“But through demand it was very clear, within the first couple of years, that we needed an avenue where women could try on the samples, so that quickly led to us opening our first showroom. Fast forward to now and we’ve got the 16 showrooms (plus Toronto) and we’re forecasted for next year to have 25.”
A Canada showroom has been on the cards for about two years, following a trunk show in the region, but demand for a local showroom was heightened during Covid, when the border between the US and Canada was shut, preventing brides from travelling to US stores.
“We’ve had a really good Canadian customer [base] for a long time, primarily serviced out of New York, Seattle and our online services – we’re seeing great results there. It’s a no-brainer for us. We make a lot of revenue out of Canada already without a physical presence,” explained Wade Ziems, brand CEO and Megan’s husband.
The US is Grace Loves Lace’s biggest market, currently accounting for 70 per cent of sales. Wade said there has been strong demand from the US since day one.
“Early on, one of our first orders that we ever got was from the US. At our first LA trunk show, we had people lining up around the block just to get in to see our dresses,” he said
“We’ve really concentrated on our US showrooms since then, and that continues to be our ongoing target audience. There isn’t a single showroom that we have opened up in the US that hasn’t paid itself back within three months.”
Covid sales bump
Despite restrictions on weddings and disruption to planning, the pandemic has been kind to Grace Loves Lace, with the business delivering a 35 per cent increase in sales in FY21.
With more and more brides forced to downsize or choosing to elope, Megan said the dress became the focal point.
“We saw that brides really focused on the dress and it became the most important element. A lot of them looked at getting two dresses because they would think of the smaller occasion and the separate occasion they would do once they could celebrate with friends and family,” she said.
The brand’s roots as an online business was a huge advantage in meeting demand during the pandemic, according to Wade.
“It acts like a huge showroom for us that’s open 24/7. It was a huge contributor during Covid, especially the early stages. Year on year, it increases by about 25 per cent which shows the buyer appetite and interest in the brand,” he said.
“We offer a lot more ready-to-wear styles, and we now offer a priority service that can provide a dress inside six weeks.”
While word of mouth and traditional marketing helped drive the brand in the early days, in recent years, Grace Loves Lace has embraced social media as platforms for bridal inspiration. In 2016, the brand’s Hollie 2.0 gown became the most popular wedding dress on Pinterest, pinned more than 2.5 million times.
“We were early adopters of Instagram and Facebook for commercial purposes … We’ve really concentrated on social media over the last six to eight years and it’s our major marketing [channel] now.
While the designs have proven popular with consumers, so too has the accessible price point. Today, the business continues to manufacture ethically from the beachside town of Burleigh Heads in Queensland.
Importance of exclusivity
Despite Megan’s background in wholesale, she was always adamant that Grace Loves Lace should remain a direct-to-consumer business.
“I really wanted to keep the brand very exclusive and be able to really control the experience that all of the brides were getting. And also be able to keep the price point as accessible as possible as well,” she said.
Her own experience as a bride influenced this decision after she encountered traditional bridal boutiques with multiple brands and ill-informed stylists.
“You stand on a box in the middle of the room and they use big clippers to pull it in and try to get you to imagine what it was going to look like. The boutiques themselves were quite clinical.
“We really wanted to provide that service of welcoming you to our “home”, an environment where you feel really comfortable. The stylists really know what they’re talking about and they genuinely want to find the right dress for you.”
Exclusivity is a key element of the showroom experience, with rose tea and champagne on hand, natural light for optimum viewing and direct consultation with brand stylists.
“I think women really value knowing that they’re buying their dress from the people that are actually making it. I think that’s really important.
“Over 80 per cent of the world’s wedding dresses are mass produced in China, and most brides-to-be don’t know that.”
Over the next 12 months, Grace Loves Lace is focused on its North American store rollout with four more set to open by the end of 2021.
“The wedding dress market is $38 billion a year – so it’s massive. And although we’re the largest wedding dress manufacturer in the Southern Hemisphere at the moment, we’re just scratching the surface in America,” Megan said.
“We’re just really excited for more growth, to continue building our team and increase Australian manufacturing as well.”