Planning a wedding can be stressful. After all, it's one of the most important days in a couple's life. Needless to say, getting the right help can go a long way toward calming the nerves of a fretful bride-to-be. Priscilla of Boston hopes to make perennially tough decisions — such as picking the perfect wedding dress — as easy as possible. The Boston-based retailer does so by catering to the bride-to-be through an attentive, courteous approach to customer relations.

“It's a whole-service concept,” explains Patricia Kaneb, president. “The goal is to establish a connection between the customer and the salesperson.” Consultants present the exquisite gowns to the customer, while accessories, bridesmaid dresses, and sale gowns are visible on store displays. The dresses are considered semi-custom, meaning customers order the dress from a pre-made sample.

Priscilla of Boston's lobby features an understated chandelier, reception desk, couches, bookcases and headpieces. But most of the space in the 3,800-sq.-ft. to 5,500-sq.-ft. store is occupied by six to 10 fitting rooms. Each room averages 12 ft. by 12 ft., and includes a bench seating area, a desk and a 3-way mirror. The store has an old-world salon feeling but is never stuffy, Kaneb notes. The large dressing areas allow plenty of room for the bride-to-be, a family member, a friend, and the bridal consultant or salesperson. “It really is a family affair,” Kaneb says.

Wedding gowns range from $1,800 to $5,000, with the average ticket ringing up between $2,400 and $2,800, Kaneb. Outfitting the wedding party, including the bride and her attendants, averages approximately $4,000. For this reason, customers tend to be upper middle-class suburbanites. “Our customer is kind of pre-qualified,” says Kaneb.

The retailer's dresses date back to 1945 when Priscilla Kidder, a designer and dressmaker, opened her first boutique in Boston. At that time, primary focus on expansion was through wholesale accounts, where the company sold its gowns in department stores and small mom-and-pop bridal stores. In the mid- to late-1980s, the company entered into an agreement with Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based The Taubman Co. to open locations in some Taubman malls.

Kaneb took over the reins in 1993, keeping one of the mall stores open but making the decision to move the others outside the enclosed environment. The company prefers to locate on the periphery of upscale regional malls, which allows for high traffic counts, nearby parking and the option to set the store's own hours.

Kaneb points out Priscilla of Boston is considered a destination store — customers travel up to three hours for a visit. The shops tend to neighbor high-end tenants, such as Talbots, AnnTaylor, A Pea in the Pod, and Tiffany's. “We also do well near upscale jewelers,” Kaneb says.

Today there are 10 Priscilla of Boston establishments located primarily in secondary and tertiary markets nationwide. The company is planning to open one to two stores a year, eventually growing to a 20-store chain, she continues. Although it still has approximately 40 strong wholesale accounts in Japan, Great Britain, Canada and the United States, Kaneb says it is “harder and harder to build a business with mom-and-pop stores.”

Contact: Patricia Kaneb, president, 617.242.2677, (F) 617.242.9244.

Allyson Sicard is an Atlanta-based writer.