I meet with business owners both locally and internationally and share what I learn to help readers generate more income.
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 upkeep was becoming a financial burden. 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 and the notice board at the grocery store. 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 ready 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 bead work 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 that 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."
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 visited my local council offices and explained what I was doing and they were great. Their biggest concern was that it might obstruct traffic since I live on a busy road. I enlarged my driveway to increase the available off-road parking. I ask people to call before they arrive, so I can stagger the times, to avoid too much traffic. The council were helpful and offered a lot of information.
You have to remember you're self-employed and you still have to pay tax. I keep all my receipts concerning the business and am allowed to deduct some household expenses because it is a home-based business. I give all my receipts 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 adding 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
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: Where is the best place to buy these dresses to get started?
Answer: 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.
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: Do you need a business license to start a wedding dress rental business?
Answer: 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.
Question: I had a charity wedding dress sale in aid of local charities. I have been left with 200 designer sample overstock wedding and bridesmaid dresses. Now, I want to hire out the dresses, but I'm don't know how I should advertise. I find it very hard to get the word out. What do you suggest?
Answer: The world of advertising has changed, and will continue to do so because of the internet. It's likely your customers will live locally to you, so concentrate on that market to start with. Put yourself in the mindset of a bride, where will she be looking for ideas about her wedding?
Start building a contact list of people who provide services to couples, wedding venues, florists, wedding photographers, limousine companies, etc. Go in and speak to them, and tell them what you are doing. Get into their network of people, and each of you can help the other. Most will happily discuss what advertising avenues they use.
Be on the lookout for local trade fairs that specialize in weddings. The more you attend, you'll begin to see other places to advertise.
Use your connections on social media to expand your network of soon to be married couples. Get yourself invited to weddings because there will be others in attendance who will be thinking of getting married.
Take business cards everywhere you go.
Being self-employed means you are in the front line promoting yourself and you have to get comfortable with that, so your business can thrive.
Question: When operating a wedding dress rental, what are the precautions one can take to ensure people return the dress?
Answer: You will be asking for a deposit or a credit card. Think of the rental car market, they have much more invested and yet they allow people to rent a nearly new car.
You can also ask for further identification. Although precautions are necessary, ask yourself how other businesses have solved the problem.
Question: Do I really need to have a store for a business like a dress rental?
Answer: No you don't. However, I would suggest a premises of some sort. People are now more accustom to shopping online than they were even ten years ago.
Even if your place of work is your living room, people will love the care and attention you show. Remember you are providing a service that will save them money.
Question: Can I start with one wedding gown considering my capital?
Answer: You can but of course, more would be better. It will be difficult to see any sizable return on just one dress. However, start where you are and build up from there. Look for creative ways to advertise for free, and keep your eyes open for dresses that are available to buy at charity stores or from friends. Keep your overheads as low as possible.
Question: Is it legal to rent out designer brand wedding dresses? As I can see many of them have their own authorized retailers or distributors.
Answer: If in doubt, ask at your local chamber of commerce or the Better Business Bureau for guidance. Depending on your area, it may be called something different.
You would be renting out used wedding dresses.
Do your due diligence before starting any business.
Question: I'd like to know about the discard method concerning a wedding dress rental business. After multiple rentals, what do you do to the dresses? Discard, sell off or not?
Answer: The choice would be yours. There would be no reason not to sell it off or even take it to a charity store. The key thing is that you want your rental dresses always in good condition. You don't want to be showing a well-used dress next to your current stock.
Update: A friend of mine recommended a link for wedding gown donations. https://www.nicuhelpinghands.org/programs/angel-go...
Their website says, "Our Angel Gown® Program provides comfort for bereaved families through the gift of a beautiful custom made gown for final photos and for burial services."
Question: How many gowns did you start with? When first starting your business, how did you get brides to come to see your gowns?
Answer: She started with just three and kept checking the local newspaper ads, eBay, and notice boards to buy more at reasonable prices. For her first customers, it was talking to people. Everyone knows someone who is getting married. There will always be people who will spend a small fortune on a wedding. Those aren't the people to target, it is couples who are saving their money or will have a low key wedding.
Now, it is easier, with social media. When you are starting out, don't pay for ads, find free sources such as supermarket notice boards and online. Word of mouth is your best advertisement.
© 2016 Mary Wickison
Farrah Young from Lagos, Nigeria on April 21, 2019:
This article was quite helpful. Im looking to start a wedding rental business and it gave me a few needed tips.
riz on March 27, 2019:
very helpful to me,as i've started my new bridal business..additional knowledge and ideas on how to make my business more success.,thanks
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on October 26, 2018:
She had 5 and her first customer was a friend of a friend. She then began purchasing more with the profit she made from each rental. She told me the key was to keep her overheads low.
Emma-Louise on October 03, 2018:
Hi. I’m just wondering how many dresses she bought before she started hiring them out? Did she just start with one, or did she get a selection going?
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on September 05, 2018:
What you will charge is going to be up to you. However this will depend on the initial cost of the dress, the popularity of it as a rental, and how many times it has been rented out before.
If you have just purchased the dress, you should ask for half of its value as a rental. That is a good starting point.
The upside of this, your dress will have paid for itself after just two rentals. As the dress is likely to be rented several times, you can see the potential of this business. When it is beginning to look less than perfect and showing wear and tear, reduce the rental price. There is still a market for a lower priced gown.
As for fitting, Sarah, the lady I interviewed for this article, does no fitting whatsoever. The bride will have to select a different dress, if her first choice is not a good fit.
Sarah does do repair work on gowns that may have a small rip in the seam, beads missing or any other minor mishaps.
Thanks for your question.
Izzath on August 25, 2018:
Hi i would like to know the formalities of hiring a wedding dress. What if the brides don't return the dress? What do i do in advance to stop problems like that?
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on February 24, 2018:
That's a great question. The cost of cleaning is a big chunk but not all dresses have to be dry cleaned. Depending on the style, Sarah said she can put hers in the washing machine on a delicate cycle. Some pretreatment may be necessary if there are any visual stains.
The cost of cleaning is absorbed as an overall cost. She has a good relationship with a dry cleaner in her area and that helps keep the costs down. Plus this is a business expense so, that is taken off the taxes she pays.
Regarding pricing, she has dresses that start at £150 and go up. She says she has a dress for every budget. Obviously, the lower priced dresses, don't require a high dry cleaning bill.
As I understood it, to determine what she will charge to rent the dress out, there are a few factors.
Popularity of size and style
She told me she learned the pricing the hard way when she bought a used dress for too much and it wasn't a popular style. Although she eventually recouped her money, it was a lesson learned.
The money is to be made by buying a quality dress, which will not cost a lot to maintain and will be rented out as much as possible.
Lindsay Goudreau on February 22, 2018:
I'm curious how she structures her rental prices? I called the dry cleaner and she said the prices for cleaning a wedding dress range from $45 - 150, the more layers, the more money. I know the cleaning would be included in the cost of the rental. However, does she take a percentage of what the dress costs new? Or are all her dresses priced the same? Or in tiers, from a lower - mid - high end? I would want to create a pricing structure that works for both me and the consumer. I'd love to know how she decided on rental prices! Thank you!
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on February 12, 2018:
I'm glad you found it helpful. I wish you much success in your new venture.
Joy on February 12, 2018:
Thks for ur post. I am interested in starting this business. This was very helpful.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on June 14, 2017:
I am pleased you enjoyed it. There are often new ways to look at old problems. People will continue to get married and are always looking for ways to economise.
Thanks for reading.
Russ Jones from UK on June 14, 2017:
What a superb article. Very informative and offers useful tips for those who are thinking of follow their dreams.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 31, 2017:
I hope you take this idea and run with it. I am hoping to inspire people to try new business ideas and I especially love ideas which are geared towards helping women succeed in the marketplace.
I think your area sounds like an ideal place to start.
Good luck with your new venture.
Sherry on May 31, 2017:
What a great idea. I live in a rural area in Vermont and I think this might just work for this area. This area is mostly middle income to low middle income so I am assuming that new brides would want to have a beautiful dress that is affordable and that way they could spend a little more on setting up their dream wedding. Really nice hub and very informative. I am going to research more on this subject and what it would cost to start up.
Thank you so much for the info and hope you don't mind me checking out this type of work at home business for myself.
Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on August 06, 2016:
Hi Mary. A first class hub. Simple to understand and an article without 'padding'. Really useful. I am a 72 year old male and feel ready to make a start - : ). Well done.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 11, 2016:
It is a business which my friend enjoys very much. She is fantastic with people, works from home, loves what she does. For her, it is the ideal business.
I believe there are many businesses which can start small as hers did and grow into a profitable but manageable business.
Thanks for reading, have a wonderful week.
Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on April 10, 2016:
It is indeed a great business idea and your hub has so much useful information on this business. Your presentation makes all this look so easy now.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on April 09, 2016:
Whether using it as a business for yourself or as a customer, it is a win- win situation. It fills a gap in the market.
Thank you for your visit.
Denise McGill from Fresno CA on April 09, 2016:
This is such a great idea. I think if I'd known about it I would have used it. Thanks for the information.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on March 30, 2016:
It is an ideal business for those who wish to start a business at home, love dealing with people and have extra space.
Thanks for reading.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on March 30, 2016:
Definitely a great idea for a lucrative business. Excellent info.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on March 24, 2016:
Thanks. As you know there are so many different small business opportunities out there. Sometimes, they can seem daunting at first until you break it down into smaller pieces. Many businesses can be started on a shoestring and build up slowly.
Thanks again and take care.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 22, 2016:
Obviously this has nothing to do with me and yet, for anyone who has dreamed of or considered starting their own business, this is a great glimpse at the process.....a very clarifying article, Mary...been there, done that and may do it again soon. :) Have a superb Wednesday and beyond.