How to Start Up a Formal Wear Rental Business

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Customers want to wear modern, up-to-date formal wear.
Customers want to wear modern, up-to-date formal wear. (Image: Zedcor Wholly Owned/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Not everyone wants to plunk down hundreds or thousands of dollars to purchase formal wear that may be worn only once or twice. Formal wear rental businesses cater to customers who need something to wear at an upcoming special occasion, whether it’s a wedding, retirement party or holiday fete. Starting a formal wear rental business can be a rewarding enterprise, especially for business owners who excel in customer service.

Things You'll Need

  • Business license
  • Liability insurance
  • Retail license
  • Location
  • Inventory
  • Office supplies
  • Dressing rooms
  • Tailoring materials
  • Rewards cards

Research the current market to identify possible niches. Perhaps you live in a family-oriented town; tailoring your formal wear business to high school kids needing to rent tuxedos and prom dresses for special dances can help establish a solid customer base. Blue-collar neighborhoods may want formal wear rental businesses offering budget deals and basic fashion. More upscale neighborhoods might value personalized tailoring, champagne service and well-known brand names for formal wear.

Apply for permits and licenses. At the minimum, you’ll need a business license, tax identification number and liability insurance. If you plan to sell add-ons, such as hosiery, hats, cuff links, veils or jewelry, apply for a retail license. Formal wear rental businesses shipping to out-of-state customers via online sales must apply for state licenses to do so.

Rent or lease a location. Look for a building with big display windows for featuring mannequins wearing stylish formal gear. You’ll need space for dressing rooms, storage, tailoring work and a small office for handling calls, billing and purchasing.

Secure your formal wear inventory by contacting wholesale suppliers and designers. It’s key that your inventory be up-to-date; customers don’t want to wear unfashionable tuxedos or dresses to their upcoming events. However, you might want to stock a few "gag" formal wear outfits, such as blue tuxedos, an Elvis suit, silk Hawaiian print shirts or ball gowns for customers attending costume parties.

Hire knowledgeable and customer service-oriented staff. You’ll need help with custom tailoring, especially for larger bridal parties. Establishing genuine, positive relationships with customers is key, because you’ll want them to return for later formal wear needs.

Tips & Warnings

  • Market your formal wear rental business by holding a fashion show or hosting an open house prior to busy seasons, such as the winter holiday season or summer wedding season. Reward customers who refer other clients with discounts or free add-ons, such as accessories or tailoring.
  • Offer mobile services, via van or RV, to draw more customers.
  • Damage to your formal wear due to spilled wine, dance floor gymnastics or a customer insisting that he squeeze into trousers several sizes too small can decrease the value of your inventory. Require customers to sign contracts stating that they will be charged for damage to your formal wear rentals.

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