Ex-BHS Store Manager turns tragedy into inspirational bridal store

Former BHS employee, Debbie Bowdley-Smith has turned her life around following the company’s collapse and a series of family tragedies by opening elegant new bridal store, Burford House Bridal.

Debbie, ex-Store Manager for the BHS Solihull store, was enjoying a holiday in Egypt when she found out that BHS had been sold for £1 back in 2015. The next year proved to be one of the most traumatic times in her life. Staff were initially told by business valuers they had nothing to worry about. However, fast forward to 2016, and the administrators are closing down stores across the country. Debbie found herself learning more in the national press than from BHS management, leaving her seriously worried about her job, despite the fact she managed a profit-making store. Furthermore, employees were told they would only receive state redundancy payments regardless of Sir Philip Green’s promises to put cash back into the famous high street chain.

Debbie says, “I had worked for BHS for 10 years and planned to retire with the company, so I was devastated. As we approached the Christmas season back in 2015, we noticed very little stock was coming in. Despite constant assurances from management that all was well – even at our annual conference – it was clear to us all that we were on board a sinking ship. My colleagues showed boundless support for one another, and we all worked hard to the very end to make sure every closed store was left in an immaculate condition.”

Unfortunately for Debbie, tragedy was to strike three more times. Shortly after leaving BHS, Debbie lost her mother-in-law at Christmas, and then had to face the loss of her father, a dementia sufferer whom she had cared for over the previous 10 years. Tragically, this was followed by the unexpected death of her brother, John, who passed away at the early age of 47.

Despite this series of tragedies, Debbie decided to use her expertise in Fashion & Home by opening an exciting mother-of-the-bride store, and an opportunity arose to buy an existing shop. However, Debbie was to face further disappointment as the shop owner suddenly changed their mind, leaving her with no choice than to find other employment.

After trying her hand at different roles, finally, fortune struck when Debbie met Boyd at Burford Garden Stores, and visions were shared about turning the beautiful Burford House Gardens1 into a stunning wedding marquee venue. Within the house itself, a space became available for Debbie to realise her dream of opening her own bridal store, and Burford House Bridal was born.

Debbie Bowdley-Smith says, “It was a big risk opening my own store, but it has paid off - I’ve been overwhelmed by the support of my friends, family and ex-colleagues. I feel so lucky to have found such a stunning venue for my bridalwear. Every day I travel to Burford House, I don’t feel like I am going to work. Bridalwear2 is my passion and I am already looking to develop my offering in the future. I will also be donating a percentage of my earnings to Dementia Friends in memory of my father.”

Located within the historic Burford House1, which is open daily to the public, this majestic setting hosts a variety of businesses including a hairdresser, beautician, and the possibility of a part-time florist taking up residence shortly. This year will also see the launch of Burford House Weddings, providing wedding marquees set amidst picturesque cherry trees and ornamental ponds. For newly engaged couples, Burford House now offers the chance to arrange every element of their wedding.

1 thought on “Ex-BHS Store Manager turns tragedy into inspirational bridal store”

  1. I find this story so inspriational, I too worked in a BHS store and thats where I found my true passion , Bridal, unfortunatly I have not be able to live my dream yet in opening up my own buisness but I hope to in the future.
    I admire you so much Debbie and I know if your passion is as much as mine you will be so happy and your store will do so well.
    I know what you mean about you dont feel like your going to work I had the same feeling when I worked on wedding and I would do everything I could to make their day special.
    Im sorry to hear all the saddness you have had to endure but I would imagine your mother-in-law, father, and brother are looking down on you and are so proud of what you have achieved.
    Your story makes me feel hope that one day I will have this.
    Live your life doing something you enjoy.
    Good luck

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