A MUM has told how she was inspired to start her booming prom dress shop in Dorridge, Solihull, after her daughter was left heartbroken buying a gown for her school leavers’ prom.
Lisa Groutage, 55, was upset at how her daughter Megan was treated as a 15-year-old searching for her dress for the prom at Lode Heath School.
She said: “My daughter was so excited about her prom but she was left heartbroken buying her dress because she was treated as a second class citizen because she wasn’t buying a bridal dress and the shop didn’t really cater for prom girls.
“What should have been a really exciting day for both of us was a huge let down.
“I thought that I could make girls feel special and offer them a much better experience and that was the lightbulb moment for my business.
“Megan was going to pull out and I persuaded her to try a second shop where we had a better experience finding her dress. That was the moment I knew I wanted to open a prom shop – to make a difference for others.”
Six years ago, Lisa opened the Bridal and Prom Bar at first in Hall Green with just 25 dresses.
It quickly took off and she now stocks more than 500 dresses at the new much bigger premises in Station Approach, Dorridge, which Lisa moved to a year ago.
She operates with five stylists who individually pick the fairytale gown so that all their customers feel like a princess on the night of their proms.
Most mixed schools in the West Midlands – state and private – have them to celebrate the end of the school year after GSCEs – a tradition picked up from America where the prom has been part of the high school calendar for decades.
Lisa refuses to sell the same dress – even in a different colour – to two girls from the same school, so every pupil looks special on the night with a unique outfit.
Dress wars break out as girls compete for the most popular designs which can cost as much as £450.
The best seller for 2024’s proms is a £600 ball gown which has already been sold to 15 schools in the West Midlands, and the average price of a dress is between £299 and £650.
Lisa is aware that this a stretch to lots of families and she gives away dresses each year to pupils after schools nominate girls who need help. She operates a scheme with Woodrush High School in Wythall where some dresses are donated.
Customers come from as far as Grimsby to bag the best dresses after finding the shop on social media such as the Bridal and Prom Bar Instagram which has almost 3,500 followers.
Lisa lives with her husband Neil and 18-year-old son Mackenzie in Yew Tree Lane, Solihull, while their daughter Megan, 25, now works as cabin crew for the airline Jet2.
She said: “We have girls coming into the shop as early as September to book their dress for a prom which won’t be happening till the following summer.
“Obviously there is competition for the most popular designs and we do get dress wars where you have girls upset that their favourite dress is taken.
“That is why I have individual stylists for each girl so that we can pick another design from the 500 available at the shop and they will look just as good.
“The dresses are a big expense for many but what happens is families rally around and the aunty and the granny all chip in because they are determined to get their girl the dress of their dreams.”
Lisa still sells bridal dresses at her shop but she is shifting all activity to proms because it is more fun.
A former mobile hairdresser, Lisa said that prom night was an important rite of passage in any teenager’s upbringing.
She said: “It is so much more than a dress. This is a milestone in their lives – they are saying goodbye to their school and their friends and embarking on the next stage of their lives.
“Our customers all come back saying that their prom night was one of the best nights of their lives, and they love posting pictures on social media to remember the occasion.
“All the mixed schools around here have a prom and it is a really wonderful occasion for all the pupils. It is so special for me and my team to be part of that process.”