- LaTonya Turnage operates a full-service bridal boutique in Baltimore, Maryland, which she opened in 2015.
- She started it after 15 years in marketing and with her own savings.
- She says networking and focusing on good branding helped her attract clients.
This essay is based on a conversation with LaTonya Turnage, a 48-year-old wedding business owner, about her job. Insider has confirmed their company’s earnings through documents. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I am a Bridal Beauty Expert and Stylist and the owner of Elite Secrets Bridal and The Elite Design House. Before entering the bridal industry, I worked in sales and marketing for a radiology company for 15 years.
Elite Secrets Bridal offers full service luxury bridal beauty, from styling and alterations to hair and makeup. Elite Design House is where brides customize and create the wedding dress of their dreams. I’ve partnered with designers across the country to help brides find a dress that’s unique. Both brands are housed in my physical store in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon Fashion District.
We begin the process with an introduction and interview to learn more about the bride and her vision for the wedding day. Once we meet on the day of the appointment, we begin presenting wedding dress styles based on her vision and the silhouettes that compliment her body type.
I currently have two full-time and three part-time employees. In 2021, my company had sales of $365,000. My expenses were $118,000, so I took home $247,000.
I’ve always been fascinated by all things beauty, so I started working as a freelance bridal fashion designer–Make-up artist in the radiology company
I’ve always taken the time to make every bride feel special. I would even stay the whole wedding day to make sure they were touched up throughout.
As my journey continued, I wanted to do more and try everything. I knew makeup was part of the whole package, but styling, photography and more make up the final look.
In 2015, with my husband’s help and our savings to invest in the new business, I opened Elite Secrets Bridal. I still offer a luxury VIP service where I stay throughout the wedding day to further enhance the makeup if needed for the service, photos or reception.
The first years were tough
I put many hours into attracting the right clientele. My passion drove me then and still does today. I have always had a desire to serve people.
After the first few years in the business, I really started to focus on my branding and how I appeared online to attract the right audience. Coming from a marketing background, I knew it would be a good investment and I would see the return.
I researched luxury brands like Cartier and Tiffany & Co. and read articles about the brands and their message to their customers. I knew it was important to appear similar in my branding and message.
I also knew that the voice of our brand is important, e.g. B. what fonts we would use for the website, the texts, the color palette, even the way we speak and address our customers in emails. At first I tried to do it myself, but at some point I realized that I needed outside help.
I hired a PR and marketing team to help with branding, copywriting, and strategy building, which included hiring a graphic designer to develop a new website – a site I was proud to showcase and one that resonated with clientele that I wanted to address .
I developed profiles for three different clients and wrote down details about each of them. This was important to understand who we were talking to and what content to post on social media.
Also, I knew if my clients weren’t coming to me, I had to go where they were and make friends. Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook are where I needed to be. I created a social media calendar and scheduled posts. Every day there was a different message and I repeated it every week. My social media manager and my assistant are now helping me with this.
I used networking as part of my marketing plan by being approachable so people could buy me as a person and not just the business
It’s important to network with industry professionals like wedding planners, venue managers, and photographers. However, I was, and still am, cautious about reviewing these relationships to ensure their clientele is a good fit for our target audience.
Social media is like making friends, and building trust with those friends turns them into paying customers. If someone were to book an appointment, I would literally say to myself: You said yes to the dress three times before entering our doors. And it was true – they said yes when they found out about our site through social media or maybe an ad they read in a local magazine. They said yes when they booked an appointment with us. And then they said yes when they actually walked through the door.
This mindset has helped me grow and train my team to be successful too.
Once, One bride traveled all the way from Utah and said she came because she wanted to support a black-owned business
Her mother traveled with her. This special bride discovered our boutique on Instagram and started following us. She was most intrigued when she realized we were black owned.
Both were very excited to see the store in person and actually have the opportunity to work with me personally. We offered to set up a virtual video call for her grandmother to join and both were over the moon. I was expecting this to be a challenge considering her grandmother’s age, but boy was I wrong. Realizing what was happening, she cried with joy when she saw her granddaughter in the dress she would be walking down the aisle in.
It gave me goosebumps to witness the happy screams and to see three generations of women celebrating this happy time. Her grandmother told me I was part of the family now and insisted I attend the wedding.
This was one of those times when I knew I was in the right place, living my passion and serving our brides. The icing on the cake was how far they traveled to support a small black-owned business. It was definitely one of those unforgettable moments.
during the pandemic, We were closed 4 Months. I learned a lot about my back office and the financial part of my business.
It was a very dark time as many businesses closed. In bridal retail, selling online is difficult because it’s a very emotional purchase, so we had to get creative.
I knew I had goals, but now I’ve had more time to work on a concrete plan to achieve those goals. I was forced to take a closer look at my expenses, i.e. accounts receivable and accounts payable. I create a forecast, a growth plan and an exit strategy to secure the future of my company until retirement.
We’ve also begun implementing one of our most booked appointment types to date: the VIP Appointment, a private, COVID-19 friendly appointment for brides and their wedding party of up to nine guests. It is the perfect experience and time for the bride to take care of her while keeping everyone safe. We also increased revenue by charging $250 for this booking.
If you’re an entrepreneur and not sure where to start, invest in a coach or mentor to help you build a foundation and set business goals. Build a network of like-minded entrepreneurs and attend networking events. Register with your local chamber of commerce and small business associations. It’s also important to build a relationship with your local bank and banker and focus on your customer experience. This puts you one step ahead of your competition.