JJ Kelly a Southern Sensation
Sep 1, 2016
There aren’t many people who can say they got to experience what it was like to be a bride well before actually becoming a bride. But in 1958, that’s exactly what happened to Dorothy Tramontana, when she was chosen to reign as a young queen bride for one of New Orleans’ famous costume balls.
Looking at a number of photos that captured the event, anyone could mistake that evening for a real wedding, complete with all the details. Dorothy’s sheath silhouette of Chantilly lace, featuring long, pointed sleeves, a Sabrina neckline, and a royal cathedral train complemented her beauty perfectly and spoke to her innate sense of style.
Escorted by the handsome John Kelly, who would become her real husband four years later, the two enjoyed an unforgettable evening, playing bride and groom.
“Dressed as a bride, little did I know of the things to come,” Tramontana says.
The Beginning Of JJ Kelly Bridal... A
Long, Fruitful Career
In 1975, the now-married couple moved to Stillwater, Okla., and opened up a jewelry shop with a junior clothing line. But in noticing the area had no bridal salon, they spotted an opportunity to meet that local need. Encouraged by their clothing-industry contacts, they decided to give bridal a try, adding an official department in with their current mix.
So off to Dallas Market the Kellys went, officially entering into the bridal business in 1979. They quickly realized the demand was, in fact, very real.
“Bridal grows like bunnies when you close the store at night,” Dorothy says. “Everything just kind of took over and so we moved to a bigger location on Main Street in Stillwater and got rid of everything but bridal. Then we realized we wanted to move into a bigger market and so we opened a second store, J.J. Kelly Bridal, in Oklahoma City around 1983.”
It was a great strategic move, yet the Kellys learned that managing the two stores 60 miles apart wasn’t easy. They had four children, including a son, Patrick, and a daughter, Jane, who increasingly would become directly involved with the businesses over the years; today, they still serve in a vital leadership capacity.
So after approximately four years of running both stores, John and Dorothy decided to close the Stillwater shop altogether and consolidate everything to focus on J.J. Kelly Bridal Salon, their new flagship store in Oklahoma City. To their surprise, however, the market for this bridal business kept growing, so when the chance came up for them to move into a larger space in the same commercial building, the Kellys jumped.
They expanded their original J.J. Kelly Bridal storefront from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet of sheer bridal elegance, and currently sell the core categories of wedding wear here – bridal, bridesmaids, mothers, accessories, tuxedos, special occasion (including debutante and Holy Communion gowns), flower girls, and a unique brand of event-planning services provided by Jane under the name of “Jane Kelly Weddings & Parties.”
Bridal Industry Changes
Drive New Directions
That final, big move to the more spacious store was in 1995, and this is the locale that remains open and thrives today. Yet of note: it’s not been the sole source of bridal attire provided by this family since that major decision and last relocation.
“In the early 1990s, we heard the rumor that David’s Bridal was coming here,” says Patrick who, in addition to Jane, co-owns J.J. Kelly Bridal with his parents and co-manages the business with his sister. “So we decided to start an outlet store a few doors down from the main store. I was just graduating from college, and that’s what really got me into the wedding business. With this outlet store, the idea was to get great discontinued dresses and sell those at a moderate price point.”
As well, Jane had had an epiphany, realizing that it would be a smart business move to transform this family affair into one that offered more high-end couture price points, Dorothy says.
It took some years to do this, but the goal then and now is to cater to the luxury bride both in the store’s backyard and beyond, attracting customers from throughout Oklahoma and across the state lines, including Dallas, about a four-hour drive away.
As Jane tells it, her mother was always (and still is!) someone who dressed impeccably and had a high appreciation for finely made, high-quality beautiful clothes. Everything about the store needed to reflect that appreciation and her values in order to draw likeminded customers.
With its elegant ambiance and décor, the look and feel of the shop already spoke to this niche clientele – everything from the Wedgewood blue carpeting and moire-taffeta-covered walls to the 20-foot ceilings and equally tall three-way mirrors set the stage for utter glamour, making for a backdrop against which the high-end gowns really pop, Jane says.
“It’s beautifully and expensively done – and that’s been on purpose,” she says, “We are in this glamorous business, and I’m always amazed when I visit other bridal salons…which I try to do when I travel to other states. . . and some of these stores look great online but are not glamorous in person. We feel that when the bride is shopping, this is a red-carpet moment! We love the drama and the glamour of the wedding. . . that’s the romance of it all, and we love giving brides that experience.”
So no question about it, this clarification around the brand, evolving J.J. Kelly Bridal into a more upscale locale featuring high-end gowns while the outlet store addressed the moderate bride, was, in big part, in response to the economy and the advent of David’s Bridal.
“But then,” Patrick says, “we saw another location in a better part of town for this moderate market and opened a third store, which was also an outlet – we called it ‘Moliere Bridal.’ So although we briefly had three stores, we next consolidated the little one with Moliere, which I ran. That went well, but we decided to sell that store in 2009 and so that’s when I came onboard at J.J. Kelly.”
Other External Influences Factor Into Salon’s Decisions
Today, J.J. Kelly Bridal remains steadfast to its commitment to the luxury bride, even marketing itself under the slogan of “true love – true luxury.”
And yet, its owners never want to turn away an opportunity for helping all brides make their dreams come true so they purposefully carry a small offering of moderately priced gowns. It’s a strategy that they’ve come to know is important, too, particularly in a state that’s greatly impacted by one of the country’s biggest economic drivers.
“Oklahoma is an oil state,” Dorothy says. “So when everyone gets cheap gas prices, that’s great in terms of them filling up for less, but that’s less money for the gas business. It affects people in terms of losing jobs and cutting back on people.”
With about 10 percent of J.J. Kelly Bridal’s inventory and samples dedicated to the more modest price point, brides of more modest budgets can feel comfortable knowing they can have a bridal shopping experience here. And the owners of J.J. Kelly Bridal benefit, too, knowing they don’t have to turn anyone away.
“In the early 1990s, we did all high end but then we had this oil bust,” Dorothy says. “People were walking in with a $1,000 budget, then turning on their heels to walk out, and we just didn’t want to lose them, particularly when we knew we could carry a good quality dress for less. So we added it back in and that’s what we’ve been doing now for about five years.”
The key has been to learn from lessons over the years, remain proactive, and take corrective actions as well, keeping a close eye on inventory and not over-spending. And that’s where John has factored in on more than one occasion. Patrick says his father – who has been his mentor in running all the office and behind-the-scenes aspects of the business – has been the voice of reason, often playing skeptic in key decision-making times.
“Whenever we’ve gone to market and there’s been the temptation to overbuy, then there’s Dad to think about,” says Patrick, noting how John maintains the balance between spending and splurging for the business.
“He is always keeping everyone grounded. Inventory and payroll – those are the killers of all bridal salons,” Patrick says. “You have to watch out.”
Even today, J.J. Kelly Bridal weeds overgrown inventory by consigning out slow sellers and other styles that can free up space for incoming and stronger gowns. And when economic times get testier, the business owners may opt to hold off on hiring additional staff, sticking with just their family members and in-house alternations staff to ensure a sound bottom line. It’s a bit more work for everyone and they spend more time together, but that’s OK. Fortunately, they love working alongside one another – a factor that’s supported the legacy of the store and multiple decades of its success.
“A lot of bridal salons die off the vine because the kids don’t want to carry on with the business,” Patrick says. “It’s been a natural fit for me and Jane. We like being around our parents and working together with them. We’re odd in that way! Mom still has dinner for us every Wednesday night at her house and on Saturdays, we close the shop early to go to church after work together. At one point, we literally changed our hours to close at 4 p.m. because church is at 5 p.m. We like to go light candles together and say, ‘Get us through the season, Lord.’”
Extraordinary Experiences Where Love, Luxury Intersect
The prayers may just have helped over the years because in spite of economic factors, threats like David’s Bridal, and other external changes, J.J. Kelly Bridal is still doing well.
But the store’s success is no doubt in part to the creativity and hard work of this family. For example, while maintaining a strong hold on the luxury market and meeting the needs of a smaller market of brides with more conservative budgets, J.J. Kelly Bridal has spent the past few years reinforcing its commitment to stellar service through a number of innovative strategies that really speak to modern brides.
For starters, the business has identified that today’s bride wants a seamless, hassle-free experience that starts the moment she inquires about the salon’s services and begins booking her appointments. Responding to that, Jane came up with the idea – and then Patrick worked with software developers – to create a unique technology called “IDoAppointments.com®” through which brides can book not just appointments at the store but other preferred wedding professionals, as well.
The beauty of the software isn’t just that appointments are booked but it syncs with customers’ calendars and other preferred technologies, too. Customers get multiple reminders of their appointments via text messages and e-mails, plus contact information (of course, highlighted in their signature color “blue”) that enables greater access to Patrick should there be any questions about the appointments or upcoming experience overall. The service is free and easy for brides to use.
“Brides like interaction whether we’re actually saying anything to them or not,” Patrick says. “So this creates interaction, gives them reassurance, and adds to the ‘Wow’ factor because it’s not static, like some form that’s on a webpage where you go to book and that’s it. We respond to them, remind them multiple times of their appointments, and if they have to make changes or want to ask a question, they can contact us at the touch of button, even from their bed at night, when they’re in their pajamas and their slippers.”
In addition to this interactive appointment-booking service, the Kellys have developed other ways to wow their brides. For example, they’ve changed up how they approach trunk shows, building in a luxurious breakfast event, working with preferred wedding professionals (florist, photographer, caterer, etc.) and going all out to truly make trunk shows a special experience – an event that takes place on Saturday mornings before the store opens for regular business.
“We recently invited two local fashion and beauty bloggers – The Double Take Girls – who are just amazing, and I also invited my friend, Ann Lacy, this elderly lady who is a fashion icon around here. The local magazine came and vendors gave away little things to everyone. . . we had a gift bag for everyone. It was a lot of fun!”
From this most recent experience, Jane has really noticed the power of bloggers, and other social-media influencers over business today, particularly in terms of providing valuable information to current and potential brides and sharing important news about J.J. Kelly Bridal. In response, she is changing up her marketing approach to include this growing trend and will, of course, be keeping her local favorites, The Double Take Twins, in mind.
In addition, recognizing that for some of today’s brides, luxury means having a more intimate, highly personalized shopping experience when choosing a gown, J.J. Kelly Bridal now offers private appointments twice a week. During these “Blue Carpet Appointments,” which run about three hours, J.J. Kelly Bridal closes to all other customers and puts its full attention on this appointment only.
For just under $300, the customer may invite up to 10 of her friends and then enjoy champagne/mimosas + treats in-house, a complimentary gift bag full of goodies from the store’s preferred wedding professionals, a table spread featuring her wedding’s color palette, and the add-on option for limousine transportation. Brides who commit to a gown during that appointment are rewarded with a $100 voucher toward the gown.
“It’s really caught on because there is that customer who doesn’t want to shop with everyone else in the store,” Jane says. “Every bride we’ve done this for loves it, and both the high-end bride and every kind of bride love this.”
But Blue Carpet Appointments aside. . . regardless of whether a bride books privately or during regular store hours…at this Oklahoma City store, all brides who say “yes” to the dress receive a champagne toast in J.J. Kelly Bridal style.
“We pop the cork and do a celebration,” Jane says.
But that’s not all: In spite of the fact that her dress must be special ordered, no bride leaves empty handed – as if something major is missing or left behind after all that personalized attention, pomp and glamour. When they walk out the door, they take with them a keepsake, reminding them of their friends at J.J. Kelly Bridal and all that is soon to come.
“Every bride of ours gets this beautiful Swarovski crystal heart necklace, and they just love it,” Dorothy says
“It’s our way of giving them a piece of our love,” Jane adds quickly.
The little memento speaks volumes. Wearing it out and about, showing it to friends and family or simply touching it about the nape of the neck, knowing it’s there, these brides know they’ve become a true “J.J. Kelly Bride.” And this in and of itself becomes its own luxury.
“We tell our brides,” Dorothy says, “‘You can’t leave with our dress until it gets here, but you can leave with our heart. You are in our heart.’ After all, this experience is about love. . . that’s what this moment is all about. It’s what we are all about.”
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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Shannon Hurd, Managing Editor, oversees the editorial content and direction of VOWS and its platforms. She writes on Social Media and the intersection of bridal business and life. Shannon's recent blog posts are below.
How to hook a repeat customer in three easy steps.
Peter Grimes, Publisher and founder of VOWS Magazine. His comments are presented in each issue's Publisher's Note, and often address industry issues and pertinent news of the day. He can be reached at 949 388 4848 or via email
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