When Krystal Rietkoetter was looking for expert feedback on how to grow her wedding gown business, she decided to enrol in the Further, Faster program offered through the Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre (HBEC) at Georgian College.
Throughout the intensive seven-week program, participants gain many valuable tools to help start, grow and scale their businesses. In the final workshop, everyone delivers a one-minute pitch to a panel of five judges to qualify to compete for $10,000 in the Grand Pitch Competition. Rietkoetter, who owns Ceremony Bridal Studio in Barrie, competed and won out of seven finalists.
“Winning this competition means the world to me,” says Krystal. “There has been a number of things I wanted to invest in, and now I have the funds to accomplish them. The money will allow me to bring in a team to help me with digital marketing, and I’m also going to invest in a budget-friendly line of bridal gowns in order to become accessible to more brides in our community.”
Krystal adds that while she enrolled in the Further Faster program to study from established entrepreneurs and connect with other emerging small businesses, she also learned more about branding and the importance of using all your resources and connections. “Barrie is an incredible community to be an entrepreneur in, so I would encourage others to take advantage of programs like Further Faster, and to learn from mentors and business professionals who are willing to donate their time.”
Shelby Taylor, founder of Chickapea Pasta, was one of the competition judges and knows firsthand the value of the Further Faster program. “As the winner of HBEC’s inaugural pitch competition, I know what an impact it can have on an entrepreneur’s growth and the success of their business,” says Shelby. “There wasn’t even prize money when I pitched, but the advice and the connections were invaluable, and that’s what I hoped to offer this year’s contestants.”
Shelby adds that the calibre of the pitches was high, with everyone showing great resilience in the face of a global pandemic.
“Krystal’s pitch stood out for a few reasons,” Shelby explains. “First, she communicated her value proposition and her sales model clearly, along with her milestones and her use of funds. She knew her numbers and had great confidence. Lastly, her sales model made sense as she was growing and adjusting her existing model rather than pivoting to a completely new model.”
Other judges were equally impressed with Rietkoetter’s presentation. “As an active angel investor, I look more closely at the founder than the product or service,” says Paul Larche, President and CEO of Larche Digital. “Krystal stood out because she conveyed the confidence and ability to get through the many challenges that await her, or any startup. She projected pose and trustworthiness, which investors crave.”
Domenic Spataro of DS Designs – The Tanglegripper received a runner-up award giving him 10 hours of specialist mentoring (valued at $1,000) from HBEC.
The Further Faster program, which launched in the summer of 2018, has helped more than 220 entrepreneurs.
Meet the $10,000 winner, Krystal Rietkoetter, owner of Ceremony Bridal Studio.
Tell us about yourself. My education is in engineering technology and business, and I spent the first part of my career working in the public sector. After graduating with my MBA in England in 2009, I decided to follow my dream of opening a bridal boutique in my hometown of Newmarket. Two years later things changed and my family and I relocated to Barrie. I pivoted my career and started working as an account manager for an international bridal designer. I did that for five years, travelling the world and I absolutely loved my time in that role! However, the travel became a little much, so I decided I needed a career that would keep me closer to home. That’s when I decided to open Ceremony Bridal Studio in Barrie!
Tell us a bit about the studio. We focus only on bridal gowns, and our collection is about quality over quantity. Our focus is always high fashion, high quality, and meeting high expectations.
How did you come up with the idea for your company? Having been in the industry for so many years, I was well acquainted with the local business climate. I spoke to another bridal shop owner in town, and she agreed that a lot of brides were still flocking to Toronto to purchase their wedding dress. I was confident I could capture this audience, keep brides in town, and make them very happy.
What makes your company unique in the wedding industry? We focus on attainable luxury. We only bring in high-quality gowns, but nothing that will break the bank. We offer a very calm, inviting, and enjoyable atmosphere in our boutique, and strive for the very best customer service.
Have you had to adjust at all due to the pandemic? Well, first, all spending forecasts went out the window. And we completely froze spending when we were mandated to shut down. We also very quickly started offering virtual bridal appointments, so those brides who were on a time crunch could still find their dream dress even though we couldn’t, unfortunately, accommodate them in store.
How did you prepare for your virtual pitch? A friend of mine was also in the competition and we worked on our pitches together. It was useful having a friend to bounce ideas back and forth with. We practised together and held each other accountable. I also consulted with a few of HBEC mentors (Don Bourne and Rob Cattle. They really got me back on track when I was going off in the wrong direction. Once the pitch was complete, I practised a lot – I was reciting it to myself every day and night!
What were your main takeaways from HBEC’s Further Faster program? Two main things:Branding is key, and utilize your resources and connections. Barrie is an incredible community to be an entrepreneur in. Take advantage of programs like Further Faster, and all the time you can get with mentors and business professionals who are willing to share their expertise.
Would you recommend others take the program? Yes, definitely. I think it’s a great way to learn, grow, and connect with like-minded individuals in the community.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as you’ve grown your business? To focus on what you’re good at and delegate the rest. You’re only one person.
What advice would you give someone considering starting a business? Ifit’s possible (it’s not always), start small. Dabble in it first to see if it’s something you love. You need to love it… your business will be 24/7 and there’s no such thing as ‘business hours’ when you’re an entrepreneur. You can grow slowly so as not to become overwhelmed, and as you grow… connect with mentors and successful business people for advice and guidance.
Anything else you want to add? I just want to thank everyone involved in the program, because I truly am so honoured to win. This is one of the biggest moments in my career so far and I feel so grateful to receive this grant, and for the recognition.