A little bit of Sarah Black walks down the aisle with a lot of brides.
At a glance
COMPANY: Fabulous Frocks
PRODUCT: Consignment wedding gowns
HOURS: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday by appointment
OWNER: Sarah Black
FAMILY: Husband, Alan
RESIDENCE: James Island
EDUCATION: University of St. Andrews in Scotland; College of Charleston, bachelor’s degree in economics.
She owns and operates Fabulous Frocks, a downtown Charleston consignment shop of wedding gowns from high-end designers, former brides and some engaged women who changed their minds on the dress they wanted to wear.
After graduating from the College of Charleston five years ago with a degree in economics, Black and her family looked around the region for a business opportunity for the aspiring entrepreneur.
“Five years ago, it was hard to find a job,” she said. “There wasn’t much except being a waitress or retail.”
They weren’t particularly looking for something wedding related, but they found a bridal shop in Mount Pleasant that Copper Penny was looking to sell. She bought it just before financial markets plummeted in the fall of 2008.
“There’s always a demand for wedding gowns,” Black said of the decision to get into the business, even though economic conditions were deteriorating five years ago.
Black, with financial backing from her parents, changed the name to Belle Couture Bridal. She later opened a second shop of consignment dresses on Spring Street on peninsular Charleston and called it Fabulous Frocks.
Eventually, Belle Couture moved to Church Street, just south of Broad Street, on Charleston’s lower peninsula. As the recession lingered, the allure of high-end Belle Couture faded and the more economical Fabulous Frocks put its lacy window dressing on Church Street.
“We sustained Belle Couture, but Fabulous Frocks just took off,” Black said. “With the way the economy was moving, people were looking for deals on dresses, but they still wanted the high-end look.”
Off the aisle
Many of the dresses on consignment are floor samples from well-known designers such as Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier, Amsale and Romona Keveza. Some are overstock items or discontinued lines.
Others come from individuals — former brides looking to make extra money on the expensive dress they wore just once, engaged women who didn’t make it down the aisle for whatever reason and some brides-to-be who simply changed their mind on the wedding dress they wanted after dishing out a truckload of money.
“A lot of them come from brides changing their minds about the dress,” said shop manager Jordan Zarwel.
The Church Street shop carries 150 to 200 dresses at any given time. No two of them are alike, though some come in the same style but vary slightly in color.
Wedding gowns at Fabulous Frocks range from $1,000 to $6,000. Many originally sold for $2,000 to $9,000 or possibly higher. The average price for a gown sold at Fabulous Frocks is about $1,800.
“Under $2,000 seems to be the most popular,” Black said. “But we did have a customer come in once who didn’t want to spend but $1,000 and she left with a $4,000 dress.”
The shop won’t accept anything that originally sold under $2,000, and dresses cannot be older than five years. If the shop has the same dress in stock already, it won’t accept the gown. It also does not rent dresses.
Black studies the age and condition of the gowns, generally marking them down to 30 percent to 50 percent of the original sales price. The original price and the consignment price appear on the tag, but that doesn’t mean you can’t haggle a little to see if you can get a better deal. Whatever it sells for, the shop makes 50 percent. The other half goes to the dress owner.
Dresses for success
The business, by all accounts, is doing well, she said.
“This year is 60 percent higher in sales than last year,” Black said. “It’s growing every month.”
She attributes the rise in volume to word of mouth as more brides look to the shop for the perfect dress and the hangover from the deep recession.
“Even if the economy is better, everyone’s view of money has changed,” Black said. “People aren’t as willing to spend so easily and pull out their credit cards as they used to.”
Her success has now spilled over into franchising.
Fabulous Frocks recently announced it wants to expand the concept across the country, and entrepreneur.com recently named it one of the “10 Promising New Franchises of 2013.”
It already has one franchise shop in Alexandria, Va.
For the cost of $18,000, an entrepreneur can buy a franchise. The cost includes training, consignment programs, access to inventories of all Fabulous Frocks boutiques and its central warehouse as well as support from the home office on opening a new shop.
“We’ve had a lot of interest,” Black said. “Even someone from the Dominican Republic asked about it, but we aren’t going there.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.
Sarah Black is owner of Fabulous Frocks consignment wedding gown business at 100 Church St. in downtown Charleston. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com) 7/17/13×
Sarah Black, owner of Fabulous Frocks at 100 Church St. in downtown Charleston, shows one of the consignment wedding dresses she has waiting for brides-to-be.×