Winnie Couture to Roll Out Franchises


Winnie Couture flagship in Beverly Hills | Photo courtesy Winnie Couture

Winnie Couture opened its first bridal shop in 2001. Nearly two decades later, it is starting to franchise its concept across the country.

Chris Lee, who co-founded the brand, forecasts that six franchises of the Beverly Hills, Calif.–based bridal shop will open by the end of the year. First on the docket are locations in Boston, Phoenix and San Francisco. Other targeted cities include Miami; Washington D.C.; Seattle; Philadelphia; and New Orleans.

In five years, Lee predicted there could be 100 Winnie Couture stores across the United States. Currently, Lee and his wife, Winnie Chlomin Lee, the brand’s designer, own seven Winnie Couture stores in cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Charlotte, N.C. It also wholesales to 150 independent retailers.

“For us, this has been a recession-proof business,” Chris Lee said of his boutiques, where his store managers and tailors customize Winnie Lee’s designs for clients.

The Lees are immigrants from Hong Kong who met and married in Houston, where they launched Winnie Couture. Eight years later, in the midst of a recession, they opened a Beverly Hills flagship that thrived despite harsh economic times and served as their company’s headquarters.

This past February, they moved their flagship a few blocks away from Rodeo Drive to a building they lease at 9437 S. Santa Monica Blvd., where core retail price points for bridal gowns run from $2,500 to $8,000.

The world of fashion franchise deals has its pros and cons, said Pat Johnson of consultants The Retail Owners Institute. “A franchise is often perceived as an easier way to start a business,” she said. “You get training wheels on how to operate a business and what to buy. But it can be burdensome. It can be a trade-off in who owns the inventory and how much [franchisees] have to buy.”

A number of fashion retailers including Apricot Lane Boutiques of Vacaville, Calif., and Monkee’s, headquartered in Winston-Salem, N.C., have franchises.

But Mercedes Gonzalez, who is the director of Global Purchasing Companies in New York, said that franchises haven’t necessarily been a popular business model for fashion. Franchise stores only sell the product the franchisor sells and are often the same anywhere you go. It doesn’t make room for regional variables such as weather and fashion tastes. “Bridal might work as a franchise. It is not as time sensitive nor as region sensitive,” she said.

Each season, Winnie Couture’s design team releases new styles. The Fall/Winter 2019 collection was inspired by the natural beauty of the Skógafoss waterfall in Iceland, the location where the movie “Thor: The Dark World” was filmed. The gowns feature thin, gossamer fabric and European lace.

Lee said that Winnie Couture stores will focus on customer service, which starts with the first free consultation in the retailer’s studios, dominated with chandeliers and bridal gowns.“We offer champagne and have a team of knowledgeable and experienced bridal stylists,” he said. “We have the brides select dress styles, fabric materials and we offer custom measurements.”

“At the end of the day,” he explained, “we want to serve millions of brides with personalized customer service, whether it is through company-owned stores or through franchises.”