Entrepreneur of the Week: Jennifer Burrell, The Frock Shop

Any woman who has ever gone to a prom, been a bridesmaid or gotten married knows the torment: Spend a fortune on a dress, wear it once and never think about it again. “They were just sitting there, in perfectly good condition, just taking up space,” Jennifer Burrell says of the formalwear in her own closet. “All I saw was wasted money.”

Burrell, 33, who still works full-time in sales and marketing in the food industry, decided to do something about it. In March 2010, after months of market research and consultations with women, she opened The Frock Shop, a dress-rental emporium currently serving the Chicago area.

Helping her build her business–The Frock Shop launched an online dress-rental service this past October as well–is 100 Urban Entrepreneurs, the nonprofit foundation that offers $10,000 startup grants and business education to young urban businesspeople nationwide; Burrell was brought into its most recent funding-and-mentoring program. “One of the great things about the 100UE program is that it made me focus not on temporary needs but rather on what is needed to help The Frock Shop grow in the long term,” she says.

Burrell–who majored in international marketing at the University of Alabama–has built her dress inventory to around 350 pieces, giving her clients maximum choice. The premise couldn’t be simpler: Assess your needs, find something you like that fits, rent it, wear it and return it. The Frock Shop handles all shipping, quality control, repairs and cleaning. Rentals start between $40 and $50–an enormous, risk-free bargain considering the astronomical prices commanded by such dresses when new.

Looking ahead, Burrell plans to further develop her Website to take The Frock Shop beyond Chicago, and would eventually like to expand her inventory to include “jewelry, pageant, career and possibly men’s designer wear,” she says. “We get asked about all that a lot.” In the meantime, though, she’ll stick with her core customer as she builds her business. “There has to be a way for women to look fabulous for all the special events in their lives without breaking the bank,” says Burrell. For women in Chicago, that increasingly means a trip to The Frock Shop.

Read more about Jennifer Burrell and The Frock Shop at 100urbanentrepreneurs.org