Some of my best childhood memories are of my Mom’s bridal shop, Mary Kay’s Bridal.
I would spend hours after school with her; cleaning sky-high mirrors to gleaming perfection and vacuuming [what seemed like] acres of mauve-pink carpet.
I remember hunting for “real” diamonds & pearls on the floor, crawling underneath massive racks of wedding gowns, filling a tiny dixie cup with my treasures.
All of my friends from school wanted to come “help,” too. My mother always let us play dress-up with the veils & jewelry, as long as we tidied up once our hearts were content.
I idolized my mother when I was little. She was so beautiful, always well dressed, well accessorized, and her long nails were always painted the perfect shade of red.
But her beauty was more than sequin blazers and perfect cheekbones; she treated every single person with the kindness you would show a loved one. If I ever got lost in a grocery store or somewhere running errands, I would just listen for her loud, bubbly laugh; she was always talking & laughing with someone. And every time it would rain, she would pick up strangers who were walking to or from the bus stop.
People loved being around her, and I wanted to be just like her.
As soon as I was old enough, I memorized the store’s hours so I could answer the phones. “Mary Kay’s Bridal, this is Ashley! Yes, our store hours are: Monday through Thursday 10 to 8:30, Fridays & Saturdays 10 to 5, and we are closed on Sundays.”
*this was long before websites, so about 80% of the incoming calls were people simply asking about the hours. I took such pride in this, I knew this was the FIRST interaction that a customer would have with our business, and I wanted to make sure it was a GREAT one!
I don’t remember exactly when I started working with brides, it just slowly happened (probably around the age of 13?). I couldn’t keep myself away from the gorgeous gowns and seeing a bride’s face light up when she found “THE One!”
Without trying, I memorized every single dress in the store, all the designers, every different kind of fabric and style. I knew every part of the process, from manufacturers, to sizing & measuring, to alterations, and how to perfectly steam the wrinkles from different types of fabric.
I could see how stressful wedding planning was for most women, so I wanted to make sure that our customers knew they were in good hands, with the BEST. We not only had the best gowns & accessories in town, but we wanted to be known for really caring for our brides, taking care of them like family.
The absolute highlight of my summers growing up was attending weddings! I grew up with such a large extended family, and I swear my mother knows EVERYONE. I think we went to a wedding at least once a month!
My mother & I would always get to the church early to see if anyone needed help; we would steam veils, hem a pant leg, or made sure the groomsmen knew how to put on cufflinks properly. We were the experts, like wedding day super-heros!
And after sobbing through the ceremony, her and I would help bustle the brides’ dress in the bathroom and get ready to dance the night away!
I have used everything she gave me & taught me to continue serving others in the wedding industry. I did not, however, take over the bridal shop, as many people thought I would. I always had a bigger vision.
Today, I am creating programs, systems, & communities for businesses in the wedding industry. I saw first hand how difficult it can be to advertise a small business using traditional methods, & the importance of relationships & brand credibility. Plus, the market was changing dramatically for the 1st time in over 30 years, and I wanted to be on the cusp of that movement.
My business partners and I started building what is known today as Forever Bride in 2010. (I actually met my 2 partners through the bridal shop!) It started as a small video-based wedding blog that showcased the incredible talent & passion of local wedding business owners.
At this time, social media was in its infancy, and if you were one of the few producing quality content at the time, the internet was a free-for-all! Plus, brides were hungry to learn more about the people behind the brands, rather than the basic goods or services. The wedding industry was growing & becoming very saturated, meaning businesses needed to do something that would help them stand out.
Forever Bride is now a national brand, serving over 300 businesses (& growing!), through blogs, videos, events, educational seminars, & community. We are proud to help businesses grow to the next level, whether they are brand new or have 100+ people on staff.
The program works because we believe in the simple principles I learned from my mother, Mary Kay, Hawks;
1. make everyone like family, no matter how different they are from you
2. go out of your way to provide an exceptional experience
3. Whether you feel like it or not, it is your duty to get up everyday, dress beautifully, and serve others the best way you can.
I am proud to be a female entrepreneur, in the city & the industry I grew up in, serving & helping hundreds of business owners, just like my mom.