A business plan?
    “Never had one,” Caroline Berend says.

    A background in bridal or fashion?
    “No,” she shrugs.

    What about a wayward gown-shopping experience that propelled bridal retail ambitions?
    “Nope,” Berend says.

   So, how did a woman with no business plan and no burning desire to own a bridal shop come to open the Bridal Boutique in an unassuming north Texas town three decades ago, guide the operation’s ascent into one of the Lone Star State’s premier salons and successfully hand it off to her two daughters, Carrie Magliaro and Amy Hidalgo, for future safekeeping?
    “Well,” Berend begins, “it kind of just happened.”
    To be certain, Berend’s statement arrives with a touch of modesty, as numerous shrewd decisions over the years coupled with an unrelenting customer-centric environment have propelled the Bridal Boutique’s rise.
Entering the bridal retail ranks
    Here’s the backstory: with Magliaro and Hidalgo settling into primary school as youngsters during the Bush I presidency, Berend operated a small antiques booth in downtown Lewisville, Texas. A neighboring business owner ran a bridal boutique, providing flowers and catering to knot-tying couples as well as a piece of unsolicited advice to Berend.
    “She told me she regularly received calls from local women asking her if she sold wedding gowns, and as Lewisville didn’t have a wedding dress shop at that time, she encouraged me to look into opening one,” Berend recalls. Intrigued by the entrepreneurial idea, Berend learned that the Dallas bridal market was approaching. She committed to attending – an exploratory journey, she told herself.
    The exploration, however, spurred colonization. Soon after leaving the event, Berend maxed out her credit cards to secure $20,000 worth of wedding dresses, leased a 2,500-square-foot space in downtown Lewisville for $500 a month and launched Bridal Boutique.
    “I’d love to say there was some grand plan or some momentous revelation, but there really wasn’t,” Berend says on a December afternoon from the Bridal Boutique. “It all fell together. I went to market and said, ‘I can do this.’ I came back, got it going and here we are 30 years later and bigger than I ever dreamed.”
    Among Berend’s most important early moves was her 1995 decision to become her own landlord. After five years of renting a second-story space in downtown Lewisville, Berend purchased a nearby 1,400-square-foot storefront for Bridal Boutique, a forward-thinking diversification play for her upstart business.
    “We saw value in owning, not renting,” Berend confirms.
    Despite its modest size, the Bridal Boutique never wanted for traffic, even though Berend’s principal advertising was a dollar-bill sized ad in the Yellow Pages that cost her about 1,500 real dollar bills. On a typical Saturday, the store’s five dressing rooms were filled every hour of the day.
    “Dresses were everywhere,” Berend says of the dressing room area, but also her showroom. “We always bought way too much inventory, but people loved it.”
    The steady traffic and strong sales numbers, however, did not guarantee stability.
    “Honestly, we just scraped by even though we had a lot of business because you can only sell so much out of 1,400 square feet,” Berend says. “We struggled for a good 15 years, persevering when most would go out of business.”

Key turning points
    That brings us to 2005, one year shy of the Bridal Boutique’s Sweet Sixteen. That year, Berend temporarily leased space in the historic Masonic Temple building in downtown Lewisville for a sample sale. The added space inspired visions of a move.
    “I knew we needed to have this building for ourselves,” Berend says of the Masonic Temple constructed in 1906.
    She discussed a potential sale with the owner, who elected to finance the sale for Berend himself. Berend then renovated the two-story, 5,500-square-foot space, one that had previously housed a company that made molds for teeth. The nearly four-fold increase in space enabled the Bridal Boutique to better showcase its robust collection of inventory and, even more, accommodate increased traffic, a recipe for success given the store’s steady marketplace reputation and Lewisville’s surging growth as a Dallas suburb.
    “That was a big turning point for us,” Berend says of her second relocation. “We’ve always had way too much inventory, but it’s having those different looks and styles that bring people in.”
    The business enjoyed another significant bump when Hidalgo and Magliaro joined their mother at the boutique full-time. Hidalgo, whose kindergarten school bus dropped her off at the original Bridal Boutique, came on board in 2009 after selling insurance for a year out of college, while Magliaro entered the fray in 2012 after teaching home economics for five years. While both sisters wear many hats, Hidalgo largely oversees the boutique’s marketing and HR duties, while Magliaro directs many of the company’s back-office functions.
    “When the girls came on board here, that’s when it really started to go bonkers,” Berend says, adding that her daughters’ connections, ideas and youthful energy added fuel to the Bridal Boutique’s accelerating pace.
    In 2012, Berend purchased an adjacent 2,500-square-foot space, breaking a hole in the wall and bringing Bridal Boutique to its current 8,000-square-foot footprint. The expansion allowed for a reception lobby and facilitated a thoughtful redesign of the layout to improve flow.
    “Before, you’d walk in and the dresses would be right in your face,” Hidalgo says. “[The expansion] enabled us to provide a better shopping experience.”
    Two years later, Berend enlarged her real estate portfolio yet again and positioned the Bridal Boutique to further refine its showroom when she purchased and then renovated a freestanding 5,000-square-foot commercial space in downtown Lewisville. Mothers and bridesmaids moved to the new storefront alongside sale gowns and discontinued bridal dresses, giving birth to a sister store called Beside the Bride.
    “Up until this purchase, we had all of our colored goods upstairs,” Hidalgo explains. “When we got this building, it allowed us to focus the entire 8,000-square-foot Bridal Boutique solely on bridal.”

Cementing its status
    Over the last decade, the Bridal Boutique has continued to perfect its systems, elevate its service model and strengthen its brand to ensure a future every bit as energized as its past.
    As has been the case from the start, the Bridal Boutique continues to favor a robust inventory. The store features more than 1,000 sample dresses from 21 different bridal lines – gowns in the $1,300-$1,600 price range reside on the store’s second floor while those priced above $1,600 consume the main level – and the Bridal Boutique’s leadership trio prioritizes exclusivity to maintain a competitive edge in a Dallas-Fort Worth marketplace that boasts some 40 wedding gown shops.
    “It’s not unusual to have people fly into Dallas to visit our store,” Magliaro says, adding that the Bridal Boutique got a jumpstart on its peers by establishing partnerships with up-and-coming designers such as Berta before they emerged household names.
    Adds Berend of her daughters: “When we go to market, they’re tuned into the trends and what’s working with our brides. That’s an incredible asset.”
    Beyond a diverse assortment of inventory, the store, which is adorned with pink walls, pockets of exposed brick and wide-plank hardwood flooring, is also singularly focused on delivering a rich customer experience. It begins with two-hour appointments directed by uber-attentive staff – these position the Bridal Boutique to capture discerning brides who do not want a hurried affair – and extends to rather private bridal rooms that drive a more intimate experience.
    “Our brides aren’t sharing mirrors and are rather secluded and separated from one another,” Hidalgo says. Any bride who buys from the store, meanwhile, automatically receives perks that include a t-shirt, a tote bag, two complimentary gown pressings, a breathable garment bag and continuous access to their stylist.
    “Our girls don’t leave here empty handed,” Hidalgo says. “We think it’s important to send them home with something tangible.” In addition, the Bridal Boutique feeds business to its sister store, Beside the Bride, by offering its brides a 15-percent discount on bridesmaids’ dresses alongside a 10-percent reduction on mothers’ dresses.
    “We know what we’re doing and are very organized and focused on our brides’ experience,” Magliaro says. “From how our brides are greeted and styled to our merchandising and staff education, we are specific and picky about this because that’s the way to ensure our brides have a magical experience.”
    The store’s nearly 15,000-follower Instagram feed highlights the Bridal Boutique’s successful reach as it is peppered with photos of #BBbrides on their wedding day. Social media, Hidalgo says, has only intensified the store’s marketplace positioning as well as brides’ insistence on visiting the Bridal Boutique when they hunt for their wedding gown.
    “Word of mouth is huge for us and brides often tell us they cannot buy a dress until they come here,” Hidalgo says.

Charging into the future
    The Bridal Boutique’s 30-year run of serving brides in a professional, friendly environment is now bringing a second generation of brides through its doors. Mothers who purchased from the Bridal Boutique in the 1990s are now visiting the store with their bride-to-be daughters in tow.
    “We’ve even started to take pictures of these moms and daughters,” Magliaro says of the growing customer category.
    Such photos recognize the Bridal Boutique’s past, but also serve to motivate a commitment to its future and ignite a drive for continuous improvement. Magliaro and Hidalgo, the second-generation stewards of the family-owned business, insist that the Bridal Boutique will adapt and evolve, consistently pushing to be the best version of itself. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the store to close for 36 days this spring, for instance, the store did not sit dark. Floors were refinished; inventory was streamlined; and staff attended special training sessions.
    “And when we opened back up on May 1, we were busier than ever,” Magliaro says.
    Moving into 2021, Hidalgo calls “trimming the fat” a central focus. That means stocking the right dresses, investing in servant-minded staff and sharpening social-media efforts.
    “That’s where the bride is these days and we want to be there and be prominent,” Hidalgo says. And while Berend has largely ceded control of the business to her daughters, she nevertheless expresses her own hopes for the future, including the potential purchase of another adjacent building that would enable further expansion.
    “We’re out of space already,” Berend says, confident that another expansion, much as it did in 2005, would amplify sales.
    For a business launched with neither a strategic plan nor a longing for bridal retail, that would add yet another chapter to the Bridal Boutique’s spirited narrative.
    “It’s wild to think what this has all become,” Berend says.

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Photo Credit: Lovellfaye Photography, www.lovellfaye.co, and Brandi Allyse Photography