here comes the bride

Owner Donna Saber of Margate (right) and employee Dottie Egrie-Wilcox of EHT (left) help bride to be Kathleen McNamara of Plymouth Meeting Pa. (center), with a bridal dress.

Ben Fogletto

SOMERS POINT — Weddings are all about the union of different individuals and everyone working together to get along, so Here Comes the Bride’s approach to business fits its niche well.

Owner Donna Saber, of Margate, said fulfilling the desires and needs of brides-to-be requires, for starters, a wide range of bridal gowns and prices.

Gowns typically range up to $1,500 and are custom ordered after a fitting, but there are sale gowns available from $100 to $300.

“We do alterations on them. They may not be the perfect size, but we can make them fit,” she said.

Even less expensive are the sample gowns sometimes available.

Sometimes customers need more flexibility, she said, and she works with them to find a way.

“We’ve had families who rescheduled their wedding because they didn’t have the money, and we’d tell them pay us what you can, so much per week or month,” Saber said.

Working things out has been just as important on the other end of her business, with the suppliers of her bridal formal wear, special occasion dresses, pageant wear and tuxedos — especially since she acquired the shop just as the severe recession hit.

Saber, whose retail experience included five years at Macy’s, said she bought Here Comes the Bride in March 2008 from Marcia Portnoy, who has started the shop in 1986.

“In 2004, she called me. I had recently lost my parents, and she kind of adopted me,” Saber said.

Unfortunately, within a few months the bridal business, like so many others, dried up.

“When the economy started collapsing in August 2008, it was eerie,” Saber said. “I was used to having customers and it was almost like dead.”

Wedding spending kept declining for the next two years in the annual Real Weddings Study by and After rising a little in 2011, average U.S. wedding spending grew last year by $1,400, to $28,427.

Saber responded to the downturn by reducing business expenses as much as possible, but when she needed a dress from a supplier to whom she owed $9,000, she realized she needed to do more.

She said that after some discussion, that supplier agreed to a flexible payment schedule, and she pursued the same with others. She kept the suppliers who would work with her, and dropped those who wouldn’t or insisted that she buy more inventory than she needed.

Now that the economy and the business have stabilized — she described the latter as “pretty steady, but still not picking up” — she’s adding some domestic suppliers.

One is a classic line of largely silk bridal gowns made in New Jersey, priced a bit higher at $2,300 to $6,000.

Other suppliers include a special occasions dressmaker in New York and a slip maker in Pennsylvania.

“I just felt like we wanted some American manufacturing in here. I didn’t want the shop to be all imports,” she said.

Selling about 1,000 gowns or more per year, Saber gets to see the shifts in how future brides are thinking.

“Before 2000, everything had straps or sleeves. Afterward, everything was strapless,” she said. “And when Kate Middleton got married (to Prince William), everything had to have high necks.”

One thing she doesn’t see, she said, is the angry or out-of-control bride that is a cliche of pop culture.

“This is the happiest moment of the bride’s life, her dream come true. We don’t tend to see the customer who you’ve given a hand and now they want your whole arm,” Saber said.

“Maybe I don’t mind the girls being emotional because I’m emotional, too.”

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