Bernadette Maulion was born and raised in Queens, New York. She lived in New York City for most of her life, save a few years living in Boston for college. She spent the first 9 years of her career in Human Resources within financial services and startups before realizing she wanted to learn more about starting her own small business.
About four years ago, after deciding it was time for a change of scenery, she and her husband moved to Charlotte. They quit their jobs in NYC and moved here on a whim, having faith that they’d figure it out along the way. They found jobs eventually, but Bernadette couldn’t shake the feeling that she was ready for a career change.
She knew, deep down, that she was meant to be a small business owner.
She decided to go back to school to get her MBA at UNC Chapel Hill, while working full-time in various jobs to figure out the best next step for her. And so began her journey to entrepreneurship and Dressed Charlotte.
Aside from Dressed Charlotte, she plays volleyball, loves to bake and will never turn down a night of karaoke.
CBRbiz.com: Our readers might remember Dressed Charlotte from our Business Spotlight with Tie-My-Knot. How do you two work together?
Bernadette Maulion: Tie-My-Knot reached out to me to learn more about how we introduced the idea of renting clothes to our clients and how they might be able to do the same for their business. That turned into a nice brainstorming session about both our businesses. We found out we have a lot in common. I anticipate we will be partnering together to promote both our businesses to our respective clients.
CBRbiz.com: To get started, what’s your elevator pitch for Dressed Charlotte?
Bernadette Maulion: Dressed Charlotte is a local dress rental service where women can rent dresses for all occasions. All dress rentals are for at least 4 days and include the dry cleaning. Women save money and save closet space by not buying dresses they were only going to wear once anyway!
CBRbiz.com: Have you always been passionate about fashion? Tell us how fashion has played a role in your life.
Bernadette Maulion: I’ve always had interest in fashion, especially growing up in NYC. In high school, I was known for having a handbag to match every outfit! But I always thought of fashion as an interest, never as a career option. After I married my husband five years ago, my priorities shifted from spending money on designer brands to more practical things like buying our first home. That’s when I became more interested in how to be fashionable without spending so much money. I started a blog then where I would only wear the same 5-10 items in my closet and see if people noticed (they didn’t)! I started shopping more consignment and resale stores and found that you could still look great without breaking the bank!
CBRbiz.com: What inspired you to start a business like Dressed Charlotte? How did you go about creating your business model?
Bernadette Maulion: Two years ago, I had seven weddings to go to that same year. On top of the weddings were the bachelorette parties, bridal showers and rehearsal dinners. I already had a closet full of clothes, but I didn’t want to wear the same dresses, even though many of the dresses were only worn once. That’s when I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could let other people borrow these dresses and I could borrow theirs in return? I had just started my MBA program, and it was perfect timing to test this idea through the various entrepreneurship classes I was taking, and many of my professors helped me hone the concept. I then took the concept to ‘Startup Weekend’ here in Charlotte, a local startup competition, and won 2nd place. That’s when I decided to turn this idea from a school project to a potential business.
CBRbiz.com: Can you remember the first day Dressed Charlotte became official/themoment when you realized “this is happening”? What was that like?
Bernadette Maulion: I continued to work on the business concept and test it while in school, but decided that I would wait until graduating in April 2016 before officially launching the business. Before graduating, I did a pitch at Pitch Breakfast, where aspiring entrepreneurs do a pitch presentation, Shark Tank-style. That same day, I was interviewed for Charlotte Agenda, and between my presentation and the written article, people started hearing about my business and inquiring about renting and lending dresses. Then Charlotte Five wrote an article, and I was also asked to go on two local morning shows. I had no firm marketing plan when I launched, and I was lucky that the word of mouth was spreading faster than I had anticipated.
It was a bit scary at first because I was still working on my inventory and had not planned to start renting dresses until the summer. But when people were asking to rent, I wanted to meet their expectations and had to grow much faster than I originally thought. I was working around the clock. I remember talking with some friends in June about Dressed Charlotte and telling them I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. They reminded me it had only been eight weeks! It didn’t feel that way; it felt like I had been doing it for much longer than that.
CBRbiz.com: What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of Dressed Charlotte?
Bernadette Maulion: Through this business, I have been able to meet so many amazing women all around Charlotte and get to know them on some personal level because I am helping them get ready for a particularly special time in their lives. I love getting texts and photos of clients saying how many compliments they received wearing something they rented from us. However, what has been most rewarding to me has been this idea that not only did my clients feel great, they SAVED MONEY. I like to think that by renting a dress from me instead of buying one, they have the opportunity to use that money for something more important to them.
CBRbiz.com: Does sourcing dresses from lenders/renting dresses present any unexpected challenges? How do you face them?
Bernadette Maulion: The biggest challenge is keeping up with inventory. Unlike boutiques that carry several of the same item, I only have one of every dress. I also find it challenging to find dresses at the tail ends of the size spectrum (extra small and plus sizes). So if you know anyone that wants to lend their dresses and make money on them, I’m always looking for new inventory! For now, I continue to put the word out to clients to refer their friends to rent and lend dresses.
CBRbiz.com: Because your business model is much different than running a boutique, what unique advice would you offer to an entrepreneur interested in doing something similar?
Bernadette Maulion: This may not seem unique, but really focus on having a great client experience. Before starting Dressed Charlotte, I did work at a few local boutiques to learn more about the retail business, particularly higher end boutiques. I was quite surprised to learn how little focus there was on a personal client experience, even with how expensive some of the clothes were. Just because a person is saving money with us, I don’t want to offer them a lesser experience. I hope that everyone that visits our studio has fun and wants to come back again.
CBRbiz.com: Which form of marketing have you found to be the most successful?
Bernadette Maulion: Other than a few Facebook ads I did when I was first testing the idea, I haven’t actually spent much on traditional advertising. My business has mostly been from word of mouth where most new clients I get have either heard of the business through social media or word of mouth. I have also participated in a few women’s focused events like the Southern Women’s Show and Pink Social Tribe so that I can meet people in person.
CBRbiz.com: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
Bernadette Maulion: If you had asked me five and ten years ago where I saw myself, there is no way I would have told you that I would be married to a guy from South Carolina, living in Charlotte (a city I only knew as where the Hornets played), quitting my high paying bank job and trying to start my own business. And I’m loving that I’m living a life that I never predicted. I hope that in a few years I will have more financial freedom. But more importantly I hope that I will continue to be someone that people want to have as a positive part of their lives. And that whatever career path I take, it’s something that I am excited to talk about when someone asks, ‘What do you do for a living?’
CBRbiz.com: What is the one thing about Dressed Charlotte that you want people to know that hasn’t already been addressed?
Bernadette Maulion: We’re excited for our first holiday season and hope to see our dresses all over Charlotte for all those holiday parties!
Learn more about Bernadette and Dressed Charlotte by visiting them online at http://www.dressedclt.com. You can also follow them on Twitter and Instagram @dressedclt. Have a question for us? Tweet it to @CBRbiz!