Here comes the bride (again)

Here comes the bride (again)

No-one’s better qualified than Lynette Turner at helping to choose brides’ fairy-tale gowns. After all, she’s walked down the aisle three times herself. Ros Dodd reports.

With three marriages behind her, you might think Lynette Turner has had enough of wedding dresses. But after arranging nuptials for much of her professional life, she’s now added her creative flair, sales skills and business acumen to set up a niche bridal-wear boutique.

Turner opened Boho Bride just over a year ago in a pretty shopping courtyard just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. It sells British-designed, vintage-inspired wedding dresses that exude boho chic and recall the old-style Hollywood glamour of The Great Gatsby and Audrey Hepburn. Many of the gowns hanging from the rails in a dreamy swathe of silk, lace and taffeta are long, floaty numbers, but a third of the dresses are short, tea-length styles. All 30 designs have been chosen because they’re a bit different.

“I’ve always been interested in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and I knew I wanted to sell bridal-wear that was a little quirky,” explains Turner, a 52-year-old mother-of-three. “If you look up the definition of ‘bohemian’, it’s someone who’s free-spirited, optimistic and artistic.

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“I think that really sums up my brides. It’s not about being hippy but being a lover of life, a bit of a risk-taker. That’s why we use the strapline ‘for brides that dare to be different’. It’s about being elegant and sophisticated, with a twist.”

Boho Bride is already attracting customers from across the country and Turner now plans to grow the business. She’ll soon launch her own bridal collection, and hopes to open a second boutique in the same shopping courtyard – selling mother-of-the-bride outfits, bridesmaids’ dresses and prom gowns.

Establishing the business hasn’t been easy – Turner has had to take out a loan to help with cash flow and for her development plans – but the future looks bright. That’s partly because of the Boho Bride’s unique selling points, but also because of Turner herself: her passion for what she does and her personable nature are both inspiring and reassuring.

She’s also business-savvy, understanding the power of social media, which generates 80%
of the enquiries she gets. “If you run a customer service business, you have to make it personal,” she explains. “If you have a website, you need a back-story, because it gives people a feeling of trust. Even if you’re new, people want to know what you’ve done before. They’re buying into the story as much as the business.”

And Turner’s back-story is quite a page-turner. Born in South Africa, she grew up in the Cotswolds and began her career in hospitality. “Working in hotels, we had lots of weddings and events, so I was quite involved in those.”

She discovered early on that she had a talent for making people feel welcome and at ease, which gave her the confidence to move into sales and management, juggling a career with bringing up her three sons.

“When I started a family, I looked for work that would fit in with the children,” she recalls. “I saw an article about a wedding planner, which at that time was completely new, but because of my contacts and my knowledge of beautiful hotels, I thought: ‘I could do that’. So I did.”

As one of the UK’s first wedding planners, Turner was sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry to tour the US for three weeks, researching American-style weddings.

“The UK law had just changed to allow civil weddings in hotels, stately homes and other venues, and the government was keen to find out what impact this might have on foreigners coming over here to get married. Americans are very much into themed weddings and wedding planners are something everyone uses.

“I travelled to lots of places, from Sacramento to New York, and it was amazing – an experience I’ll never forget.”

Shortly afterwards, Turner’s business suffered a blow when her work studio was flooded out, so she decided to “get a proper job”. She moved into sales and marketing, working for an online magazine, and set up a bridal section, and then did the same for another online publication, all the while building up an impressive contacts list.

Boho 02By then, she’d divorced and remarried and in 2003 she and her new husband decided to move to France, taking her two younger sons with them. “I’m a real Francophile, and we wanted a different kind of a life, so we bought a farm with the idea of renting out gîtes.”

Their French idyll lasted only four years: “We had a lovely time – really idyllic in many ways – but unfortunately the marriage broke down, and we came home.”

But Turner is made of stern stuff, and was soon back on her feet, working as an estate agent back in the Stratford-upon-Avon area. “Then I met husband number three and we married in 2011. That’s when I started working back in sales and advertising, again focusing on weddings.”

When her third marriage ended, Turner returned to the estate agency business, selling new homes. But she didn’t enjoy it, so when she heard of someone opening a women’s fashion outlet in The Shopping Courtyard at the Stratford Garden Centre, near the Warwickshire village of Clifford Chambers, she was intrigued.

“I decided to have a look – I only live down the road – and when I did, I had one of those light bulb moments: open a bridal boutique!” Although convinced her whole career had been leading her to this point, and with savings to invest, Turner realised she needed to do some thorough research. “I knew there weren’t many bridal boutiques in the area, but I also knew I needed to be different from the competition. I needed to be niche, so I set out to find dresses that were different – that wouldn’t necessarily be the designers’ best sellers.”

The all-British designers she opted for were Ivory & Co, Louise Bentley, Terry Fox, Emma Hunt London and LouLou Bridal, with dresses ranging from just under £1,000 to £3,000.

“I also decided to specialise in short wedding dresses, again because it’s a bit different, but also on-trend. I sell more short dresses than I do long ones. These days, people are increasingly having weddings in outdoor venues such as barns or as part of festivals, and they don’t want big dresses. One customer recently drove down from Liverpool, and another from Shropshire, because they couldn’t find what they were looking for anywhere else.”

As well as an array of styles, there are also different colours – peach, pink and oyster – plus a wide range of accessories and shoes.

“So far so good, although it is a struggle,” admits Turner. “I took out a loan so that I could order more sample gowns, to keep the boutique collection fresh, which is very important if I want to grow the business.”

Turner believes launching her own collection – to be designed and made by local costume designer Laura Callard – is key to Boho Bride’s long-term success. “I realise there’s a need for a boho separates collection. It will comprise two basic dresses, a separate skirt and five different tops that complement each other. So, for example, you could choose one of the dresses and pair it with a floaty top or bolero jacket.”

As well as making ‘retro’ luxury more affordable, the own-brand collection is also aimed at the curvier bride: “Curvy brides are desperate for that on-trend look and this will suit them because it will cover up the bits they don’t like, but in a beautiful way – not just draping a cape around their shoulders. It will be a bespoke service without the prices: made-to-measure dresses will range from £1,500 to £2,000.”

Offering brides the kind of personalised, quirky gowns they want is only part of the service: making them feel special is just as important.

“It’s vital that the boutique is friendly and cosy,” stresses Turner. “I’m here Wednesday to Sunday, and anyone can come in – they don’t need appointments. But if I do have a bride in, then I shut the door: we’ll only see one bride at a time. We want to ensure the experience is as enjoyable and personal as possible. There’s always plenty of fizz on offer, and brides can bring friends if they want.”

So which of the dresses she stocks will Turner be picking for her fourth wedding? “Oh, I won’t be getting married again,” she says, with a wry smile. “I have a lovely partner to whom I’m committed, and I love the idea of getting married – it’s a very special thing – but I don’t see the need to do it again. Having said that, I’m not averse to the idea of a celebration to mark my commitment to my partner.”

In a final twist to Turner’s story, her partner’s just bought a house in France, two hours’ drive from where she used to live. “He’s retiring this year and it’s a renovation project. But his plan is to retire there eventually – so, who knows, I may end up living there happily ever after!”

Turner's top tips

  • Know your limitations
    I’m a very good sales person, because I’m passionate and that shines through. However, there are things I’m not good at, such as bookkeeping, so I pay someone to do them for me.
  • If appropriate, register for VAT.
    It was one of the best things I did, because everything I buy has VAT added to it. Receiving much-needed cash flow in VAT refunds has helped keep me going.
  • Develop a niche
    It’s vital, whatever your business, to have at least one USP (unique selling point) that makes you different. I have two: selling non-traditional, slightly quirky dresses, and my rule that there’s only one bride at a time in the boutique.
  • Keep overheads low
    There’s no way I could afford High Street rents – I’d have gone out of business in six months. Being where I am has allowed me to build my brand. Avoid employing others if you can. Sole traders can’t take much time off, but don’t have to worry about paying another salary.
  • Keep your eye on the money
    Watch how much you spend at the beginning, and make sure there’s enough budget to replenish stock. I made that mistake, and as a result had to take out a loan. Don’t be afraid of financial help. I set up the business with my own money, but recently took out a £20,000 start-up loan from the Coventry and Warwickshire Reinvestment Trust, to help finance the next stage of growth.
  • Do your research
    I was thorough in my research to ensure I was offering something ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ that people wanted. A lot of businesses fail because people haven’t researched properly. Customer care is paramount. If customers aren’t happy, they’ll take to social media and say as much.
  • Know your customers
    Social media’s a massive marketing tool, but different groups of people use different types: brides tend to use Facebook and Pinterest.
  • Learn from your mistakes
    I’ve made a few, such as buying dresses with drop waists which don’t suit a lot of figures.