Start Your Wedding Dress Rental Business
How to Start a Wedding Dress Rental Business
Recently I had a phone interview with a woman who owns and operates a wedding dress rental business from home. Now she has a popular and profitable home business but it wasn't always the case. She started small and that was why I wanted to speak to her to find out how she got started and what she did to build her home-based business.
Sarah began her small business at home in her living room. She lives in a large Victorian house in the UK, with high ceilings and even higher overheads. Although she loved her home, the thought of the continued upkeep worried her. She knew she'd have to do something to make ends meet. She told me the idea of a wedding dress rental business, came to her when she was out shopping and overheard a mother and daughter talking in a cafe. They were discussing the high cost of wedding gowns and the fact it would only be worn once. It was those words that planted the seed in Sarah's mind. She mulled over it for some time, until on a visit to her local charity shop, in search of paperbacks, she saw a wedding dress hanging on the clothes rack. She couldn't resist taking a closer look at it. As she ran her hand across the satin and lace bodice, her new business was hatched. Her heart began beating faster as she searched for the price tag on what would become her first investment in her new home business.
The Initial Investment
Sarah said she had to take a deep breath and calm herself down. As thoughts raced through her mind, she knew if this was going to be successful she would have to treat it like a business. It was at this point the older woman who volunteered in the shop came over and asked Sarah if she needed help. She explained that when wedding dresses came in, they were sent to the cleaners and always sold quite quickly.
The dress was an average size of 12 and of a standard length. Sarah found the price tag and it was £40. She didn't waste any time and had her purse in her hand and the dress folded over her arm as she headed to the cash register.
As the clerk rang up the dress and paperbacks, she asked Sarah when her wedding was. Sarah remembers smiling at this, “I'm not getting married, I want to start a wedding dress rental business.” The clerk reached over and touched Sarah's hand and said, “I'll tell you what, leave your telephone number and I'll call you when we get new ones in.”
Sarah told me she was so excited as now she not only had her first dress, she also had a potential supply chain. In the next few days, Sarah visited other charity and second hand clothing stores in her area. Some assistants were more helpful than others, when she told them about her plans.
Items Needed to Start a Wedding Gown Rental Business
Q. What do you need to start in this business?
I asked what else she needed to buy to start up.
Sarah knew that just buying dresses wasn't enough. She needed to get organized and make a list of things she would need to buy.
- Hanging racks: If this is going to be a long-term business, and everyone hopes it will be, opt for better quality ones. Sarah said these can often be bought inexpensively as shops close down. Check sites such as Craigslist and eBay.
- Hangers: Hangers are easy to come by but to send out the right message to your potential customers, opt for wooden ones or the padded plastic ones which usually are used for suits. A simple thing such as cheap mismatched plastic hangers will give an unprofessional appearance. Sometimes simple things can make a big difference.
- Dresses: You can't very well start a wedding dress rental business without the dresses. Select quality over quantity. These don't have to be by famous designers (in the beginning) but they should be made to stand up to the rigors of multiple uses. Choose a variety of sizes but concentrate on the average sizes which are 8-16 and average height 5'4”-5'7”. To begin with, you don't need to have a huge stock. As you begin to rent some dresses, you can reinvest the money into the business and purchase more dresses.
It is worth buying some used designer wedding dresses when your business is increasing its revenue because these are a pull for people when you do your advertising, which I'll discuss in a moment. Many brides dream of wearing a designer wedding gown but can't afford it, even if it is used.
Where to Find Used Wedding Dresses
When I asked Sarah about where she buys her dresses, she quickly said, "Everywhere!".
"I source a lot on eBay because I have been in the business for quite a while now, I know what to look for and what questions to ask the seller. Not only the size, style, color etc. I want to know if it has stains, if it has been mended, or worn more than once as well. I want to buy as near to perfect as I can. The people who are trying to scam on eBay I can see them a mile off with the way they word their ad. A bride who selected the dress will know that dress intimately and can tell you everything you want to know.
I also use Craigslist and other free ad sites and check the local newspaper. The best time to find a bargain is just after the end of summer when the wedding season is slowing down. If you wait until Spring, the prices go up.
I also run an inexpensive advertisement in September (just after the season) and also in December, because everyone needs extra cash for Christmas. Now people tend to call me up and offer the wedding dresses to me. I pay a fair price so they are happy and recommend me to their friends."
Q. What about the competition?
When I asked Sarah, about the competition she paused and thought about it. She told me she didn't really have any and explained why.
"Brides have heard disaster stories about ordering a dress from China. There are ads all over the place and some of the images of the dresses do look beautiful. However, when the Chinese wedding dresses arrive, they aren't what they expected.
Here I heard Sarah laugh.
"One story I heard was when the dress arrived it was green! Can you imagine? Great if you're getting married on St.Patrick's Day, I suppose.
Also, preowned dresses have their drawbacks as well because you can buy them, online and then they don't fit and aren't always easy to alter. That is why my business has taken off. By renting one of my dresses, they can choose the one they want from a selection. Let's say the bride gains a little weight with all the parties in the run-up to her big day. She can still select a dress that will fit her. We don't alter dresses. Plus by the bride renting a dress, she can be wearing a better quality gown. "
Running the Business and Maintenance
Q. What about if something happens to the gown?
Sarah said she learned this the hard way.
"In the beginning, I didn't ask for a deposit and had a dress which was damaged beyond repair. Now I ask for a deposit which varies depending on the cost of the dress. The women seem to be more careful if they know they won't be getting their deposit back. Now, in 95% of the cases, the bride gets a full refund of her deposit."
Q.What about the cleaning? Do they do that?
"No, I have factored in the cost of cleaning into the rental price. The bride has enough to do without worrying about taking the dress to the cleaners and getting it back to me. Usually, it's the mother of the bride or a bridesmaid who returns the dress to me. The couple are off on their honeymoon, remember. Doing it that way I can get that dress cleaned and back on the rack for renting out again. Some of them need dry cleaning but you'd be surprised how many I can just wash in my washing machine on a gentle cycle. As long as there isn't a lot of beadwork or sequins, the dresses come out perfectly."
Q. What about mending? Do you have to do any of that?
"Yes, but luckily I do most of it myself. I check each garment after it has been cleaned to see if any beads are missing or loose. The stitching on the seams can sometimes rip and I have to repair that. These things happen but it just is something which you have to keep on top of. I use a combination of hand stitching and also a machine for hems and such. If it gets super busy, which in summer it can, I have a seamstress who comes in to help me."
Marketing the Wedding Rental Services
Obviously, without advertising, no one is going to know you're in business. That led me to my next question for Sarah.
Q. Did you have a marketing strategy and if so what was it?
She told me she didn't have a specific strategy but once people know you and what your business is, word of mouth takes over. She used the following methods.
- Left business cards in grocery stores and shop windows.
- Started a Facebook fan page targeted to people in the local area.
- Networked with other businesses which were linked.
"I always have my business cards with me. I go to nail bars and hairdressers and strike up a conversation with them about my business and they see the sense in helping each other out. I recommend them to my clients and they keep some of my cards for passing out to people who start talking about an upcoming wedding. It was a win-win situation for both of us."
Do you know brides who would use a service like this?
Q. Was there much red tape getting started?
"To be honest, I didn't get permission to run a business until I knew I had a business. I went to my local council and explained what I was doing and they were great. Their biggest concern was that my customers who visited my house might cause a traffic problem, as I live on a busy road. I listened to their concerns and removed some flowerbeds to allow parking for more cars. I also ask people to telephone before they arrive and then I can schedule them so they don't all arrive at the same time. I have to say, the council were very helpful and were a wealth of information.
One thing you have to remember is this is self-employment and you still have to pay tax on what you make. I keep all my receipts concerning the business and am allowed some household expenses as well, as I run it from home. To be honest, I give everything to my bookkeeper and between her and my accountant, they make sure I pay what I should but not more than I need to."
Prices of Rental Wedding Dresses
Q. How much do you charge?
"My dresses start at £150 and go up. I have some designer dresses which are quite expensive and are reserved way in advance. Then there is also the deposit, which I mentioned previously but this is usually a full refund as general wear is okay and doesn't cause any problems.
I think if you start racking on extra costs, your customers will shy away."
Could You Run a Business Like This?
I thanked Sarah for her time and ended the call.
There you have it, the ins and outs of running a wedding dress rental business. Do you think it is something that could catch on in your area?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Hello, I am sourcing my own new gowns from Asia and putting my own labels on them. Any tips for starting up my own wedding gown brand for retail and rental?
Purchase good quality and popular sizes. Keep your overheads low by working from home if possible, and use free sources of advertising such as social media.Helpful 14
Regarding a wedding dress rental business, what if I get a bride who doesn't fit into the dress proportionally. Do I alter it, or simply sell her the gown?
No adjustments are done. If there is an ample supply of dresses, you'd be best to suggest a different style for the bride to choose. Because it is a rental service, the dresses aren't for sale.Helpful 10
Where is the best place to buy these dresses to get started?
In the article, I mention places to look such as eBay and in local ads. Also networking with brides and brides to be, it's likely many will want to sell their dress after the ceremony.Helpful 7
Do you need a business license to start a wedding dress rental business?
That will depend on where you live. I would suggest you go to your local chamber of commerce, or council offices to check what, if any licenses you would need. They will also be able to offer guidance and may suggest free business courses run by the local government agencies. If you ask, they offer a wealth of services.Helpful 3
I loved the article; it was very enlightening. I am trying to start a wedding dress rental myself. I wanted to source them second hand from people or thrift shops. Unfortunately, our thrift shops here in Malawi, Africa, do not offer such garments, and they are very few thrift shops. Do you have any idea on how I can get dresses from thrift shops to my side of the country?
I am not familiar with the publications or websites available to you in Malawi but sites such as 'Craigslist' or eBay, may ship to you. If you've explored the possibility of the second hand stores, then you'll need to look elsewhere. It may be a good idea to network with people who supply items to brides such as florists, wedding venues, caterers etc. Use them as a way to get your business card into a bride's or bridesmaid's hands.
Newlyweds are often short of cash and having the option to sell their wedding dress quickly and easily will be welcome.Helpful 3
© 2016 Mary Wickison