Grand Avenue Business Association is proud to feature the Wedding Shoppe as part of their 50 Years—50 Stories series.
For nearly 40 years The Wedding Shoppe has thrived and grown on Grand Avenue. It is truly one of the great success stories that Grand Avenue Business Association is proud to share. Although there was plenty of opportunity to move beyond Grand Avenue, The Wedding Shoppe stayed in and near it's original location, yet their reach is Worldwide.
The following interview is with The Wedding Shoppe owner Jim Fritz:
What is your role at the Wedding Shoppe?
I am a co-owner with my wife, Lois Fritz. My current role consists of working with Accounts Payable, Human Resources, Property Management, Financial and Legal Analysis, and I also serve on the Executive Committee.
How long have you been with the company?
I started the company with Lois in 1977. It has been almost 40 years!
What is your history or background?
I grew up in South St. Paul, MN, and graduated from South St. Paul High School. I went to the University of Minnesota and graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor of Science degree. While attending college, I also joined the United States Naval Air Reserve and served from 1969 until I was honorably discharged in 1975. Then I worked various jobs until Lois and I opened the Wedding Shoppe in 1977, and have been here ever since.
What is the history of the Wedding Shoppe?
My wife and I founded the the Wedding Shoppe in August of 1977. In 1976 I was playing in a three-piece band, booking primarily wedding venues. When the brides-to-be would call me to book the band, they often asked questions about where they could find various products and services related to their wedding plans. One day the light bulb went on and I thought: Why not open a store where all wedding products and services are available under one roof?
With Lois at the tender age of 24 and myself at 26, we borrowed $3,000 from her nurse’s credit union to start the business. I conducted a little research to determine our business name, reviewing telephone directories from around the country at the James J. Hill Reference Library. I literally found no retail location in the country who offered all wedding related products and services! After deciding on the name Wedding Shoppe, Inc., we chose our slogan, “Your One Stop Wedding Shoppe,” and trademarked them both. We were in business!
We started in our small house in South St. Paul, where we offered catering, fresh and silk flowers, invitations, and free information on hall rentals, bands, and other wedding-related vendors. We soon realized that our small house was not adequate for our growing business, and Lois found our present location at 1196 Grand Avenue in early 1978. This move allowed us more room, but more importantly the opportunity to expand into bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, mothers’ and flower girl attire, and men’s formal wear.
Our newly purchased house cost $54,000, and was very tiny. It consisted of two bedrooms, an upstairs bathroom, one small kitchen, and a dining and living room on the main floor. The gentleman whom we purchased the home from asked, “What are you planning to do with the house?” We told him about the Wedding Shoppe and he exclaimed, “Sounds like a great idea!” He then proceeded to say that he and his business partner were construction contractors planning to try their hand at a business up in northern Minnesota. What were they planning to call it? Blue Fin Bay Resort! I think it’s safe to say we were all lucky enough to experience the American Dream.
The Wedding Shoppe continued to grow and evolve over the years, and we now own five buildings on the Avenue, including two retail locations at 1196 and 1201 Grand. We started our Ecommerce website in 2009, which allows us to reach customers all over the world. In 2012, we decided to give our customers exactly what they were asking for by designing our own line of bridesmaid dresses, Kennedy Blue. Soon we were designing bridal gowns, veils, and men’s accessories, too! Now this successful wedding line has become its own company, and you can view and purchase every design at www.KennedyBlue.com.
With so many new endeavors, our team has grown from 2 to 80 employees since 1977. Roles include retail, customer service, marketing, merchandising, product fulfillment, website development, and technology. I look forward to seeing where we go next!
What do you like the most about your role at the Wedding Shoppe?
I love my role at the Wedding Shoppe. I use my business experience to mentor employees and foster their personal and professional growth. Because I have been with the same company for almost 40 years, it’s like being in a business time machine! I’ve been lucky enough to witness hundreds of changes in technology, work ethics, and fashion trends.
What are some of the challenges you face?
Like most retailers, the biggest challenge we face is finding and retaining qualified employees who love working retail. For many years, we enjoyed retail employees who would stay for 10 to 30 years. Today, employees do not necessarily gravitate toward retail. They tend to be more mobile and are driven by technical jobs. Therefore, our major challenge is recruiting retail employees that love their job, are well-trained, and give a five-star experience to our customers.
What are you most passionate about in your business?
Both Lois and I retain a strong passion for the wedding business. She has a strong home economics and fashion background, and I support that with my business background. We both love seeing happy, satisfied customers who have had a fantastic shopping experience and tell their friends about it. It is extremely rewarding when we see mothers of the bride, who found their gowns with us 35 years ago, return with their daughters for the same memorable experience.
What are you most proud of and why?
There are three things I am most proud of:
First, we are fortunate enough to have serviced thousands of satisfied brides who’ve walked down the aisle in one of our gowns.
Second, I am proud of the dozens of awards that line the shelves in our conference room, including the 2006 National Bridal Retailer of the Year. Presented to us at the Debbi Awards in Chicago, this award was voted on by our peers and fellow wedding vendors, and we were honored to receive it.
Finally, I am proud when former employees stop back for a visit and share how wonderful their working experience was with us, and how that same experience catapulted them into their current careers.
What are some of the changes that you have seen over the years?
We have grown from a business of 2 employees to one with roughly 80. Growth of that magnitude over a span of almost 40 years has fostered multiple changes in technology, marketing and merchandising strategies, employee recruitment and retention, as well as a constant need for more physical space requirements.
Perhaps what’s more important is what hasn’t changed: The excitement a bride exudes when she finds that dream wedding gown and shouts out joyfully for all around to hear, “This is the one!”
How long have you been a member of the Grand Avenue Business Association?
I believe the Wedding Shoppe has been a member of the Grand Avenue Business Association since around the mid 1980’s.
What is it you like about being a member of the Grand Avenue Business Association?
Being a member of the Grand Avenue Business Association has several rewards, such as keeping a pulse on what’s happening on Grand Avenue and greater St. Paul, and meeting the many great and talented business people that comprise the association. Most of all, it’s great belonging to an organization with a transparent agenda and a competent staff that keeps us informed and supports us on all of the complex issues which business people must face today.
Anything you would like to add?
If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. It has been a fantastic experience starting out on Grand Avenue in 1977, and watching the street literally come alive because of all of the unique businesses and the hard working people that have grown them. Being a part of the Wedding Shoppe has been an exciting and deeply rewarding experience. Lois and I relish the opportunity to work at a business where everyone loves to hear the stories, emotions, and joy that weddings naturally create!
Thank you for listening,
Jim and Lois Fritz
Wedding Shoppe, Inc.
1196 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105
Hours of Operation:
May 1 through December 31
Monday & Thursday: 10:00 AM -- 8:00 PM
Tuesday, Wednesday, & Friday: 10:00AM -- 6:00PM
Saturday & Sunday: 9:00AM -- 7:00PM
January 1 through April 30
Monday through Thursday: 10:00AM -- 8:00PM
Friday: 10:00AM – 6:00PM
Saturday & Sunday: 9:00 AM -- 7:00PM