PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Being a business owner in Aroostook County is challenging no matter how stable the economy is, and catering to a specific clientele can be even more complicated.
That is what Courtney Wetzel is doing now that she had taken ownership of Pancsofar’s Bridal Shop, which has operated on Main Street for 40 years.
Despite the fact that she is a young, first-time business owner selling items that people don’t buy every day, the Mars Hill resident has seen record sales and broadened the scope of the business since officially taking the helm on Nov. 1. She started working at the shop a few weeks earlier.
“Business has really been incredible,” the 23-year-old entrepreneur said during an interview at the newly redecorated store Thursday. “It has been very busy ever since October, which is unusual, because October through December are supposed to be the slow months. I thought I’d have a few months to get adjusted to this, but everything has been just moving rapidly forward.”
Wetzel, who attended Andrews University and Sheffield School of Interior Design, said she and her husband, Zane Wetzel, have always wanted to operate their own business.
“He is a chronic entrepreneur and is always coming up with business ideas,” she said. “So I thought that he would be the one to open a business first. But we are both very determined and hardworking, and the opportunity came up to buy the shop and we just jumped at it.”
Pancsofar’s carries a wide array of bridal attire including gowns, tuxedos, bridesmaid and flower girl wear and clothing for mothers of the bride and groom. Prom and pageant gowns and tuxedo rentals also are a huge part of the business, according to Wetzel, as are jewelry and shoe sales.
Wetzel said people have been surprised to learn that the business has been taken over by someone so young, but she feels that age is an asset in the business.
“I am in my 20s, and most brides are that same age,” she said. “So in a sense I am the client. I am shopping for people my age.”
Since taking ownership, Wetzel traveled to Chicago to purchase new apparel and has introduced the David Tutera for Mon Cheri line at the store. Gowns in his spring 2012 collection will range from $750 to $1,575, according to his website. The shop also offers designs from Maggie Sottero, Christina Wu and Mori Lee. Prom and pageant gowns were created by designers such as Sottero, Lee, Hannah’s and Studio 17.
The store’s clientele is significant, she said, because the next closest bridal shop is in Lincoln.
“We get a tremendous amount of Canadian traffic,” she said. “Canadians are 40 percent of my business. We sold three prom dresses this morning and two were to Canadian customers.”
She said girls and young women from Lewiston and Freeport have frequented the store to look through the approximately 400 wedding dresses. To cater to winter brides, she incorporated a line of fur jackets and wraps into the inventory. She is observing the taste of her customers and allowing them to have input on what lines she carries.
“We get requests for brands and that will decide what we buy,” she said. “If one line isn’t popular, we aren’t going to buy it again. One of the advantages we have is that we can offer a lot bigger number of lines than some of the smaller shops and we can get any line in here.”
To showcase her inventory, Wetzel held fashion shows in Houlton and Presque Isle to allow high school students to see prom, tuxedo and winter formal attire. She is in the midst of planning a “Night of Bridal Fashion” at 7 p.m. Jan. 14 at The Crow’s Nest in Presque Isle. The Total Look, a Presque Isle salon, will be doing hair and makeup for the more than 15 models wearing the attire for brides, mothers, bridesmaids and flower girls. A David Tutera trunk show will be held in the store Jan. 15-22.
Wetzel also is relying heavily on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to appeal to customers.
“We are displaying pictures of the inventory on our Facebook site and I just set up a Twitter account for the store,” she said. “We have been tweeting pictures of just little bits of new dresses and other attire so that it teases the customers and helps to lure them in to see the entire piece.
“I think social networking is key because our customers aren’t looking in the phone book,” she continued. “The old school marketing doesn’t work as well.”
Her husband designed Pancsofar’s new website.
Wetzel has adjusted the hours of the store and the business is closed Saturdays, as Wetzel is a Seventh-day Adventist and considers the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, a day of rest. The store is open Sunday.
“We have gotten really positive feedback on the fact that we are open Sunday,” she said. “It is not as crazy a day as Saturday is for people, and they have time to come in and take an hour or so to look.”
Wetzel is hoping to expand the store even more by offering online sales as soon as she finds a reputable site to handle the transactions.
For now, she is enjoying her first few months of business ownership.
“I really feel like I’ve been preparing for this my whole life,” she said. “I love design and fashion and this is in the same vein. I am really excited.”
To check out Pancsofar’s, log on to pancsofars.com and look for Pancsofar’s Bridal Shop on Facebook. Follow it on Twitter at @pancsofars.
The Jan. 14 show is free to the public for $5 for front-row seats. Tickets are available at Pancsofar’s or RSVP on the Facebook site. For information, visit the store at 728 Main St.