Tera Davis and Lauren Montgomery were college classmates in 2004 at Sullivan University in the school’s travel, tourism and hospitality program.
“I always knew I’d work for myself,” Montgomery said. “My family has an entrepreneur attitude, and I could never picture myself working for a company.”
She and Davis talked about starting a business together, maybe something involving event planning. After school, they got jobs and husbands – Davis was an assistant events manager at the Speed Art Museum – and they stayed in touch. After a couple of years of bandying around ideas, they actually did create a business together, one centered around their shared love of retail, fashion, creativity, positivity and weddings.
They opened Couture Closet in January 2007 in a storefront building owned by Montgomery’s uncle on Main Street in downtown La Grange.
“The space was just perfect for a bridal shop,” Montgomery said. “Hardwood floors, open, big windows to display the dresses, and an awesome gazebo sat in the center of the shop, ideal for the bride to come out and show off the dresses she was trying on.”
For the first five years, Davis worked a second job as a front desk agent at the Hyatt Regency Louisville.
“I was able to gain valuable lessons that I learned there and still use today. One of them is, ‘I always want to exceed expectations,’ ” she said.
During those early years, the owners focused on customer service and creating memorable experiences for brides – skills that are second-nature to them today – but they tried to make their bridal boutique be all things to all people, as new-to-business people often do. They offered dresses and headpieces for bridesmaids and mothers of the bride, along with prom dresses and shoes.
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And then, slowly but surely, they started homing in on their ideal customer. They dropped one ancillary thing at a time until 2016, when the owners changed the Couture Closet business model to concentrate on one item for one customer: gowns for brides.
“After a solid two years of focusing on the bride, we can say it was the best decision we have made,” Davis said. “It feels great to specialize in one thing, to give our full attention to the bride.”
Montgomery and Davis most often work with brides whose personalities match their own: fun and easy-going people who love simple, dreamy, beautiful things. Couture Closet brides tend to want Modern Romantic, a ‘boho’ look or a bit of whimsy in their wedding gowns. In October 2017, the owners debuted a “curvy plus size” collection of hand-selected gowns.
“We’ve had incredible response, and word is quickly spreading,” Davis said. “We have committed to offering samples ranging from size 18 to 30.”
“Body image positivity is our main message this year and continuing forward,” Montgomery said.
Meanwhile, two industry changes in particular have helped Couture Closet’s business. Over the past few years, bridal customers have shifted from a designer brand mindset to wanting a gown in a style and fit that suits them, regardless of who made it. From an economic standpoint, the economy crash in 2008 brought about lower prices from high-end designers.
“When we first opened there were pretty much two price ranges for bridal, either very low-end or very high-end. The $1,500 to $3,000 price range was pretty much non-existent,” Montgomery said. “We love both of these changes in the industry and have used both to our advantage over the years.”
The owners have a lot in common with each other, especially in terms of being creative and working one-on-one with brides. Behind the scenes, their individual strengths are at play, as Davis is more systems-oriented and gravitates toward numbers and reports, while Montgomery writes most of the company’s blogs and manages IT and social media.
Montgomery appreciates the small-business culture in the Louisville area and considers herself fortunate to be a woman entrepreneur and small-business owner of a “successful business that makes other women beautiful and empowers them – I can’t get over how lucky I am to be a part of that.”
Davis echoed her business partner’s sentiments, adding, “We have been asked to move multiple times, and we don’t plan on going anywhere. Kentucky has been good to us.”