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Photo Credt:Ananda Paulas Photography, 

There’s a love story going on in the San Francisco area. It isn’t about a couple per se but two women – a mom and daughter duo – and their beloved careers in bridal.
   In fact, they so love what they do that they’ve made a mark, setting their business on the map as being one of the most hip, fashionable bridal shopping experiences on the West Coast, if not the entire United States.
   With two bridal locations and one formalwear shop in the San Francisco Bay area, Janene’s Bridal launched out of a dream in 2009, according to Stephani Hines, the daughter in the duo and the company’s CEO. Her mother, Janene Hines, had been sewing since she was eight years old and by age 14 had already created her first bridal gown worn in public. With these sewing skills and design smarts, Janene easily found work in bridal shops, doing alterations throughout the Bay area, as well as making custom gowns out of her home. But in regard to her creative license and truly achieving her full potential, Janene wished for so much more, and that’s how her daughter, who’d built a successful early career as a project manager, got involved.
   “I was 29, not married, had no kids, and was working a corporate job, which I didn’t know if I wanted to do anymore,” Stephani says. “But I knew I was fully capable of running anything that needed to be run. And my mom is really a designer at heart. She loves all things beautiful and is so naturally creative. Her dad worked for Walt Disney, and she’s always had that same imaginative mindset. She can really visualize how to put things together, but in working for other people, she didn’t really have much of a say in what she did, so I went to my mom and said, ‘Let’s do it. We’re going to make your dream a reality!’”
   And they did just that. Without any initial plan or thought about how it would happen, they committed to this co-ownership and took the leap. Stephani and Janene leaned on their courage, creativity, hope and common drive for success, all of which helped guide the initial big decisions – like choosing the store’s first 1,900-square-foot location in Alameda, a city located just over the San Francisco Bay Bridge – and the myriad smaller decisions that would come as they rolled out the business and later expanded into multiple locations, totaling 22,000+ square feet.
   “Janene has so much creative expression, and it was just time for my mom to be in the driver’s seat,” Stephani says. “As for me, I’ve always been a kind of go big or go home kind of person.” So under Stephani’s leadership, and with Janene’s love for design and a passion for all things beautiful, go big is exactly what they did.

Supporting Diversity, Inclusivity Comes Naturally
   Building the business one day at a time, Janene and Stephani invested “blood, sweat and tears” into the daily mechanics and built strategies to support emerging goals, especially around their vision for offering brides exceptional experiences.
   Being in the Bay area, their clientele has always been an incredibly diverse mix. From the start, they’ve naturally supported a very inclusive environment, welcoming all ethnicities, genders, backgrounds, cultures, races, sexual orientations, religions and body types. With the growing focus on inclusivity throughout the United States, Stephani says that, for them, this is just part of the regional culture. Welcoming and serving a diversity of clients isn’t anything new or something they’ve had to think about much; it’s just what they’ve done. That welcoming vibe permeates every aspect of the business, from the customers it serves to what’s reflected in their marketing, and the 59 staff who work on the frontlines and behind the scenes.
   That said, when Stephani first started bringing in lines, she discovered one huge gap in the marketplace: the desperate need for beautiful, curvy bridal fashion and an opportunity to serve these wonderful brides with understanding, kindness and gorgeous, quality gowns.
   “I’d have brides come in to our store saying that the last place they’d been at had been horrific and they found themselves crying because of the selection and the way they’d been treated,” Stephani says. “I decided we would never be that; I refused. As much as it might have cost us a bit more, I invested in curvy brides because everyone should be able to come in, find something beautiful, and leave with a smile on their face.”
   Really living their values through their work, Stephani and Janene found the business booming. The store expanded from the original downstairs location into apartments above the store, where they ran alterations. However, after 10 years at that location, a much larger business space came available – one they’d eyed when they first researched store locations. In 2020, Janene’s Bridal moved to its current Alameda home, a 8,200-square-foot space in a high-traffic, trendy shopping district.
   “We’ve made it so it’s just so warm and welcoming,” Stephani says. “Right when you walk in, you just know you’re going to have this amazing experience. It’s so pretty and cute with a flower wall, all kinds of knick knacks, the largest selection of wedding dresses in the Bay Area, and all kinds of add-on packages that really customize the experience for the bride and make it special. We are solely focused on the bride. It’s just pure bridal.”
   The add-on packages are a colorful, creative, lucrative way to pump up and build upon the classic shopping experience. For example, Janene’s Bridal offers a $250 Mimosas and Macaroons package. When a bride selects the $2,000 Elite VIP package, the store closes to serve just that customer and her guests. Cocktails/mocktails, charcuterie trays, and snacks of the sweet and savory kind can be ordered à la carte, depending on the desired level of celebration and customization. Meanwhile, the add-on packages aren’t just about champagne and brie but also the luxury of more time being served; the spendier the package, the more time with stylists and trying on gowns brides receive.
   Brides love it all, and, in fact, the joyful, vibrant feeling is so infectious that it caught the attention of a commercial real estate broker who, during COVID, walked by the store and noticed all the life and joy still taking place with the private (albeit masked and socially distanced) appointments going on. Impressed, the broker – who had a very rare vacancy in the heart of San Francisco’s most coveted downtown shopping district – reached out to Janene’s Bridal to give them a tour and discuss the possibility of opening a second location.
   “I always feel like the universe is trying to tell you something, and you can either pick up on the subtle hints and see what it is or just let it go by and ignore it,” Stephani says. “Next thing you know, I’m doing a walk through in Union Square, which is typically pretty pricey and hard to get into, and it was a space to die for, even with parking right there, which is always the biggest challenge. For every ‘no,’ there was a positive answer to counter it, and we just suddenly decided this would be great.”

Big City Locale Opens a Door For New Directions
   With this expansion, Janene’s Bridal immediately gave Janene a bigger footprint for building up her private collection. She plans to grow that aspect of the business, further fulfilling that very personal dream of fully defining and building out her line. As for samples and off-the-rack sales, however, the mother-daughter team got permission from a few of their designers to split the Alameda inventory and bring that into the downtown location.
   They were off to a strong start in this space, which with its hardwood floors, large windows drawing in beautiful light and providing stunning urban views, and open layout quickly triggered another new business direction for these ever-evolving entrepreneurs: event space rental within the store itself. Wedding parties may book an elegant “get ready” space for dressing and doing hair and makeup prior to courthouse or downtown weddings or even hold small weddings in the store’s main area. Meanwhile, Janene’s Bridal also offers the facility to non-wedding clients wishing to host parties and special events.
   Just like the Alameda store, this location offers packages and à la carte add-ons to fully customize each customer’s experience. Bridal parties can rent a smaller space or book the store’s entire two floors, spreading out and using it as needed. The gown racks (featuring approximately 800 styles) get easily moved to make way for event setup or private parties. Stephani says that, in particular, brides really love the get-ready space because it can be so hard to find a place to prep within the city limits. Janene’s Bridal has made it stylish, comfortable and complete with all the essentials – Dyson hair dryers, hair spray, mirrors, counterspace, versatile drapes that double as changing areas, couches and stools, plus little tables for stylish beverages and treats.
   “So many of our brides have a San Francisco address, and they will travel to Alameda, but this is a very different bride at the San Francisco store,” she says. “They’re very brand savvy and also want to keep their shopping within a certain radius, not necessarily leaving the city.”
   Speaking of serving a niche target market, the business is now no longer limited to brides. A year into opening the second location, Stephani and Janene pursued an opportunity to set up yet another shop, on the ground floor of the same building in San Francisco, just beneath Janene’s Bridal. Again, the universe seemed to be telling them something and, always wanting to open a formalwear shop, this location and the timing felt like another opportunity to embrace.
   “Part of my vision has always been to have a formalwear shop and promote it to our brides, and this space was just perfect for it,” Stephani says.
   In 2021, they opened the doors of Robert Paul, named for Janene’s husband and Stephani’s father, who although not involved daily in the business, has always been helpful and active behind the scenes.
   “He and I are like best friends, and so we named the store after him and just went for it,” say Stephani of the store that, today, serves two core customers: the groom and groom’s party, plus people needing suits for corporate and city events.
   Marketing to grooms has been easy with such a big customer audience of brides. In fact, 70 percent of their brides turn to Robert Paul for groomswear and groom’s party fashion. With one manager, five stylists and two tailors, this natural business extension been not only been a hit with customers but successful from a profitability standpoint.

At the Heart of the Business: Team Culture
   There’s no question that at the heart of Janene’s Bridal and the Robert Paul stores are the people who work there. With nearly 60 employees, the company has a formal organizational structure, complete with an HR department, a socials and marketing department, and an alterations department in addition to all the stylists on board. Of note, the alterations department of 17 staff actually has two divisions: the alterations consultants, who run the alterations appointments, plus pinning and accessories, and the seamstresses, who do the sewing. Janene oversees this department while focusing on her design work.
   Every staff member hired has been carefully scrutinized relative to how that person will mesh with other staff and contribute to the positive, productive, and very professional cultural vibe that customers have come to expect with this brand. The staff makeup is inclusive and diverse, which doesn’t just support a culture of belonging but sends that same message to the customers they serve. Friendliness is key.
   “Our staff is very warm, welcoming and genuine,” Stephani says. “And that vibe is very important because if the vibe is off, the brides are off. So I instill that in everyone who works here and the team has got to mesh. There are people I’ve not hired who have very stellar resumes because you can’t have anyone stirring the pot. We are a team, we have each other’s back, we work together, and that is so important for us.”
   That genuine approach also means brides won’t be pressured to purchase. Stephani says that if a bride “walks,” Stephani tells her stylists that it’s important to not hold a grudge or get down, even when sales are suddenly slower overall. That positive mindset must be upheld.
   “Times are hard right now, and you don’t know everything that’s going on with a bride,” she says. “So once we find out a bride isn’t buying that day, we need to realize that she may still change her mind, and it needs to be about when they’re ready. In the meantime, we need to determine what the problem is…what we need to solve to get her that dream dress. Problem solving is the number-one skill in this industry.”
   The no-pressure sales environment puts customers at ease, enabling everyone to relax and focus on the beautiful experience and ultimate goal of finding that perfect look. And it pays off, literally. While Stephani pays a good wage and occasionally offers some incentives and perks, customers can tip the stylists. Tips average between $150-$400, although a recent customer tipped one consultant $800.
   “If you’re able to find a dress on or under budget, tips are more likely to be higher,” she says. “Sometimes, however, our stylists do work hard and receive no tip.
   They can’t take that personally as these customers may not have the financial means to tip. These customers will tip with their positive reviews and warmth, and that counts, too.”
   Above all, Janene’s Bridal ­– and the staff that make it extraordinary – embrace in a common mindset that captures the heart of this business. At their core, they believe wedding fashion should capture the feeling of a customer’s love story and that it’s actually love itself that guides the experience and makes that dream look a reality.
   “That focus on love is so important because we really don’t think love is dead even if, in our world, there are a lot of things out there trying to crush it,” Stephani says. “What stands tall in life is love, and not just in general but in this industry.”
   She continues, “You’re getting married and want your life to grow because of the love you feel for that special person. And you need to feel that love in the dress you choose and even feel loved by the dress itself, so when you’re walking down the aisle you’re really glowing.”
   With that strong sense of purpose, it’s no doubt that Stephani and Janene, who’ve kept love at the center of this ever-growing adventure, don’t just feel love for their business but feel loved by the business.
   Whether it’s the will of the universe or simply luck, the love between these entrepreneurs and their business dreams, which, every day, continue to unfold, remains a great story still in the making.