Make a vow to apply this bridal shop’s important lessons to your own small business

Part 3 of the Small Business Revolution series

By Amanda Brinkman – Guest Writer
Mon, 2016-11-21 13:06

[This is the third in a series of articles from Amanda Brinkman. Click here to read the previous article.]

In the third episode of the “Small Business Revolution – Main Street” series, we worked to help strengthen Lisa Downs’s business, Ellen’s Bridal & Dress Boutique, in Wabash, Indiana. Lisa bravely opened up her books and her personal story to the world, giving an unvarnished look into the challenges of her business, the bridal industry and small businesses more broadly.

“You have a cash flow problem — a big one.” That line, uttered by Herjavec when he found out how much Lisa had to shell out for dresses in her shop in advance of selling them, gives her the most pause these days. Never mind being from a small town; for any small business owner, that kind of straightforward and honest feedback about your business is hard to hear, and even harder to admit. Yet those hard truths make Lisa’s story so important to share — and they can offer the most helpful lessons for small businesses in Minnesota.

Here are some additional lessons learned during our time working with the inspiring business.

1. Know your prospective market and aim to expand your audience accordingly

Lisa always had a dream of owning a high-end bridal boutique, yet doing so in a small town presented many challenges. As is the case with all small businesses, she knew her prospective customers were limited — but compounding the challenge, her business demanded that she had a variety of styles, thus requiring a robust inventory. Supporting that inventory in the small town of Wabash seemed nearly impossible.

We conducted some research and were surprised to learn that there are roughly 1,600 weddings a year within a 50-mile radius of Wabash. Armed with that info, we were able to show Lisa that Ellen’s Bridal could expand its audience base and reach potential customers in small towns that dot the Indiana countryside. With some clever Facebook and online marketing, Lisa could convince those potential buyers to shop Wabash instead of Fort Wayne or Indianapolis — increasing sales and reducing the huge burden of buying expensive inventory.

2. Join forces with the other businesses in your neighborhood

Lisa’s business is seasonal. Weddings and school proms are spring, summer and early fall activities. She needs to capitalize when she can. That is why I suggested she team up with other business owners in town to make Wabash the place for “destination shopping.”

By joining forces with a local nail salon, flower shop, gift stores, clothing stores and a boutique hotel, Lisa could create “bridal shopping packages” where bridal parties can visit Wabash for a true shopping experience — even staying overnight and making a memorable weekend out of it, while supporting numerous downtown businesses in the process.

Consider how your small Minnesota business can band together with other area businesses to create a symbiotic relationship and one-of-a-kind customer experiences.

3. Tell your story — and make sure it’s consistent

Like so many small businesses, Ellen’s Bridal & Dress Boutique is a reflection of its owner, Lisa. It is elegant, beautiful and inviting. But the shop’s online presence didn’t match that image. So we helped create a new look with an improved logo, professional photography of brides and pictures and stories of Lisa and her staff. Further, we invited her customers to share their stories of why they bought their dresses from Lisa and how the experience changed them.

If you’re a small business owner in Minnesota, consider sharing personal accounts of why you are in business — and watch how quickly it creates a meaningful bond with customers.

View the full Small Business Revolution episode about Lisa and her business here.


Amanda Brinkman is Chief Brand and Communications Officer at Deluxe Corporation, which provides marketing and business services to millions of small businesses and financial institutions. Amanda helped create the “Small Business Revolution,” a movement to highlight the importance of small businesses, while awarding a $500,000 revitalization to deserving small towns.