This felt like a very indulgent way to spend a Thursday afternoon... I popped in to see Karen at Exmoor Brides and asked her a whole host of questions about her business and advice for brides on the hunt for their perfect gown.
This boutique, really is a hidden gem in the West Somerset town of Minehead. A gorgeous range of dresses at very affordable prices make the trip to the seaside well worth the effort.
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I arranged to go and see the boutique, but I was really blown away with how gorgeous it is. Classic and yet modern with a luxurious feel. Karen has a shop front adorned with gowns and then a viewing space to seat 4 guests and a separate back dressing space for privacy. From the road it appears that the shop is quite small, but it really is a tardis!!
Let's get into my interview with Karen.
How did you come to opening your own bridal boutique?
About 12 years ago my friend was getting married and myself and another friend went with her dress shopping, and we had a wonderful time helping her find the perfect dress. After the experience with my friend, I wondered to myself, what do brides do with their stunning dresses after their wedding. I had a background in sales, I was selling houses in Tiverton at the time. I then decided to open up a shop selling pre-loved dresses. I had a smaller shop just round the corner. I quickly realised after a few months in business that whilst some girls were very happy to purchase a pre-loved dress, others really just wanted a brand new dress, out of the box and wouldn't even consider a pre-loved dress. So I started selling Enzoani brand new dresses which you can then try on in the boutique and order one in your own size to be delivered. I then moved stores to my new boutique and now I'm selling almost entirely brand new dresses. But I do have a hand full of designer pre-loved dresses still available that I can bring out when I think the bride might suit it.
2. Do you have a favourite designer?
I love Anny Lin, and my favourite dress is called Primrose by Anny Lin. It has proper Ostrich feathers on it., I'd like to think the feathers have dropped off!! It's exquisite.
3. How did the pandemic affect you as a wedding business?
It was funny as I came into this shop in the March, it took a little while for people to realise it was me, and I had simply moved from Holloway Street, so I had a little rocky start. But then I went into January of 2020, and it was was really busy. Loads and loads of bookings and we were really busy, but then we went into lockdown, so we had to close. Then intermittently we were able to open up for the bride and one other, and she had to wear a mask, and I couldn't get close. Brides just didn't want to try a dress on with a mask on, so even between loackdowns, girls weren't coming in because they weren't getting married either. So for 2 years on and off it was a disaster really. First year was me finding my feet in my new boutique and then 2 years of lockdown and restrictions and then last year was ridiculously busy off the back of Covid. This year has quietened down, but it's more steady. Last year was not quite true of how my business will be.
4. What advice would you give a newly engaged bride on the hunt for the perfect gown?
I would have a budget in mind, if you have a strict budget then that's fine, but if not then try to give yourself a small leeway of about £200, don't forget to make allowances for alterations, because often people don't. Choose something that is you, but has that glamour factor. If you are the kind of person that wears quite simple or plain styles, then yes absolutely go for a plain wedding dress, but maybe go for a subtle wow factor of lace on the train or have an incredible veil for example. But so often I have brides come into the shop looking for a very plain, simple dress, and then they walk out with a floral, detailed lace dress. Keep an open mind, but be mindful of what is you.
5. How much should a bride anticipate for normal alterations? (Pulling in at the waist and reducing the length for example)
Well it can vary hugely. But for the seamstresses I use (one in Minehead and one in Taunton)
then for simple alterations allow around £120. It would depend on the fabric as well.
6. Tell me a little bit about how you choose what accessories to stock?
I use a brand called Perfect Bridal, they sell shoes, veils and head pieces. They have a warehouse in this country, so if I were to order a veil today, it would be here in two days time. The veils are really beautiful. The shoes they sell, if they're satin can be dyed afterwards. They give you a colour chart, of about 40 different colours, but they will also dye the shoes to specific colour if you give them a swatch. Which is ideal for say a mother of the bride outfit. It doesn't cost very much, maybe £20.
7. How do you help overwhelmed brides?
First of all I'd sit them down and have a chat with them and find out what they're looking for. I like to offer tea, and coffee, prosecco and chocolates etc to help calm them down. Then let the bride go through the dresses. I think it can be overwhelming for a bride to be bombarded with dresses that I think they're going to like. I mean I might have in my mind what I think they're going to look good in, but that's not for me to say at this stage. I let the bride choose maybe 6 dresses, her guests stay in the seating area. She will try the dresses on, if she's feeling overwhelmed with everything, I just chat about her life in general to relax her a little. Usually after she's tried on her first dress, and she's shown her guests, she's generally calmed down then.
8. How long do you allow for an appointment?
2 hours, so there's no feeling rushed at all. I like an appointment in the morning and another in the afternoon with a break in the middle to reset the boutique.
9. How many people would you recommend a bride bring with her to a trying on appointment?
I've got seating for 4 people, so I think 4 plus the bride is more than enough, if anything 4 is too many. We all have differing opinions. It can be too overwhelming for the bride and for me if there are too many opinions in the room. I might send the bride out in a dress thinking she looks beautiful and she feels beautiful and then one person with a strong opinion might shatter that feeling with one comment. There's often a little bit of jealousy in bridal trying on sessions, which isn't very nice to see. When you get someone saying a bride looks awful when she obviously doesn't and that can be really challenging to manage.
10. What are the price range of your dresses?
I have ex-sample dresses from about £300 and made to order dresses from about £800, the average cost of a dress is about £1200.
11. How would you help a bride to stay within her budget?
That's a difficult one, but if I'm helping a bride and she's going through the dresses, the prices are on most of the dresses, so I let her pick out the ones she likes and if there's one in her selection that is about £500 over her budget, then I would say 'it's a lovely dress, you can try it on if you like but it's £500 over your budget'. And sometimes they will say that's OK. If she insists on trying on a dress over her budget then really loves it, sometime mum (for instance) will turn to me and say 'it's ok, I've got this'. On such an emotive purchase often the budget is blown a little.
12. How do you prepare a bride for putting the dress on, on the wedding day, when you're not actually there to help her?
We go through the motions of putting the dress on. I always say to the bride that the waist band needs to be sitting on their waist. It's also really important the bust is sitting in the right place, so I show her how to do this. If we have a lace up back dress, we have a lesson. And I take a video of me doing it, for them to use on the day. Lace up dresses are just so versatile, they're really wonderful.
13. When do you recommend a bride starts dress shopping?
About a year to 18 months prior to the wedding. With things the way they are in the world, world events can hugely affect the time it takes for a dress to be delivered. Generally it takes about 6 months for a dress to be delivered, but it can take up to a year.
14. If a bride came to you and said 'I'm getting married in 3 months time, can you help me?' what would you say?
I could help her, but it would depend on the dress and where the dress comes from.
15. How many fittings do you recommend?
Usually it's 2 fittings, though sometimes one will be enough, if it's just a shortening of the hem for example. I recommend a fitting around 6 to 8 weeks before the wedding date.
16. When do you recommend a bride picks up her dress?
It's entirely up to them, though I can keep it stored here until the morning of the wedding if they want me to.
Aside from the fact that I went to school with Karen's son, I really didn't know anything about her business before heading in to meet her today. I've very much come away feeling confident that it would be a wonderful place to have your bridal experience. Karen's knowledge and warmth make her the perfect person to guide you through what can be a very daunting process. Plus with her dresses starting at very affordable prices you can be confident that there will be options to suit your budget.
I hope you enjoyed meeting this fabulous wedding supplier. I look forward to introducing you to more via our blog.