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Retail Roundup: Bella Bridesmaids offers a hybrid shopping experience

Angela Vomero of Centerport, left, and Christine Lyons

Angela Vomero of Centerport, left, and Christine Lyons of Smithtown co-own the Bella Bridesmaids franchise in Huntington. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Something old, something new, something bought online, something shipped to you. 

This modern take on the old wedding rhyme aptly describes the business model of Bella Bridesmaids, which opened a new franchise in Huntington this summer.

The store, at 30 Gerard St., sells dresses for bridesmaids, mothers of brides and flower girls, but Bella does not have a cash register. All sales occur online.

At a time when ecommerce competition is putting a dent in the bridal store business, Bella is blending the online and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences.

“They’re getting the best of both,” said Angela Vomero of Centerport, co-owner of the franchise, along with longtime friend Christine Lyons of Smithtown.

Lyons has a background in retail. She was a buyer for a sports equipment store for 15 years before leaving 25 years ago to raise her children, she said.

Vomero was a nurse for 37 years before retiring two years ago.

After planning three of her children’s weddings, and finding it challenging to find suitable bridesmaids' dresses, Vomero decided to team up with Lyons to open the only Bella Bridesmaids franchise on Long Island, she said.

The shop, which opened Aug. 1, carries women’s sizes from 0 to 30 at prices ranging from $175 to $350.

Dresses at the lower prices include those by designers such as Dessy and Wtoo, while garments at “more aspirational price points” are by designers such as Amsale, Monique Lhuillier and Jenny Yoo, said Erin Wolf, who co-owns the chain's parent company, Bella Bridesmaids Franchise Group LLC, with her mother.

Because the shops don’t carry wedding gowns, they have room to carry bridesmaids dresses from a wider range of designers than traditional bridal shops have, Wolf said.

Headquartered in Chicago, Bella Bridesmaids Franchise Group has 58 franchises across the country. Two are in New York — one in Huntington and another in Manhattan.   

In Bella shops, brides are assigned stylists who help them create “virtual showrooms,” which are online accounts that feature the dress styles and colors they select for their weddings. The brides can email links to their bridal parties to access the showrooms.

Members of the bridal party come in to Bella shops to try on samples of the dresses the brides have selected. 

“It’s by appointment only.  … It’s very private, one on one with the whole bridal party,” Lyons said.

Bella stylists take bridesmaids’ measurements to suggest the dress sizes that should be ordered, but the shops do not have in-house alterations departments.  Out-of-state bridesmaids can go to Bella shops near them for complimentary fittings.

After customers purchase dresses from Bella stores through the virtual showrooms,  the shops order the clothing from the designers. The merchandise is shipped to Bella stores or customers’ homes two to six months after purchase.  

Customers may also go to the Bella website to make purchases that aren’t connected to stores; there is no difference in price.

Last year, 37 percent of bridesmaids bought their wedding attire online, up from 13 percent in 2011, according to The Knot, a wedding resource website in Bethesda, Maryland.  

That, combined with a move to more casual weddings and the  purchase of bridal parties’ attire outside of traditional bridal shops, has put pressure on stores.

The number of bridal shops nationwide declined by 753, or 10.5 percent, to 6,435 between 2010 and 2018, according to IBISWorld Inc., a market research firm in Los Angeles.

But Vomero and Lyons aren’t worried, partly because of the online sales aspect of their store, they said.

“So, it kind of still gives them that online experience they want,” Lyons said.

Bella Bridesmaids was founded in 2001.  Wolf and her mother, Kathleen Casey, who co-owned Bella's Chicago franchise, acquired the franchise system and incorporated Bella Bridesmaids Franchise Group LLC in 2012.

At that time, there were 35 franchises, Wolf said.

She declined to disclose the company’s annual sales but said that sales at stores open at least one year increased 6 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period last year.  

Bella is succeeding because it is melding technology in retail with a network of stores and a high level of customer service, she said.

“The core value ... is banking on the fact that a bride or groom and their bridal party still value an in-the-flesh experience around the occasion of selecting and shopping for bridesmaid dresses,” she said.

Retail Roundup is a column about major retail news on Long Island — store openings, closings, expansions, acquisitions, etc. — that is published online and in the Monday paper. To read more of these columns, click here. If you have news to share, please send an email to Newsday reporter Tory N. Parrish at tory.parrish@newsday.com.

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