Danelle Meyerle worked as a marriage and family therapist in the mental health field for 17 years.
    Toward the end of that career, during which Meyerle counseled families and adolescents as well as worked in upper management, she began feeling “really burned out” from the heavy load and decided she needed a change.
    She wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do but knew she’d always been interested in fashion. Her aunt and uncle had worked in LA’s Garment District and their career as daywear reps fascinated her, with its beautiful samples and captivating stories. As well, Meyerle’s mother had always been “a real fashion plate dressed to the nines.” And after talking with family and friends, Meyerle realized that opening a bridal store peaked her interest.
    “I really needed something on the lighter side,” she says. “I love family dynamics and working with people but I wanted something that felt easier and lighter. Bridal clearly popped out to me because I could still work with families, only helping them during a happy time.”
    But it wasn’t just any bridal store Meyerle was interested in opening – it was a salon catering to plus-size brides. Throughout the year she had spent conducting market research, she realized there was nothing out there specifically for the “average bride” – who, at an approximate size 14, is considered plus size.
    “The only couple of stores I could find that specialized in plus sizes were franchises, which was not for me because I’ve always been a bit of a rebel,” she says.
    Additionally, the issues that larger women face are something Meyerle is very sensitive to. Not only does she have family members who have struggled with weight and body image issues, but so had a lot of the families she worked with. And even though Meyerle describes herself as “pretty average” in stature, she admits it has always been a struggle for her to maintain a healthy size.
    The deciding factor came when, during interviews she conducted as part of her market research, Meyerle heard personal stories about larger brides who were so uncomfortable dress shopping that they’d have friends try on wedding gowns for them or even blindly order a dress and hope it would fit.
    “That just really pulled on my heart strings,” she says.
    Determined to change that by creating a shopping oasis for larger brides, Meyerle jumped headfirst into her new career. And in the 14 years since she opened her store she’s experienced many successes and memorable moments  – including one lesson that’s really surprised her.
    “I had no idea my mental health training would come in so handy,” she says, laughing. “But it’s been an amazing advantage, more than I could have imagined.”

Starting Small, Thinking Big;
Adding Niches As Necessary
    When Danelle’s Lingerie and Bridal Boutique first opened its doors in 2001, the 2,500-square-foot salon carried bridal attire as well as undergarments and “wonderful sexy evening negligees” for the honeymoon. Everything was in sizes 14-32.
    And although the niche “really was a hit at first” fairly quickly Meyerle realized a flaw in her business plan.
    “We were turning away so many smaller-sized brides who would refuse to try on stuff,” she says. “I felt we were losing too much business.”
    So, after two seasons, Meyerle decided to expand her offerings and bring in all sizes to the salon. However she kept her marketing focused around her core niche: plus sizes.
    “Actually I don’t like the term ‘plus-size’ so we prefer to use ‘average size’,” she says.
    Additionally, Meyerle’s husband of 19 years, Ron, whom she met through friends at a party, liked the idea of expanding with tuxedos. So they purchased Tuxedo Junction, bringing that inventory into their store. Ron, a field engineer for Kodak, kept his job while also managing this aspect of the business.
    “He’s been my strength and rock through all these years,” Meyerle says. “We’re partners in business and in life.”
    These inventory changes caused business to boom, and the initial store underwent four expansions. The final move into their current location wasn’t driven so much by a need for space as it was a desire to improve their surroundings.
    “Our lease was nearly up and we were really in an area where we felt the landlord didn’t take care of the property and we needed to upgrade to a better location,” Meyerle says.
    So they found a space in a high-end shopping center directly across the street from David’s Bridal. And although rent on the 6,000-square-foot space was almost double what they had been paying, Meyerle was sold.
    “It was perfect for what we needed, and for the size we needed,” she says.
    As for the close proximity of David’s? Meyerle thought about it and realized that the big-box retailer’s presence was actually a positive thing.
    “They have a multi-million dollar marketing budget and are great at drawing the bride to them but don’t have a strong customer-service history,” she says. “So I figured it might be smart to capitalize on this.”
    So Meyerle created signage that looked very similar in color and font to David’s, and put it out front so that brides who visited the big-box retailer would also notice her wedding salon across the street.
    “I really wanted it to scream like a neon sign to them and be a real attention-grabber,” she says.
    This strategy, she says, has worked extremely well.
    “It’s been fantastic,” she says. “We’re taking advantage of their marketing efforts and it’s been a big draw for brides.”

Private Lines, SEO Key To
This Boutique’s Success
    In its early days, Danelle’s Lingerie and Bridal Boutique, which would eventually be renamed Danelle’s Bridal Boutique & Tuxedo Junction, opened with many of the top industry lines at the time.
    And while this strategy worked well, the turning point for the boutique’s trajectory came in 2007 when Meyerle attended Vegas market. There she met Jon Saltzman, owner of Jon’s Bridal in Tampa, Fla., who gave a seminar that included suggestions for making a brick-and-mortar store stronger.
    One tip: consider carrying private lines.
    “The idea fascinated me since I’ve always been bit of a rebel and love taking risks,” Meyerle says. “As well I pride myself in trying to stay ahead of curve and this had been coming for some time. I was sick of being shopped and frustrated with designers not supporting brick-and-mortar stores and listing prices online.”
    On top of that, Meyerle wanted to offer something unique brides couldn’t find on every street corner. So she began carrying private lines in 2008 when Saltzman launched the Robin Jillian line.
    The reaction from customers was so positive that ever since, Meyerle has “always been on board right away with new private lines.” Today, in fact, the store carries nothing but private, unadvertised lines.
    “It has done very well for us,” she says.
    Currently they sell six bridal lines ranging in price from $1,200 to $2,500, with the median gown costing about $1,500. Bridal makes up the bulk of sales, accounting for 65 percent. About 80 percent of gowns are purchased off the showroom floor.
    Tuxedo sales rank second at 25 percent, with prom, bridesmaids and accessories combined rounding out the final 10 percent. However, Meyerle expects these numbers to change due to the fact the boutique saw a 40-percent increase in prom revenue last year.
    She attributes the increase largely to “phenomenal marketing and advertising.”
    And while the store maintains an active social-media presence, the best results have come from IT changes.
    Meyerle’s marketing and IT specialist, Jessi, completely remade the store’s website, improving SEO dramatically.
    “We got such a boost in our online ranking that we stopped paying for advertising,” she says. “Over 90 percent of our store traffic is strictly from SEO and Google. This has literally saved us thousands annually.”
    No matter which marketing vehicles a salon uses, however, Meyerle believes consistency is the most important thing.
    “You can’t stop,” she says. “If business slows down the mistake many owners make is cutting back on marketing but that’s the time to ramp it up. It’s really about a constant presence. In my mind if you’re not marketing, you’re dying.”

Behind Every Great Business
Lies An Amazing Staff
    Meyerle, who is also a trained professional chef, is a member of the Better Bridal Group. She says this network, comprised of full-service bridal, prom and formalwear retailers, has served as a tremendous source of support for her salon throughout the years.
    She attends its annual retreats every year during which time bridal storeowners share tips with and learn from each other. Much of this discussion has centered around the best ways to hire, attract and train the right employees.
    “It’s great information; so many great ideas and resources are shared,” she says. “The biggest key is implementation. You can sit for days and listen to wonderful speakers but if you don’t implement these tips you won’t succeed.”
    Danelle’s Bridal Boutique & Tuxedo Junction typically recruits job applicants via Craigslist, newspaper ads and www.indeed.com.  
    Candidates then have three interviews with managers and staff. Two of Meyerle’s favorite questions to ask are: Give me three adjectives that describe who you are in a work environment. (“It’s more telling and insightful”), and: Where do you see yourself in a year? (“It shows how committed they’d be.”)
    Then, if a candidate passes all three interviews, he or she completes a working interview for a shift.
    “During this time we get a pretty good idea if they have what it takes,” she says. “Primarily can they follow directions, do they have an interactive personality, and are they enthusiastic and upbeat?”
    If the answer is yes, an offer is extended – albeit one that includes a 90-day probationary period.
    Compensation is hourly plus performance spiffs, with occasional contests thrown in for good measure. Additionally the store sets daily, weekly and monthly goals. When they’re reached, Meyerle celebrates by giving bonuses.
    “I’ve done a variety of things throughout the years such as gift certificates but what I’ve realized is that most people prefer cold, hard cash,” she says.
    Regarding training, it’s both detailed and ongoing. When new employees are hired they receive a 3-inch handbook and must complete a training curriculum. This involves viewing three videos weekly – two on sales training and one on teamwork – as well as completing worksheets.
    “Most people love to learn or else they get bored,” she says. “This is a very challenging industry. Without constant training and giving staff more tools for their tool belt, they’re either going to burn out or lose interest.”
    It was this philosophy that led to Meyerle to implement Performance Development Reviews in January 2014. These are weekly meetings each staff member has with her manager. Conducted in a set format, the point is to identify what worked well that week, as well as what needs improvement.
    Role-play helps consultants learn how to more effectively deal with difficult brides. What’s most important, Meyerle says, is that the manager talks 20 percent of the time and the stylist 80 percent.
    “We’re looking for them to draw out their ideas and come out of this meeting motivated and implementing these changes on the floor,” she says. “It really helps keep them motivated and boosts staff retention because the ideas come from them. What works best for one stylist isn’t necessarily true for another.”
    The proof of this philosophy is in her staff’s longevity: Meyerle’s manager has been with her for 12 years, and the average employee works at her salon for at least five.
    “I think that is remarkable for this industry,” she says. “We truly have some amazing staff right now. Investing the time and effort in training, growing and promoting leaders from within has paid off in dividends for us.”

Mental Health Background
Proves Helpful In Bridal
    Although Meyerle no longer works in the mental health field, her background as a marriage and family therapist remains valuable in her bridal career.
    Primarily, it’s given her a better understanding of her customers and the various family dynamics that play out in her store. This knowledge then allows her to teach her consultants to react more effectively to a variety of situations. It’s also opened her eyes to certain realities: Not only has the traditional family dynamic changed but so have brides.
    “The bride of 10 years ago is different from the bride of today,” she says. “The social group is way more important to today’s bride. This is why we are seeing them held in much higher esteem.”
    For each appointment, Meyerle and her leadership team will meet with the stylist to discuss what is unique about every customer – details, idiosyncrasies, special situations involving family or friends They also discuss the appointment’s dynamic: Who’s in charge? Who’s trying to sabotage whom? Who’s trying to live vicariously through the bride? How can these issues be sorted through and overcome?
    “We try to staff each appointment in the moment,” Meyerle says. “We figure out how best to meet the bride’s needs and keep her as positive and happy as possible.”
    The fact this salon puts so much effort into personalizing each appointment “really speaks to our passion and love for working with the brides,” Meyerle says. “We truly just love working with brides.”
    This passion is also evident in the various personalized touches they create for every customer.
    “From the time they walk in the door to the time they leave, they are pampered,” she says.
    When a bride arrives for her appointment she is given a gift of jewelry – perhaps a necklace, some earrings, or a bracelet – as a thank you for visiting the store. There is also a personalized cupcake waiting for her with her name on it, as well as a shadow box outside of her dressing room that is filled with things representing that bride.
    The latter is based on a tip Meyerle received at a BBG conference: before each appointment staff tries to find out as much as they can about the bride – her passions as well as the wedding’s color and theme. They then use this information to fill the shadow box with meaningful items for that customer.     For example, a beachside wedding might include seashells; a western theme cowboy boots; and a vintage theme a piece of lace and antique earrings. These items are typically purchased at either Michaels or a thrift store or even brought from home.
    And although this salon “is not into pressure sales at all,” Meyerle says, they are big-time into celebrating each purchase. When a bride finds her dream gown, champagne is popped and pictures are taken. That bride also receives a cute little black tote bag that says, “I said Yes at Danelle’s” and an invitation to fill out a comment card. If that card is completed she receives a free garter.
    “We don’t tell brides this; it’s a surprise when they leave,” Meyerle says. “We’re all about little surprises here and making the shopping experience as fun and memorable as possible. It’s very cool!”

The Path Forward
Is Bright, Wide Open
    Throughout the years, Danelle’s has experienced many successes, including tremendous growth in its tuxedo department.
    “It’s taken a lot of work to build that,” she says. “About 90 percent of brides rent tuxedos.”
    This niche has expanded so much, in fact, that in February 2015, they opened a second store, Tuxedo Junction & Danelle’s Formals, 40 miles away in Pueblo, Colo. Ron, who quit his field engineer job in November 2014, now works in the business full time.  
    And although the new location was intended to be only a tuxedo-prom store, so many brides began walking through its doors that within a month they added about 200 wedding gowns (mostly backstock from the Colorado Springs location). The reaction from customers has been extremely positive.
    “It’s a very underserved area for nice, higher-end bridal and prom gowns,” Meyerle says. “The sky’s the limit (for this store).”
    As for what the future holds?
    “I wish I had a crystal ball but I see us going nowhere but getting bigger,” she says. “I really want to be the first name that pops to mind when a bride talks about bridal gowns in southern Colorado.”