For Stacey Ho, taking a big risk might not have been what she expected to be doing with her career. However, after incorporating modern strategies to her business — like live unboxing videos on social media — she’s grown her gown store to levels she never thought would be possible.
Ho, owner operator of Always & Forever Formalwear in Clarenville, N.L., says that move is helping her business reach new heights.
“Still to this day, I still have this pit in the bottom of my stomach,” Ho explained. “But every time I see someone smiling or walking away from the store happy, it makes me feel good.”
Ho told The Packet she was able to continue the business, which had already been around for 20-plus years in Clarenville, when she purchased it in 2017.
It was a major decision for her — and a risk — but it seems to be paying off.
"...every time I see someone smiling or walking away from the store happy, it makes me feel good.” — Stacey Ho
The former owner approached Ho around the time she got married, when she was looking for a job.
“I was a very outgoing and personable person,” laughed Ho.
The idea initially seemed too far-fetched, but thanks to Community Business Development Corporation (CBDC), she was helped throughout the process.
“I was never what you’d consider a ‘girly-girl’, so learning about dresses, I didn’t realize how interesting it would be and definitely started to enjoy it once we dipped our feet in.”
It was a learning curve being a first-time business owner. Ho relies considerably on her employee, Joanie, who already worked at the shop.
“I would not be half of what I am without (her)," she said. “It’s like working with a very close friend.”
Ho’s new ideas have fed her success with Always & Forever.
“I have always been an avid YouTube watcher, I don’t watch TV!”
Instant unboxing success
After watching unboxing videos of makeup, she decided it would be a great idea to promote her store.
Her videos are 20 to 30 minutes long and show her taking dresses from their boxes as she talks about the style or ways to alter them. Viewers can interact with her through comments.
Flair prom trunk show!! Info on video.Posted by Always & Forever Formalwear Inc on Wednesday, September 11, 2019
With her very first live video broadcast on Facebook, she received a resounding reaction.
“That video got seen 34,000 times! My very first video!” said Ho.
“From there, everything just sort of spiralled out of control and I said, ‘You know what? This is something that could definitely take us places.’”
And take them places it did.
With her unboxing videos, presenting new dresses for various events like weddings and proms, people around the province could see her inventory, opening up the shop beyond Clarenville to anyone looking to purchase a gown or anything else in the store.
Ho has had people fly in to buy a dress they’ve been unable to find anywhere else, and she’s also started doing pop-up shops around the province.
Their first trip was took them to Labrador — a 25-hour drive, cramming 100 dresses and three people into a minivan.
“What I love about this business is that I get to meet new people and kind of be part of their happiest days.”
“What I love about this business is that I get to meet new people and kind of be part of their happiest days.” — Ho
With a staff of two, she explains it’s too time-consuming to take photos and individually upload them to social media, making live videos are more practical—and personable. She’s even become somewhat of a minor celebrity thanks to the initiative.
“The way I knew (the videos) were really working is that we started getting stopped places we we’re going.”
Ho laughs when she relays how people even ask her for hugs in the middle of the grocery store because they love her videos.
Ho says it’s better to try and fail than to not try at all and wonder.
She’s glad to help give back, helping graduates who might need a dress, for example.
“For me, I’m happy for two reasons: I’m really happy everybody knows we have a store now, (and) we’re very much a community store.”
A worthy cause
As a local business owner, Stacey Ho also felt the need to give back to her community. Mental health has long been an issue close to her.
“When I had my first daughter (five years ago), I was diagnosed with post-partum depression,” Ho told The Packet. “It was a very hard time for me.”
She decided to use her business as a platform to raise money for mental health initiatives, mainly with an annual New Year’s Ball.
The inaugural fundraising event last year at the Clarenville Inn featured music, reception, auction and more.
With 77 people in attendance, they raised $1,300 for the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Now, they hope to build on that momentum.
“It’s something we’re going to be doing every year because it’s something that’s near and dear to my heart, but also helps our business in December.”