A Portadown businesswoman who spotted a gap in the market has launched her own designer dress hire business, thanks to the help of the Go For It programme in association with Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.
Charlene Murdoch came up with the idea of Designer Dolls Dress Hire after buying a designer outfit for a wedding.
Charlene said: “I’ve worked in accounts for around 15 years and still work at it full time, but I decided to go and open my own business on the side in the hope that it could become a more permanent thing.
“During lockdown I managed to save a bit of money, luckily, and afterwards I attended a wedding and spent a complete fortune on the outfit. Having met a couple of girls there who had hired dresses, I thought it was a great idea. There was nowhere in County Armagh that provided this kind of service and I thought it was a very sustainable way to go for the future.”
Charlene admits she didn’t have much of a retail background but the idea of retail appealed to her.
She continued: “When I was 16 I worked in a well-known high street store and it was one of my favourite jobs. I don’t know whether it was the retail aspect or meeting new faces all the time and talking to them, I loved the buzz and getting to meet different people.
“Recently I had a customer who had had a mastectomy and was looking for a suitable dress. You get talking to people and you hear different stories and I just love that.”
Charlene had already built up enough funds not to have to prioritise applying for grants or support, but her brother, who had opened a successful bouncy castle business, suggested checking to see what form of help the council could provide.
The Go For It programme is delivered free of charge by a team of experienced business mentors through Northern Ireland’s wide network of enterprise agencies. It provides expert advice and help with developing a robust business plan to help turn ideas into a commercial enterprise.
She explained: “The same day I heard on the radio about the Go For It programme and I felt like it was a sign, so I decided to contact them. They really helped with the whole process from start to finish - they put the business plan together and my rep, Dana McKenna, was really helpful. She still contacts me on social media and asks how I’m keeping and is very supportive. The accounts side of things is fine but they have provided other more personal help and support.”
Charlene launched Designer Dolls Dress Hire at the start of March and says it has really taken off.
“I still work full-time but I’m doing appointments after work until 9pm and all-day Saturday - I’m booked out with appointments!” she added.
“My customers are mostly wedding guests or first communion and races fashions, but in future I will be stocking black tie event dresses. Some of the dresses I have would cost £300 or £400, but people are hiring them for £70. One Mother of the Groom paid £90 to hire a dress and a really lovely hat - it would have cost her £450.”
Charlene’s dream is to continue growing the business and see where it takes her.
She stated: “I have enough on at the moment with one premises, but if it gets really busy I would perhaps open another in another town. I’ve had a few customers who travelled from Derry/Londonderry because as far as I am aware the city doesn’t have anything like this. I haven’t thought that far ahead - but that would be the dream!”
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough councillor Declan McAlinden praised: “It’s lovely to hear first hand about how Charlene has created this wonderful new business in Portadown. The council is delighted to be able to support local entrepreneurs like Charlene through the Go For It programme to make their dreams a reality.
“Local entrepreneurs like Charlene are extremely important to the local economy. New businesses like Designer Doll Dress Hire are the backbone to our local economy and ABC Council is passionate about supporting new businesses, encouraging entrepreneurs and helping their businesses grow.”
Business Adviser, Dana McKenna, concluded: “It was an absolute pleasure to work with Charlene under the Go For It Programme. From our initial meeting I was confident Charlene would make a success of her business. Her drive and determination were evident from day one.
“Through the support received under the Go For It programme Charlene and I worked together to develop a business plan and financial projections. This enabled Charlene to take her business idea from an initial thought through to her successfully setting up in business.
“I would like to wish Charlene every success in this business venture.”