What to know about giving gifts for weddings.
An entire career spent as an executive assistant came to an end when Pam Ronalter’s boss decided to shut down his company and pursue his next venture.
He gave her a year’s salary and one last request: Go find your dream.
Ronalter did that when she opened Almond Tree Wedding Boutique, her Scottsdale shop that offers wedding dresses at a fraction of what they would otherwise sell for at traditional stores.
By realizing her dream, Ronalter plays a role in helping to make brides’ wedding dreams come true.
“We can make a dress anything she ever wanted,” she said. “I make it my job that, by the time they’re done here, they’re excited and ready for the next step.”
Ronalter’s inventory includes an original line she recently designed. Brides can also customize their dresses for a couture feel and truly one-of-a-kind gown.
But the largest and most popular draw is Ronalter’s collection of consignment dresses gathered from boutiques across the Valley and the U.S.
Ronalter has become an outlet for bridal shops wanting to sell their samples, display models, overstock and gently owned dresses in like-new condition. Despite most people’s notion of what a “consignment” item is, Ronalter said only 10 percent of these gowns have been down the aisle before.
When Ronalter receives a consignment piece, the first thing she does is slash the price by 50 percent, she said. The price can go down even further, and when she has a blowout sale to make room on the floor for new pieces, it continues to plummet. In May, such a sale included a $9,000 Marchesa gown that Ronalter had dropped to $2,000. In the end, it bore an $800 price tag.
“Brides save at least 50 percent on retail, I make money and the original owner gets a cut. Everybody’s happy,” Ronalter said.
This simple formula has been successful. Almond Tree has experienced an average of 25 percent growth year over year since opening in 2009. Word of mouth has extended beyond the Valley to brides in other states and other countries. Ronalter has seen a number of Canadian clients as well as women from Dubai.
Some are in town for work or fun and decide to search for their wedding dress at Almond Tree. Some specifically come to Phoenix for Almond Tree and head to her shop when they get off the plane, she said.
About 60 percent of walk-ins buy their dress from Almond Tree, Ronalter said.
The average cost of a wedding dress, according to The Knot, a wedding planning site, is $1,564. But a recent Popsugar survey of more than 1,200 married or engaged women reported that 68 percent of women spent less than $1,000 on their wedding dress.
MORE ON WEDDINGS: 10 bakeries for wedding cakes
Ronalter is accustomed to serving economically conscious brides. Many have a $200 dress budget that doesn’t include alterations. A good number have $1,000 to spend, but like that they can buy their ideal dress for $500 and have the money to put toward alterations or another part of the wedding.
The days of ordering a dress at least seven or eight months in advance are no longer the expected norm. Ronalter sees a significant number of women who come in right after getting engaged, three months before their wedding date. On a Tuesday, she talked about a bride — who decided she didn’t like her dress — who was scheduled to come in for a new one that evening because she was getting married that Saturday.
Regardless of the situation, Ronalter makes sure the experience is positive.
“Everyone gets their own consultant and service, like a high-end boutique,” she said. “When they’re here they feel so great. They have fun and want to come back.”
Megan Janbou, who lives in Phoenix and has a September wedding date, saw her ideal dress on Pinterest and asked Ronalter if she could do it. Ronalter said she could and Janbou ordered the gown with a sweetheart neckline in January. She was thrilled with it.
“It looks like a Cinderella dress,” said Janbou. “All I did was show her the photo. It fits to a T. It took me to tears.”
Janbou appreciated the attention to detail Ronalter and her staff gave as well as the diligent communication and service.
“She told me she’d make my dreams come to life,” Janbou said. “And she did.”
As a huge consignment shopper herself, Ronalter realized that the wedding dress was perhaps the best article of clothing for this.
“It’s worn for a few hours and it’s made to last,” she said.
She opened Almond Tree as a consignment business where brides would give her dresses to sell for them.
She also made connections at bridal shows. This was in 2009, and the recession was in full swing so many shops closed and gave their inventory to Ronalter to avoid losing them in auction.
In three months, she went from 35 dresses to 1,000. She moved the business out of her home and into a warehouse to accommodate her inventory, which continued to grow weekly. She turned a space within the warehouse into an elegant dressing room.
With shops frantically needing to capture any revenue in the wake of financial despair, Ronalter’s young, once-small business took off.
“I got a U-Haul and as (dresses were) loading into the truck I sat on the curb and said, ‘What’s happening?’” she recalled of her rapid success. “It’s a good story, but it was mostly (done) out of desperation. … What do we do with all of these dresses?”
Eventually, she moved into a traditional bridal shop space. Today, Ronalter finds herself assisting healthy businesses that send their samples and displays to her to make room for more inventory.
But there’s more to her job than the process of trying on, altering and purchasing of gowns.
Ronalter accommodates brides of all sizes and body types who dread the idea of shimmying in-and-out of dress after dress after dress. For them, Ronalter streamlines the process to make it as fast and fun as possible. In those hours, Ronalter is a nurturer, offering each bride what she needs emotionally and mentally.
“Putting a woman in a fine gown, she discovers things about herself,” she said. “I see women seeing themselves in the mirror and they start crying.”
Ronalter keeps orange juice on hand for women who pass out, succumbing to a combination of starvation dieting and anxiety, which happens weekly, she said.
This kind of personal care has led to Ronalter receiving wedding invitations from clients.
“I can help a girl who hates looking at herself, but looks forward to her wedding day, (and) say, ‘I feel like a beautiful bride,’” Ronalter said. “A bride wants to look down the aisle at her groom and feel beautiful. It’s quite an honor to be a part of making that happen.”
Almond Tree Wedding Boutique
Where: 5415 E. High St., Phoenix.
Interesting stat: 93 percent brides choose the traditional white or off-white gown, according to the 2016 American Wedding Study by Brides publication.
Details: 480-342-9784, almondtreeweddings.com.
Read or Share this story: http://azc.cc/2tsCMqn