George James Bridal
Nicola Weeks, owner and founder of George James Bridal in the centre of Bedford offers more than just a bridal dress service.
Nicola, who is also a part time actress, had worked between productions in a bridal shop where she gained experience and know-how of bridal dress retailing. Nicola realised that running a bridal shop was something she could and wanted to do and with the help of a Start-Up loan from Foundation East she opened the store in January 2015.
Named after her late nephew, who sadly passed away aged just 10, George James Bridal is about more than just dresses. George James Bridal prides itself on the whole experience it offers to clients, making each bride and members of each bridal party feel as special as the wedding day itself. The bride gets a personal service which is catered specially for her party including 1-to-1 appointments and welcoming champagne to drink. Nicola offers a large selection of dresses which cater for all brides tastes and requirements but also provides all the accessories necessary for the bride’s big day.
The start-up of the business couldn’t have gone better for Nicola as the loan through Foundation East was the 25,000th provided by the Start-Up Loan Company. This being a government backed scheme Prime Minister, David Cameron met with Nicola and chatted about her shop and her service, how Foundation East had helped her and how she planned to take the business forwards. Significant media attention resulted with press and news channels reporting on his visit, creating a ‘buzz’ that all new businesses desire.
Since the opening, George James Bridal has gone from strength to strength. Nicola smashed her sales forecasts for the first year and had to adjust her cash-flow forecasts because of the success.
This rapid growth and success has not gone unnoticed. George James Bridal was awarded Best New Business at the FSB Bedfordshire Awards 2015, went on to win Best Newcomer at the East of England Wedding Industry Awards 2015 and was a finalist at the National Wedding Awards for the Best Regional Newcomer in January 2016, a fantastic way to kick start the second year of trading.
Acknowledging her success, Foundation East asked Nicola to speak at their Breakfast Seminar at Wherstead Park in October 2015. Calling on her presentation skills as an actress, she captivated the audience with the story of how the business had started, how she had overcome the obstacles to the development of the business, the pro-active steps she has taken to make the business grow and the success that has resulted.
In December, Nicola was featured on Area Director of Lloyds bank, Steve Elsom’s Radio Show ‘The Business Hub’ on Star Radio. Nicola explained to Steve the process of getting George James Bridal started, the awards she has won, her encounter with David Cameron and, as Nicola describes him, “the wonderful Bob Shimmon”, Foundation East’s Business Loans Manager for Bedfordshire, who guided Nicola through the application process and continues to advise and assist her as the business further develops. You can read the full report of her interview with Steve Elsom and listen to the podcast here.
During the interview with Steve Elsom, Nicola commented on how Foundation East had supported her through the process: “I met the fantastic Bob Shimmon and he explained how they (Foundation East) can help. They do old fashioned business and banking. They actually look at you as a business rather than just the facts and figures. I met with Bob and he really talked to me and interviewed me to get a better understanding of the business. We went through all the various processes, where Bob actually said this is totally viable: yes you are taking a risk to some extent but that’s business. He could see my passion and enthusiasm."
Bob said “Since my first meeting with Nicola to discuss her business plan for the new business it has been abundantly clear that she had spent months developing her idea; gaining experience, knowledge and contacts within the sector; researching the market in terms of geographic and demographic expectations; thoroughly assessing the competition and the markets that they were operating in before selecting the appropriate designers for the market sector which had the greatest opportunities.
To appeal to her potential clients Nicola created a brand which projects style and class, and provides superior personal customer service, at attractive prices. The George James brand has been carefully promoted using an excellent website with optimum use of various social media platforms. The location for the shop was selected due to the natural association with an established retailer, Michael Bailey, who attracted the type of customer that married (excuse the pun) perfectly with Nicola’s offering.
Nicola does not act on impulse. She has ideas to continue to strengthen her market position, develops them and seeks out appropriate support and input, before implementing the plan in the best way possible.
I can honestly say that in my time as a commercial lender and mentor, Nicola exhibits exceptional entrepreneurial skills which, I am sure, will see her fulfil all of her business ambitions. “