George James Bridal discusses the great highs and tricky challenges through her start-up journey into the wedding Industry. She launched her own boutique in Bedfordshire in 2015 and since then the business has come on leaps and bounds, hitting over three-times its annual sales target during first year of trading!
What’s been the biggest highlight so far?
It was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime moment to be presented with my Start Up Loan by the Prime Minister just over a year ago when I opened George James Bridal. But since then the boutique has won a handful of awards that I am also tremendously proud of. I was jumping for joy when I won ‘Best New Business’ at the FSB Bedfordshire Business Awards and ‘Best Newcomer’ for the East of England at The Wedding Industry Awards, as well as Best Newcomer’ at the first Four Counties Wedding Awards. I’ve also been lucky enough to be a finalist The Guides for Brides customer service excellence awards. But, all of these accolades are nothing compared to the thrill I get each day when I find dresses for all my brides-to-be, which is what I consider to be the continual highlight.
How did you get into the trade?
For the past twelve years I have been working as a successful actress, but in between shows I spent lots of time working in a well-established bridal boutique in Hertfordshire. Then, just over two years ago my ten year old nephew sadly passed away, which really put things into perspective for me and prompted me to change direction regarding my career. An opportunity to open my own boutique came about, which I named after my nephew as he was part of the inspiration for me taking on this new venture, and that is how George James Bridal was born.
What challenges did you face when trying to set up the business and how were you able to overcome them?
As I’m sure is true with any new business venture, I faced many obstacles in my start up journey. My main difficulty was financing the initial launch phase. I had applied for several bank loans, but even with my property as equity I was unable to secure funding from mainstream lenders. I was then referred to the government-backed Start Up Loans scheme in conjunction with my local delivery partner, Foundation East. They provided me with guidance on my business plan through its free pre-application support, as well as granting me a loan of £8,500 to support the purchase of stock, interior fittings and advertising spend, I was also given access to a free expert mentor after receiving funding. It was exactly what I needed to get started, and it was refreshing to have someone invest in you and your business idea, rather than the ‘computer says no’ approach I faced for months before I found Start Up Loans.
What’s the best thing about your job?
There are so many things that I love about my job! From spending my day surrounded by beautiful dresses made by incredible designers, to travelling to a variety of cities to choose collections for upcoming seasons, it’s near impossible to get bored. The part I love most though is meeting all of the beautiful brides and their families, and being able to provide them with a magical experience in the build up to their special day. I am getting married myself in September and I realise just how important the journey is – that’s why I love being a part of it for other people. It is such an amazing feeling to help find the dream dress and when the pictures eventually arrive of the brides on their wedding day it really is the icing on the cake!
Any big plans for the future?
Well, that would be telling! But what I can say is, I am always thinking of new ideas and events. Recently I’ve collaborated with other industry creatives for styled photoshoots and bespoke wedding-fayre style events. I’ve also become a stockist for top British designer Suzanne Neville, whose work I am a huge fan of. Looking ahead, I would love to expand and open other boutiques across Bedfordshire and beyond.
What advice would they give to someone with a passion for weddings wanting to turn it into a career?
I am always incredibly supportive of anyone who asks me about starting a business from scratch. I’d say everyone should always follow their passions and dreams but, the flip side to that is that it’s essential to also be practical and realistic. I love my job but the running of the business itself is incredibly hard work and in order to make it a success it was so important to research before I started up.
I also think it’s important for budding-business owners to remember that they don’t have to go-it-alone and that there are many support channels out there, like Start Up Loans, that can help make your dream a reality. Having a mentor on hand has been invaluable for me – as a solo businesswoman its always reassuring to know that there is someone on-hand to advise you on your business decisions when you need that extra help. The wedding industry is truly wonderful, but also highly competitive, so you need all the extra help you can get to stand out in the market.
If you have been inspired by Nicola’s passion to join the wedding industry, find out more information about how you too could get set up with the help of Start up Loans!