Dress for success

Sisters Claire Chapman and Jo Cowan set up bridal shop Belle Bridal in 2009 and expects to double their opening year’s turnover to £100,000 this year.

Why did you start out in business?

We had had the idea for a discount wedding dress shop for 18 months or so and were in full time employment when we both fell pregnant. We thought that since we would be taking a year off it would be a good time to get the wheels in motion and see if this is what we wanted to do. Our mum runs a company in Reading selling once-worn dresses as well as samples and we decided to mould our business around the sample side, getting our stock through shop samples, designer prototypes and catwalks or photo shoots.

How did you finance and market it?

It’s been self-financed. Our mum helped us with some stock to get us started and we invested £1,000 each of personal money to go towards setting up a website and some shows. At the moment, we run our showroom from the top floor of Jo’s house so we save money there. On the marketing side, when we first started we put together a flyer that we gave out at the first fairs we attended. We also did leaflet drops around the immediate vicinity of our showroom and some PR.

How difficult is it to balance your business and childcare?

It helps to have very hands-on husbands and immediate family members who were willing to take the pressure off us so we could focus on getting the business off the ground. Nowadays we try as much as possible to run the business around the needs of the children, but with them at nursery every day we are able to grow the business and manage the children between us. Running the business from Jo’s home means that if the kids are looked after we can open for business and gives us the flexibility to work around brides’ busy schedules – we open four late evenings during the week and on Sunday too if required.

What have been the challenges?

On the whole it has been tough setting up because we had to self-finance and it’s a risk not knowing whether something’s going to take off, but people are still getting married and we’re able to save people money. So although we set it up in a challenging time it’s a time when people need this type of offering. We pride ourselves on a very personal service and a big challenge will be scaling the business and maintaining this level of attention for the brides.

What’s next for Belle Bridal?

In our area of North London there are religions that require more ‘modest’ dress designs, and they are not readily available, so we have decided to develop some of our own dresses. We will able to self-finance again, and will be looking for designers who can help us with manufacturing, starting with a small range.

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of smallbusiness.co.uk) before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the...

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