<strong>Stephanie Weiss says her seven-year-old bridal boutique Ella Weiss Wedding Design fills a community need for higher-end lines and service.</strong><hr />
Stephanie Weiss says her seven-year-old bridal boutique Ella Weiss Wedding Design fills a community need for higher-end lines and service.
When Stephanie Weiss began helping her sister shop in Springfield for a wedding dress in 2004, the University of Missouri fashion graduate immediately recognized a need.

“I really saw a lack of service and higher-end lines,” Weiss recalls. “I found that a lot of people were going to Kansas City and St. Louis to buy their wedding dresses.”

The next year, Weiss founded Ella Weiss Wedding Design LLC, offering custom wedding and bridesmaids’ gowns and accessories, as well as wedding consultation packages.

In February, Weiss expanded the downtown boutique at 400 Place to include tuxedo rental. “I felt we needed to do that to be a really full-service shop,” she says. “I was looking to grow the business, and that didn’t require an investment.”

Love never fails
Even with love in the air, the bridal industry wasn’t immune to the economic recession in the late 2000s. Though couples were still tying the knot, wedding budgets shrunk with other consumer spending, according to XO Group Inc.’s annual Real Weddings Survey, which noted roughly one-third of respondents nationwide felt the economy affected their wedding plans in 2009 and 2010. The average wedding budget was on a multiyear decline until last year, when it increased to $27,021.

Weiss declined to say if her business met its goals during the height of the recession, but she did respond by diversifying her business model to add less expensive gowns to the higher-end lines, including Nicole Miller and Anne Barge, that sell for up to $5,000.

“I wanted to provide quality dresses at affordable prices that were well made,” she says.

Weiss also added brands such as Wtoo, Sottero & Midgley and La Sposa by Pronovias, with dresses starting at $700.

Diversifying the lines and adding tuxedos by designers such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Stephen Geoffrey helped the store weather the storm, Weiss says, noting revenues between 2010 and 2011 were flat. She says sales are on track for a 20 percent increase in 2012.

Ron Johnson, owner of The Nest floral shop, supplies some of the store’s wedding clients with flowers. “The business they’ve sent us has been very consistent in the past six years,” Johnson says.

Stephanie Hesser, co-owner of calibration laboratory Lew Rauch D.Sc. Inc., was referred to Ella Weiss for her September wedding to Springfield Remanufacturing Corp. accountant Tyler Hesser.

Stephanie Hesser purchased her wedding gown through the store and hired Weiss to coordinate the wedding at the O’Reilly Family Event Center. About 400 people attended the casual/semiformal ceremony at Drury University, where Hesser’s father-in-law serves as head basketball coach.

“She was just very easy to work with, and if I had a problem, she made it right,” Hesser says of Weiss. “At the wedding, it was just so nice to know my parents and in-laws could relax and everything was taken care of. Stephanie was the first person who greeted me at the reception and she stayed all evening, keeping the flow moving along all night.”

A store with a heritage
Weiss graduated from Willow Springs High School in 1996 before earning a textile and apparel degree with an emphasis in fashion marketing and merchandising from University of Missouri. She moved to St. Louis and took a bridal consultant job with Neiman Marcus, where she worked with dress designers. After helping her sister plan her wedding, Weiss and her husband Christopher, a Husch Blackwell attorney, decided to move to Springfield and open a bridal boutique.

The store, 400 E. Walnut St., Ste. 120, is named after Weiss’ great-grandmother who lived to 102 years old. “She was just a classic woman, who always had her hat and heels, and that was just kind of odd to see in Willow Springs,” Weiss says.

Weiss, who now has two daughters – Ella, 4, and Lillian, 19 months – says she knew the downtown site was just what she was looking for. “The atrium had just been completed, and it was very elegant,” she says of the 107-year-old former Marquette Hotel that also houses Aviary Café & Creperie and 1984 Arcade.

Property owner Dan Scott says Weiss is in a 10-year lease with his Big Ugly Building Co. for 2,675 square feet. “I think having destination retail, such as a wedding store, downtown is very important,” Scott says. “Many people need a purpose to come downtown, and this is a store that gives them that purpose.”

Since late 2005, at least four bridal shops opened in the heart of center city, most recently with Lebanon-based Normans Jewelry & Bridal setting up shop on South Avenue in January 2011. Six months later, six-year-old Gracie’s Bridal vacated downtown in a move to the Brentwood Center on South Glenstone Avenue.

Weiss says 75 percent of her business comes from retail sales and 25 percent is in wedding coordinating and consulting. Weiss offers three consulting packages starting at $1,100 for a basic package that includes four hours of consultation, vendor conference, etiquette consultation and itinerary planning.

The second level package starts at $2,000 and includes eight hours of consultation, as well as blocking the hotels and budget development. The full-service package, beginning at $3,500, is on a sliding scale based on the wedding budget and includes designing the wedding theme, hiring the vendors and finding venues.