Kristie Johnson and the business of formal wear

Weddings and formal events mark important life milestones.

Kristie Johnson, owner of Annie’s Room formal wear boutique in Kingsport, knows the right dress carries everlasting memories for a bride. Johnson spent a recent morning talking brides and business with some budding entrepreneurs in Dr. Garry Grau’s small business finance class at Northeast State.

“When the business is your baby, it truly becomes a part of you,” Johnson told students.
“I want to provide a bride with that full experience on her important day. It comes down to what the customer wants and how they want the day to reflect you they are.”

Johnson’s grandmother started Annie’s Room business in 1980. Johnson took over the operation several years later when she was only 19. She quickly learned the competitive bridal and formal wear industry was not for shrinking violets. Online competitors offered cheaper prices but not that “say yes to the dress” personal connection.

“A wedding is important and planning is different to everyone,” she said. “For many brides it involves selecting the dress with family and friends being a part of it.”

Johnson explained how smart financial planning helped dealing with merchandise vendors. Her business required balancing the industry’s busy season between January to May to the leaner times in fall and winter. Smart buying and trust built with vendors kept a business in the black and problems easier to solve, she said.

NeSCC alumna Kristie Johnson breaks down real world business lessons.
NeSCC alumna Kristie Johnson breaks down real world experiences for business students.

Johnson moved into her new location on North Eastman Road in Kingsport in 2010 after customers urged her to expand. The larger space accommodates more merchandise and fitting areas.

Due to the personal nature of formal events, Johnson also discussed how social media played an important role in marketing a big day or night for her clients. Drawing on a demographic of teenagers, college students, and new brides, she stays online using business and friend platforms of Facebook as well as new merchandise previews on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

“You have to keep your finger on the pulse of social media,” she said. “People want to see what dresses you have and what is out there online.”

She also advised students to stay involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. A smart business owner knows every piece of inventory and every day’s sales receipts, she said.

“Turning your back on your business is very dangerous and you have to know what is going on with your business every day,” she said. “At the end of the day, no one is going to care about your business like you do.”

Johnson earned her associate degree in business management at Northeast State. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree at King University. She told students her college education gave her the tools to deal with unexpected real world issues.

“My grandmother gave me some great advice: Your college education is important but the real world experience will teach you every day,” Johnson said. “A college degree proves you can meet deadlines and goals and that you can accomplish something.”

Business professionals and experts frequently visit Grau’s classes to give students insight into the practicalities of the modern business world.

“Connecting students with the business world means bringing business world professionals into the classroom,” said Grau. “The students’ education includes encounters with the people they will interact with as professionals and business people.”

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