Bridal shop thrives in Santa Maria
Bridal shop thrives in Santa Maria
By Steve Pent/Associate Editor
Maria Paz hangs up one of the many dress models at her store, Primavera Dreams Bridal Shop, in the Santa Maria Town Center mall. Paz opened the shop, now in its fourth year, after graduating from Women’s Economic Ventures’ (WEV) 10-week Self-Employment Training course. //Bryan Walton/Staff
While many businesses have closed because of the nation’s economic crisis, one store tucked into the second floor of the Santa Maria Town Center continues to thrive.
Primavera Dreams Bridal Shop, now in its fourth year, caters to local customers and increasingly to an out-of-town clientele to keep its sales going.
“Tradition isn’t altered by the crisis,” said store owner Maria Paz, concerning her largely mail-order operation that provides gowns, suits and decorations not only for weddings but also for other traditionally formal events such as proms and quinceaneras.
Small businesses like Primavera Dreams have played a huge role in the economy, pointed out Marsha Bailey, president and CEO of Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV), a Santa Barbara County nonprofit group.
“Companies with five or fewer employees account for 77 percent of new jobs created during a recession, while big companies have cut back,” she remarked.
The recession, according to Bailey, has also caused a surge in numbers of people registering for WEV’s self-employment training course, which teaches them to create their own businesses, learn technical skills to start up or grow a business, and develop analytical skills to figure out whether their business plans are feasible, she explained.
“At WEV, we’ve seen a surge in numbers and a greater variety of clients … motivated by survival,” she added.
At Primavera Dreams, table settings, picture frames, wedding and party gowns, and three-piece suits are neatly on display. Dresses serve as models to pick out or to try on since a majority of items are ordered through catalogues, Paz noted.
Once a model is chosen, Paz takes the person’s measurements and telephones the company with the order for a certain gown. Dresses arrive via UPS, in as little as one day if sent from Los Angeles, and in less than a week from other locations.
Paz’s expertise lies in alterations, having run a sewing school for nine years before embarking on her current venture, and she is state-certified both as a seamstress and as a florist.
“We’re like clothing doctors,” always lengthening or shortening gowns, Paz remarked.
Owning her own bridal shop had always been a dream of hers, she said.
That big step happened some six years ago when she took WEV’s self-employment training course.
At that time, she had the idea of expanding her sewing school but when she took the graduation stage, Paz shared with the audience that her dream was to have a bridal shop, which shocked her husband.
“Because it’s my dream, what I’ve always wanted to do,” she later explained to him. Her husband has been working with her ever since.
Paz started at the ground level with only 15 dresses, looking where to establish contact with mail order companies that specialized in finished dresses. After she established deals with three of them, other companies jumped on board.
After two years, she was able to expand and now sells up to 100 three-piece suits in the months leading up to school proms. The height of the season is February through September.
For Paz, the key for growing the company has been customer service.
“My greatest satisfaction is when a customer comes away satisfied … and then they come by again to say ‘Hi.’ … That’s proof that I did things right. Or they come in to buy a prom gown, and later for their wedding,” she said.
Customer loyalty increasingly has come from out of town. Last week a couple from Santa Barbara stopped in and made an appointment for a wedding package, which includes decoration, photography and attire.
“It’s sad that a lot of folks go to Santa Barbara or Los Angeles to buy, when we have the same outfits here. If they just would stop by and see what we have,” she said.
Paz also finds a way to support the community. For example, her shop loans out gowns and suits for the Santa Maria High Homecoming Dance king and queen along with all their court, and also puts up the decorations for the dance hall.
“I love participating with schools,” she said.
Paz’s attitude dovetails nicely with WEV’s vision of giving women the kinds of economic security that provides them with more life choices and options.
“Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen a change,” Bailey said. “When we first started, women in business weren’t the norm. But nowadays, women owning their own business has become mainstream.”
January 25, 2009