice, if a wedding gown bodice needs to be tighter, what is the best part for that? Center back, or sides? And if sides, in some gowns there are some broidery that continues at sides and if I alter the side it wouldn't look nice, so what would be your suggestion?
Another question,
If I had some question, can I meet you and ask you and how much it would cost if I want you to help me with my questions? Do you have any classes or anything that can help me?
I think that I need someone to talk about.
Thanks a lot
Bahar

Hi Bahar,
 
This is not an easy question to answer. Every gown is different and every bride's body is different. You have to examine the seams in the gown and do the altering where it is best for that gown and that bride's body. Most times it's at the side, but it can often be at the zipper. As you have seen, lace and beading decoration have a big part in figuring out where to do the alteration. Some gowns purposefully leave space at the sides seams with no decoration so altering can be easier, but often there is much moving of lace and beading that has to be done to change the fit the way a bride's body needs it to be.  
 
There aren't any set rules I can teach you. What works for one gown doesn't for the next one. You have a lot of learning from your fashion designing experience that you can draw on to figure these things out. You should do just fine. It is scary to be working on these expensive gowns, but they are just white dresses. Some are more complicated than others, but in reality, they are just white dresses.
 
I make it a habit to never look at price tags. Each gown is precious to that bride no matter what the monetary cost. You need to see only the fabric and seams construction not the high value, so you can work on it with confidence. Once you have worked on a few and had brides show their happiness with your work, you will be less stressed about tackling these gowns.
 
I'm sure you will be very happy with your new career.

added June 2009

Hello,

I am from Michigan and I have just been offered a job at a local bridal/special gown shop. I was highly recommended from a woman I have done costuming for a local theatre group. I have 47 years of sewing experience which includes one bridal gown,several bridesmaid gowns,christening gowns,communion dresses,mother of the bride,prom dresses,coats,suits,drapery,quilts,and probably many more things I do not remember. I have sewn alterations for suits for large companies,alterations for Michigan Opera Theatre,successful in selling my couture handbags in several galleries across michigan. I have taught sewing ,and studied advanced tailoring for two years at college level. Somehow I feel a tiny bit hesitant and i know I shouldn't. I really want to take this position. I have a wonderful professional sewing studio which is 12x18 feet for all my work. Do you have any advice and from reading your web site it seems you give sound advice.
 
Thank you, Sincerely Mary

 

Hi Mary,

Well, when I applied for my first wedding salon alterationist job I had sewn on only 2 gowns, my own and one other. I have a BS degree in Home Ec with a sewing proficiency, a few year's experience working in an alteration shop that did not accept wedding garments and my own personal sewing for friends and family. I did not consider myself any kind of wedding professional, but I knew I had the smarts to teach myself whatever I needed to learn. Working on wedding gowns is not so much what you have learned but what you are able to learn. You have to be abel to take what you know and apply it to the new designs and new construction methods that the wedding gown houses change every season. It can get maddening when they change something that was working just fine and make the alterations you need to do more complex. Alterations are so different than sewing from scratch. You are limited to what the garment gives you in it's design and sewn construction. It's sometimes a puzzle to figure out what you can do to solve a situation between the garment's construction and the needs of the bride's figure.
 
I think your diverse experience will serve you well. It will give you more ability to think out of the box of "wedding gown" construction and create new solutions to your bride's needs.
 
Go for it!

added July 2008

Hi there,
 
I've spent some time reading your blog and I think it's really great how open and honest it is.  I am in the intial stages of planning a bridal boutique and would like your opinion on the best way/place to find an experienced bridal alternation specialist.   I am located in Raleigh, NC and will be carrying gowns from $600-$6000.  I have no idea if I'll need 1 seamstress or a team of them.  Typically, do bridal seamstresses work right in the shop?  In other words, do I need to make accommodations in my shop layout for a back room where a seamstress would work?  Or do they take the dresses off site?  What about equipment?  Do I need to equip the seamstress with machinery and materials? 
 
Any information you can provide would be most helpful.
 
Thank you,
Dina

Having an in-house seamstress is a great asset to a salon, but it can also be a huge headache. You usually have to provide space and machines and supplies. I don't know of many ladies that will tote their stuff back and forth. Plus you have to figure out how to pay the lady. If you pay her by the hour and she sits with nothing to do a lot, than you are loosing. And minimum wage won't do if you want skilled ladies. Since you are new I doubt you could afford a full time lady or keep her busy unless she is willing to double as a sales person. Offering a lady a part-time position is not a good idea because she will have to work elsewhere to make up the time and you don't want the problems that might crop up with her working for your competition some of the time and for you some.
 
Having the fittings in your store and then letting ladies take the dresses off site to do the work is a good compromise but it also does take a lot of trust for you. If she screws up, you get to pay to make it right.
 
I have worked in both situations above and I love working totally independent of the stores I service. I feel I can give better attention to each bride.

So in other words, have pre-established times when she is in the store and scheduling all my bridal fittings druing those slots.  I think that would work...do you?  What should I expect to pay for a talented seamstress?

I have worked that way. You'll need to schedule fitting times in the evenings at least 2 weekdays and all day Saturday is a must. Most brides now-a-days are working ladies and that's when you'll get the most requests for. I did not do alterations in the store during these times. I did the sewing all at my home.
 
Working this way you'll have to figure out some kind of compensation for the fitting time and the work time. When I did this the fitting time was an hourly rate that was about $7.00. The sewing work was by percentage of the alteration charge. 40 - 50% is common.
 
If you want to have a lady in the store to do fittings and sewing there I think you'll have to figure on offering at least $10.00 an hour. I don't know your area and the cost of living there, but I think $10.00 is a good place to start.  

added July 2007

I have thoroughly enjoyed your website. I went right home and measured the small room that I have cluttered with my sewing business and I've decided to "un-clutter" it and make it more efficient.
The advice on bustles has been most helpful. That is my most requested alteration and I just learned from experimenting. I got most of it right, but I had never been asked for a french bustle. Now I know how to do it.
I'm trying to get in the door with some bridal shops to do alterations. What's my best approach? One store doesn't have an alterations dept so I left them my business card and they told me they only had 2 other people that do alterations for them.  I'm hoping to get some business from them.
I also do smocking and some embroidery as well as the usual garment construction.  I had my 3 neices, (ages 14, 16 and 16) over for a sleep-over and we spent nearly the whole time sewing tote bags. This was their first exposure to sewing and they loved it.  I want to do it again for some of the younger girls at my church (and their mothers want to come to).
It is becoming a lost art and I am hoping that when I retire from my day job, my sewing business will have grown and I can throw myself into it as much as I want.
 
Thanks again for your help and your website.
 
Vicki

It sounds like you are having fun passing on the knowledge. That's so cool.
 
The best thing you can do is work on every gown with care and your customers will pass your name around. That's the best kind of advertising you can have!

added April 2007

Loved your site.  Thank you!

I work for a "chain" and find myself at odds with their policies many times.  They do not recognize the craft.  Each bride is special and I hate conforming to their cookie cutter alterations.  They will not touch bust seams!!!  I do them all the time.

I admire your bravery in striking out on your own.  I am so afraid!!

I found your site because a few brides found me recently - and asked me to do their gowns.  I am becoming a little known for my creative bustles.  I was looking at prices and needed a starting base. 

I wish I had the bravery to strike out on my own - I am so afraid the customers will not be steady!  I also feel I have much to learn!  I am picking up techniques all the time!  I have been sewing for about 30 years. 

Are you open to discussion and helping me?  I live far enough away to not give you any competition - but I can certainly refer to you!!!   My daughter lives in Cincinnati!!  I live in Pittsburgh, PA.

Thank you again for your site.
Maria
Pittsburgh, PA

Small world!

I see no reason for you to be afraid with 30 years of experience. You just need a little encouragment. What is it you are questioning?

Leanna,

Your a dear for taking the time to reply.

The questions I have are not technical in nature for sewing - more for starting the business.

Scares the dickens out of me!  How do you get your clients - how many do you get in a week - how long did it take to build up to this point!

I have to have a certain amount of income per week - right now - I have a wedding gown, another bride plus her 3 maids, another bride coming in this week and a maid....  That would be great if it was every week - but this is a fluke!  I know next week there will not be any new customers!

Do you do other alterations?  How do you advertise?

I know you likely dont' have much time - but I could use any hints!!!

Thank you again for your time!
God Bless!
Maria

Sorry it's taken me so long to reply, but it is wedding season and I'm very busy.
 
If you need a certain income you can not live on alterations right off the bat. It is a very seasonal business. Some weeks are good while others are lousy. If you do bridal, the spring will be great, but the summer and winter months you will be twiddling your thumbs most of the time. I have developed many other aspects of my business to fill in the slow times. It depends on what you can and want to do as to how you do this.
 
I am a full time business now, but it took many years to work up to that. Advertising of any type does not help. People have to trust you to use you. Having a real business phone line with a Yellow Pages listing helps your credibility. Getting you name on a list that a store recommends to their customers is a good way, but word of mouth is the best. Happy customers telling their friends about you.
 
There is lots more info in the HomePro section of my site.

added January 2005

I am interested in starting a salon in the Metro Detroit area. If you could give me any information on the "how to's" it would be greatly appreciated. I was wondering if you would be able to give your opinion on the likely hood of a business of this type being a success and your hints on what you feel is the most important. Anything that would be helpful. Thanks so much...Judi

Have you ever worked in the bridal industry before? Having some experience under your belt would be of great help to you. Brides are hard to deal with. When you understand that her wedding day is the most important day of her life and that she has been dreaming and planning it for years, you can see why it is hard. Starting a new business is hard enough. Starting a new business in the bridal industry is not for the faint of heart.

The likelihood of success is very low these days for independent Bridal salons. The big chains have so much more to offer. Unless you are planning on locating way on the outskirts of Detroit, it's going to be an uphill battle.

I wish you the best and hope you find the success you are looking for.


added November 2003

Dear Leanna,
I am currently in the planning process of starting a bridal salon. It has been a dream for me since I planned my wedding to open a shop that caters to the bride and the whole wedding party. customer service is my selling point! I found your advice to be refreshing that their are honest people that are working towards fulfilling a brides dream. I feel very strongly about this because my experience was a bad one.
Of course, I would love to make a profit out of selling bridal gowns but, for me it is more about a dream, goal, and calling.
They say that there comes a point in your life where you know what it is you want to do. This is it.

Thank you for your advice.
Sincerely, Naomi

I hope you find what you are looking for, but keep in mind that a business runs on profit and you have to make money to exist. If you don't make a profit you can not stay in business. One of the biggest things I had to come to grips with when I was starting out is making decisions based on money. I hated it, but I had to get used to it because I had to make a living. You feel cheep at first, like you are selling your love, but it gets easier when you realize that you are not coping out, just surviving.

And Brides are tough customers not to mention their Mothers, Maids and sometimes the Groom. They can be very mean trying to get what they want at your expense. The big trick is giving them what they want but not letting yourself loose in the process. I think the biggest advice I can give you is to listen very carefully to them, to what they say and don't say. Take extra time to show them that you do sincerely care about their dreams. I think that my best asset is my attitude. I hardly ever get a bride trying to run over me because I think they can tell I'm on their side. When a question comes up I listen to the bride's concerns and answer them as best I can or find an answer that she can live with. It's not always her first choice, but if you are patient and give her time to think things over, most brides are reasonable. I think the trick is to let her make the decision. Give her options and prices for each and let her decide. Just don't leave her with no options. I think that's what gets them upset the most.

I hope this helps, and Good Luck!


added August 2001

I have been sewing since my high school years and now in my mid thirties. I have just been recently presented with an opportunity to receive alteration jobs through a Bridal shop. I would like to know if there are any lessons or collections of useful tips on common techniques used with Bridal alterations. Any other useful tidbits would be appreciated. If there are any other websites that would help me I would certainly appreciate the information. Thank you!
Michele

Unfortunately, I know of no good source for bridal alteration instruction. One of the main reasons I want to write some, but that won't happen anytime soon. My grand ideas of writing lessons for doing all types of alterations got interrupted by several inconveniences. I don't know when I'll be able to get back to writing. I have several hundred pictures stored up just needing the text written. Wish I could just dictate it to the computer and have it format and proofread it. Maybe someday in the future computers will be more help, but for now, they are just another tool that is sometimes more of a time waster than a time saver.

I do have a notification list of folks who have written an interest in my lessons. I send out mailings whenever I get done with another lesson. That hasn't happened lately, but you are certainly welcome to get on the list.

One last thought - - - Bridal alterations may seem difficult to a beginner, but they really aren't that complicated. Just think of it as a white dress. A very important, sentimental dress, but for alteration purposes, it's still a dress.

Here's a few simple rules to help you out:

1. Never look at the price tag. The price doesn't matter - and knowing it will only make you nervous.

2. Never cut off anything until the bride has tried on the dress and gives definite approval for the fit or drape, or even the way it feels.

3. In general:
a) Try on dress and determine what to adjust.
b) remove decoration (beads, lace, etc.)
c) do the adjustment,
d) try it on, repeat a) through c) if necessary
e) trim and finish seams,
f) reapply decoration.

4. It's not so much important what you do to the dress, but how the bride feels about the fit and your competence. Feeling good is often more important than the technical fitting or sewing questions when it comes to bridal alterations.

5. The bride is the boss. Always remember that this is her big day. Your ideas of what is "right" or "proper" have no place, unless she asks you for your advice. If she does, give it simply with short, supportive reasons. Let her make any and all decisions.


One question- How do I get more bridal customers?  . . .  Any suggestions on how I can get more brides?

If I were you, I'd make an information packet describing your services. It should include a page about your experience, maybe a short sample price list, and what type of work you are seeking (fit in shop and work at home, or at home only, seasonal, or year round, etc.) how you can be contacted for work. A list of references would also be nice. Send it to any and all Bridal stores in your area, department stores that have bridal departments, and especially if there are any bridal outlets near you. (These usually never offer in-house alterations)

Send it even to places you know have alteration departments. During Bridal season they may get so overbooked that they would appreciate having your name to give some of their customers.

Send it to other Bridal services businesses like Limousine rental, Tuxedo places, Florists.

You can even send it out to the ladies that announce their engagements in the paper!

Once you have a reputation, you will be writing me on how to turn away brides!


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