Many single women have entire Pinterest boards dedicated to their perfect wedding day visions.
One Canadian pregnancy help center is turning these dreams into affordable realities as well as creating a steady revenue stream for their ministry.
Five years ago, Judith Brown, Executive Director of Pregnancy & Resource Centre in Windsor, Ontario, heard about a unique spin on the traditional thrift shop idea.
The concept is simple: new and gently used wedding dresses are donated to the organization. The dresses are then sold to the public at greatly reduced prices, often half or more off the original retail value. All proceeds are then donated to the non-profit organization.
The Brides Project in Toronto began in 2004 with “two very important purposes: to provide every bride with the things she needs for a beautiful wedding within her budget, and to support cancer charities by donating all our profits.” To date, The Brides Project has raised half a million dollars for cancer research. In 2014 alone, they donated a total of more than $120,000.
Brown was immediately captivated by the concept and saw it as an opportunity to build her pregnancy help center. “It was a novel idea. I felt like here was finally a unique way to help our clients, support our ministry, and advocate our values, all at the same time.”
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Brown toured The Brides Project in Toronto, peppering its founder with questions. Guidelines in hand, she immediately began planning her own bridal boutique.
Pregnancy & Resource Centre spent its first 25 years as a rural PRC, located outside of bustling Windsor. When Brown heard that a PRC located in the city was closing its doors, she saw a prime opportunity to not only move the PRC into Windsor but to also open the brick and mortar bridal shop.
Five years later, a bustling Windsor storefront is growing not only her client base but also donor relationships.
She began with a single wedding gown which she used as advertising. Over time, she has developed relationships with several for-profit bridal shops. “When new dresses come out each year, we frequently receive donations of last year’s unsold dresses.” Brown recently picked up 20 new dresses.
“Once, we even received a dress worth over $3500!”
Currently, Ms. Brown says more than 20% of their dresses are brand new. They have approximately 300 dresses and sell for an average of $200-300 apiece.
“It has become a hobby,” laughs Brown. She attends several bridal shows each year. “We place some of our dresses in the fashion shows. At our booth on the main floor, we can explain who we are and what we do.”
“It’s very exciting to talk with people from all over the area about both the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of life.”
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“Of course, we have to be careful that we don’t communicate the wrong message to our clients. Not every client is ready to get married. But when she is, we can make her perfect day a little more affordable.”
Ms. Brown offers gowns to current and former clients at even lower prices than the general public. “If she can pay a little [for the dress], great. If not, it is more important to us that she feel beautiful and supported on her big day.”
Now that the shop has been open for about a year, Brown says that her biggest issue has been staffing. “We operate by appointment only. Volunteers are a great asset. The trouble is that they rarely stay very long.” Training is wasted when they don’t stay for more than a few months.
To overcome this challenge, Brown plans to hire full-time staff, perhaps creating a job-skills training program for clients.
Partnering with several local colleges in Windsor can also help her plan marketing strategies and develop the business even further.
The PRC currently sees several hundred new clients each year. Will Bride’s Choice and Yours begin to pay major dividends for The Pregnancy and Resource Center?
Brown hopes so. Through proceeds from sales, Brown wants to increase client intake and add ultrasound in the coming years.
For pregnancy help organizations, a “perfect wedding” could be a powerful way to build income and advance the mission at the same time.