Emily Hart Brown has become a pro when it comes to multi-tasking. Within a month’s time, she moved her business, Emily Hart Bridal, into a new location on Blue Valley Parkway and gave birth to her fourth child.
Now her 1-month-old comes to work with Brown while her husband helps out with the other three children, ages 20 months, 3 and 5 years old.
“I wasn’t real good at it for a long time, but my husband just quit his corporate job last October to stay with the kids, and that’s helped a lot,” Brown said.
Brown’s store offers bridal attire including wedding dresses, gowns for the mothers of the bride and bridegroom, bridesmaid dresses and all of the accessories that go with them including hats, veils and jewelry.
Q: What is different about your shop?
“The main the thing that sets us apart is the experience,” Brown said. “You’re family and we care about you and helping you to find exactly what you want, and if you don’t, that’s OK. We don’t pressure you; it’s an experience you have waited your whole life for. We do it in a way I feel is unique.”
Q: How do you market your business?
“I’ve done a lot of different advertising and I have spent a lot and wasted a lot,” Brown said. “The most powerful tool for me is referral. Nothing is stronger. You don’t just choose someone from a phone book anymore.”
Brown does do some advertising in wedding and other magazines locally.
“We don’t do bridal shows anymore,” she said. “I try to focus on a high level of customer service and word of mouth.”
Q: What was your background before getting into the bridal business?
Brown earned a degree in interior design but had an eye on having her own business.
“I have always been an entrepreneur and came from a family of entrepreneurs,” she said.
Several years ago Brown was helping her mother open a wedding event space in the Paola, Kan., area.
“We got a phone call from Sandy’s Bridal that was interested in selling me their business. I didn’t know anything about bridal but it was a good, viable, existing business so I decided to go for it,” Brown said.
She put her other activities on hold and bought the business in 2007, right in the middle of the banking crisis. Brown’s husband helped with financing the purchase.
Brown had never been in the bridal industry, so she quickly found a mentor.
“I fell into a great relationship with one of the managers there. She was the one who taught me everything,” Brown said. “That’s unique and not common. … We’re best friends, and she’s still my right hand person today.”
The shop was in an older building, and Brown was concerned about whether it was the right location.
“The rent was too high and the atmosphere wasn’t right, so I moved it to downtown Paola Square in 2008 and cut my rent in half,” Brown said. Yet, the new location wasn’t the answer either.
“The drive was becoming too much for people from the metro area to come out to us. … People would come here first, look for what they wanted and buy somewhere closer.”
In 2010, Brown made the decision to move her store closer in to the area at West 135th Street and Roe Boulevard. CommunityAmerica Credit Union financed her move and the business itself.
“They believed in my business and saw that it was viable,” Brown said.
Q: What was your next move?
Brown was at the West 135 Street location for five years. Before long, it was time for another move.
“I needed some more space and we needed to expand and there wasn’t space there,” said Brown. “It had always been my goal to purchase a location and own the property.”
Brown looked around for some time and was about to give up the search.
“Then I randomly drove by this place and it is the right destination place for me,” Brown said. “I called and it was the perfect price and location for me.”
Brown did all of the negotiating on the former event space herself, closing on the property in August of last year. She spent the past 10 months renovating the space.
“Everything was a wreck,” Brown said. “I had to put in three new heating and cooling units; every wall had to be redone.”
Brown hired an architect and the contractor.
“My background is interior design, so I can be hard to deal with because I know exactly what I want,” Brown said. “But she was so easy to deal with because she got it. Now it looks like something you would find downtown with reclaimed brick walls, open ceiling and wood floors.”
Brown is leasing out 1,000 square feet to Bella Hair Company, which gives her an additional revenue stream.
“She does a lot of wedding hair and makeup,” Brown said. “It’s a good marriage between the two businesses. We have a vestibule where they can see both.”
Q: There are so many wedding dresses out there. How do you choose inventory?
Emily Hart Bridal carries about 800 dresses in its store including bridesmaid, mother of the bride and flower girl gowns. Brown goes to market each spring and fall in three cities — New York, Atlanta and Chicago — to select her inventory. This year she added special occasion dresses as well.
Perhaps the biggest development has been the creation of her own design line, called Emmaline.
“You have to carry so much stock so that can take your inventory budget,” Brown said. “Because girls were coming in saying they wanted to customize dresses and vendors couldn’t do that, I started doing customized dresses that no one else has. … Most of my inventory today is my line. … We do 24 dresses a year that I actually sketch.”
Once a gown is designed, Brown turns it to her team of seamstresses to make the dress. She also sells her line wholesale nationally and internationally.
Wedding dresses at Emily Hart Bridal start at $1,500 and run up to $3,500; customized gowns start about $2,500. She said today 80 percent of her sales come from custom-designed gowns.
Q: What is your greatest challenge?
“Hiring good people and keeping good people,” she said. “Because I am a small business I don’t have the benefits that bigger companies can offer, and it’s retail so you have to work on weekends.”
Brown said she tries to address the issue by providing a good work environment.
“Scheduling around family is important to me, and I try to let them take the time off they may need,” she said.
Brown makes a point of showing appreciation for her employees.
“They are an extension of the business I can’t replace,” she said.
To avoid problems, Brown takes extra care in hiring.
“I have them go online and look at all of our reviews. It’s important for me to hire people who aren’t necessarily sales people (but) … I want them to be able to relate to customers. I can train them on the rest.”
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: Emily Hart Bridal
ADDRESS: 12450 Blue Valley Parkway, Overland Park
WEB SITE: www.emilyhartbridal.com