I love how in each one of the posts in this series following Rachel and her business, I feel I get to know what makes Rachel tick a bit more. It’s also really inspiring to me to see someone following their dream, and growing a business out of nothing.
And you know what else I love? That Rachel has already been contacted by at least one of you to book an appointment to try on some of her fabulous dresses! If this blog has helped even just one person have a great wedding dress shopping experience, then I am a happy blogger. Those of you looking for a wedding dress…I suggest a little road trip to South Wales!
Over to Rachel, with how she came about her premises…
We are in, inescapably, the age of the internet and everything that brings with it – online shopping, Twitter based customer service, ‘customer relationship management’ via Facebook and so on and so on. While I love all this and rely on social media and online marketing a huge amount for the publicising of my business, I have always been super aware of the fact that the experience you have with my boutique is very much ‘offline’. You touch, try on and swish the dresses, you have face to face contact with me and of course, you have to physically visit a real life place, so the finding of that place was always going to be of paramount importance.
I’d been throwing ideas around about starting my own bridal boutique for a while and in particular had run the idea past my neighbour over a couple of glasses of wine, as in ‘This is what I’d like to do in 10 years time’. But then fate stepped in and made it all happen a lot quicker than expected…
I live in the gorgeous seaside town of Penarth in South Wales and while I was away on holiday, my neighbour actually spotted that a shop had come up for let not far from my house. She got in touch with the landlady and told her she absolutely could not let the property until I was back from holiday and had seen it! I got back on a Saturday morning, viewed it, loved it and basically, it seemed like the universe was telling me that it was now or never. By the Saturday afternoon it was mine – despite my landlady having stacks more people wanting to see it, she’d waited until I got back. Without my neighbour walking past that day, I wouldn’t be here today – if I didn’t believe in destiny before, that certainly made me think twice!
On the day I picked up the keys! Pic taken by my excitied friend Jessie.
My first thought when I first picked up the keys was ‘Bloody hell, what have I done?!’, shortly followed by ‘OK. Bring it on!’. There was a lot of work to be done to turn it into the boutique in my head – it was a gift shop before and was quite ‘commercial’ looking and bland – it was crying out to be a boutique. I was always very clear with my vision, and while lots of people very kindly offered me ideas and suggestions, I had to trust my gut instinct and stick to my guns. I wanted to appeal to brides who have that flair of personality, and want their weddings to represent them – not what magazines tell them they should be.
I wanted the boutique to feel very different to all of the magnolia bridal shops I had experienced. I wanted it to be cosy, personal and friendly and obviously I wanted the dresses to be the main attraction, so I chose grey for the walls. I put loads of different samples on the wall and chose my favourite two. I then went off to stage manage a theatre tour and when I got back two weeks later, my lovely partner Jon had painted it all for me – what a star.
Pic by Simon Gough Photography.
It was definitely a real team effort – Jon was frequently in the boutique with me til gone midnight, making me laugh and helping me to achieve my goal. My darling friends were wonderful – they would meet me on a Sunday morning and help me paint the outside of the shop, make paper pom poms and continue decorating whilst I supplied endless amounts of tea and Welsh cakes! (Key business tip – always have cake. It will get you out of scrapes, win people over and makes everything seem a whole lot better.)
Pic by Jon Turtle (the boyf).
Because I was always quite clear about my vision, the details quite quickly fell into place. I love lighting, so my chandelier in the window was an early purchase. The big curtains in the window were a must, so that when brides are trying on dresses, we can make it completely private. I decided to have a crown in my logo, because, after all, it’s about dressing up and being a princess – hence then following that through with my wallpaper. A friend of mine popped up from London and his mother had sent loads of lace curtains for me – they now take pride of place in the dressing room.
Pic by Jon Turtle (he’s well trained).
I had a budget. A tight budget that I was determined to stick to. Charity shops were my friends and I brought lots of recycled furniture and re-painted it. I got wallpaper samples and used those under the glass of coffee tables rather than buying whole rolls that were crazy expensive. I’d like to stress that I didn’t take out any loans at all to make my dream a reality – I’d been squirreling away a bit of money for a few years but it was mainly through being a little bit savvy, creative and of course taking advantage of second hand bits and pieces and the kindness of friends and family that I made it happen.
I’m so pleased with how it all turned out –which is a relief as I spend an awful lot of time there! I love inviting brides and their friends and families to step in into my little corner of the world, and to relax, have fun and try on some lovely dresses. So if any of you AOWers are ever in the area, please do pop in and say hello – fondant fancy anyone?!
Pic by Jon Turtle (he actually enjoys taking the pics, I promise!)