Julie Mattingley started Gowns & Garters bridal store in 2005.

People often ask what I do to help businesses to grow. In this case study, I’m going to take you along with me through the transformation of a business that doubled it’s sales in less than 5 months.

Please note, however, that I am not claiming that this is a typical client business.  There’s no such thing.  Results achieved and the time to achieve them vary from business to business.

In this case, the business is a bridal shop.  The owner has agreed that I can share the strategies and the story behind her growth.  Clients are normally reluctant to let me share the full story, but this one’s a little different.  It’s a bit more personal.  The owner is Julie, my partner for the past 3 years.

What’s worth bearing in mind is that this is the first bridal shop I’ve ever worked with, and the results in just five short months have been staggering.

They echo the results I’ve helped clients to achieve in other sectors – for example The Mortgage Broker Ltd grew from 30 mortgages a month to over 150 while working with me.  Travel agent Airworld Tours grew sales by £1.86m in two years, just short of double their business, and went onto double again using the same strategies.  Heating services firm Superwarm grew by 98% from January to June.  The Leaflet Delivery Company more than doubled sales in a year.  Zoom Answer Call doubled sales in two years.

Introducing Gowns & Garters Bridal Store

Julie Mattingley opened Gowns & Garters in 2005 and the business quickly established itself, growing rapidly for 3 years before hitting a plateau and sticking there.

The big problem in the business was profit. Despite doing well above average sales for the bridal industry, Gowns & Garters didn’t produce a lot of excess cash.  This meant Julie’s income had to come primarily from her alterations and dressmaking business, which runs alongside Gowns & Garters.

Breaking Point – August 2015

Sales in May, June and July 2015 were the three worst consecutive months of trading in the history of Gowns & Garters. They wiped out the benefit of very strong sales from January through April that year.

When Julie sat down to review her quarterly figures with her accountant, Jon Essam, he gave her sobering news. Shrink your cost base, or dramatically increase your sales. The business is not working.

To add to Julie’s woes, the designer dress suppliers insist their stockists buy samples for their new dresses every season.  It’s an outlay for shop stock of some £20,000 per annum.

Stiff competition completes the picture – Julie has some 20 local competitors, along with many major chain stores who also sell wedding dresses.

I had kept out of Julie’s business affairs as she did not want to cloud the personal and business.  But at this point, with her unsure what to do, I suggested that perhaps I could offer some help.

Here’s what we did to quickly turn the business around…

First, Shift The Focus To Sales, Not Preparation

As a result of stronger than normal sales in the first few months of 2015, there were more dresses to prepare for sale than usual in ‘wedding season’, the summer.  Her sales advisor shifted her attention to the preparation of the dresses.

Sales became a distraction from the important task of making sure each bride’s dress was perfect for her wedding.  Sales appointments were rushed.  Monthly sales fell to their lowest ever figures.

I tailored my sales training workshop for her and August bounced quickly back to more sensible figures. But the problem was not just sales, it was also footfall. To recover the year, she needed to have more brides in the shop for appointments.

Now Validate The Financial Model

After training her staff to sell effectively, Julie and I sat down to build a financial plan for her business. She saw that she needed to sell roughly twice the volume of dresses to make a decent income from it.  In fact, the changes we made will deliver a high tax-bracket salary from this business, before factoring in her income from the alterations service.

But despite the extra sales, it could be achieved without further full-time staff.  It would just require some casual help during the busy summer months to help with preparing the dresses to go out, plus some additional help with alterations..

Next up, we needed to get more brides into the shop.

Finally, Get More Sales Appointments…

A queue outside Gowns & Garters for one of their events.
Customers queuing outside Gowns & Garters to be first into one of their events.

Most bridal shops use a combination of a shop website, newspaper ads, listings in specialist wedding publications and online directories, referrals and wedding shows to get appointments.

But together they were not generating enough business for Julie. We needed to do something that would deliver more appointments reliably, and also create scope for growth.

1 – Create Reasons for Brides to Visit

The first part of any marketing plan is to understand your customer. Brides are excited by their wedding, and excited to have a dress that’s perfect for them (they call it ‘The One’). We introduced a series of regular events, inviting brides to come and see something different or unusual from one or other supplier that’s perhaps not always available at the shop.

2 – Revamp The Website

The website was originally built in 2005 and while it was good back then, it felt terribly dated now. It was rebuilt to be clean, fresh and up to date. It has lots of information for brides. The copy was rewritten to focus on the bride. There are images of the dresses available, so the bride can see what she will get before she visits.

3 – Target ‘Ideal’ Customers

I introduced Julie to marketing channels that would put her marketing message in front of exactly the right kinds of customers – girls with the budget and interest in the dresses she sells.  We used a variety of online marketing channels to do this and optimised them to ensure they don’t break the bank.

There’s still a great many things we have to do to put the marketing further again.  We have a plan to introduce email marketing, retargeting and other ideas to strengthen business performance.


Julie bought her new BMW convertible in December, deciding she could afford it after all!
Here is the picture Julie sent me from the BMW showroom after choosing her new car. This car wasn’t even on her agenda a few months earlier. Business success breeds confidence and increases choice.

Julie couldn’t quite believe the impact of the changes.  We did a lot of work during August 2015, on top of the sales training. The website was revamped and the first of the events were run in September and it became the best month ever for dress sales.

Since then, every month has been a best-ever month.  Sales are running steadily at double previous levels.

But it’s not just sales growth that we want.  Turnover is vanity, as they say, and profit is sanity, while cash is king.  The business had never really produced sufficient profits for Julie to get excited.

We looked carefully at costs to eliminate waste and make sure that everything she stocks is profitable.  A stock room full of past-season dresses has been cleared to free up cash, with the added benefit of decluttering the shop too.

The performance of each label stocked in the shop is now under review, with measures in place to monitor sales performance of individual lines so that she can manage her suppliers better. We’ve set a target Return on Investment (ROI) for each label and if they don’t perform, they will be swapped out.

Recently Julie advertised for two part-time staff to help keep things on track when the busy wedding season starts.

She says that she feels more in control of the business and is enjoying it again now like she did in the first few years after opening.  Thanks to doubling her sales she is finally making the kind of profits she hoped for when she started the business.

Now she’s starting to realise the difference this will all make in her wider life. She’s got more money to invest in her pension fund. She’s bought the car she wanted, and dream holidays don’t have to be a dream anymore.

And ultimately, living the life you want is what your business is for.  If your business is not delivering what you want, perhaps we should talk soon…