How I Made $247,000 Last Year Running a Bridal Boutique in Baltimore

  • LaTonya Turnage runs a full-service bridal boutique in Baltimore, Maryland, which she launched in 2015.
  • She launched it after 15 years in marketing and with her own savings.
  • She says networking and focusing on good branding has helped her attract clients.

This narrated essay is based on a conversation with 48-year-old wedding business owner LaTonya Turnage about her work. Insider verified his company’s earnings with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I am a bridal beauty expert and stylist and owner of Elite Secrets Bridal and The Elite Design House. Prior to entering the wedding industry, I worked in sales and marketing for a radiology company for 15 years.

LaTonya Turnage in a black dress walking up the stairs

Latonya Turnage.

hair photography

Elite Secrets Bridal offers a full luxury bridal beauty service, from styling and touch-ups to hair and makeup. The Elite Design House is where brides customize and build their dream wedding dress. I’ve partnered with designers across the country to help brides find a one-of-a-kind dress. Both brands are housed in my brick and mortar boutique in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon fashion district.

We start the process with an introduction and an interview to learn more about the bride and her vision for the wedding day. Once we meet on date day, we start showcasing wedding dress styles based on her vision and the silhouettes that flatter her body shape.

I currently employ two full-time and three part-time employees. In 2021, my company had sales of $365,000. My expenses were $118,000, so I took home $247,000.

I’ve always been intrigued by all things beauty so I started working as a freelance bridemake-up artist while working for the radiology company

I have always taken my time to make each bride feel special. I would even stay the whole day of the wedding to make sure they were touched up throughout.

As my journey continued I wanted to do more and try everything. I knew the makeup was part of the full package, but the styling, photography, and more seals the final look.

In 2015, with the help of my husband and using our savings to invest in the new business, I opened Elite Secrets Bridal. I always offer a luxury VIP service where I stay throughout the wedding day to continue to touch up makeup if needed for the service, photos or reception.

The first years were difficult

I spent long hours trying to attract the right clientele. My passion is what kept me going then and still today. I have always had the desire to serve people.

After the first two years in business, I really started to focus on my brand image and how I presented myself online to attract the right audience. Having a background in marketing, I knew it would be a good investment and I would see the return.

I researched luxury brands like Cartier and Tiffany & Co. and read articles that talked about the brands and their messages to their customers. I knew it was important to appear the same in my branding and messaging.

I also knew that our brand voice was important, like the fonts we would use for the website, the copy, the color palette, even the way we talk and address our customers in emails. At first I tried to do it myself, but eventually I realized I needed outside help.

I hired a PR and marketing team who helped with branding, copywriting and strategy development, which included hiring a graphic designer to develop a new website – one that I was proud to show off and that appealed to the clientele that I was aiming to attract.

I developed profiles for three different clients and wrote details about each of them. It was important to understand who we were talking to and what content would be important to post on social media.

Plus, I knew that if my clients weren’t coming to me, I had to go where they were hanging out and make friends. Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook are where I needed to be. I created a social media calendar and scheduled posts. Every day was a different message, and I repeated every week. My social media manager and my assistant help me now.

I used networking as part of my marketing plan by being accessible so people could buy into me as a person and not just as a business.

a bride lying in her dress with blue flowers

An Elite Secrets bridal bride.

Jess Palatucci

It is important to network with industry professionals such as wedding planners, event venue managers and photographers. However, I was and still am careful to vet these relationships to make sure their customer base matched our target audience.

Social media is like making friends, and building the trust of those friends turns into paying customers. When someone was making an appointment, I was literally like, They said yes to the dress, three times before they enter our doors. And it was true – they said yes when they were drawn to our website from social media or maybe an ad they read in a local magazine. They said yes when making an appointment with us. And then they said yes when they walked through the door.

This mindset helped me grow and trained my team to be successful as well.

Once, bride traveled all the way from Utah and said she came because she wanted to support a black-owned business

Her mother traveled with her. This particular bride discovered our store on Instagram and started following us. She was very intrigued when she realized that we belonged to black people.

They were both very excited to see the store in person and actually had the opportunity to work with me personally. We offered to set up a virtual video call for her grandmother to join, and they were both thrilled. I expected it to be a challenge considering her grandmother’s age, but I was wrong. Once she realized what was happening, she cried with joy when she saw her granddaughter in the dress she would be walking down the aisle in.

It gave me chills to witness the joyful cries and to see three generations of women celebrating this happy moment. His grandmother told me that I was now part of the family and insisted that I attend the wedding.

It was one of those times when I knew I was in the right place, living my passion and serving our wives. The icing on the cake was the distance traveled to support a black-owned small business. It was definitely one of those unforgettable moments.

During the pandemic, we were closed for 4 month. I learned a lot about my back office and the financial part of my business.

It was a very dark time as many businesses were closing. In the bridal industry, selling online is difficult because it’s a very emotional purchase, so we had to get creative.

I knew I had goals, but now I had more time to work on an actual plan to achieve those goals. I was forced to take a closer look at my expenses, i.e. accounts receivable versus accounts payable. I developed a forecast, a growth plan and an exit strategy to ensure the future of my business until retirement.

We’ve also started rolling out one of our most booked appointment types to date: the VIP appointment, which is a private, COVID-19-friendly appointment for brides and their wedding procession for up to nine guests. It’s the perfect experience and time for the bride to do everything for her while keeping everyone safe. We also increased our revenue by charging $250 for this reservation.

If you’re an entrepreneur and don’t know where to start, invest in a coach or mentor to help you build a foundation and set business goals. Build a network of like-minded entrepreneurs and attend networking events. Join your local chamber of commerce and small business associations. It’s also important to build a relationship with your local bank and banker and focus on your customer experience. This will give you a leg up on your competition.

About Nereida Nystrom

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