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Photo Credit: Jaime Denise Photography,

Ask Marcella Davis what she’s most proud of business wise, and the answer is immediate:
   The fact she has been able to maintain a thriving bridal boutique for 34 years while remaining debt-free; and the fact it has always operated with integrity and a customer-first mindset.
   These elements are core tenants behind the success of the Spokane-Wash.-based Marcella’s Bridal, creating a strong niche and propelling the family-owned boutique through various changes and challenges.
   Having flexibility and being fiscally smart from the onset has created a balance that has allowed Marcella, 60; her husband of nearly four decades, Craig, 60; and the couple’s 35-year-old daughter Kassi Neubauer, who recently became co-owner, to always have enough money to feed their families, pay their bills and take care of the business without “the overwhelming, looming stress of debt that could literally sink our ship.”
   “I really believe that we have to come from integrity and the only way we are going to attract that same kind of customer is to live that ourselves,” Marcella says. “That’s who we are.”

At-home beginnings
   Growing up, Marcella learned to sew at a young age, at first from her father, who reupholstered furniture out of the garage, and also by natural instinct. She made prom dresses and costumes for people on occasion, which she enjoyed doing but didn’t necessarily envision as a career.
   Then, in 1989, a friend of Marcella’s was getting married and she made that friend’s wedding dress, six bridesmaids’ dresses and mom/grandma’s dresses. As fate would have it, at that wedding somebody else asked her to do the same and things snowballed from there. Marcella, a stay-at-home mom of three – then one, two and five years old – eagerly rose to the challenge.
   “Why I thought I had free time I’m really not sure but I was 25 and just didn’t think twice about it,” she says.
   Marcella started sewing at night after putting the kids to bed, essentially running a blossoming business out of her home. It continued that way for 10 years.
   “When we were growing up she literally had customers come to our house, and we couldn’t go through where the customers were so we’d leave through our window to go up the deck stairs and get back to the upstairs of the house,” recalls Kassi, the middle child. “For ten years I thought that was normal.”
   In 1999, the couple reached a pinnacle: work had expanded to the point where it wasn’t practical to continue doing from home. As well, Craig was dissatisfied in his job at his family-owned irony foundry.
   The couple had invested in Microsoft, and Craig and Marcella made a deal: if the stock split and they had enough money to pay off their house (their cars were already paid for), plus some extra to open a shop, Craig would quit his job and they’d do it.
   “Six weeks later it happened – and we literally laid there going (WOW!)” Marcella says. “We decided: OK, our house will be paid for. We don’t have any debt; we have $6k to start a shop and both of us work there. So we did it - we just jumped!”

Early days, important lessons
   The family’s initial storefront was 800 square feet and full of lessons.
   “It was like having a new child because there were so many things we didn’t know that we had to literally just do it one step at a time,” Marcella recalls.
   While Marcella’s custom designs remained a central part of the business, they added ready-made wedding gowns. This lead to one of those early lessons: understanding scale and perspective. Marcella remembers buying dresses the first time and thinking 35 or so was a lot. Then, after hanging those gowns in the store, she realized, this is nowhere near enough. . . it looks so sparse!
   Nonetheless, a strict financial discipline present from the beginning prevented her from going overboard on merchandise buying or anything else, laying a central foundation of the boutique.
   “It was really important to Craig and I that we didn’t ever go outside of our bounds to risk our family going into debt,” she says. “When we first started, we made a deal that we’d never spend more in the month than we could afford.”
   Not that it was easy. In fact, there were many lean months during those early days where either Marcella, Craig or both went without a paycheck so they could pay their employees and take care of other expenses.
   “We had to work really hard to scrimp to make sure (debt) didn’t happen, but we were able to do it,” Marcella says. “Craig was a driving force because he made sure every single bill was paid every month. We’ve never carried anything forward in 34 years of doing Marcella’s Bridal and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of because that’s not easy or common.”
   Another crucial component was the family dynamic. Kassi, 12 years old and in seventh grade when Marcella’s Bridal opened in 1999, began working with her parents almost instantly. Her dad would pick her up after school and she’d also come in on Saturdays, greeting clients, helping them in and out of dresses, steaming gowns, cleaning the store.
   “I think in the beginning (mom) needed help and I was the only one willing to do it,” she says. “I had to miss a lot of basketball games for it, which was frustrating but I definitely grew to love it.”
   So much so, in fact, that Kassi altered her life trajectory. Originally wanting to go to college to become a doctor out of a desire to help people, she recalls the day those plans changed.
   “My mom said ‘why are you searching for all of this? We have a business here where you can help people every day,’” she says. “After that, I changed my degree to business and psychology, and started looking at this as my actual career instead of just helping my mom.”

Present day, perfect location
   Marcella’s Bridal today is in a completely different place, literally, from its early roots.
   The physical store, having undergone two previous moves to 2,000 sqft. in 2001 then 4,000 sqft. in 2007, now boasts 6,000 total square feet in a busy, upscale strip mall.
   There are six dressing rooms (the first store had two, one of which was used for storge); a sewing room with four stations (they began with just one machine sharing space with other areas); full kitchen; shipping area; and cutting table that can be out all the time. (“My original cutting table was a drafting table with a 2x4 holding up the part that went up to make it long enough,” Marcella recalls, laughing).
   In April 2021 they moved to their current 6,000-square-foot location, and for the first time, they had the chance to redesign a store to their specifications before moving in. The location was a former Dress Barn (“with terrible carpet, walls and all the things,” Kassi recalls), so they added new chandeliers, new ceilings, new floors and even little boxes for the wedding dresses.
   “We’re almost two years in and every time I see it I’m like ‘oh my gosh look at where we are – it’s pretty exciting!’” Kassi says.
   There’s a cool backstory, too, which illustrates the value of a good reputation. Marcella and Craig were actually supposed to sign the lease on this spot on March 18, 2020 but expressed hesitation due to the uncertainty of the emerging COVID situation.
   Sure enough, on March 21, they got shut down for nine weeks. The building owner told them: let’s pause and see what happens. I won’t show this space to anybody. It’ll be yours; just keep communicating with me and let me know what you want to do.
   “He held it through the whole pandemic shutdown and waited for us because he said ‘your reputation is so good we really want to have you in our strip mall,’” Marcella says. “I’m really proud of that as well!”

Strong niche, clear focus
   Of course, a physical store, no matter how beautiful, is only the shell of a business. What happens inside is invariably more important. On this level, Marcella’s Bridal excels.
   The boutique focuses completely on the bride, carrying ready-made and custom wedding gowns made from scratch, as well as bridal accessories; they also redesign heirloom gowns and do in-house alterations/customizations.
   Although they have scaled back significantly on custom/heirloom gowns in order to maintain profitability, these extras, which compose 5-10% of sales, have allowed them to take care of more brides than the average bridal or alterations store.
   “I think that’s where our niche still lies, but I also think that Marcella instilled a compassion in us,” Kassi says. “A quote that we have on our wall that she has lived by is that we are all here at the same time for one reason, and that is to take care of each other.”
   Marcella’s Bridal always puts the customer’s needs first, asking themselves what do we need to do to help clear her path so we can help her be successful in choosing her dress? Whatever the obstacle they help the bride navigate it with compassion, sincerity and a heart for the customer as opposed to the product.
   “One of the things that we say all the time is we’re actually in the relationship business; we just have the honor of selling wedding dresses in the process,” Marcella says.
   Kassi adds: “The referrals we get from families of brides just waiting to be taken care of by us. . . it’s one of those really cool things.”

Successful business, amazing team
   While many boutiques struggle with staffing issues, Marcella’s Bridal is blessed with its strongest team ever right now, a fact they attribute to multiple things. For starters, they hire based on the individual rather than experience, looking at personality, what drives someone, if that person cares about others.
   “We can’t expect them to care about our brides if they just don’t have that driving compassion,” Kassi says.
   They bring all consultants together weekly for a two-hour training session, no matter time of year, and also believe in treating their team the same way they treat customers because “if you’re not refilling their cups they have nothing to pour into our customers’ with,” Kassi says.
   Along those lines, consultants receive verbal praise, compliments written on white boards, spiffs for good reviews, plus a competitive compensation package that includes commission, bonuses and tips. As well the boutique donates its time and funds to different give-back events, creating an excitement surrounding being part of the brand.
   They also enjoy socializing together, including families and significant others in these events. In fact, it was during one of these gatherings that Marcella overheard an employee’s fiancé say: man, I wish I could find a job with an employer that treats me the same way that Marcella’s Bridal treats you.
   “And I thought what an honor to hear that!” Marcella says.
   Marcella’s Bridal being a family business, having clearly define roles for ownership helps as well. Craig handles the financial end of things, anything to do with money or numbers including taxes, payroll and keeping spending in check.
   Marcella is the creative end of the business, focusing on custom gowns, alterations and people as well, helping close sales and keeping seamstresses on track with their projects.
   Kassi, who spent five years as general manager before naturally transitioning into ownership in December 2022, describes herself as “the bridge between everything else.” Recently, she transitioned the store’s documents from Excel into a new platform, taking it upon herself to get everything up and running and train the staff.
   “Kassi has an exceptional work ethic and integrity, and to watch her navigate these big changes and teach us how to do things better has been one of my most proud moments,” Marcella says. “She knows how to help educate us so that we can embrace it as well.”
   Of course, as with any family business there are the normal conflict dynamics, but all agree they are short lived and well communicated between them. “I think the best thing we did was have our own lanes to work in, so we could not only do what we liked but also what we’re good at and what could help propel the company in the best way.” Kassi says.
   Marcella agrees, adding that family members can help each other be their best selves.
   “That’s the really important thing because we need to be able to lean on each other, and I think Kassi and I have learned how to do that really, really well,” she says.

Challenges and decisions
   No business, no matter how successful, is without its challenges. For Marcella’s Bridal, the most difficult thing has been trying to stay relevant.
   “It’s hard because this industry will turn left so fast when you think you’re supposed to be going right, and all of the sudden you’ve got to change everything,” Marcella says.
   She recalls talking to a Midwest shop owner in the ‘90s who said: every five years in my bridal store I stop what I’m doing and do the exact opposite because if you consistently do the same thing over and over again your business is going to die on the vine.
   “And we have kind of taken that as a really important thing to always be looking at: what do we have to do to stay relevant and keep us propelled forward?” Marcella says. “That’s not easy but I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job.”
   One change they haven’t made, however, is transitioning into anything online.
   “Maybe in the long run but honestly what we love so much is being able to work with brides one on one and you don’t get the same personalization and service online so we haven’t gone in that direction,” Kassi says.
   Another challenge is inflation. To help combat rising costs, Marcella’s Bridal added shipping to its invoices with each wedding gown sold, and no longer includes steaming or storage with the purchase of a gown. Instead, it offers a list of services that can be purchased based on a bride’s individual needs.
   Beyond that, their core value of remaining debt free has proven invaluable in helping them weather the inflation storm.
   “It takes off stress,” Marcella says. “If you’re carrying too much weight in your backpack, you cannot give your best self. For us to be debt free every single month helps us to be able to reignite that energy every single month and not feel so heavy laden with debt.”

Bright future, clear path
   As Marcella’s Bridal navigates toward the future, their core tenants – putting others first and making smart financial decisions in terms of not holding debt – will remain the foundation of the business.
   “When you have your heart going into it and truly want to do what’s best for the client, people feel that and literally thrive being here,” Kassi says. “The driving factor will always be to take care of people.”
   At the same time, Kassi in particular has ideas surrounding growth and change: bigger locations, new lines to carry, branding themselves more than other designers. Her long-term plan includes another location close to the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area and perhaps more locations in different states – provided they can keep the love they have for everyone, continue growing their team in a way they can then grow others, and drive it all with the Marcella compassion, of course.
   “I think growth is always healthy, necessary,” Kassi says. “I definitely don’t want to say I want to keep the business where it is because I feel I’d be doing a disservice. I love where it is but I think we can always get better.”
   In the meantime, however, the three co-owners cherish the work-life balance they have created that allows for lots of quality time with family.
   Marcella and Craig, who will celebrate their 40th anniversary on Sept. 17, have four grandchildren who Marcella describes “my beating heart.” They make a point to visit each often, in Arizona, Seattle and also right next door in Spokane; Kassi and her husband of ten years built a house on the 10 acres beside Craig and Marcella, who love the fact they can see their four-year-old grandson daily.
   “Time goes so quickly and we just don’t want to miss one thing,” Marcella says. “We’ve reached a point where we can do these little adventures with our family and we feel blessed.”
   Kassi’s family enjoys little adventures of its own, kayaking the river and going on lots of camping trips during the summer. In the winter, Kassi is more of a “stay inside, read and drink hot chocolate” kind of girl, although currently much of her focus centers around her family’s new puppy.
   Craig, whom Marcella and Kassi jokingly describe as “half-retired”, has figured out how he can do his job then jump into his camper and enjoy national parks, which is “kind of his dream.”
   It’s moments like these that everyone cherishes, a balance like this that allows them to recognize how far they’ve come while enjoying the best of all worlds.
   “We’ve gone through so many stages; it’s crazy to look back,” Kassi says. “I feel like once my son is older I will get this more but it’s like having a child: You look back through all the stages and you see where you’re at now and you’re like oh man, wow!”