Epernay Bridal founders Judith Wade (left) and Laurie Barnett (Image: NC)
Brides-to-be are saying a radiant “Yes” to their dresses and their own dream of becoming entrepreneurs has come true while partnerships with other small suppliers, so they can offer a full wedding service, have blossomed. A local fanbase is gathering momentum too thanks to Epernay’s boutique and dazzling window displays in Gosforth, north Newcastle, where the business is boosting ‘shop local’ retail. After 18 months trading in a market dominated by established players, the women have secured a vital foothold and forecast a £50,000 turnover in 2022.
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There’s definitely an opportunity for a designer of curvy and plus-size bridal wear. We want to hear from them
Targeting wedding fairs and events to gain maximum exposure, they are now the exclusive stockist in the north east for Hayley Paige, the delicately sophisticated designer label and US TV wedding show darling, and Epernay’s gown range (from £1,000 to £5,000) offers glamour and individuality for first and second-time brides.
It is all social media gold, explains Barnett. “They find us after following Hayley Paige, it’s our most successful line. Mostly our brides have local connections but one was an American, part of the Disney on Ice show cast that was on tour here and another lives in Paris.
“The bridal industry is perfect for Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, it is so visual. We look for gaps in ranges generally and then try to include them – for example boat neck styles.”
New findings from the Government-backed British Business Bank , based on the number of start up loans issued last year, suggest the North East is the most entrepreneurial region in the UK for women.
The outside of the boutique (Image: NC)
Some of the wedding dresses at Epernay Bridal (Image: NC)
So far Wade and Barnett have funded their appointment-only business from family support, but getting more backing and IT advice so they can scale up are definitely on their to-do list for this year.
For them, however, the motivation to “give it a go” was the collapse in physical retail which they witnessed first-hand while working for major beauty brands as well as their shared ambitions.
“As online kicked in customers fell away,” says Wade. “Our eyes were open about the commitment required to run our own business having worked as independents. But our skills made us confident we could give customers the personal all-round service they were looking for.
“We saw Epernay was for sale, the location had huge potential so we went for it. We refurbished, took business courses, added new designers and make every day a special event for customers.”
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Epernay’s gown range offers glamour and individuality for first and second-time brides (Image: NC)
“Our decision to stay open late even on Saturday has been very popular especially with professionals such as teachers and doctors,” adds Barnett.
“But we are still small and every no-show appointment hits us. Another big challenge is choosing our sample gowns, to maintain a designer in your collection you must add to it and update with minimum orders. It is a big expense but the only way to be competitive.
“Fortunately though we have reached the stage where people in the industry are aware of us and we are invited to venues’ open days and events.”
Epernay Bridal is located in Gosforth, north Newcastle (Image: NC)
Inspired by the “other brilliant small businesses and entrepreneurs we work with”, events décor specialist The Whole Sch-Bang has made Epernay’s window displays a local talking point and a collaboration with highly regarded men’s wear retailer Hotspur 1364 is enabling both businesses to reach new customers.
Curvy and plus-size brides will be the focus of Wade and Barnett’s next style adventure.
“There is definitely an opportunity for a designer in this ignored field,” they say. “We want to hear from them.”