Buying a business: Occasion wear shops

Who is it suited to? Research
How much does it cost? How much can I earn?
Tips for success

Within all of us is the child-like urge to dress up from time to time. And despite the fact that the work place is getting more casual there are still a number of times in our lives when we indulge that urge.

At weddings, parties, dinners and dances, posh frocks and smart suits are a must. And as most of us don’t have these kind of items to hand in our wardrobes we need expert help. Occasion wear businesses where you can buy or hire clothes provide that help.

If you are the sort of person who’s dream is to be surrounded by beautiful clothes – even if it’s other people who get to wear them – buying an occasion wear business could suit you.

What is it?

An occasion wear business offers exactly what it says on its label: clothes that you are not going to wear everyday. And unlike everyday clothes shops, it isn’t designed to attract repeat business and must rely more heavily on word of mouth advertising and a good local reputation.

To hire out or sell evening and wedding clothing isn’t just about dresses and suits. Offering shoes, accessories, ties, waistcoats and even underwear will hopefully make the most of the customers that come into your shop. Being a one-stop shop for the excited bride to be is your stock in trade but good business also comes from her mother, bridesmaids and party guests.

And although you might not expect a bride to come back for another wedding dress in the foreseeable future, evening wear can be a route to a lot of repeat business. If customers like the range you have, they will come back to hire as often as they go to functions – which could be two or three times a week for business events.

But this doesn’t make specialisation a bad thing. Obviously, if you just concentrate on one area you will be able to carry more of a selection. This is important when stock takes up space and is expensive but you also want to give your clients a choice.

This is something of a niche business to get into. At the same time, though, it is all about helping people to have a good time. Making someone feel good in what they are wearing is certainly not a bad way to spend the day.

Who is it suited to?

This is an industry that really needs to attract you before you go into it. It is about lifestyle rather than money so you must be the sort of person that will find the satisfaction of finding someone their perfect outfit fulfilling.

Gillian Sturges of Rococo in Melbourne, Derbyshire explained one of the best moments of supplying bridal wear. “One girl came in and she’d tried on about a hundred dresses. When she saw the one she wanted, she actually jumped up and down. It’s really great when people find exactly what they want.”

Having said that, these tend to be customers with high demands. Either they’ve a formal dinner to go to – or it’s potentially ‘the most important day of their lives’. Whichever, it’s a rare customer that likes the first outfit they try on. Admittedly, this is more the case with women’s formal wear than men’s but you will need patience for picky clients.

And helping a client to choose something that suits them is not about telling them what to wear. Your opinion isn’t the one that counts. While you can guide a customer to a flattering style, telling them that they look like the back end of a bus – even if they do – won’t get them to change their mind and will lose you a sale. Tact is also a must.

Finally, you need to be adaptable. It might take up to two hours for a client to chose what they want – particularly if a fitting is involved. But you can’t afford to pass up the custom of people who just drop in.

Genevieve Lovegrove of Four Weddings and a Party in Northampton explains, “I have a mixture of appointments and cold callers that can take anything from 15 minutes to two hours. But we to be very flexible as about 70% of our customers pop in rather than make an appointment.” This is also a business that is very much about the personality of the owner so be prepared to inject a lot of you into the business. You don’t want to alienate customers with outlandish personal tastes in décor and clothes but you also need to be enthusiastic about your shop – this will come across as you sell.


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