Starting a Wedding Accessories Rental Business and Growing to $5,000/month

The Story of Happily Ever Borrowed

Hi! Tell me about you and your business.

My name is Brittany Finkle and I am the founder of Happily Ever Borrowed.

Happily Ever Borrowed is the premiere, luxury, e-boutique that rents bridal accessories to brides for their wedding day. From tiaras to jewelry, sashes to veils, we rent everything except the dress!

We understand that accessorizing your bridal day look can be an added & unexpected cost. For example, a veil that might only be worn for 30 minutes of your wedding day can be an added expense of $2000! But that doesn’t mean you want a cheaper, poor quality item. We let brides borrow our high-end designer accessories for about 80-90% off the retail price; allowing them to have a luxury item for a fraction of the cost.

happily-ever-borrowed-main

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

As far as my professional background, I went to Cornell University and studied Fiber Science Apparel Design - a degree based mostly in actual fashion design and construction.

I have three older sisters, and from the age of 12, I always helped plan their weddings. My one sister became engaged while I was at university and asked me to make her wedding dress. That was far too much pressure for me, but I offered to help shop with her.

When I saw the poor quality and construction of the gowns, I was horrified. All women deserve to wear quality products on their wedding day. Charging thousands of dollars for such poor construction was terrible!

After spending their entire budget on their dress, most women forget that they need to accessorize as well! I was astonished at the high prices of veils, headpieces, and jewelry. This is one of the most common instances where brides exceed their budget.

My sisters begged me to find a solution.

I let the idea sit for quite a while, but after my third sister got married, the idea started to materialize.

Describe the process of starting and lauching the business.

Initially, I conceptualized the idea with my college friend Hayley Paige (who is a very famous wedding dress designer these days!). We envisioned a brick & mortar boutique where women would rent the dress. Because we had a background in construction, we knew how gowns could be altered to fit each bride that came in.

However, as we started to talk with investors, it was clear that the investment in purchasing the gowns in such a wide range of sizes would be a lot of capital. Furthermore, we were at the height of the tech bubble, and investors were only interested in investing in online businesses.

So we pivoted our idea to be accessories-only so we didn't have to deal with carrying multiple sizes. We decided to launch online to test the concept before heading back to investors - I'm happy to say that almost seven years later, we’re still exclusively online and have only raised seed funding from a couple angel investors!

In the early stages, it’s important just to get out there, meet people and bounce ideas off of each other.

Lucky for us, I had taken some General Assembly classes and knew some basic HTML to set our site up on Shopify.

As far as getting our inventory, we decided to work exclusively with the designers themselves and not purchase second-hand from brides. We did this because we wanted to create transparency and partnership with the designers. The idea was to give them more exposure and support them in a price range that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach. For example, if a bride can’t afford a $1,200 veil, then she’s never going to purchase it! By renting, she’s able to wear the veil, have a true "designer" experience, and will most likely give exposure to the designer on social media and to her friends.

With this pitch, we were able to gain exclusive partnerships with many designers. To be honest, it was not easy at first to convince the designers to work with us, but we were able to get a few great designers willing to come on board in Year 1 (Around Year 4 or 5, designers started coming to us to be included in our assortment!).

We purchased about 25 pieces of inventory to start and put them up immediately on the site to start figuring out what worked and what didn’t. Customers trickled in slowly in the beginning, but it wasn’t really until about six months in when we started re-merchandising the site and pushing the products that worked that made the orders start rolling in.

Right when we launched the site, my business partner Hayley got an opportunity to design her own line for JLM Couture. It was her life-long dream - an opportunity she could not pass up. She sold her piece of the company back to me and I was suddenly a solopreneur.

At the time I was running the whole operation out of my apartment. I was single, and boy was it confusing to explain to the men I was dating why I had so many bridal magazines in my apartment!

I began to learn more about shipping time frames and turn-around. I learned the ins and outs of how to time rentals. There were a lot of stressful days spent with the post office trying to make miracles happen. I also quickly began to realize which pieces worked, and which didn’t. I was able to start investing in more items to fulfill brides demand.

How did you get your first customers, and what have you done to grow the business to where it is today?

It was not easy! We were able to get a few small press hits when we first launched with Refinery29 and Martha Stewart Weddings just by emailing the editors, but customers from those sources still took months to materialize.

We tried some traditional ways to advertise such as The Knot, Wedding Wire & print advertising, but we weren’t getting a lot of orders.

Of course back then, Pinterest & Instagram didn’t exist!

We moved towards advertising with wedding blogs which moved the needle quite a bit. And as social media marketing began to expand, we experimented with Pinterest ads which to date are still our number one driver of conversions.

We use our Pinterest in a couple different ways to drive success:

  1. Educate: We have a pin that is an infographic that shows with the money you save from renting your bridal accessories, and where you can spend that money elsewhere. For example, when you save $300 by renting your veil, you could then spend that money by inviting another guest to your wedding or adding a tier to your wedding cake. When you put it into the perspective of the things you could get with the money saved, it really drives home how much it makes sense to rent.
  2. Email List: Another way Pinterest has been super successful for us is to drive customers to our email list. We created a fun survey that shows brides their bridal style after selecting pictures that best represent themselves and their wedding. When they’re finished with the quiz, it directs them to our page where there are accessories broken out by style type; classic, glam, boho etc. They also get added to our targeted email lists where we send them personalized and curated content based on their quiz results - all while keeping them engaged with our brand.

We've also been mentioned in the New York Times in two different articles!

However, for the wedding industry, word of mouth is always the number one way to get clients. We continue to hear that our brides heard about us from their friends, which is the best feedback possible!

If you could go back, would you do anything differently?

There are things I wish we didn’t waste money on such as bridal shows. Bridal shows can cost around $500-$1000 just to be there. Seeing as our average order is about $100 it would require us to get 5-10 brides at each show just to break even. While this doesn’t seem like a lot, most brides who attend these shows are early in their planning stages. If they don’t have their gown yet, most likely they won’t be looking for accessories.

You have to capture brides at the right moment for this to make sense. I do love attending them and meeting brides and hearing their concerns and constraints, but I think there must be a better way in the future we can capitalize on creating more conversion at these events.

Where you are at now and what are your plans for the future?

Since we started, we’ve grown tremendously with over 100% growth each year. We’ve recently hit the 800 bride mark, and by the middle of 2018, we should exceed the 1,000 bride mark! We’re still fulfilling orders on our own, but we have an office now. Our inventory has grown to about 200 products, and we continue to add new pieces and categories each season.

We recently added faux fur stoles and capes for our winter brides - a request we've had for a long time. It took us several years to find the right vendor to fill the void, and now that we have them, we can’t keep them in stock!

Our booking calendar has also been revamped, giving us ample time between orders to restock. Of course, there are always some frantic moments with the USPS, but we've streamlined our shipping processes a lot since we started.

Happily Ever Borrowed grew 127% last year and we hope for the same growth again for 2018! We are experimenting with more social media advertising and pushing PR in a big way this year.

We also want to experiment more with video and tutorials for 2018. We currently have a social media manager which is imperative at this stage in our business. Brides are increasingly finding inspiration on Instagram for their wedding, so it’s important that we’re pushing content to them on a regular basis. We haven’t quite cracked facebook yet, but I know there is more opportunity here for us, even if it does mean paying for more targeted ads to drive sales.

What tools do you use for your business?

Our site was built on Shopify so most of our applications are run through there.

We also use MailChimp for our email marketing, Shipping Easy for our labels, and Lumi for our packaging.

What’s the most influential books, podcasts, or websites for you?

I’m obsessed with the Goal Digger Podcast by Jenna Kutcher. She’s a social media maven and helps us think hard about how we want to connect with our clients on those platforms.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Network. In the beginning, I went to at least one meetup per night, if not 2 or 3! In the early stages, it’s important just to get out there, meet people and bounce ideas off of each other. I promised myself that I would get one nugget of information out of every meetup I attended. Whether it was just a small piece of knowledge or new contact, going to meetups helped me expand in so many ways. For example, I learned how to pitch my idea properly. By going to meetups, I was able to receive a ton of feedback from different people who were and were not in the industry.

Where can we go to learn more?

Check out our website at happilyeverborrowed.com, or find us on social media at:

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business.

By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

- pat-walls Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story

Share the story of Happily Ever Borrowed!


More interviews like this:
Learn how e-commerce businesses are earning as much as $100K per month.