Bridal And Formal Boutique & House of Tux: A Balancing Act

Customers are greeted by huge antique fireproof doors suspended from a custom-built structure that uses an old I-beam salvaged from construction demolition.
Customers are greeted by huge antique fireproof doors suspended from a custom-built structure that uses an old I-beam salvaged from construction demolition.
Owners Chavus and Adrian Holland.  James Edward Bates Photography
Owners Chavus and Adrian Holland. James Edward Bates Photography
Photo Credit: James Edward Bates Photography
Photo Credit: James Edward Bates Photography
Boozer’s Brew offers customers literal and figurative perks.
Boozer’s Brew offers customers literal and figurative perks.
The custom Mack truck counter is a huge hit in the tuxedo department.
The custom Mack truck counter is a huge hit in the tuxedo department.

Most bridal salon owners have their hands full operating one successful small business. Adrian Holland, however, juggles five.
    First, there is her bread and butter: Bridal and Formal Boutique/House of Tux, a 12,000-square-foot full-service operation located in Gulfport, Miss. Under the same roof, shoppers also find designer consignment boutique Back on the Rack Upscale Resale, which occupies an additional 2,000 square feet and often helps close a prom or Mardi Gras sale.
    On top of that, there is the attached 850-square-foot space Holland leases to a coffee shop (a literal and figurative perk for customers!); her first-ever Back on the Rack franchise in Fairhope, Ala.; and the newest venture: custom fixtures her husband, Chavus, a welder by trade, designed specifically for the store. The fixtures weren’t intended to be a business but due to customers’ overwhelmingly positive reactions, the couple plans to start putting price tags on them and replacing as they sell.
    In a nutshell, Holland, also a mother of three, is adept at spotting and capitalizing on new opportunities. Her businesses are separate entities and yet in some way they all complement each other. This intertwined approach, coupled with her strong faith, is key to the 35-year-old entrepreneur’s impressive success. And after nearly 20 years in the business, she isn’t slowing down.
    “I don’t know why we can’t just settle for what we’ve got; it’s always churning in our heads how we can do things better,” she says. “Someday I’d love to own a whole block and have cake shops, florists, and Back on the Rack in its own building. We have big goals and dreams!”

Opportunity Knocks
    Holland’s foray into the bridal world began at 16 when the self-described “goody two-shoes” went prom dress shopping with her younger sister, Brandy.
    Holland made a comment to the consultant that the salon, opened in 1984 by Martha and Jimmy Hollingsworth, would be a fun place to work. She was handed an application.
    This was 1998. What followed was eight years of Holland working part-time at the bridal shop while also finishing high school, taking two years of drafting at a community college, and working several additional jobs.
    “It didn’t take long for me to realize what I was good at,” she says. “I really enjoyed making connections with people. That seems to be my strong suit when it comes to selling….I believe it’s a gift you’re born with.”
    Although a natural at the salon, Holland never intended to take over the business. In fact, she didn’t even realize that was a possibility until 2006, when the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself.
    First, a girl she had grown up working with – four years older, favored by the boss, and a more likely candidate to eventually take over – was tragically diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. She passed away just over a year later.
    Then, there was the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the area and ripped off the salon’s roof, destroying all bridal gowns. The owner kept Holland on payroll while the store closed for eight weeks for repairs. However, something crucial in her perspective had shifted.
    “She believed the store wouldn’t come back to fruition (after Katrina); my husband and I saw it differently,” Holland says. “I think I was naïve because I was so young. It didn’t scare me. In my eyes it was essentially a fresh start!”
    So nine months after Katrina, Holland, now 23 and a newlywed with a one-and-a-half-year-old son, accepted an offer to purchase the business. She and her husband second-mortgaged their home for the down payment, jumping in wholeheartedly.
    “I was so excited to realize I could be my own boss,” she says. “That meant I could make my own hours, do what I want to!”
    Of course, going into business for oneself is rarely a fairy tale. During the first month of ownership, Holland tried to give the salon back.
    “I was scared to death,” she recalls. “Bills started coming in and (standard run-of-mill) customer problems began occurring. I didn’t know how to deal with them.”
    For assistance, she recalled advice the previous owner had given: take every situation and figure out the worst thing that could happen. Then you’ll know how to handle it.
    “This helped me to think quicker and stress less,” she says. “Instead of analyzing stuff and worrying about money or someone yelling it brought comfort because as long as there’s a solution – and there’s always a solution – it’s good.”
    Her nerves settled, Holland and her husband set about the long, exhausting task of rebranding the dated business and upgrading its 60-plus-year-old building.
    It seemed like every month she was either remodeling something, throwing away stagnant inventory, tearing out walls, buying new designers, or recording TV and radio commercials in attempt to establish a personal connection with potential customers.
    “I was fearless,” she says. “It didn’t scare me to try new things. I was given creative freedom to do whatever – the business was mine!”
    And it worked, too: Under the Hollands’ ownership, the store, which prides itself on providing superior customer service and excellent selection, broke all previous records that first year. This early success allowed the couple to pay off their loan within 12 months.

A Balancing Act
    One of the most unique aspects of Bridal and Formal Boutique/House of Tux today is the fact multiple complementary businesses co-exist under one roof.
    This began in 2013 when Holland, whose then seven-year-old bridal business was booming, noticed a need in the area for fabulous second-hand gowns and a consignment store. Ever the entrepreneurs, she and her husband wanted to be the ones to create it.
    So on June 5, 2013, Back on the Rack Upscale Retail opened three miles away from the bridal shop in a leased space. Holland, who firmly believes an owner must be active in her business and set an example for employees, would go back and forth between the two, working both stores.
    Back on the Rack, which specializes in second-hand formals/ cocktails, upscale ready to wear and high-end handbags by designers such as Louis Vuitton and Prada, was an instant success.
    “If you did not know it was consignment, you would just think it was a really cute boutique,” Holland says. “There was a clientele that could not afford the brand-new gowns and I really wanted them to have the same experience.”
    In fact both businesses were doing so well that the Hollands quickly outgrew their original location.
    Not everything was wonderful however. In 2011, a bride was killed by a drunk driver in the store’s parking lot (see Most Memorable Moment pg.181).
    Devastated and struggling to understand why, Holland met with someone from a nearby church. They prayed for Holland’s salvation – and the experience caused a permanent shift in her perspective.  
    “It’s not an instant thing by any means,” she says. “I’m definitely not perfect and still a work in progress. But (being saved) changes you on the inside, and you start to view things differently.”
    Specifically, the fear Holland used to experience over many things seemed to disappear.
    “Faith has a way of giving you peace about every aspect in your life,” she says. “We took chances, prayed for direction. It works that way for us.”
    One of those directions involved finding a new home for the booming businesses. Last year the Hollands purchased a dilapidated warehouse two blocks west of their old store, and began the daunting task of revitalizing it into their dream store. After six months, their contractor handed over the keys in December 2016.
    Today, Bridal and Formal Boutique/House of Tux features 12,000 square feet devoted to the bridal shop, which has a large, open industrial-chic feel decorated with custom-designed fixtures. It also includes a tuxedo area that feels more like a man cave and separate full-service alteration department.
    Back on the Rack, occupying an additional 2,000 square feet, is located on the right-hand side of the building with no physical barrier separating the two.
    The businesses complement each other nicely, with 90 percent of customers visiting both.
    Additionally, even though each store has its own staff, employees are trained to give complete tours so customers can see everything that’s available.
    Holland says Back on the Rack helps to combat girls selling dresses on social media. As well offering consignment on high-end formal wear definitely helps close many prom or Mardi Gras sales.
    When a mom is debating whether to buy her daughter a $1,200 gown, for example, employees will highlight the fact worn gowns can be brought back after they’re dry cleaned and consigned for about a 25-percent return.
    “Most people buy based on that theory although it’s so funny - more times than not they fall in love with gown and do not get rid of it,” she says, estimating only about a quarter of girls bring dresses back.
    Another benefit to having both businesses under one roof is counterbalancing busy seasons: Typically December is slow for bridal but slammed for Back on the Rack.
    “This creates opportunity for us to obtain new clientele and still get customer flow,” Holland says. “We introduce ourselves to an entirely new customer, show them what we have to offer, and hopefully sell them something while they’re there. It works extremely well.”

And Then
There Were Five
    It had always been part of the Hollands’ plan to have a café or coffee shop attached to their bridal store, not only to help pay the mortgage on the new building but also due to ambiance.
    That dream materialized on Dec 4, 2016, when Boozer’s Brew opened its doors. The 850-square-foot coffee shop/café, owned by local entrepreneurs, leases its space from the Hollands. Boozers is attached to the bridal building but also self-contained (so the smell doesn’t get into gowns), featuring a separate entrance, drive thru and second entrance from the store.
    The café is helpful in many ways, Holland says, that extend beyond mortgage assistance.
    “It creates a sort of mood,” she says. “Often we have customers that want to think about a dress while they go to lunch. So we can say, ‘hey we have a café in back.’”
    In fact, consultants have authority to pay for customers’ orders out of the store’s account if need be. And coffee is allowed into the bridal store during appointments, something Holland says hasn’t been an issue largely due to closed bridal inventory and large bridal suites.
    Another perk: customers who buy from either store can show their receipt same day and receive a 10-percent discount at Boozers, which has a growing clientele.
    “It’s a perfect complement to an already sensational shopping experience,” Holland says. “We think it was a pretty brilliant idea!”
    Speaking of brilliant ideas, not only did the first Back on the Rack franchise open in Fairhope, Ala., in July 2015 (“That owner is more successful with her location than we are with ours!” Holland says), but her husband’s custom-designed fixtures have created quite the rage.
    They include a purse cage used to lock up designer handbags; huge antique fireproof doors suspended from a structure salvaged from construction demolition; and a custom Mack truck counter for the tuxedo department
    “The displays are very unique and men love to look at them,” Holland says. “When they come shopping with their wives, it’s all they do!”
    The fixtures receive so much attention, in fact, that the Hollands have decided to start hanging price tags off them and replacing as they sell. This newest side venture is a way for Chavus, who gave up his welding business to work mostly behind the scenes at the bridal store when it started taking off, to showcase his creative talents.
    He’s also credited with one of the store’s main attractions: a doorbell in the bridal area that plays “Going to the Chapel.” Brides ring it after saying “Yes” to the dress, and everyone in the store can hear.
    “It’s really cool to watch and unique,” Holland says. “My husband is amazing!”

Never Stop Growing
    As Bridal and Formal Boutique/House of Tux celebrates more than two decades in business – and its ambitious owners contemplate future growth – there’s something Holland wants people to understand.
    “(Running multiple business) may look like its glamorous all the time, but it’s not,” she says. “We have the same struggles as any other small business.”
    One of those challenges, she says, is employees. She’s been blessed with great people, but training is very time-consuming.
    “Also it’s hard to get them to understand how you want your customers talked to and treated,” she says. “You can require them to look or dress a certain way but at end of the day you can only fix so much.”
    Additionally, while Holland is a believer in the “treat people how you want to be treated” mentality her mother taught her, it’s been difficult to accept that in the bridal world, that’s not always the case.
    “Even though I go above and beyond for everyone people can still be nasty,” she says. “I try not to let it dampen my spirit or make me bitter. It’s tough (when people aren’t nice) because you work in such a happy place!”
    That said, challenges exist in any business and these are minor blips on another wise very successful, happy radar. Holland, who works in the store 5-6 days a week like a regular consultant, loves helping people and building relationships with customers.
    Behind the scenes, she will continue working hard, planning for the future and relying on her strong faith. Professionally, she’d love to pay off their new mortgage in 10 years; personally she’s striving to read more. This balancing act – of businesses, family and life - requires hard work and continuous dedication, but that’s something the ambitious entrepreneur thrives on.
    “You get what you put in,” she says. “If you invest the time, it pays off.”

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Previous Retail Standouts

For over 25 years, VOWS magazine has had the privilege of profiling some of the finest bridal salons in North America. What follows is a sampling of those salons gracing our pages, listed in alpha order:

Anderson’s Bride, Anchorage, Ak. www.andersonsbride.com

Angelique’s Bridal Salon, Blaine, Minn. www.angeliquesbridalsalon.com

Anjolique Bridal & Formal, Huntersville, N.C. anjolique-bridal.com

Arlene’s Bridal Salon, Bloomfield, N.J. www.arlenesbridals.com

Azteca Bridal, Phoenix, Ariz. www.azbride.com

Beautiful Weddings, Missoula, Mon. www.beautifulweddingsbridal.com

Becker’s Bridal, Fowler, Mich www.beckersbridal.com

Bella Sera Bridal & Occasion, Danvers, MA www.bellaserabride.com

Betsy Robinson's Bridal, Pikesville, MD  www.betsyrobinson.com

Brickhouse Bridal, The Woodlands, Texas www.brickhousebridal.com

Bridal and Formal Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio www.bridalandformalinc.com

Bridal Garden, Marlton, N.J. www.bridal-garden.com

Bridal Reflections, Massapequa, N.Y. www.bridalreflections.com

Bridal Superstore by Posie Patch, Indianapolis, Ind. www.posiepatchbridalsuperstores.com

Bridal Trousseau, Branford, Conn. www.bridal-trousseau.net

Bridal Warehouse, Elizabethtown, Ky www.usabridal.com

Bridals by Lori, Atlanta, GA www.bridalsbylori.com

Carlisle’s of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa. www.bridalwear.com

Catan Fashions, Strongsville, Ohio www.catanfashions.com

Champagne & Lace, Abbotsford, B.C. champagneandlace.com

Charlotte’s Weddings & More, Portland, Ore. www.charlottesweddings.com

Chic Parisien, Coral Gables, Fla. www.cpbride.com

d’Anelli Bridal, Lakewood, Colo. www.coloradobridal.com

Deborah’s Bridal, Upland, Calif. www.deborahsbridal.com

Doreen Leaf Designs, Hartville, Ohio www.doreenleafdesigns.com

Elegant Occasions, Wausau, WI www.elegantoccasions.net

Elizabeth’s Bridal Manor, Northville, Mich. www.elizabethsbridal.com

Emmy’s Bridal, Minster, Ohio emmysbridal.com

Fiancée Bridal, Minot, N.D. fianceebridal.com

I Do Bridal, Seattle, Wash. idobridal.com

Imaginations Bridal, Brookhaven, Miss. www.imaginationsbridal.com

J&B Bridal, Chambersburg, Pa. www.jbbridals.com

Jay West, Haddonfield, N.J. www.jaywestbridal.com

Jessica’s Bridal & Formal, Bay, Ark. www.jessicasbridal.net

JJ Kelly Bridal, Oklahoma City, OK www.jjkellybridal.com

Kleinfeld, New York, N.Y. www.kleinfeldbridal.com

Little White Dress, Denver, CO www.lwdbridal.com

Low’s Bridal & Formal, Brinkley, Ark. lowsbridal.com

Mariella Creations, Rocky Hill, Ct. www.mariellacreations.com

Mark Ingram Atelier, New York, N.Y. markingramatelier.com

MB Bride & Special Occasion, Greensburg, Pa. www.mbbride.com

Mestad’s Bridal & Formalwear, Rochester, Minn. www.mestads.com

Mon Amie Bridal Salon, Costa Mesa, Calif. www.monamie.com

Poffie Girls Bridals & Formals, Gastonia, N.C. www.poffiegirls.com

Prevue Bridal & Formal, San Diego, Calif. prevueformalandbridal.com

Rebecca’s Wedding Boutique, Louisville, Ky. www.rebeccasweddings.com

Special Memories, Leadington, Mo. www.specialmemories.com

Terry Costa, North Dallas, Texas www.terrycosta.com

The Bridal Centre, Calgary, AB, Canada www.bridalcentre.com

The Bridal Collection, Centennial, Colo.www.thebridalcollection.com 

The Bridal Path, Jackson, Miss. www.bridalpathinc.com

The Plumed Serpent, Westport, Conn. plumedserpentbridal.com

The Gilded Gown, Knoxville, Tenn. www.thegildedgown.com

The Wedding Tree, La Crosse, Wis. www.theweddingtree.com

TJ Formal Profiled: Joplin, Mo. www.tjformal.com

Uptown Bridal & Boutique Chandler, Ariz. uptownbrides.com

Vera’s House of Bridals   Madison, Wis. www.verasbridals.com

Wedding Belles Stevensville, Mich. www.weddingbellesbridalsalon.com

Wedding Shoppe Inc. St. Paul, Minn. www.weddingshoppeinc.com

Wedding Wonderland Knoxville, Tenn. www.wedding-wonderland.com

Weddings by Debbie Katy, Texas www.weddingsbydebbie.com

Wishing Well Bridal East Providence, R.I. www.wishingwellbridal.com

 

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