A partnership made in heaven: What it's like to own a bridal boutique
A shared love of weddings and fashion had been the inspiration behind a new venture for sisters Carrie and Sadie Hatfield.
They have finally fulfilled a long-held dream to open their own bridal boutique after deciding it was "now or never".
Hairdresser Carrie, who lives in Oldbury, says the idea for the business had been in the pipeline for around 15 years but "life and time got in the way".
"A good friend of mine got married 15 years ago and I helped her to organise her wedding. I went with her to choose her dress and I helped her to choose the flowers. I felt I had a good eye for what looked good. My background is in hair and make-up so I've done a lot of wedding work and helped to dress a lot of brides.
"I mentioned to Sadie that I would love to open a boutique and it turned out she had the same dream too. We both love weddings and fashion - Sadie's shoe and handbag collection is like no one else's.
"But 15 years ago neither of us were in a position financially or personally to start a new business.
"The pandemic made us re-evaluate everything and we started to seriously talk about doing it last year. As much as I loved my job, I wasn't feeling fulfilled and I couldn't see myself still on the road as a mobile hairdresser when I was in my 60s.
"We knew because of our ages that we needed to do it now, otherwise it would be too late," she explains.
The sisters began researching what they would need to do to get their wedding business up and running.
"I had six months last year when I couldn't work because of the pandemic, so I put my time into research. We signed up The Harrogate Bridal Show which is where all shop owners go to buy their stock. They needed a business name and we came up with The Real Wedding Collective quite quickly.
"We already had any idea of the kind of dresses we wanted to sell and, luckily for us, we managed to get all three of the designers that we wanted. We had to get a business bank account and get the funding in place. When it came to looking for a suitable property, we knew we wanted somewhere semi-rural, but with a big enough town or city to support it.
"We were looking at different places in Staffordshire and we ended up in Lichfield. We drove past this row of shops and we both said 'we like it here'. We were so lucky that one of the shops became available. It had been a hairdressers, ironically, at the time. It was perfect for what we needed. We made an offer but there were five other people interested in it. It took a full week to find out that we had got it," Carrie, 48, tells Weekend.
Despite a few delays with signing the lease, the sisters received the keys in December and were finally able to start transforming the shop into their dream boutique.
They opened the doors of The Real Wedding Collective, in Tamworth Street, on February 4 and have been welcoming their first customers.
Sadie, 49, who lives in Cheshire, has continued in her job as an accountant but works in the boutique over the weekend, while Carrie works full-time in their shop. "We decided early on that I would be the face of the business to start with. I'm the creative one and Sadie is the academic one - she loves numbers. We're a good team," says Carrie.
Their boutique stocks dresses by designers Nicole Couture, Watters and Lillian West. "They are all very different from each other. They offer all of the silhouettes you would expect and they cater for all styles. People who have come into the shop have commented on how different the dresses are and how different they are from what they've seen in other shops," says Carrie.
"We wanted it to be a luxury experience. We want people to feel comfortable and looked after, like they are being welcomed into our home, because that's how I would like to feel. The dresses sell themselves, we don't put any pressure on, brides can come in, have a glass of fizz and try on some dresses," she adds.
The sisters are already getting involved in local events, having agreed to sponsor the Bower Queen at this year's Lichfield Greenhill Bower in June.
"The Bower Queen will be wearing one our dresses," says Carrie. "It's nice, we feel we have been welcomed into the community."
So far, the sisters have no regrets at making their dream come true by opening the shop. "It still doesn't feel real, I keep pinching myself. I'm like a magpie, I keep looking at the pretty dresses and I want to try them all on. It's going to be a long, hard slog for the first few months but I know we've both made the right decision to start this business," says Carrie.
The Real Wedding Collective will be attending wedding fairs at The Pear Tree Inn and Country Hotel on March 20, at Bilston Brook Wedding Barn in Lichfield on April 3 and at Birmingham Botanical Gardens on July 17.
For updates follow @therealweddingcollective on Instagram or see www.therealweddingcollective.com