Jobs of the Future feature stories about career paths, local jobs, programs and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.
Weddings are big business.
According to the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada, the industry is worth $ 5 billion per year, with $ 2 billion of that being made in Ontario alone (www.cbc.ca/news/canada) and when it’s the biggest day of someone's life, everything must be perfect – including the dress.
Bailey Puddister is the owner of Elliot + Olivia, a place she describes as an intimate bridal shop for the modern bride, featuring a collection of fresh, romantic and effortless gowns on Main Street West. And it’s a place that Puddister says finding the right dress for the bride-to-be is the “best part of her job and the reason I keep going with it”
She says, “It is so heartwarming to help people find that dress that is going to make their day special. It was truly special to have the trust of those brides who came to me in the first few months and the first year that I was in business because they were taking a chance on someone who was new to this and knowing that there was a chance that the store might not survive. That would mean there could be issues in getting the dress they wanted. But they trusted me to provide that service and that really meant a lot to me.”
Puddister opened her store in 2018 and says she remembers one conversation with a family that stands out over the past five years.
“One mother said to me after her daughter picked her dress ‘ok now what happens if your business doesn’t make it?’ and I just replied with ‘I’ll make sure she gets her dress no matter what.’ When a bride orders a dress they don’t just get it that day – it could take up to six months for it to come in. So, you’re ordering it and hoping my business would be around for that long to deliver through with it.”
The North Bay-born and West Ferris High School graduate says her home community has been very supportive of Elliot + Olivia.
“A lot of my business seems to happen through word of mouth. When I get an appointment request in, there is an option to select ‘where did you hear about us?’ and I thought the highest would be Instagram or Facebook, but 90% of the time they say they heard about us through a friend or family member. I think that happens in larger cities as well, but it seems like it goes a long way here.”
She adds social media has helped bring in clientele from outside North Bay.
“I’d say about 40-50% of the brides who come to my store are from North Bay and the rest are from out of town. I run the social media accounts and I post whatever I’m really feeling that day. Sometimes I’ll look on Pintrest for some inspiration, and all of the designers have stock photos to showcase their dresses, so that helps add to the content. And all of the photographers in town are really good about tagging us in the photos they take of the bride for their social accounts.”
Puddister took an undergrad in Psychology at Nipissing University and was working as a mediator after graduating. Commuting was a big part of her job, going to Sudbury three times a week and the thought of owning her own business grew more and more appealing.
“In my 20s I had gone wedding dress shopping with some friends in Toronto and I remember being in one store and having this spark of inspiration thinking ‘I want to do this one day’ I don’t know why, but that thought just came to me. I’ve always thought about owning my own business one day, and I’ve always been drawn to small shops when I travel,” she says.
Fast forward a few years and Puddister says she saw the need for a store like Elliot + Olivia in North Bay.
“It’s a business that gives people more modern options to buy their wedding dresses. I think it was just the fact that I was in that store in Toronto that led me to open my own wedding dress store. I’ve always loved the way wedding dresses look and the designs and fabrics that are used. It’s such an important symbol for people on what is an important day,” she says.
To start, Puddister began reaching out to everyone and anyone she could.
“I just emailed designers and asked ‘How does this work?'" she recalls.
“I would tell them that I’m going to open a shop and I needed to know how does someone start ordering dresses? There were some amazing designers and people that worked in the industry that helped me learn the ropes and guided me through that process. I also looked into the Futurprenuers loan program and that helped bring everything together. I think you can’t be afraid of saying you don’t know anything and you have to be willing to reach out to people,” she says, indicating she also had assistance in setting up her website.
“My friend Alana built the website from scratch when I first started. I didn’t realize how much of an investment it is to design a website. About a year ago, I wanted to update the website and so I spent a couple of hours on Squarespace and realized I wasn’t getting anywhere – so I hired Sarah at Dear Sorella to do all that,” says Puddister. “She knew what I was looking for and I’m so grateful because I was able to put together a much more streamlined system for booking appointments and it just looks like a really nice website as well.”
Puddister says her dress selection has also evolved.
“I looked for designs that I personally liked. There’s a lot of dresses that have heavier and stiffer fabric. I found a Canadian company called Truvelle that made dresses that are very light and flowy and I liked their style. I started by putting their dresses in my store and once I opened, I got to know my clientele and figured out what they wanted and so I expanded to offer several other designers.”
Puddister says one of the challenging aspects of being in this industry in a smaller town is ordering from designers who require a minimum order.
“We bring in samples as inventory and brides order dresses based on those. But we need to advocate to designers that are used to working with people in bigger cities that our population doesn’t allow us to afford to buy the same kind of minimum as those stores in bigger cities. If you want to carry those fresh designs that are very sought after, that’s where being in a smaller market gets tricky because they are expecting you to purchase that same volume.”
Puddister says outside of being able to help brides make their special day a reality, she prides herself on the experience of finding that perfect dress.
“They get the shop to themselves; they aren’t trying to get my attention away from another bride. I think people feel very at home and comfortable at my shop. We just introduced a ‘specialty appointment’ which features a gourmet charcuterie board, sparkling and still water, and other special features and those appointments have been extremely popular.”
Puddister says, “Since COVID I think people are starting to realize they need to slow down and enjoy the experience more and shopping for your wedding dress is a special experience so you might as well soak it all in.”
If you have an idea for “Jobs of the Future” send Matt an email at [email protected]