Small Business Deal Advisors is proud to announce that the acquisition of its client, Bridal Gallery by America’s Bride has received the Judge’s Choice Award in the MiBiz 2020 M&A Awards!
MiBiz presents the 8th Annual M&A Deals & Dealmakers Award to spotlight best practices and excellence related to mergers, acquisitions, capital formation and other types of deal making throughout Western Michigan. MiBiz recognizes ten categories for their Deal of the Year awards, and a client of Small Business Deal Advisors, Bridal Gallery, stood out as an example of perseverance and success in an industry that has particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.
2020 was a devastating year for small retail in general, with thousands of small “mom and pop” businesses going under due to mandatory shutdowns. This backdrop makes the Bridal Gallery acquisition all the more impressive.
Founded in 1985 by Judi and Ralph Tapp, Bridal Gallery has been a staple for brides in West Michigan for over 30 years. The store carries over 350 special order wedding dresses as well as bridesmaid dresses, flower girl dresses, and bridal accessories. The Tapps contacted Max Friar in 2019 as they were ready to retire and wanted to sell their business. Bridal Gallery engaged with Small Business Deal Advisors, which Friar co-owns, in late 2019. Immediately, Friar thought to introduce Bridal Gallery to Jennifer Elenbaas, an ambitious entrepreneur who Friar had met originally in 2014.
Back then, Elenbaas was introduced to Friar when she was seeking to purchase a company. Jennifer had not been a business owner before and Max immediately noticed how determined she was. “Jennifer was absolutely going to become a successful entrepreneur,” Max stated. “She has a quiet stoicism about her. She is diplomatic and very driven. I just got a feeling she was bound for success.”
Jennifer’s lifelong dream was to open a bridal shop. After that, Jennifer decided that she would open her own wedding boutique. The challenge was that dresses were on a 6-month backlog. So Jennifer went to work researching faster ways to get started. She came across Park Avenue Bridal, a bridal gallery in Orange Park, Florida. The company was for sale and the owners were very eager to retire. “When Jennifer contacted me about this business,” stated Max Friar, “I was a bit perplexed, wondering what she was thinking.” Jennifer engaged Max and Calder Capital to help negotiate the long-distance sale. Long story short, they were successful, and Jennifer drove to Florida with a box truck to pick up tens of thousands of dollars worth of inventory to start her business in Michigan. “It was a first for me,” stated Friar, “And Jennifer moved so quickly the entire process was wrapped up in less than 60 days. She was truly a pleasure to work with.”
Jennifer then started America’s Bride in 2014 with her original location of 2,500 sq. ft. with 2 fitting rooms.
According to Jennifer, “After we started turning away clients, we added a third fitting room in 2016. Due to our commitment to selection and service, sales were doubling each year but we didn’t have any more room to grow, so I negotiated a deal with the landlord at Alpine Summit after hearing Dress Barn was closing – at the end of 2019. It took about a year from negotiations to the opening of the luxury bridal salon of 8,500 sq. ft. (construction was through COVID-19, February – September 2020). My vision was to have an atmosphere that little girls dream of going to when it is their time to find the perfect dress for their wedding day!”
According to Jennifer, “When I learned that Bridal Gallery was officially for sale, I knew I wanted it. The location is on the other side of town from my current stores, it has a great reputation and most of all I wanted to work with the designers they had the rights to carry. I never dreamed I would be trying to purchase another bridal salon while opening a new store and converting the current one into an outlet….all during a pandemic!”
During the pandemic, things have been challenging as many brides have decided to forego their plans until the time when large groups can safely gather. Despite this, Jennifer and her team continue to answer emails and phone calls from home and conduct virtual bridal appointments through Zoom calls. Because of how critical it is to try on one’s dress before purchasing, the stores continue to accept appointments and have clearly posted COVID-19 policies to ensure the safety of all. While the number of appointments have decreased as weddings have been postponed until the pandemic ebbs, Jennifer’s creativity and resilience shine through. “I have long and open conversations with brides about styles and fits for different body types, going over the construction of gowns, colors, and accessories. I share the links to the designers’ dresses, or even stop into the store and take some photos to send to brides. This is helpful because when they come in, they know what they want to try on and we have established rapport. Bridal Gallery and America’s Bride are even doing curbside pickup.”
Concluded Jennifer, “For those that do choose to shop we have planned out private gown shopping areas already as we believe it should be a special experience. I believe weddings will continue to happen, they might just look a little different for a while. Love is not canceled.”
“It was a pleasure to be part of Jennifer’s entrepreneurial journey and to see what she’s accomplished since we first started working with her over six years ago. She definitely deserves this recognition,” commented Max. “Congratulations, Jennifer!”