WATERTOWN — When Katie Schoeneman opened Sweet Hello Bridal and Formal Co., she wanted to offer her clients a unique, well-appointed experience.
She said after her own wedding, she realized she had a passion for bridal planning and the skills to make it work, although it was vastly different from the corporate work she’d been doing beforehand.
“Bridal was a new industry for myself,” Mrs. Schoeneman said. “And we did a lot of research before opening. I probably spent about six months before we even started, getting the proposal, the funding, all that.”
But once she opened, in late January of this year, the growth was rapid.
Between her own advertising and coverage in local media, Mrs. Schoeneman said her first month was among her busiest to date.
“In a smaller town, like we’re in here in Watertown, people get excited for something new and different,” she said. “I think we hit on being able to develop something that people were looking for.”
Some of that unique energy Mrs. Schoeneman offers clients at Sweet Hello starts before a client even walks in. Since March, when the coronavirus pandemic began, clients have the entire shop to themselves when they come in. But even before social distancing and mask-wearing were ubiquitous, Mrs. Schoeneman said clients were given an exclusive experience.
“We have multiple private suites, so you’re never overlapping with another bride, even if we had multiple appointments going on at the same time,” she said.
The groom isn’t forgotten at Sweet Hello, either. Mrs. Schoeneman said there’s a special space in the shop for menswear, and men have their own dressing space as well. That way, they truly feel like they’re stepping into a space made for them when they visit the shop.
After the shopping experience, Mrs. Schoeneman said it’s important to keep in touch with clients, because it can take months for a custom piece of formal wear to arrive once ordered, depending on the designer.
“We definitely want to try to stay in contact with them during that time, so they know that we’ve got them,” she said.
Besides bridal gowns and tuxedos, Sweet Hello also offers wedding party attire, so bridesmaids’ dresses and groomsmen’s tuxedos can be ordered and customized all in the same place.
Mrs. Schoeneman said flexibility is also important, so Sweet Hello offers a series of “off the rack” dresses that can be purchased right then and there. Especially during the pandemic, Mrs. Schoeneman said those readily available options have proven popular.
“We were able to get 30 brides for 2020 a dress right then and there, for those who needed it for their August or September wedding but didn’t have time to wait for a dress,” she said.
Sweet Hello also offers a wide variety of accessories, and each bride is assigned a personal stylist to get them ready for their big day. Mrs. Schoeneman said, as the weather gets colder and many people begin to worry more about the coronavirus pandemic, she and her team at Sweet Hello are committed to ensuring every one of their clients have a safe, healthy and happy experience at all times.
Virtual appointments are encouraged whenever possible, and in spite of that reduced face-to-face contact, Mrs. Schoeneman said she still feels connected with her clients.
“It’s allowed us more time to connect with them, and it’s allowed us to be more adapting and flexible and understanding,” she said.
Going forward, she said her priorities remain focused on offering a safe, unique and enjoyable experience for her clients. She says she’s committed to meeting people where they are, and has began offering some lower-cost options for those who may have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
“We brought 20 dresses in during lockdown that, once we were open, we could sell for $1,000 or less,” she said. “They’re lower cost, but they’re of really good quality, which is what I knew a lot of brides would be looking for.”
She said it all ties into her overall philosophy, that everyone deserves to have the dress and the wedding experience that they want.