It's almost a wedding tradition. More often than not, brides and bridesmaids are unhappy with their dresses. They reflect on their attire with undiluted horror, knowing they will never wear the dress again.

It may be because brides and bridesmaids are sometimes forced to pick a dress without trying on the appropriate size, or have to order it without ever seeing it. To avoid such disappointments, Ardmore, Pa.-based David's Bridal set about changing the face of bridal retailing.

The store breaks with bridal retailing tradition by including in its stores dresses in sizes 2 through 26 that brides and bridesmaids can try on and take home. In addition, a bride in the Chicago suburbs, for instance, whose friends from Rhode Island and Pennsylvania will be serving as bridesmaids, can direct her wedding party to one of the David's Bridal stores nationwide.

"The breadth and depth of the stock exceeds that of traditional bridal stores," says Robert W. Frost, senior vice president of real estate for David's Bridal. "Most only offer sample garments in sizes 8 and 10, and bridal parties typically have to wait up to 20 weeks for delivery. We offer gowns off the rack, and the majority of purchases can be taken home with the bride and her wedding party."

The retailer also offers a one-stop-shop experience so that brides, mothers, flower girls, and other wedding party members don't have to travel from store to store looking for appropriate accessories. Gloves, jewelry, earrings, necklaces and hair accessories as well as undergarments, hosiery and dyeable handbags and shoes are all available under one roof.

Although bridal fashions are the main thrust of David's Bridal, the store also carries special occasion dresses for proms, homecomings, communions, pageants and other formal affairs.

The current concept stores were launched in 1990, although the company has been in business since 1950. The sites, typically 10,000 to 12,000 sq. ft., are situated in regional shopping centers, power centers and freestanding locations.

The standard interior of David's Bridal includes a central raised platform toward the rear of the store that houses a number of mirrored dressing rooms. Racks of bridal gowns stand to the right of the platform, and on the left are non-bridal items, such as dresses for mothers of the bride and groom.

"With all the brides and their parties trying on dresses, the atmosphere becomes somewhat theatrical," observes Frost. "There's a great deal of excitement on a typical day."

David's Bridal currently operates 104 stores in 35 states, with the largest group of stores situated along the East Coast. The company's five-year expansion plan involves adding between 22 and 25 new stores each year.

"Our trade area for a typical David's Bridal is about 750,000 in total population," Frost says. "Other retailers may have a demographic profile they're orienting toward, but our trade areas are so large that we don't look for a single demographic profile."

With its website, www.davidsbridal.com, David's Bridal customers can go online to pre-shop and plan their weddings. The site features useful wedding planning checklists, information on fashion trends and photos of current merchandise. "The site is an opportunity for customers to preview the selection they will find in the store," Frost says. "Once they arrive at the store, they can focus on the selections they may have made on the site."

Contact: Robert W. Frost, senior vice president of real estate, David's Bridal, 44 W. Lancaster Ave., Suite 250, Ardmore, PA 19003; (610) 896-2111; www.davidsbridal.com.

The owners of the Fuzziwig's Candy Factory chain want you to think of Fuzziwig's as the ultimate candy store. Within their 1,000 sq. ft. venues can be found an almost overwhelming variety of the sweet stuff, from gourmet chocolate-covered pretzels to car-shaped candy that can double as a toy.

"We think of ourselves as having the newest items first," says Don Grueser, owner and chief operating officer of the Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based chain, which he and his wife Trish purchased from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in August 1998. "We try to be a 'fashion leader' in the candy business. What makes us different is the presentation and assortment."

Grueser says their aim is to create a veritable candy experience. The locations are large by candy store standards and the inventory is vast and fresh - they order weekly and keep bins and shelves filled. In addition to candy, Fuzziwig's also carries a line of toys - mostly plush or stuffed items like Beanie Babies.

"If there's a little toy that's really hot out there, then you would see that in our store," he explains. "We shop the toy markets as well as shopping the candy markets."

The store is truly a visual delight. Dramatic displays of suckers and lollipops greet customers at the display window. Whirling gears and flashing lights adorn a wall. Lighted tubes snaking from the ceiling appear to be dispensing the 40 flavors of Jelly Bellys jelly beans into their bins. Along another wall is a ColorWorks M&M machine that lets customers dispense individual colors of the candy.

While the obvious appeal is to children, Fuzziwig's attracts a varied clientele, ranging from snacking teens to adults who might stop in for a pound or two of blue M&Ms to display on their coffee table.

The Gruesers have big plans for Fuzziwig's. New locations have opened in suburban Atlanta and Phoenix, with the latest addition coming to Westcor's Flatiron Crossing regional mall in Broomfield, Colo. The company expects to open as many as four more stores this year. They are looking for locations such as regional centers and outlet malls that fulfill their desire for geographic clustering of stores.

Due to its size and elaborate design, Fuzziwig's is a relatively pricey store to build, with costs running between $175,000 to $275,000 depending upon location.

Fortunately, sales have already doubled since the Gruesers took over and revamped both the philosophy and the look of the stores. The chain has discarded the larger-than-life Professor Fuzziwig character who manufactured candy from a car and inadvertently tended to frighten some children.

"He was down on the selling floor and he actually took up about 100 sq. ft. of space, so we're in the process of taking him out," says Grueser. "We're not hanging our hat on Professor Fuzziwig. If someone asks where our name comes from we'll tell them our founder was an inventor who developed a way of making candy using his car. We have a little story we tell them. We don't talk about him too much unless someone really asks."

The Fuzziwig name, when standing alone as it did on a few stores, invoked images of a wig store, rather than a candy store. Now the name always appears with the "Candy Factory" addendum.

"I don't give Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory really high marks for the name," says Grueser. "However, it does work for us as long as we ensure that it says Fuzziwig's Candy Factory."

In addition, Grueser says stores are now better stocked and managers are no longer expected to keep inventory low.

"We believe in selling from a full wagon," he explains. "We order every week and keep the bins full and make sure we always have fresh product and lots of it."

Contact: Don Grueser, Fuzziwig's Candy Factory, P.O. Box 882829, Steamboat Springs, CO 80488; (970) 870-9695.