September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

From barn clothes to tuxedos

Fellbaums open bridal and formal wear shop
Laura Fellbaum switches wedding dresses on one of many mannequins throughout the shop. The Fellbaums have enjoyed the challenge of owning their own business in an industry completely different than dairy. But at the end of the day, Laura said, it’s nice to exchange her dress clothes for jeans and barn boots.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JENNIFER BURGGRAFF
Laura Fellbaum switches wedding dresses on one of many mannequins throughout the shop. The Fellbaums have enjoyed the challenge of owning their own business in an industry completely different than dairy. But at the end of the day, Laura said, it’s nice to exchange her dress clothes for jeans and barn boots.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JENNIFER BURGGRAFF

By By Jennifer Burggraff- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. - Kennard and Laura Fellbaum see a lot of black and white in their days, not only in the 80 Holsteins they milk with Kennard's parents, Steve and Becky Fellbaum, on their Swanville, Minn., dairy farm, but in the bridal gowns and tuxes they offer at their formal wear shop in Little Falls, Minn.
Black and white may be the only thing these two industries have in common, but that's perfectly fine with the Fellbaums, who opened Celebrations Bridal and Formal Wear - formerly Barb's Bridal and Wedding Services - in October 2011.
"It's been a good change of pace," Kennard said.
While Kennard grew up on his family's dairy farm and has been slowly transitioning into the operation, they are not complete strangers to the bridal industry. Laura worked in her mother's floral shop in Montevideo, Minn., when she was younger, and following high school she attended Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Minn., for floral design.
After she and Kennard were married, Laura worked off the farm for a while. When their two children, Paige (5) and Megan (3), were born, she became a stay-at-home mom.
"[But] I missed the people interaction," she said.
Laura began working at Barb's Bridal and Wedding Services in Little Falls in January 2010, after following up on a help-wanted ad. Not only did it give her a chance to work with people, it gave her and Kennard an opportunity to determine if the bridal and formal wear industry was for them.
"It was a way to test the waters to see if it was something we liked," Laura said.
By that time, they had discussed starting their own business, and with Laura's background, they were naturally drawn to the bridal and formal wear industry.
"It was the most flexible with our schedule," Laura said. "We could have bought a flower shop, but that's every weekend, every day."
"And it's the fun and excitement of helping someone plan one of the most exciting days of their life," Kennard said.
In April 2010 Laura spoke to the owner of Barb's Bridal about the possibility of one day buying the business. On Oct. 1, 2011, ownership was transferred to the Fellbaums.
While Laura had spent much of her time at Barb's Bridal managing the store to learn the ropes of the business, those first couple months of ownership were difficult.
"[There are] all of the challenges that no one tells you about," Laura said. "You think you understand [the business], but issues come up and you're like, 'What do I do?'"
The learning curve was steeper than they anticipated.
"It's not like you can grab a textbook and read it. It's more 'you learn as you go,'" she said. "Just like with farming, there's not a textbook that tells you what will happen every day and how to solve each problem."
Marketing, employee training, rebranding, choosing inventory - these were all new to the Fellbaums, but essential keys to the potential success of their business. But as they were struggling to make sense of it all, resources seemed to fall right into their hands.
Their involvement in dairy farming helped with this. Last summer, the Fellbaums hosted the first-ever Morrison County Breakfast on the Farm. Through this, Kennard and Laura were introduced to different marketing strategies and experts.
"These resources ... were a great asset in helping us get started," Laura said.
Their already strong relationship with their lender also helped.
After attending a marketing seminar, Kennard has taken the reins on that part of the business.
"I'm a junkie for marketing now," he said. "I enjoy it."
Kennard also helps with the behind-the-scenes stuff: maintenance, moving inventory, finding renters for the apartments above their shop, etc. Shows they do together, whether it's showing off their inventory at a local gig or seeking out the upcoming trends on a runway in Chicago.
Determining what trends will sell in their shop is an ongoing challenge.
"The hard part is trying to figure out the trends for the next season ... not knowing when a trend will be in around here," Laura said.
Their focus is not one wedding wear alone, but includes formal wear for other events, such as First Communion and Baptism. Fashion trends, the Fellbaums said, are set on the east and west coasts and move inland to Chicago. From there, it can take a couple of years before they become popular in Minnesota.
"We are the Midwest and girls still want traditional. They are not doing as much risqué. I can buy a dress that's different, but it might not sell," Laura said. "We are a farming community and we have to take that into consideration when we look at [dresses]. We're not New York, and sometimes we're not even Minneapolis."
Rebranding themselves as Celebrations Bridal and Formal Wear has been another challenge, as a name change always brings a scare, Kennard said. The new name was born from a two-night family brainstorming session.
"We wanted to make it a name that fit the industry - that fit what people are doing in this part of their life," Kennard said. "... We're hoping that one day people will just say 'Celebrations' and know what they are talking about."
While Kennard and Laura have been busy building their new business, the cows at home certainly haven't been milking themselves. Much of the formal wear shop work has been done in the evenings after chores. Both their families have also stepped in to help out - Kennard's on the dairy farm and Laura's with the 160 acres Kennard rents from them near Montevideo - as well as showering them with infinite support.
"Mom and Dad have been very helpful - forgiving - and in support of this, because there's no way without them we would have been able to focus on this as much as we have this last year," Kennard said.
After putting in so much time at the bridal shop, going home to the farm can be like a breath of fresh air for the Fellbaums.
"I like it because I can go home, take off my dress clothes, put on my jeans and barn boots and not worry about me," Laura said.
Kennard also appreciates the complete differences between the industries.
"It's fun," he said. "I don't mind getting dressed up [in a tux] for shows and associating with people in a completely different mindset."
At the end of the day, the rewards of both their chosen industries come down to helping people - in dairy farming through producing quality milk and in the bridal industry through helping plan some of the most memorable events in a person's life.
"A lot of people come in and don't know what they are looking for. You feel about as high or joyous as they do when they find the right dress or tux," Kennard said.
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