Home » Business of Interest » Bliss Bridal and Formal Wear

Bliss Bridal and Formal Wear

Bliss Bridal and Formal Wear

“A Wow for Every Audience”

There are a couple of signals I get from business owners I know I’d like to do business with, and who are likely to be successful. One is, they know their business, and can talk about it fluidly and with deep understanding. The other is how excited they are when they talk about it. They’re enjoying it. Sure, it’s work, but it’s work they like, and want to be doing. They’ve found their niche.

When I asked Gina Bush how she started in her business, she explained that going on nine years ago, she had been working as a paralegal. The HR officer at the company was chatting with her and asked if she enjoyed her work. A little “uh-oh” moment, but as it turns out the woman was just curious. She said if she had just met Bush one day, given how carefully Bush dressed, and how well she presented herself, though her job wasn’t to deal with the clients, she would have expected to find her in another field. “An events planner, even a wedding planner,” she was told.

And a seed was planted. Evidently, the seed was meant to grow. Another woman she knew had a Bridal shop in town and was thinking of putting the business on the market. One clue. When she mentioned the idea to some friends who had known her from childhood, they were enthusiastic and quick to concur: “That is so you!” She did some investigation and found there were classes that could be taken to help learn the business; her husband was in agreement. And the final signal that the cosmic tumblers were aligned: Bush went to meet with the owner of the shop to discuss the possible purchase. The owner had to finish taking care of a customer, and in the meantime, a woman entered, spotted Bush, and, taking her for the owner, said, “Hi, I’m looking for a bridal gown.” Bush went with the flow and showed the visitor some gowns. She sold one.

“So, it seemed like a perfect match,” she said, with a happy laugh. “And I have had no regrets, even with the challenges the pandemic has presented.”

“I had an aunt,” she reflects, “whose dream it was to own a bridal shop. That wasn’t me, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Most of us, if we were to conjure up what skills and temperament it would take to own and operate a bridal and formal wear shop, would think of good fashion sense, liking people, enjoying the glamour and creative aspects of the business. But, as it turns out, Bush’s experience in the paralegal, business, and database management fields have served her almost as well as her gift for color and style. Her work is all about detail, and, as such, she has a great background. One thing I learned as I heard more about her business is that you need to be working on both sides of the brain at once. Any type of planner or consultant needs to think creatively, but with a strong business sense always in play.

Asked what services she offered, another happy chuckle. Obviously, formal wear. Bridal gowns are the lead item, but she considers herself to be a stylist as well. She’ll help the bride not only pick out a perfect gown, but she’ll help with shoes, jewelry, handbags, everything that’s needed to make them look just right – even a lipstick line. In addition, she has carefully chosen a seamstress she works with closely. With particularly bridal gowns, whether specially ordered or off-the-rack, most dresses will require a final fitting. Sometimes, a bride will choose a dress only to realize that she perhaps wants a little change or addition. “One bride ordered a thin-strapped dress,” she said. “Later she realized she wanted to add sleeves. So we had to choose fabric, see how the pattern on it would wrap for a sleeve, fit it to her – make it everything she wanted it to be. Luckily, I have a wonderful seamstress; I trust her completely.”

In addition to bridal wear, she offers formal wear of all kinds: bridesmaid’s gowns, mother of the bride, mother-in-law gowns, first communion, dinner dance, or other formal occasions. And of course, prom and ball dresses. “This has been one of the most difficult challenges of the pandemic,” she explained. “Last year’s proms were cancelled. This year is still up in the air. We want to have a selection available, but we also need to be careful with the inventory. And there’s the part of me that feels for the girls, it’s such a big moment for them. And it’s fun – one of your first opportunities to get dressed up and enjoy a formal evening out with your friends.”

In addition to all the glamorous dresses, Bush has expanded her line to include christening dresses, as well as baby and children’s wear for a “dress-up” occasion. This was another moment when it was clear that she had not only a great business sense but a real joy in her work. “The clothes are just so wonderful,” she said. “Just so cute to see the infant and children’s fashion.”

When she was learning the business, in part from working with the previous owner, she learned that one important part of the business was establishing good, and trusting relationships with her suppliers. They assist in the management of her inventory, but also alert her to the new styles. A bridal shop is working typically a season out – brides are right now planning for fall weddings, so she needs to have an idea of what is new, different, and make sure she has an assortment of selections that will offer just the right dress for each customer.

“When I see a bride come in,” she said, “I get a sense of her right away. Her style, her figure. She may be drawn to something I know probably won’t be the perfect dress, but I work with her. And sometimes I’ll say, just try this on for me, I want to see how you’ll look in it. And so many times it’s the dress. The one that makes her feel, and look, beautiful.”

Another challenge for the owner of a bridal and formal wear shop is somewhat obvious: you’re dealing with a person who is looking forward to a really big event in her life. She wants it to be perfect. “So she can be excited, nervous, upset. I want to work with my customers to give them the best experience I can. And even if, for some reason, I can’t find the dress that is exactly what she wants, I know that if she has had a pleasant experience if I’ve been able to do the best I can for her and establish a relationship, she’s often going to send her friends to me when their turn comes.”

Did she have any “bridezilla” stories? Interestingly, that wasn’t a word she used. She explained that there have been difficult situations. She has formal policies for handling cancellations or major changes in plans, but that her goal is to work with her customers to the best of her ability. That includes steering them toward the professionals who can help her with all the other details of her wedding: photographers, florists, tuxedo shops, and if contracted, she will offer her services as a wedding planner, as well.

One thing she cautions against, and not just to protect her own business: ordering a gown as important as this isn’t best done online. “Inevitably we’ll have to make adjustments,” she says. And then, the bride, or girl buying for her prom, will miss out on the fun of shopping, trying on gowns, and especially, the “Aha!” moment, when she knows she found the perfect dress for her.

Hers is a boutique – she wants to have the styles that people know and recognize. She also wants to carry her “private line” – she wants to offer things that are unique, items the customer won’t find anywhere else.

But being an intimate operation, she has to balance a range of styles with an inventory she can move in and out at the right pace. In order to carry a line in her store, to have a “relationship” with her designers, she usually has to buy 6-10 dresses per season. She has 6 bride designers, as well as designers for bridesmaids, prom dresses, mother of the bride, and so on. “With the pandemic,” she explained, “everyone has had to be flexible. Events were mostly cancelled for last year, so there were many missed proms, delayed weddings, called-off special events. I’ve had to work closely with my designers to handle inventory, and still be ready with the new fashions for the upcoming season. “This is how we survive – we plan, we’re careful, and we do the best we can for everybody along the line.”

It’s clear that her business sense is constantly engaged. But what makes her light up is the clear pleasure she takes in the flair she has for the creative side. “Our phrase is, a wow for every audience. A one-stop shop. You can come in, get your dress, have it altered, and I can help choose all the accessories. But one thing I really enjoy is color. I love the color. I even discovered I loved dying shoes!” She explains that when she first started, she simply offered gold, silver, and nude shoes. But “I’ve become a mad scientist!” She began experimenting with getting exactly the right shade of blue, or the perfect match for a bridesmaid’s dress, and found that her innate love of, and talent for, color, were a “perfect match” for her business.

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.