House of Coco Skyped with Caroline Clark, owner of Caroline Clark Bridal Boutique in Worcestershire, dissecting society’s wedding expectations, exploring fate and family businesses,
HOC: Caroline, tell us how you came to running your own bridal wear shop?
CC: I have a background in fashion and was studying this at University but unfortunately it wasn’t right so I left and moved back home to re-think my options. I started working for my family business which was a card and gift shop and I got involved in all aspects of it and helped build the business.
After working in the family business I moved to an office job in a marketing role for a while. It was a really old fashioned company and I just wasn’t happy doing that kind of work. While it paid the bills, it wasn’t for me. So my husband and I sat down and started thinking seriously about a dream of mine, to have my own bridal boutique.
What happened next was fate intervening! I had been looking for a premises to set up my bridal boutique and was viewing a property when the estate agent appeared quite hesitant when I told him about my plans for the space. It transpired that there was a bridal business just upstairs from the unit we were viewing! Curious, I popped to the other bridal shop and got talking to the owner who was actually looking to retire and I bought the business from her. We chatted in June and I took over the business in August and was able to put my spin on it completely.
HOC: That’s incredible, we came across an amazing Abraham Lincoln quote the other day which matches your story “Good things may come to those who wait but only the things left by those who hustle”…
CC: Exactly! And once you have the business that’s just the start. I spent all of last year cracking my marketing plans and building the business and from this January it’s been about getting known and recommended.
HOC: Where do you aim to sit in the bridal market, it’s a weird world out there! [Editor’s note: this #TeamCoco member sells bridalwear too!]
CC: I have a real connection with bridal wear and I’ve always been fascinated by it. I studied Textiles at school and bridal wear is the epitome of fashion for me, you can be more free with it, it’s almost couture!
My boutique is quite small and has a luxury feel. We like our brides to feel comfortable and excited about the experience which, sadly isn’t that common in bridal salons! The whole experience should make them feel like themselves and confident to choose the dress they want. I feel its my job to help install confidence in them too.
HOC: Choosing your wedding dress can be such a strange experience so we like the sound of your boutique already! What tips would you have for any readers attending bridal appointments?
CC: A key thing is who you bring along! You need to bring people whose opinions you respect. Bringing too many bridesmaids confuses matters no end. The bride should never have to justify her choices, your team should just get it. And you should never forget that it’s not about the dress, it’s you in the dress.
HOC: There are so many different types of bridal wear shops and options for brides, how do you focus in on your customer?
CC: You say that, but the industry is still very traditional. When I go to trade shows I go snow-blind looking at all that white! I’ve always found it tricky to write down my ideal customer and my default is to write down myself! I got some great advice from Kiki of The Chosen Wedding Collective (a great group for anyone in the bridal industry) and I have six different customer personas now, there’s no need to be so narrow. This said, I don’t want to be everything to everyone. Sometimes it’s better to not tick every box!
HOC: At the moment you run everything yourself, what’s your plan as the business grows?
CC: I’m hoping to bring someone else in this summer but I do think it will be hard to let go! I’ve just passed on social media responsibilities to someone else and it was tricky to handover posting to Facebook!
I’m very aware that my family business was more of a lifestyle business and I want this business to grow! Within the next three years I’d like to have a second boutique and take on some new designers. I’d love to offer more of a bespoke service where we can help brides to customise their outfits. I want my brides to know that the options are there but that that’s exactly what they are, options, and that the final choice is theirs.
HOC: In your business you actually meet a lot of other #GirlBosses , great women who are looking to celebrate one of the happiest days of their lives. What’s it like working in such a female-centric environment?
CC: Do you know what? It frustrates me that, in this industry, there’s so much red tape for what should be, as you say, one of the happiest days! I meet brides to be all the time who have become upset by the bridalwear traditions. From people who love a short dress but feel like their family won’t approve as it doesn’t look like a ‘wedding dress’ to a lady in tears because another boutique has told them, 6 months before her wedding, that she was too late to order a dress to be altered!
There are all these unnecessary ‘rules’ that can make the whole thing unenjoyable! It’s these customers that I love to work with the most. I like to show them that it doesn’t have to be that way. We had one lady who needed to bring her son to the appointment and rang up to ask if that would be okay. Why wouldn’t it be? We set him up with an iPad and some cartoons and had a lovely appointment.
I just can’t believe that more high street places wouldn’t support their customers in that way. I also do a lot of evening appointments to suit my customers.
HOC: It’s mad how some places don’t think about the customer! You mentioned external pressures and society expectations of brides. We went to a wedding fair recently where the goodie bag was full of weight loss products!
CC: It’s sad isn’t it? There is a lot of pressure around appearance on your wedding day but you should look like you! The beauty industry is desperate to change you into someone else. For instance I popped by Charlotte Tilbury’s shop the other day, had a little daytime makeover and my husband’s face when I got home! He said ‘What the hell have they done to you, looks like you’re ready for a night on the town!”. It’s no wonder so many of us women have no confidence in ourselves!
HOC: We do love beauty here at House of Coco but couldn’t agree more! Where do you go for your #GirlBoss inspiration?
CC: Rather than hear from experts I’d prefer to hear from people who have already had success as an entrepreneur through doing their thing. I’ve learnt so much from people I’ve worked with before. Don’t get me wrong a business book by a expert can be great but it’s so valuable just to chat to people.
I’m always learning from people around me, I met a colour therapist who put me onto the people who now manage my social media. You never know what the checkout assistant at Tesco could tell you about! It’s funny as if you put me in a room full of strangers I do feel nervous but when you push yourself out of your comfort zone you’ll find so much more value! There’s also no harm in being a nice person. Yes, sometimes you’ll get knocked back but everything leads to another opportunity.
HOC: We love that idea, through being a generous spirited person (#GirlBoss or otherwise) good things will come to you. But be prepared to hustle! We look forward to popping by Caroline’s boutique soon, maybe it’s time to renew vows already…
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