Couture Dress Rental Changes the Game

Jennifer Burrell. Photos: Zondra Hughes.

The Frock Shop, a dress rental boutique, answers the prayers of high society ladies who refuse to wear the same gown twice, and don’t want to continue to burn money, says owner Jennifer Burrell.

For as little as $50, ladies can rent a couture cocktail dress of their dreams. For a little bit more, they can rent an evening gown, or even a wedding dress.

For entrepreneurs, The Frock Shop offers solutions on how to get a brick-and-mortar companion site to your commerce website without investing in expensive real estate.

Here, Burrell, a marketing manager,* takes rolling out inside her unique business niche that is changing all the rules.

The Frock Shop is housed within a state-of-the art storage facility. How did you get here?
All of our wedding dresses were purchased from a bridal store that closed. My sister and I went to pick them up, and we found this storage facility that was close to my house. After we stored the dresses, we put up our website and people called to ask where they could come to try on our dresses, where is the Frock Shop?

The Frock Shop's Fitting Room

And I had to explain that we don’t have a shop, but we keep all of our dresses in a storage facility and you’re welcome to come and try them on. People don’t have a problem with it; they didn’t care, as long as we have free parking. So, we ended up staying here.

How much money are you saving by having your shop at this location?
When I looked at renting, it was $1,600 per month on the low-end, to $2,500. So I can say that I pay maybe 10 percent of that here. As far as our goals, we’ll probably never have an actual retail storefront.

Where do you find these dresses?
Inventory is our biggest expense; we get dresses from department stores, online stores, some dresses we buy directly from customers if they’re in good condition, and from liquidators. We really don’t but from directly from designers yet, because most of time the designers require you to buy ten to fifteen pieces. They range in value from $100, and the $1,200 (average $200 for the cocktail dresses, wedding dresses, and Herve Leger from $1500 to $2,000).

What is the price range for rentals?
Evening gowns rent from $75 to $175; a gown for a standard, black-tie function, you can probably get that for $75. The $150-$175 range is for pageant gowns, fully sequined. The cocktail dresses, $50.

A few Frock Shop gowns.

How many dresses do you have now?
We started out with about 10 dresses a little over a year ago from my own closet. And from there we have about 80 cocktail dresses, 60 evening gowns and about 125 wedding dresses. We just try to find the best dresses we think that we can rent for the lowest price.

What’s hot right now?
We’re approaching summer, and people are asking for white dresses. We just came off of prom and the girls loved anything pink or purple; and we always have a lot of requests for wedding dresses, that’s always big. Anything that’s really high-end is popular, and any new plus-size dresses get immediately rented.

How do you protect the merchandise?
Included in the price of every rental is accident insurance that covers the rental if someone spills a little bit of wine or food — all of those things, our dry cleaner can get out.

We do require that the customer give us their credit card number for the rental. We don’t charge anything to the credit card, but we do keep it on file in the event that we let them rent the dress and we don’t hear from them again, then we do have to charge the card.

How do your incorporate social media into your business strategy?
Facebook acts like our website. Our website at frockshopchicago.com is pretty static, it’s for informational purposes, and it doesn’t show all of our dresses.

Facebook is so flexible that whenever we get new dresses we always post it on Facebook, as soon as we order the dress, we announce, new arrival coming in to generate some buzz for it. We also do polls on Facebook, and we allow customers to be the buyer, so we’ll post five or six dresses that we’re thinking about buying, and whatever is the most popular dress, we’ll buy.

We also allow customers to post pictures of themselves in Frock Shop dresses, at their events on Facebook. People really like it because they get to see the dresses on real bodies.

The Frock Shop shoppers must make an appointment; Saturday is the main appointment day.

Video: Jennifer Burrell’s Business Tip

*Not affiliated with Burrell Communications.

Zondra Hughes

Deputy Editor, Rolling Out

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