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Photo Credits: Esther Ellyn |

Just thinking about the number of things Jessica Limeberry handles every day is enough to make anyone wonder how she does it.
   Not only does Limeberry own four Sophia’s Bridal & Tux stores, but she operates a bridal consulting business, is mom to four boys aged nine to 16, and is frequently flying solo when her husband, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, is deployed.
   Limeberry’s days are full, but she handles all demands like a pro. She’s deliberately not in her stores frequently, as she likes to give her staff an almost free rein and she trusts them. This is important, to grow and nurture strong businesswomen while at the same time giving her the flexibility to be both a business owner and mom who’s there for her kids when they want her.
   The two sides of Limeberry’s life are almost complete opposites. With a home full of boys and men, and her own bridal business, “I get my estrogen at work and my testosterone at home,” she says.
   Limeberry not only balances these things but shares her wisdom through her bridal coaching business, which takes up a substantial chunk of time. Bridal Mastermind launched in January 2024 and allows her to pass on her business knowledge to other storeowners, empowering a much broader group than her own employees.
   “I enjoy being busy and like a very full life,” she says, “but I’m good at delegating to my team and we’re an all-hands-on-deck team of a family too.”

Getting into retail
   Bridal is Limeberry’s second career. Her first was a photography business and for a decade she took pictures, including many weddings.
   “I loved photography but it required a lot of me,” she says. “I had to be at every wedding and had to work every weekend. I was looking for an opportunity to be more in the background.”
   She had worked for two prom seasons in Sophia’s Bridal, during slow periods for her photography business, and in January 2014 she took over the business. The previous owner wanted to spend more time with her young children and the two had discussed the sale of the business over the years so things moved quickly. It was a completely new start, Limeberry says, even though she knew the store well and had relationships with the staff.
   Once she’d taken over, she discovered she was pregnant with her fourth child.
   “I’m a big systems person, a big efficiency person, so we had to figure out how to make it run,” she says.
   After just two years she moved the store from a strip mall in south Indianapolis to a standalone former post office two miles away, which she purchased – owning retail was also appealing, she says, as a good investment. “Plus, I love a good renovation or restoration project,” she says.
   After that, things kept moving quickly. In 2018 Limeberry opened her second and third stores – in May and October – and then her fourth in January 2021.
   The stores are all 45 to 60 minutes a part so they don’t cannibalize each other, though there is a little overlap as brides are willing to drive and each store has slightly different products. The stores are also known for having the most diverse inventory in the area.
   Limeberry’s parents owned pet stores when she was a child and she vowed she’d never go into retail.
   “Of course, karma is funny like that,” she says.
   Once she did enter retail, she had a whole new set of skills to learn, including inventory and cash flow, understanding how business ebbs and flows. What came easier than expected were the interpersonal dynamics, she says, after working by herself for so long.
   “I have a lot of love for people and care about them having a great experience – my employees and my customers,” she says. “That can be tricky for creative people; we can have this thing going on in our head and need to be able to explain it so other people can understand and get on board and have a role in it.”

Managing time
   Limeberry is a very hands-off boutique owner. She has a district manager who travels to all four stores and a manager at each location, meaning she works from home most of the time but goes into each store around once a month.
 Her work at home entails coordinating with the stores, taking care of sticky situations, accounting work and communicating with her managers. Until a couple of years ago her dad did the financials but doing it herself gives her a better feel for the ebbs and flows of business. Marketing also takes a lot of time – social media, coordinating events, how she’s going to promote them, how the stores are doing.
   Limeberry is skilled in managing her time, and instead of multi-tasking she blocks out her schedule to work on things.
  “I get more done because my brain is focused,” she says, adding that she’ll block similar tasks together, such as accounting or social media.
   Having flexible hours as a business owner is a must for Limeberry.
   “We’ve made it work for us,” she says. “That’s the plus and the minus of owning your own business – you can work whenever you want and sometimes you have to work all the time. You build it to be in the cracks and crevices of life. Sometimes I’m up late because I attended a kid’s sporting event.”
   Limeberry, who is 40, has been married for 18 years to Matthew. He’s deployed regularly, typically for nine to 10 months every five years, with a lot of travel in between.
   “It requires a very flexible life, but it’s just our normal,” she says.
   Limeberry’s typical day starts at 7am, when she gets up with her two youngest kids, her husband having gotten up an hour earlier with their two oldest. She feeds the younger kids and once she’s dropped them at elementary school at 8:30, she returns home and starts by checking her emails, then moves on to checking in with her managers – mostly by text – doing paperwork, phone calls and video chats for her coaching business.
   At some point each day she hits the gym and usually also goes for a walk. In the afternoons she’s typically running kids to sporting events, which she often watches.
   “I fit work in,” she says. “I might be sitting in my car at basketball practice answering emails.”
   And while most of her workday happens between 9am and 3pm, she often finds herself working later.
   “I try not to work too much in the evening but I’m messaging, texting, more on-the-go work. I’m lucky to be in bed by midnight. I should have an earlier bedtime but it’s hard.”
   Times are different from when her parents were in retail, she says, when her dad would completely check out of his business at the end of the day – those days, of course, being devoid of texts, emails and social media. But Limeberry doesn’t mind working when she needs to, even if she’s on vacation, because it keeps the business ticking along and she loves what she does.
   But truly, she says, time management can be tricky. She loves both her big, active family and her big, active business and likes to spend a lot of time on both and as a result, sometimes the balance is off.
   Those around Limeberry help her balance.
   “[I have a] spouse who is really supportive and can see what I need,” she says. “I also have really supportive parents and my dad can guide me through business decisions.”

Careful hiring and training
   To be as hands-off in the stores as Limeberry is, it’s vital that the right people are in place. As much as she can, she aims to promote people so she’s never had to hire from outside for a manager position.
   “That’s my favorite part of what I do: To pour into people, developing them, seeing their potential, and giving them leadership skills,” she says. “A lot of girls we hire to work for prom are teenagers and we see girls through high school and college and they come back to us. It’s very intentional.”
   Limeberry also deliberately employs a diverse group of employees who each have their own personal style and dynamic.
   “We want people to see our staff isn’t just one thing,” she says. She also ensures all of her stylists are very emotionally intelligent and empathic, aware of what brides need and how to reach them. She’s careful in job interviews to find out how easily an applicant can chat with a stranger (Limeberry herself). She also looks for a desire to lead, a passion for helping others, applicants who are quick on their feet to solve problems, and creativity.
   All new employees are thoroughly trained for two to four weeks. Managers teach them the stores’ philosophy, designers, shapes, fabrics and more, and then continue that training with on-the-spot reminders and reviews.
   The managers also have weekly touch-ins with employees, sit downs and quarterly reviews, “so they’re in a constant state of learning and adapting and know we’ll take them to the next level,” Limeberry says.
  She’s also heavily into rewarding employees. To keep things exciting, the stores run contests – for groups or individuals. If stores meet a certain goal, they might all be able to go out to dinner. Or for individuals, the first person to do something might get a bonus. Limeberry changes up the contests because everyone is motivated differently.
  To keep on top of the day-to-day running of the stores, Limeberry checks in frequently with her managers and especially her district manager, though she does trust them only to come to her with the problems they can’t solve. Mostly she texts with them, but she also has a weekly face call with her managers and a quarterly retreat.

Ch- Ch- Ch- Changes over the years
   The one constant with life and retail is, of course, change. And Limeberry has not steered away from it.
   In fact, she says, “the ability to adapt has always been my strong suit.”
   She stays on top of how the industry is changing and how Sophia’s Bridal will alter with it.
   “I’m about being proactive rather than looking back and wondering how we missed things,” she says.
   Over the years she’s made several changes, including opening new stores, renovating old stores, rebranding and adjusting her product lines.
   Having a strong brand has been key to Sophia’s Bridal’s success, as has the stores’ attention on connecting with customers. Staff focus on brides as individuals and try to make their appointments specific to them.
   “We want to know who’s coming with them and the dynamic, we want to know what will surprise and delight them,” Limeberry says.
   But what’s changed more than anything over the years are the brides, she says, in their expectations and how they shop, with most brides in their mid-20s to mid-30s having always had access to the internet.
   “The wedding industry when I first got into it was a little more mysterious to the bride – you show up and we’ll wow you,” she says. “They want transparency now, they want to know what to expect and don’t necessarily like to come into things blindly.”
   Because of this, all of Limeberry’s stores provide a lot of information before appointments and communicate much more with the brides. This includes phone calls, video chats and consultations.
   Before the appointment, stylists work on getting to know the brides and having the brides get to know the stylists, so they feel more connected. This also helps Sophia’s Bridal personalize every appointment, once staff know more about them.
   “We answer all their questions and get to know them so they walk in and feel like they have a friend,” she says.

Coaching business
   Earlier this year Limeberry launched her bridal coaching business but was already well-versed in this because she also coached when she was a photographer.
   “I love the business side of business,” she says. “I’m creative but building a business is really exciting.”
   When she started in bridal, she spent a lot of time learning the business side of things.
   “I love getting into conversations about business and when I met other store owners I’d talk about how their business ran,” she says.
   Previously, Limeberry had worked for a coaching group for about four years (2017 to 2021). Then after she’d left, a woman, Meredith Bullock, whom she’d coached, told her she was interested in setting up a coaching business, so Limeberry decided to join her in that venture.
   Bridal Mastermind officially launched in January 2024.
   Now, Limeberry and Bullock have around 20 clients whom they mentor and coach with virtual one-on-one and group calls recorded courses and in-person store visits.
   This takes up 20 to 30 hours a month for Limeberry who works with bridal salon owners, managers, styling and marketing teams. Popular topics are social-media basics; different communication styles; SEO and web traffic; and how to grow your business in ways other than social media.
   “I love being more involved and it keeps me excited and energetic about the industry,” she says. “And it’s good to hear other people’s perspective and know more than what you are experiencing.”

Moving forward
   Looking ahead, Limeberry is not planning to open any new stores for a while. Instead, she’s focusing on her staff.
  “I like building strong women and developing them,” she says. “It’s about getting that foundation of really strong leaders, whether you’re a brand-new stylist or you’ve been there 10 years.”
   She’s working on better communication and building up strong leaders, and helping the women develop. The staff read business books together, and watch business podcasts, and also go to conferences “which help us all develop,” Limeberry says.
   And she’ll continue honing her brand and being confident in what she does. It’s important, she says, to be focused on what your stores do best, namely treating every bride as an individual, personalizing every appointment and offering a wide inventory – and not to feel like you need to be doing what your competition is doing.
   “My success doesn’t have to look like someone else’s success,” she says.