Bellissima Weddings: Growing a successful bridal boutique

Bellissima Weddings is a thriving bridal boutique in Essex, founded by husband and wife team Laura and Michael Daly. With support from Funding Circle, they have grown their award-winning business to employ 14 staff over the past 18 years. In this case study, Laura shares how her business came about, her top tips for staying relevant to your customers and how she overcame some of her biggest challenges.

Bellissima Weddings, Laura Daly

Before founding Bellissima Weddings, Laura lived in Italy and spent her time as a dancer and fashion model. Having worked for an Italian bridal company, Laura was accustomed to being fitted and pinned into bridal gowns. With first-hand experience, Laura understood the creative process behind wedding dresses and began to expand her knowledge of the bridal fashion world. She had an immediate aptitude for it. After moving back home, Laura saw a niche in the UK bridal market. She felt that the existing bridal retailing industry was stuck in 1980 and appeared old-fashioned and stuffy. Laura would walk into bridal shops and think to herself “this isn’t right!”. That’s when she knew she wanted to do something about it and start her own bridal boutique to give brides a better experience.

Bridesmaids dresses at Bellissima Weddings

Bellissima set out to deliver a more modern approach with unbeatable customer service. This is what won Bellissima Weddings their first customers. Brides would say, “I don’t know what I’m buying but I’m buying it from here” and that’s when Bellissima knew they had got it right.

In 2001, Laura and her husband opened Bellissima Weddings as a joint venture. At the time, Laura’s husband was working in a full-time job as a policeman, so it was just Laura on the shop floor. In the first year, they couldn’t cope with the amount of business they were generating. They had people queuing outside the door and queuing to try on gowns in the bathroom! To keep up with demand, they took on another member of staff. In 2002, Michael decided to go part-time as a policeman because keeping on top of Bellissima’s books was demanding more and more of his time; one year later he took a career break to work at Bellissima full time to keep up with their exponential growth he never went back!

How they grew

Although Laura is the face of the business, Bellissima Weddings bridal boutique wouldn’t be where it is today without the hard work of both Michael and Laura, “we’re the yin and yang” says Laura. The business was doubling sales each year so, in 2003, they moved into a bigger 3,000 square foot shop where the boutique remains today. Bellissima now employs 14 people. Laura’s attitude to her staff is very much that they contribute as much, and are as vital to Bellissima’s success, as her and Michael.

“It’s not a question of us and them. Everyone works for the business and we all feed the monster every day. We all work for the one big name that is Bellissima.” Laura Daly.

Laura treats all her staff as critical to the business' success

Laura’s business highlights

  • Winning the top two industry awards — the Oscars of the bridal world – ‘Bridal Buyer Award’ in 2010, voted by their peers, and ‘Wedding Industry Award’ in 2017, voted by customers.
  • In 2011, Laura was voted Essex Business Woman of the Year.
  • Laura was the chair of the Retail Bridalwear Association but stood down because it compromised running her business. She is now vice chair.
  • Laura writes a monthly column in Wedding Trader. She uses the platform to voice the retailer point of view to suppliers.
  • Bellissima being presented to Princess Anne when she visited one of their suppliers as a top account, a few years ago.

Challenges of running a bridal boutique

  • Cash flow: Keeping it healthy is a rocky road. In the first few years, Laura and Michael found it almost impossible to do any projections, so learning to forecast effectively has been a challenge.
  • Carving out a niche in a crowded market: Bellissima had to reinvent the wheel to make themselves different. This is a constant challenge for the brand and Bellissima have annual meetings to discuss how they can improve to keep their customers happy. “The challenge is making our shop look familiar without being the same as everyone else.” – Laura Daly
  • Finding the right staff: To work in the bridal industry, you have to be passionate about people and fashion. Bellissima do roughly 500 bridal gowns a year and every wedding is as important as the next. The staff at Bellissima strive to ensure every single bride has a great emotional journey from A to Z. “I can do that in my sleep. I was born to do that!” says Laura.

Laura’s top tips for small business owners

  • Enter awards even if you don’t think you might win! It forces you to look at your business in a snapshot of time with a critical eye.
  • Don’t be too proud to take criticism. Negative feedback allows you to improve.
  • Don’t open a business unless you are absolutely passionate about it.
  • Focus on how you can differentiate from your competition. “In the first few years, you will be living your business 24/7. In this climate where there’s every variety of everything already on the market, unless you know that you can make yourself different and stand out, don’t do it.”
  • Understand your customers. “A beautiful store with great stock and wonderful service is nothing if you’re not offering what your customer actually wants. Do your homework and work out what your customers need.”

Funding Circle

Laura and her husband came to Funding Circle when it was the business’ 15th birthday. They found that other bridal retailers had caught up with them and they needed to do something different. To reinvent themselves Bellissima needed a new refurbishment, new designers and new stock — that’s where Funding Circle came in.

They liked the idea of ordinary people investing in their business. “It spurs you on to do what you said you were going to do. You owe it to everybody because they have faith in you and are behind you cheering you on. It’s not just money taken from a bank.”

Laura’s message to their investors…

“However small or great the amount was, you don’t realise the difference it’s made. Whatever you think you’ve done, you’ve done ten times more. So thank you. To know you’ve got people behind you and supporting you is a great feeling.”

Top investor articles from 2018

Want to know what other investors are reading? If you’re new to the platform or missed any of these last year, below we have our top investor articles from 2018. Remember to keep a look-out for new blogs, videos and more in our monthly newsletter.

Make the most of your lending experience

Find out how to make your money work as hard as possible for you. This article outlines five key tips to help you to get the most out of your investor account so you can earn a stronger, more stable return.

Digging into the data: How investor returns change over time

Investor returns often go through distinct stages. So you know what to expect, this article runs through how an account with us typically performs and the reasons why. It’s a helpful read for all investors!

What is compound interest and how can it boost your earnings?

Do you know how compound interest works? Did you know that it can make a huge difference to your earnings? If you are a bit confused then check out this blog post. It clearly explains what compound interest is and how you can use it in the long term to generate larger returns.

Bad debt, defaults and why not to be afraid of them

Defaults are a natural part of lending to businesses and something investors should understand and be fully comfortable with. This post explains how bad debt works, how we account for it and what we do to minimise its impact.

How to earn a more stable return with diversification

Diversification is incredibly important. It enables you to spread your risk and earn a more stable return in the long term. In this post we use an infographic to explain what it means and how you can diversify at Funding Circle.

Saving for a house – by Jasmine Birtles

If getting on the property ladder or buying your next property is a long way off, personal finance expert Jasmine Birtles outlines a few things you can do to speed things up. She highlights the different schemes available and saving techniques for potential homeowners in the UK.

Remember, by lending to business your capital is at risk and funds are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

Video. The urban spa that’s healing with your help

January is a big month for fitness and health kicks, so if you’re digging out the gym pass or reaching for detox smoothies, we’ve got someone we’d like you to meet. Martha Mary is a business owner in Manchester. With a passion for healing and a mission to bring healing to the high street, she founded Urban Oasis day spa in 2004. 

With locations at Debenhams and the Hilton in central Manchester, Urban Oasis offers treatments ranging from massages and reiki to nails and lashes. As well as keeping up with the demands of running the business, Martha Mary still takes time to perform treatments herself. Although the workload can be intense, her love for what she does keeps her going. “You’ve got to have a lot of energy, empathy and patience. I love what I do and I’m very passionate about it. Trying to make a difference and do something positive with my life – that’s what really drives me.”

Thanks to Funding Circle investors, Urban Oasis took a loan to get a new accreditation, train staff and buy new equipment. Watch the video below to learn more about her passion and the challenges of running a small business. 

ISAs – a complete guide

ISAs have had a shake up in the last few years, giving you more choice and potential rewards. To help you understand the options available, below you’ll find details on the different types of ISA, how they work and key points to be aware of. Always remember that tax rules depend on your individual circumstances and may change in the future.

What is an ISA?

ISA stands for Individual Savings Account. They allow you to earn interest on your savings or investments tax-free. The amount you can put into your ISA is capped for each tax year, for 2018/19 and 2019/20 it’s £20,000. This is called your ISA allowance.

You can choose to split your ISA allowance across different ISAs, or put it all in one. How you choose to do this can make a big difference to your earnings.

What types of ISA are there?

There is a variety of ISAs to suit different risk appetites and life stages. You can choose from a Cash ISA, Stocks & Shares ISA, Innovative Finance ISA (IFISA), Lifetime ISA (LISA) and Help to Buy ISA. There’s also a Junior ISA to help you save for the kids.

You can only pay into one of each type of ISA in any tax year. Each has different benefits, so it’s important to understand how they work.

Cash ISA

A Cash ISA works like a savings account, only all the interest you earn is completely tax-free. As with savings accounts, there’s a whole host of Cash ISA providers and options out there, such as instant access, fixed-rate or regular savers. Most are free to set up, but some may charge to withdraw.

Although you may earn a lower interest rate with a Cash ISA than a Stocks & Shares ISA or Innovative Finance ISA, they are very low risk. Your money is also protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which will compensate you up to £85,000 if you lose your money. However, if the interest rate offered is below inflation, you could be losing out in real terms.

Stocks & Shares ISA

You can also use an ISA to earn tax-free interest on investments. These Stocks & Shares ISAs will normally be managed using an app, online platform, broker or fund manager.

Your money could be invested in shares in public companies, bonds (essentially a loan to a company or government) or funds (a mixture of investments pooled together).

These types of investment can give you higher returns than you’d get with a Cash ISA, but they carry more risk. Although the interest is tax-free, your investment could go down as well as up.

There are often more fees associated with a Stocks & Shares ISA as well. Providers may charge you for opening an ISA, changing investments, withdrawing or transfering to another ISA provider.

Innovative Finance ISA

Innovative Finance ISAs allow you to earn tax-free interest by lending to people or businesses. There are a variety of online providers (often known as peer-to-peer lenders or lending platforms) that will focus on different groups. Some only lend to individuals, others to property developers, and some like Funding Circle that lend to small UK businesses.

As you’re lending your money, there’s a risk that the loans won’t be repaid. Providers mitigate this risk in different ways, such as spreading your funds across multiple loans.

As you’re lending your money, there’s a risk that the loans won’t be repaid. Providers mitigate this risk in different ways, such as spreading your funds across multiple loans.

Consequently, Innovative Finance ISAs typically sit somewhere between Cash ISAs and Stocks & Shares ISAs. They typically offer better returns than Cash ISAs and savings, but are more stable than playing the stock market.

With the Funding Circle ISA you could earn a projected return of 6-7% per year*. Find out more. Capital at risk.

Help to buy ISA

Help to buy ISAs are a type of Cash ISA made for first-time house buyers. You can save £1,200 in the first month, then £200 per month from then on. When you’re ready to buy your property, the Government will then add 25% as a bonus (up to £3,000).

As they are a type of Cash ISA, you can’t pay into both a Cash ISA and a Help to buy ISA in the same tax year. If you’ve opened your Cash ISA this year, you can transfer the funds to your Help to buy ISA. If you have more than £1,200 in there, you can transfer the rest elsewhere.

Lifetime ISA

Like the Help to buy ISA, a Lifetime ISA can help you at important life stages. It can also help you buy your first home, or you can keep it open and use it for retirement.

You can deposit up to £4,000 per year and get a 25% bonus from the state. The bonus is paid monthly (if you make a deposit that month), and once it’s in your account it counts as your money, so you can earn interest on it too. You have to be between 18-39 to open one, and you’ll get contributions up to the age of 50.

If, however, you take the money out for anything other than buying your first home or retirement, there is a penalty of 25%. That leaves you around 6% down overall. It sounds counterintuitive, but here’s an example to show how it works:

£4,000 + 25% = £5,000

£5,000 – 25% = £3,750

How can I use my ISA allowance?

The ISA allowance is set every year. It’s risen from £7,000 in 1999 to £20,000 in 2019. While there used to be rules on how you can split your ISA allowance, now there’s more freedom.

As mentioned above, there are limits to how much you can put in a Lifetime ISA or Help to buy ISA. Aside from that you can choose to spread your £20,000 however you’d like to. You can put it all in one ISA, or spread it among a few.

Remember, if you choose to spread it out, it’s your responsibility to make sure you don’t go over your £20,000 ISA allowance in total. Providers will usually make sure you don’t exceed the limit in any one account, but they won’t know what ISAs you have elsewhere.

Any interest also won’t count towards your personal savings allowance. This is another allowance which lets you earn £1,000 of interest on savings each year without paying tax (£500 for higher tax rate payers). So if you have a lot of savings earning interest, an ISA will help you keep more of it tax-free.  

How do I get my money out of an ISA?

The rules for taking money out of your ISA depend on the type and provider you have. There is no set time period you need to start enjoying the tax-free benefits. However, some products may have fees for withdrawing or closing your account early.

Unless you have a flexible ISA, once you’ve taken out funds you can’t put them back in.

What is a flexible ISA?

With a flexible ISA, you can take money out and replace it within the same tax year without it affecting your tax-free ISA allowance. Here’s some examples to show how it works:

Judy has a flexible ISA. She’s paid in £20,000 already this year, using her whole allowance. She takes out £10,000 to buy a car, but because she has a flexible ISA she can pay the £10,000 back in before the April 5th deadline.

John has a non-flexible ISA. He’s also paid in £20,000 this year. He takes out £8,000 to redo his kitchen, but he can’t pay in any more until the next tax year.

Tina also has a non-flexible ISA. She’s paid in £5,000 this year, leaving £15,000 of her allowance left. She takes out £2,000 for a family holiday, but can still only pay £15,000 back in.

Whether an ISA is flexible or not depends on which ISA you have. Cash ISAs, Innovative Finance ISAs and cash in a Stocks & Shares ISA can all be flexible, but it depends on the provider.

Help to buy ISAs, Lifetime ISAs and Junior ISAs are not flexible.

When is the deadline for using my ISA allowance?

You must use your ISA allowance by April 5th to get the tax benefit for that year. The allowance does not roll over, so you will lose it if you don’t take advantage. From April 6th onwards it will be a new tax year with a new ISA allowance that you can use. The previous year’s allowance, however, will be gone.

Who is eligible for an ISA?

To be eligible for an ISA, you must:

  • Be 16 or over (18 or over for Innovative Finance ISA and Stocks & Shares ISA)
  • Live in the UK
  • Have a national insurance number

You can only take out an ISA in your own name. Joint ISAs with a friend, partner or relative aren’t allowed.

Can I transfer ISAs?

You can transfer ISAs from both the current tax year and previous years to a new provider. Just like your bank account or household bills, switching providers can help you get the best rates.

When transferring ISAs there are two important points to remember:

1 – Don’t withdraw the money yourself – speak to the new provider about a transfer

Transferring an ISA is not as simple as withdrawing from your bank account and depositing somewhere new. If you withdraw the money yourself, you can lose your tax benefit. Instead, speak to your new provider and ask them for an ISA transfer form. Normally they will then arrange the transfer for you.

As mentioned above, Stocks & Shares ISAs often charge a fee for transfering, withdrawing or closing an ISA.

2 – You can only pay into one of each type of ISA in any tax year

If you want to transfer a ISA from the current tax year, you’ll have to move all of it to the new provider. However, for ISAs from previous years, you can either move them all into one or split them across several providers.

What is a Junior ISA?

If your child is under 16, you can open a Junior ISA (JISA) for them instead. They only get an allowance of £4,260 at the moment, but if you open one when they’re born they’ve got plenty of years to rack up interest. You have a choice of Cash or Stocks & Shares, and you can divide the allowance between the two.

Although it’s in their name, the ISA is opened and managed by you. They can take over when they reach 16, but they can’t touch the cash until 18. Once they turn 18 though it’s their money to do want they want with.

The Funding Circle ISA

The Funding Circle ISA is an Innovative Finance ISA. By using the simple online platform, you can quickly lend to hundreds of small UK businesses. They get the money to grow and create jobs, and you can earn interest as they pay you back each month.

You can earn a projected return of 6-7% per year*. It’s a flexible ISA, so you can take money out without losing your tax-free allowance, and you can transfer ISAs from other providers.

Find out more about the Funding Circle ISA here.

By lending to businesses your capital is at risk. Tax rules depend on your individual circumstances and may change. Not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

*The rates shown are the annual projected returns, after fees and bad debts but before tax, that a diversified investor could earn with the Balanced lending option. Your actual return may be higher or lower than projected, for example due to the performance of the individual loans your funds are matched with, or a change in macroeconomic conditions.

The information and views contained here are provided solely for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal, tax, regulatory, accounting or investment advice, or as a recommendation or an offer or invitation by Funding Circle.

To the extent permitted by law, Funding Circle does not accept any liability for any loss or damage which may arise directly or indirectly from the use of, or reliance on, such information contained here. If you have any questions, please speak to your professional adviser or seek independent specialist advice.

Looking back on the last three months: October – December 2018 review

Happy New Year! As we look forward to what 2019 has in store, we wanted to take a step back and celebrate what investors like you have achieved. As part of this, last week we updated our statistics page with our lending and performance figures up to 31st December 2018. Read on to find out more.

You’ve helped a record number of small businesses grow

Between October and December last year, investors lent £680 million to small businesses across the UK, US, Germany and the Netherlands; bringing the total lending for 2018 to approximately £2.3 billion.

In the UK alone, more than £440 million was lent to UK small businesses between October and December. Alongside 79,000 investors, in 2018 you lent more than £1.5 billion to UK businesses. When you remove repayments received this year from that figure—what we call net lending—you have provided approximately £725 million of new funding to businesses all over the UK, an incredible achievement!

More of our key lending figures can be seen below:

You help all types of businesses from all over the UK

By lending through Funding Circle you make a huge difference to all kinds of businesses throughout the UK. With your help they’re able to grow, create jobs, develop new products and support local communities. Below is a breakdown of the sector and location of the UK businesses currently accessing finance through the Funding Circle platform.

 

An update from our Chief Risk Officer

In December our Chief Risk Officer, Jerome Le Luel, provided his insight into how the macroeconomic environment has impacted loan performance in the markets Funding Circle operates in, and what we have done to help ensure you continue to earn attractive returns. In the UK, loans taken out since 2012 are projected to deliver returns of between 4.7 – 7.3% per year, after fees and bad debt.*

Although the economic environment for small businesses in the UK remains strong, the outlook for consumer credit in the UK has worsened in recent years. This has impacted a small population of loans in our higher risk bands who can be more susceptible to shifting trends in the consumer credit environment. These headwinds are reflected in the projected returns for our 2016 and 2017 cohorts, the most recent of which can be seen on our statistics page. You can read Jerome’s update in full here.

We’re excited for the year ahead

We’re looking forward to what 2019 will bring. Following our public listing on the London Stock Exchange last year, we believe we’re in a strong position to help you lend to more small businesses than ever before, earning an attractive return while helping the UK economy to grow. Remember, by lending to businesses your capital is at risk, and your funds aren’t covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

Enjoy lending,

The Funding Circle team

*Projected returns for loans taken out in the UK between 2012-2018, as of 31st December 2018. The projected annualised return shows the return, after fees and bad debt, that loans are currently estimated to achieve. Loans are shown by the year they were taken out. The return is calculated by combining the actual annualised return received to date, and our latest return estimates, including expected recoveries, for the remaining term of loans that have not yet been fully repaid. Past performance is not a guarantee of future returns and by lending to businesses your capital is at risk.

Our Business Champion programme is a year old

Funding Circle Business Champion

At Funding Circle we’ve always valued our introducer community and the relationships we have with them. They are an integral part of our business and have played an important part in helping us get where we are today.

Now a year old, we created the Business Champion programme to give new opportunities and support to introducers who want to work closely with us. The programme is open to introducers of all shapes and sizes. We are looking for introducers that provide high quality business, show commitment to Funding Circle, provide great customer outcomes and are efficient to work with.

In return, we provide them with a unique offering that differs from anything else in the market. First and foremost, we provide a best-in-class service with faster decisions and personal support. By working closer together, we can help them say yes to more clients, more often.

What’s more, we also work with introducers to help grow their own business. By giving access to our marketing expertise and resources, we deliver campaigns and run analysis to attract and retain more clients.

Giving introducers the opportunity to grow and reach their full potential is at the heart of the Business Champion programme. Not only does it help us and our introducers, but benefits their clients and Funding Circle investors too.

2018 was an amazing year for our Business Champions, with record breaking quarters for lending and fantastic feedback on the new service. We’ve also continued to evolve the programme adding new benefits throughout the year.

Business Champions now receive:

  • Business Champion branding
  • £500,000 max loan size
  • Commission up to 6%
  • Funding Circle fees capped at 3%
  • Marketing support
  • Decision typically on the same day*

*When application is fully submitted with all documents before 1pm

Being a Business Champion is a mark of quality for introducers. It recognises their expertise and all the work they do to keep clients satisfied, as well as the quality of business they have provided to Funding Circle and investors.

We’re delighted with the success the programme has seen in its first year already, and we’ll keep forging stronger relationships that can help our introducers fly!

Are you a commercial finance broker looking for a fast, affordable funding solution for your clients?
Get in touch with our dedicated Introducer team at introducer@fundingcircle.com or give us a call on 020 3667 2208.