Bonus Blog: What's it like to own a one year old Bridal Shop?

(By our shop owner, Cassie David)

A 26-year-old speech therapist with no business starting a bridal shop

Now at age 27, never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would have a one year old bridal shop. I did not come from an entrepreneurial family. I did not study business. I have my bachelors in speech and hearing sciences and my masters in speech language pathology from Washington State University. I have no business starting and growing THIS business.

Well . . . here we are 365 days later. I have been very open about the real reason why I opened this bridal shop. All through college and getting my masters, here at WSU Spokane, I worked at a local prom store, A Finer Moment. At that time only 24 years old, I had never once thought that I would ever open a business. I liked to be crafty and creative as a kid, but I wasn’t particularly into fashion or shopping. I have always been passionate about people and experience. At this prom dress store, I fell head-over-heals with the experience of a small business. The owner there, Lisa, created her store out of nothing. She started in her basement and created a store where local girls could come in, regardless of their body shape, size, or style, and find a beautiful gown. As cheesy as it is, I feel in love with making these girls fall in love with themselves in these gorgeous gowns. I found myself starting to daydream about creating something like that myself, maybe after I retired from being speech therapist for ~20 years.

Each month or so, we would get a bride into the prom store desperately looking to maybe turn a prom dress into a wedding dress. They were looking for something really unique that they couldn’t not currently find anywhere in Spokane. My dream then started to shift to bridal- I could only image how amazing it would be to be part of the “yes” wedding dress moments, based on how much I loved the “yes” in prom dresses then. Like where all other visual ideas seem to form, I started a “Dream Store” Pinterest board, set to “Secret”, of course. I had never spoken the words, “I want to start a boutique one day” out loud to a single soul. In 2016, my boyfriend then of 3 years, Thomas, and I moved to Seattle after I graduated. I began working at a little non-profit therapy clinic right in the heart of Capitol Hill with this little boutique dream of mine squirreled away in my brain.

Because it is such a large and diverse city, I got the opportunity to work with the most interesting and complex speech therapy patients of all ages. I love being a speech therapist (notice I did not save loved.) Our plan was to live in Seattle until I was at least 30, so ~6 more years. But nothing ever seems to work out how you’ve planned, does it? In August of 2017, my absolutely favorite patient passed away very suddenly. He was 3 years old and I loved him, his family, working with him, everything. If we are being really real here, I will admit I have had zero experience with loss. The death of this patient rocked my world. I re-evaluated everything. Friendships, my relationships, the way I treat my family, the way I spend my money, everything. As much as I love being a speech therapist, I knew that if I was being real with myself, I had this other big secret dream that scared the crap out of me. I finally said a week later to Thomas one night at Sushi, “I really want to move back to Spokane and start a bridal shop” (after 1 or 2 sips of liquid courage, I mean it was happy hour. . .) The next weekend I had my first meeting with a business mentor at the Women’s Business Center of Seattle. I spent about $100 on books about writing a business plan, starting a business, and being a woman in business.

Two months later we moved back to Spokane. I had only told my parents and Thomas my plan, no-one else. We told the rest of our family and friends that we were moving back to buy a house (which everyone who understands the Seattle real estate market will understand.) I was working 40 hours a week at my new speech therapy job in Spokane and working another 40 hours a week on my secret business on nights and weekends. I transferred to working at the Women’s Business Center in Spokane, SNAP, and Start Up Spokane. I consumed book after book, podcast after podcast and all the free online classes I could find. I was turned down by 9 local and national banks here in Spokane. I finally received my Small Business loan through SNAP, which was really my only option as a 26 year old, no trust fund, 2 years of working history, student loans etc. . “You have no business experience”, “You are so young”, “This isn’t something our financial institution can get behind”. I heard it all. I allowed myself about 15 minutes of feeling sad and defeated with each “no” response, and kept going. The day I got the phone call in February 2018 that after 4 months of applications with SNAP alone, my loan was finally approved. I was sitting in my car in my therapy clinic’s parking lot. I sobbed for a quick 30 minutes, a mix of happiness and anxiety, and drove straight home to keep working. The champagne that Thomas had waiting at home for me tasted so good.

I had a very strong vision for exactly what type of bridal shop I wanted to create. A really non-traditional shop with unique designers that at the time my girlfriends and I were traveling to Seattle or Portland to find. My personal style is very minimalistic with feminine touches. I loved the idea of a warehouse, big and open, exposed brick, concrete, in complete juxtaposition to lace, tulle, velvet. My business binder was filled with hand-sketches and Pinterest pictures from day one. I built our own website myself (which hasn’t changed much from what you see right now), contacted the few designers I had spent months deciding on, and kept chugging along. This business happened in day-after-day tiny steps. Very un-sexy steps. Scraping junk out of the cracks of the floors of the new space I had just rented. Hundreds of emails. Long nights laying awake with anxiety for the first time in my life.

On August 17, 2018, the exact day I scribbled as my open date in the first meeting with a business mentor in Seattle, my store opened. It actually happened. I finally created a long email to the mother of that little patient of mine and gushed to her how her son had inspired me to follow my dream. With huge tears and the biggest smile on the face, I clicked send. I bumped down to only 20 hours a week at my clinic, which I am still doing today. With a few scrolls to the bottom on the store’s instagram you can see that I took Spokane women on the start-up journey for 3 months leading up to opening day. I had 30 pre-opening appointments, where it was just me in an unfinished store with my first 100 dresses. Then, I refined exactly the experience I wanted each and every bride to have in my store. On grand opening day we had over 200 appointment already on our books. It seemed that Spokane brides were already loving this fresh take on bridal.

I have to give a quick shout out to my family and friends who have poured hours of their lives into this season of my life. From helping me with the decorating and renovations of the store, to volunteering at events, face times and phone calls with me while I vent or ask for advice. . . I have not done this alone. And my poor boyfriend (now fiancé!), the hundred of hours he has heard me talk and ask his advice on all things bridal. . . the biggest thanks to you.

A day in the life of a bridal shop owner

Starting out with only 4 employees, the team has grown to 6 amazing women. All of them were hired base on their personality, most of them with not a single ounce of bridal experience. I wanted it to feel like you were just shopping with a girlfriend. I became passionate about working with brides in a way that was the opposite of gimmicky, sales-y, and high pressure. Many of our gowns are the same amazing dresses you see on “Say Yes to the Dress”, and are really unique designers that were not available on this side of Washington or surrounding areas until now. In the last year, we have had the extreme pleasure of being part of 67 styled shoots, where we have been able to meet and work with all of these amazing local wedding vendors. Did some dresses come back with a grass stain or two? Yup! Worth it? Absolutely. Community has been everything. See our Ivory Blog, where we blog both real weddings and all the styles shoots!

Daily, I am learning how to be a “boss”. I have never been a boss before! I have to actively remember that none of my employees can read my mind. Everyday I try to put myself in my stylist’s shoes, and my customer’s shoes, so that I can continually grow and improve the store. I have poured my heart into creating the highest quality bridal shop experience I can dream up. Right now I am lead wedding dress buyer, social medial manager, book keeper, frequent mimosa-pourer, and bridal stylist on days my stylist’s call in sick. I have a million different jobs that none of these business books really prepared me for. “Yeah, I am really busy” is an understatement. I love the quote “busy is not a badge of honor”, so I am working on work/life balance, if such a thing exists for small business owners.

The most amazing moment that gives me chills every time is when from across the store I see a bride start to tear up and turn to her loved ones and proclaim that THIS is her dress. I am truly, deeply, in my bones, so happy for them. I still cannot believe that this thing I created, this experience with these gorgeous gowns, exists. I just personally don’t subscribe to the societal conventions that you have to pick one thing and stick with that for your whole career. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in luck and good karma.. but mostly I believe in hard work.

This last April, Thomas and I got engaged (read about the proposal in this post) and I now have a new perspective on being a bride. Yes, I did have my dress picked out before we got engaged. . . can you blame me?! I stopped trying on the dresses myself after the store had been open for a month so that I could make sure wearing MY wedding dress would stay really special. We get married next month!

We have met brides and other local women who have been following the growth of the store since we opened (and some of them are probably reading this right now! HEY!!!!!) I would also attribute the growth of the store to the intense shift in our culture towards SHOPPING LOCAL and SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESS. Women are now voting with their dollars for the experience and the people behind the business that they resonate with.

In the last 365 days I do not regret one single thing. I know that all the hard things and situations that have happened so far have all been learning opportunities. I type this trying to convey this in the most authentic way that I truly think that nothing will ever be perfect here. But isn’t that the point? We tell our brides over and over again that they should feel beautiful in their own skin, wear the grey wedding dress if that’s what makes them happy, pick the dress that might be the exact opposite of what your mother envisioned. . . go for it! Look in the mirror and decide exactly what you want to look like that makes you feel like YOU, not what Pinterest or what anyone else thinks you should choose. I am working on taking my own advice and embracing being the owner of this one year old store, however perfectly imperfect. Hey year 2. . . bring it on.

Cassie Cleary