Podcast Episode 3: La Boda Bridal

Filed in Podcast  /  November 22, 2022 /

Emma and Susan are sisters, who own La Boda Bridal – a gorgeous bridal boutique in Northern Ireland. They started the business together over 17 years ago and are still going strong. In this episode we talk about families in business together, being self-employed and approaching things with a business mindset. We discuss their love of bridal and the uniqueness of the bridal industry. For anyone thinking of going into business with a sister – definitely have a listen to this episode. They are a delight! And I know they would love you to say hi on instagram.

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/labodabridal.banbridge

Website: www.labodabridal.com

Listen to the episode here: https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/hvfGRok79ub


Susannah: Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode and today we are hearing from Emma and Susan who are sisters and owners of La Boda Bridal; which is a gorgeous, bridal boutique in Banbridge in Northern Ireland. And I’m so, so pleased to be able to share this because they are wonderful. So, a couple of years ago, I had very seriously been looking into opening a bridal boutique where I now live in England. And a dress brand rep suggested that I chat with them to get some advice and some insights into the industry. And I’ll never forget how kind and generous they were, to have a conversation with me and chat through some things when I was a complete stranger. So they’re very special people and I know that you’re going to love hearing from them today. So in the episode we talk about why they decided to open the boutique, being self employed and taking risks. We talk about the importance of approaching things with a business mindset, but also chat about their love of bridal, the uniqueness of the wedding industry and how they’ve made their business work for them with changes over life. So there’s lots of gold and inspiration in this episode. Enjoy.

Susannah: Thank you so much for being here, because I’m just really excited to chat with you, I really am, because, as we said, 16 years together in your bridal boutique and I’ve already given, like, a little introduction to our listeners about you. But I would love for you guys to say yourself who you are, what you do, a bit about your business and your roles.

Susan: Of course, yeah. So, I am Susan and yeah, this is…

Emma: I’m Emma

Susan: and we are sisters and we started La Boda Bridal in 2004. So, yes, nearly 17 years ago now. It’s hard to believe that.

Emma: It is really hard to believe. It literally doesn’t feel like 17 years ago that we were going to the first bridal fair and just seeing all the dresses.

Susan: it was bizarre, but yeah, so we literally kind of just fell into it. We didn’t intend to open a bridal shop, we were going down completely different career paths. Emma was..

Emma: yeah, I was working in a management consultancy and Susan was..just finished your degree in finance

Susan: so I was going to be in corporate finance. I mean, seriously, can’t even think about that now. Different!

Emma: Yeah, and it was it was the typical, at that stage, I suppose; and it still is sort of the story that you would hear now when people are saying about opening a bridal shop. We went with our elder sister.

Susan: when she was getting married

Emma: Yeah. And at that stage, so that’s probably the guts of 19 / 20 years ago. And there really wasn’t the selection of bridal shops in Northern Ireland that there are now. I mean, there’s so many lovely boutiques now. But at that stage, it wasn’t. There would have been a main maybe three, four shops. And I suppose it was really Claire, our sister, who said she didn’t really enjoy the experience, more so than us maybe looking at it, and saying oh, you know, I’d love to be somewhere different, or I’d love to be chosing something differently. But we thought we just thought ourselves it could be something….

Susan: that we could do better. because they weren’t quite at the time, as Emma said, there weren’t the smaller boutiques that there are now, there were the fewer larger boutiques in cities and bigger towns that you used to go into and maybe it wasn’t the private setting than it is now or that we would offer in out boutique and a lot do these days. And she felt a bit self conscious, she felt that either the owners or the consultants were maybe a little bit older at that stage.There weren’t that many younger people in the industry. And yeah, she just felt a little bit self conscious and didn’t enjoy the experience.

So we had gone home and after the day and chatting round the kitchen table and saying how we could do better and we’d be so good at it. And it was our dad just said, well, if that’s the case, just do it. So we did and that was it.

Susannah: Because I think people often, that’s right, exactly they sit around the kitchen table together and think, oh, I would love to…. maybe just we could do this; imagine if we did that… And have this dream maybe about what that might be like opening something together. But then to have done it, to be just out of uni, perhaps doing a degree and then to be in a different career. How do you actually make that, it was great your dad was so for it. But how do you move from that just like you’re chatting about it – to actually taking action. Okay, let’s move forward and do it.

Emma: I think it probably comes down to our family attitude in general, like both our parents and like us now, we wouldn’t get super stressed about decisions, exams. We wouldn’t sort of do a big build… or sort of life events and whatnot. It just we sort of seemed to go with the flow. With the flow. There’s no point getting stressed out, so there really was no point. We were either saying, yes, we’ll do this or no, we’re not, and if we’re going to do it, let’s just do it, see how it goes. If it didn’t work we could have still, I suppose, used our degrees and gone back and hopefully someone else would have given us a job. So it wasn’t actually something that we felt particularly nervous about.

Susan: No, I don’t think we ever really worried about it. But then we did have essentially careers to go back to. Yeah, that’s important to me. We sort of felt relatively confident that if it didn’t go well and we were very realistic, we did say to ourselves together, if we didn’t make a certain amount from the business, we would just give it up because we knew our dads were selfemployed and we knew the stresses that that can involve as well. It’s a different scenario than being employed. So we did always say to each other that if we didn’t make a certain amount that we were happy with each year, we would just give it up and we would go and then get jobs. So, thankfully, we’ve, touch wood, we’ve never had to do it. But I think it’s really important if you are starting a business to be realistic and realize that it can have its own stress, so you do need to make sure it’s worthwhile doing it, otherwise there’s no point. But yeah, we didn’t really give it too much thought.

Emma: We went and basically went to the first bridal fair in March of 2004 and we had the shop opened in July.

Susannah: Wow, that was like a very quick turnaround for you.

Emma: Yeah, no, it was, I mean, yeah, just seemed to come very quickly.

Susan: But we were lucky because our father helped us find the right premises and stuff, which wasn’t a typical high street premises at all. We’re still quite hidden and we’re upstairs in a Georgian building, so it’s not the typical bridal shop, I suppose, front window set up. But we love it. It’s actually worked really well. We’re still here 17 years later, albeit we’ve taken over more of the building than we had at the start, but yeah, we did it ourselves, we painted it ourselves, we got the family in and then we did it. Again I think with our dad’s background in owning his own business, he definitely is very sensible.

Susannah: Do you think that helps give you the confidence? Because if you’re fairly young in terms of just taking a risk and moving into doing your own business, it sounds like you have good advice.

Emma: Yeah, I think so. I suppose if you don’t have somebody self employed in your family and they don’t have experience of it, then you don’t get to hear the sort of truths about it. But I suppose because Susan had done finance and I did business at Uni and stuff, we were going at it from a businessy perspective and we were opening up a business as opposed to a bridal shop, if that makes sense. Because neither of us had any fashion experience. And we’ve probably gone then way more into fashion since it and like love all things bridal and so it wasn’t necessarily our love for Bridal at the start, if that makes sense. I think it was just we saw that we saw an opportunity, a viable business that we thought, yeah, this is an area that we could turn into a business.

Susannah: And so, obviously, you’re now much further on down the road, but at the start, how did you decide who was going to do what? Because sisters, well, there are all different types of sisters and you probably when you’re growing up, you have clashes over different things and all of that kind of thing. How do you decide particularly at the start whenever you’re learning to work together, who does what, who gets the final say? What do you do if you disagree?

Susan: Yeah, I think that we’ve kind of just learned as we’ve gone along and we didn’t ever start out and think, this is going to be your role and this is going to be my role. I think it’s just we kind of fell naturally into it

Emma: For the first seven years, it was just Susan and I in the business and we obviously took all the appointments together. We worked every day together, so we tag teamed it. We just took one appointment and tag teamed.

Susan: Our very first appointment we both went in because we were like we were scared. And then halfway through, I think you were like, No Susan, I don’t need you, I’ve got this.

Emma: But we did the appointments, which we still do today. We both sort of take an equal amount of appointments, but just the way I think business has evolved. There are so many more things that have to be done now than there were whenever we started up. Like the social media side of things. I mean, we’re very lucky to have a full time manager now, but Susan would tend to do the social media along with..

Susan: along with Carmen. And then Emma does the serious stuff.

Emma: The serious stuff, like the old admin and the finances,

Susan: Even though I did finance at uni, Emma does the finances.

Emma: Yes. I left her once to do our back returns and it was a disaster. A disaster.

Susan: But, like, in terms of people saying working with family could be a bit of a nightmare, but genuinely, we never had a spat over business ever, really. so thank God. Touch wood.

Emma: We have two other sisters, so we’re the middle two.

Susan: But, yes, we do joke and say we are a bit like The Waltons. We really are one those really annoying families that all like each other, but we probably would have killed either of our other two sisters.

Emma: Yeah, but they’re more sciencey.

Susan: Yes, we’re the two ones in the middle. Airy fairy ones. But no, it’s just it’s worked really well. It seems to just have fallen into place over the years and we, as you say, no one really gets the final say. We literally don’t, we can make little decisions, obviously, but we just pass everything by each other. So we just got a nice kind of routine whereby, yes, we each have our own roles, but certainly if there’s major decisions we made, we make it together. And that’s just it. Nobody makes one decision over the other.

Susannah: And you said that it was about seven years in that you decided to bring somebody else into the team. How does that decision come about whenever you’ve been a team as a two, and then your business expands or things change and like you need other people to come and join your team?

Emma: Well, it was, I had my son in 2010. Yes, Harry. So we basically, at that stage, we were both married. Both married and obviously thinking starting a family. I think it was a practical thing. It wasn’t like a business growth thing, but it was just we did work hard for the seven years in every day together, all weekends, trunk shows

Susan: 6 days a week

Emma: even more. Because alongside that, we do work as sales reps for a Spanish Bridal company as well. So it would have been working the shop and then evening work and traveling around the country. So it just was a case of, yes, if we’re going to have kids, it would be nice to have just a bit of a work life balance. So now the way we work it is Susan is in with Carmen on a Monday and a Thursday, and I’m in with her on a Tuesday and a Friday.

Susan: We close on a Wednesday. Yeah. Day off.

Emma: And then every Saturday one of us is in together, so we’re still always in the shop, but we just ourselves then have a bit more flexibility. And that really was what it boils down to.

Susannah: How do you go about then finding somebody to join your team?

Susan: Just look for your sister in law, keep it in the family again

Susannah: Oh! Is Carmen your sister in law?!

Susan: Yeah, well, she’s married to my husband’s brother, so it’s yeah, she’s my husband’s sisterinlaw and therefore sort of mine. So Carmen has worked in retail forever since she was, like 14. High Street retail. So she’d worked in a lot of the big shops. Like, she had made a manager in New Look and she was a manager in Jaeger whenever we took her on. And I suppose I had gotten to know her, obviously, through my personal life. And I had said we had been chatting about it, obviously, myself and Emma, about needing someone and thinking we wanted someone, but we would have been very nervous about employing someone because it’s our baby and we know Bridal is completely different to any sort of other retail in that it’s all about buying us, buying the consultants. It’s such a personal experience. And we’d created a really good name for ourselves, so we would just wouldn’t have handed it over to just anyone. So as I got to know Carmen, I just would have been saying to Emma, gosh, I think Carmen might be really good for it. She’s such a lovely girl, she’s got such a good work ethic, so slowly but surely we kind of just broached the subject with her and she was happy to come. Ten plus years later, she’s still here, our only ever employee. We’ve got a good retention with employees, so, yeah, it’s perfect, we’ve just been very lucky. That’s just the crux of it.

Susannah: I wonder if we can maybe talk a little bit about, obviously this year there’s been covid, but if we maybe sort of skip that just for a moment. Prior to that, what would you say maybe some of the challenges of working in your industry, maybe that you find your industry faces, whether people have preconceptions about what it would be like to work in a bridal boutique. I think that’s sort of a dream for a lot of people, all the pretty dresses…. You said you went into with a business mindset and it is a business. What do you think some of the challenges are?

Susan: Genuinely, we love it, we couldn’t think of doing anything else. But of course, as you say, a lot of brides and mothers of brides even, will very often come in and say, oh, you must love your job. I’ve thought about opening a bridal shop. Yeah, I mean, there’s a huge proportion clearly of the female population who at one stage or another will have thought, maybe not seriously thought, but thought, gosh, I’d love to own a bridal shop. We genuinely do love it and really there aren’t that many downsides for us at all. You have to be a very, very positive person to work in a bridal shop. You have to always have a smile on your face, it’s one on one for an hour and a half in our case, even if you’re having a bad day yourself, that’s not the brides fault. She has to have you on your best day ever, so it can be quite draining in terms of just being super, super positive all the time.

Emma: And our husbands are probably glad when we come home and we don’t want to talk, so we just sit and we’re talked out.

Susan: but, you know, it’s such a big day for most women, it’s the one, hopefully one time they ever do it and it’s built up to such a huge standard these days, especially with social media pinterest instagram. The idea of perfection, I suppose, in Bridal it is here, now, and I think that is a bit of a negative, probably, even though we use it to our advantage in terms of social media, we have to obviously advertise on that and it’s important. But I’m sorry for Brides, and therefore it makes our job a little bit more difficult when there are aspirations maybe to look a certain way, when maybe that’s not achievable to most mere mortals, you know.

Emma: just managing the expectations of people when they’re trying on the dresses and the experience that they, I suppose, are thinking that they’re going to have through all the social media. And it’s just…

Susan:… making sure it’s as perfect as it can be for them. I think a lot of brides make their lives a little bit difficult these days by going to too many places and things like that. So we’re kind of up against, I mean, again, when it comes back to being a business, we have to try and sell the dress αt the end of the day. Τhere’s an awful lot of competition, especially in Northern Ireland, bizarrely, where apparently there’s more bridal shops per capita than anywhere else in the world, really the most saturated market in the world in terms of bridal. So, yeah, you just have to like that’s the major challenge. You have to make yourself the best. We have to try and buy the nicest dresses and give the best service, so that I suppose is our constant challenge.

Susannah: Yeah, you do have absolutely beautiful dresses and I saw that over Covid you’ve done your visting at home. You set up your van and you took all your dresses on the road to people. That is amazing.

Emma: It was so much fun. It really was. Like, we met so many lovely brides and yeah, I mean, firstly, it was really nice because, as we said, with Carmen in the shop, Susan will be in one day and I’m in the other; it was actually back to Susan and I out on the road again selling, so we did us together in appointments. So, yeah, it was really, really lovely and as I say, lots of brides. We actually did find that after appointments, brides did say they really didn’t feel like they missed out on visiting the shop. We had thought that maybe, they would have sort of thought, oh, gosh, I’ll still wait for the shop but no, it was such a lovely experience and I suppose the brides were able to just enjoy it with their own bubble that they still may not be able to bring into a shop at the minute. So that was lovely, wasn’t it?

Susan: Yeah, it worked really well. We kind of miss it. Bring back the bus.

Emma: We actually may well to do it. We have talked about it. Yeah. Just for whatever reason, there are a number of brides that just like, feel more comfortable in their own home, maybe just don’t want to go into a bridal shop. Want to have, maybe got a granny, who won’t be able to travel for. So it is something that we could possibly offer as a service. So, yeah, we have to think about it.

Susan: We’re too busy in the shop at the minute, we’re booked out solidly for a while, so we can’t think about it, but it’s given us food for thought.

Emma: Yeah, it definitely has.

Susannah: That’s brilliant. I was wondering if there was maybe anything that you wanted to share about sort of tips or advice for people who are maybe thinking about going into business with either a friend or a sibling or is there anything that you would say to them?

Emma: That’s a good one because, I guess most partnerships do fail

Susan: for one reason or another, not necessarily always a fallout, but just people want to go. And you might think it’s quite rare that 17 years later, we’re both on the same path and we’re both happy to be in the same position. We’re not going against each other to bring the business in any different direction. But we know of lots of other people that have started businesses since us and finished them a good while ago. So I suppose you have to be open to the idea that someone might change and be very realistic, I suppose, would be something to be aware of and just try and be as aware of the other person’s needs as your own needs and just keep communication open.

Emma: I mean, communication would be huge. And I suppose being sisters, then we really, aside from working together, like, we’d be seeing each other all the time, literally. So there’s no getting away, no getting away from her.

Susan: So communication. And just as mentioned before, if you’re going to make a decision, just mention it to the other person. Does that sound okay? Rather than just go and make your own decision because little things like that could end up just griping on the other person.

Emma: We would still have I suppose we would have people come to us and say, look, would you do a little small advertisement or a small sponsorship or whatnot? £50, which is in the grand scheme of things, isn’t much, but we still like, I would never say, yes, let’s do that, without saying to Susan and nor would she. And I think it’s something as small as that, but then doesn’t you know, spiral out of control. It literally is our business, as opposed to one of us sort of taking control of one area over the other.

Susannah: Yes. Thank you so much. This has been so great. You have so much to share. 17 years in any business, to run a successful business for that long, with all the changes that come in industry and people’s personal lives over that time is incredible. It’s absolutely amazing.