Some bridal shops have multiple women there at a time working with consultants to find the perfect wedding dress.
Other stores choose to have one woman there at a time so she receives full attention and can make the big decision with no distractions.
Gretchen Gabehart prefers the latter business model.
That’s the way she ran her boutique, Gretchen Reece Bridal Couture in Lexington, Kentucky, for the past four years.
Now that she has moved back closer to her hometown of North Vernon and opened The Ivorie Atelier at 125 W. Second St. in downtown Seymour, the philosophy remains the same.
Once a woman walks through the door for her appointment, Gabehart takes 10 to 15 minutes to get to know her and what she’s looking for in a wedding dress. For the next hour and 45 minutes, it’s all about trying on dresses until the perfect one fits, looks and feels just right.
“It’s beautiful when you get a really happy bride,” she said. “It’s great. There’s nothing quite like it when you can make someone truly happy.”
After graduating from Jennings County High School in 2010, Gabehart went to Butler University to study communication sciences and disorders.
For two years, she worked a few different jobs to figure out if she wanted to attend graduate school.
Working at a friend’s bridal boutique in Conway, Arkansas, for two weeks one year changed her career interest.
“Honest to goodness, that couple of weeks is what kind of spurred this,” she said of opening her own bridal boutique.
All through college, she had worked at RaeLynn’s Boutique in Greenwood helping girls find prom and pageant dresses. She said that also helped when she made the decision in early 2017 to open her own shop.
Plus, she had the experience of serving as Miss Indiana USA in 2015 and doing some modeling for a couple of years after that.
“It was one of those things where I could either go right or go left and I had to make a choice, and I chose to try it, knowing full well that if I was going to fail, it was going to be quickly because you have to either be good at this or you’re not,” Gabehart said. “I was lucky that I had a background in selling dresses from a previous job. Otherwise, I don’t think the outcome would have been as good.”
A big difference between working with prom and pageant girls and working with brides is there’s a lot of hand holding with bridal, Gabehart said.
“There’s no way to get around it. That’s what it is,” she said. “A lot of brides need their hand held. It’s a severely anxiety-ridden thing. There’s a lot of money that goes into bridal stuff. There’s a lot of money that goes into weddings in general.”
She said the average cost of weddings continues to rise. In Indiana, it’s $37,000 to $40,000. For the wedding gown, the average price is $1,800 to $2,300.
“It’s a lot of anxiety. It’s a lot of money. It’s just a lot of people pleasing, too, with dresses,” Gabehart said. “It’s a very big decision.”
From Gabehart’s perspective, while bridal is such a beautiful industry, it sometimes is really ugly because it’s just tough, she said.
Like other small businesses, there’s a lot of money wrapped up in it, it takes years to see any kind of profit and it’s exhausting working really long, hard hours and days.
“I didn’t for my first store take a paycheck for probably four years,” she said. “And it’s sometimes a very unforgiving industry. A lot of your thanks will come at the end when the bride walks down the aisle and gets married, but it is incredible high stress up until that point because if anything goes wrong, you’re always the person that gets blamed for it.”
Issues with a manufacturer, order backups and other things that can’t be controlled could occur.
“I am a glorified middle man is what I am,” Gabehart said. “I forecast the fashions. I curate the gowns. I get (brides-to-be) in here and I figure out what they love.”
To be a successful bridal consultant, she said it’s important to be good at forecasting fashions and know you’re picking the right dresses.
“Bridal boutiques that only do bridal, that do not have any other form of income, if you’re not good at it, you don’t stay in it long because it’s tough. There is very little room for error with this stuff,” Gabehart said. “You have to love it to do it. It has to mean something to you, each client that you get, to be able to stay in this business.”
She credits her success to finding brides who take time to get to know her and want to work with her.
“I do it because I love my girls,” she said. “It’s not about a profit. If it was just about a profit, which a lot of people will get into bridal because it is a lot of money, you won’t stay in business long. You have to love the people. You have to love the community that you’re in.”
Gabehart said she developed a great clientele in Lexington, and she wants to do the same in Seymour.
She closed her Lexington boutique in May and moved to North Vernon in the same month. While her store was doing very well, she said the big reason for the move was for family.
“We loved living there. I loved having that store there. I loved my clientele there. We miss it a lot,” she said. “But I felt like there was a need for this here.”
Gabehart said she liked what she saw going on in downtown Seymour.
“I think people are trying to do more stuff downtown, and I love to see more businesses go in down here because Seymour’s downtown is such a pretty area,” she said. “People just need the chance to get something going and get it to stick here.”
Even since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, new businesses have opened in the downtown. The Ivorie Atelier opened July 9.
“I know there are a couple that are still going in this year, a couple of businesses that were supposed to go in over the summer that have been a little bit slower to get off the ground, but hopefully, stuff continues to pick up down here,” Gabehart said. “I’m very grateful to be able to be part of this revitalizing down here.”
She continues to spread the word that her business is here.
“I want people to understand that you don’t have to go to Indianapolis or to Louisville to get something really nice,” Gabehart said. “We’re trying to put something in their back door where you can feel like you’re catered to and you’re pampered and cared about and it’s here.”
Gabehart looks forward to continuing her successful business model close to home, being able to serve people in the area she knows and others she will take time to get to know.
“If you do a good job, people hear. Word of mouth travels so quick. It’s a small town. If you know one person, you probably know 10 people,” she said. “People always go home. You may not stay home for forever, but at some point in your life, you always go home, and I’m happy to be home.”