Many entrepreneurs fondly remember customers whose word-of-mouth recommendations helped launch their businesses. For Laurel Robertson, who, with her husband, Terence, opened The Bridal Suite of Louisville four years ago, that spectacular shopper was one Sarah Jones.
“She was my very first bride; she asked me to find the perfect wedding dress for her before we even opened the store,” Robertson said. “I know of 25 other brides who have shopped here since then because of her. What a tremendous boost that has been!”
A young woman with a self-described “love and passion for fashion,” Robertson entered the bridal business almost by accident. A New Jersey native, she worked for about 10 years as a clothing designer in New York City; but after she and Terence married in 1996, her commute to and from the city became too time-consuming.
“One day, I saw an ad that said ‘Bridal sales help needed,’ and I applied,” she said. “I fell in love with the business because it came naturally to me.” By the time she and Terence moved to Louisville, his hometown, six years ago, she had become the manager of one of the largest privately-owned bridal shops in the Garden State.
Laurel has spent the past four years building The Bridal Suite’s reputation as a go-to place for wedding gowns that are, to her eye, works of art.
“I’m constantly amazed by what the designers create,” she said. “I love the fabrics and working with brides to help them find just the right silhouettes for their bodies. You can put the same dress on 10 brides and they’ll look 10 different ways. It’s fun helping guide them toward the right gown for their dream and their venue.”
With apparel and accessories available in a wide range of prices, The Bridal Suite is Louisville’s exclusive retailer for designers such as Essence of Australia, Martina Liana and Ella Bridals.
“I like to carry designers that aren’t saturated in this market. I do carry a lot of quality, which is probably my biggest thing. I’ve been called The Fabric Snob and The Quality Snob, and that’s by my own sales reps,” Robertson said, laughing. “I’m cool with that.”
The Bridal Suite has several hundred gowns at any given time, from light chiffon and organza styles for spring weddings, to rich satins that seem to glow near a wintry fireplace; using them as samples, Laurel and her staff order custom-cut versions for their customers. Delivery may take six to 12 months.
One thing most Louisville brides aren’t special-ordering, however, is a copy of the gown worn by Kate Middleton during her wedding ceremony to Prince William.
“The day after their wedding, all the manufacturers slammed me with e-mail pictures of their versions of her gown. They said, ‘We’ve got this look covered for you,’ ” Robertson said. “So far, no one has asked us for it. It’s not a mainstream trend, and not every figure can carry it. Around here, girls usually go strapless – a lot of girls look amazing in it. Raw silk is very popular here, including light shades of pink or blue. I love it that girls here are willing to think outside the box; that creativity makes this more fun for us.”
Brides-to-be usually bring in magazine photos; but in the end, Robertson reported, they almost always go with gowns that are quite different.
“I advise them not to limit themselves to what they see in pictures – they really have to try gowns on,” she said. “What they end up liking may be totally opposite from what they thought they wanted. We love that moment when they see themselves in exactly the right gown. Happy tears are the best kind.”
The Bridal Suite, at 9948 Linn Station Road, is open Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed on Sunday and Monday.
For information, call 502.244.2909 or visit www.thebridalsuiteoflouisville.com.
photos by MARY ALAN WOODWARD | contributing photographer
Category: Business Profile