As a driven small business owner LaTonya Turnage is no stranger to wearing many different hats. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Turnage was faced along with the rest of the American workforce with the unthinkable: close down her bridal store, Elite Secrets Bridal, until it was safe to reopen and in the indefinite meantime…wait? Determined and hardworking as she is, waiting through uncertainty was not an option for Turnage. She used this past year-and-a-half to gain additional knowledge about business resources, networking, and much more through ICIC’s urban business initiatives.
Turnage has owned and operated Elite Secrets Bridal in Baltimore, Maryland which she founded the business in 2015. Since becoming an entrepreneur, Turnage has continuously sought educational opportunities that would help her strengthen and grow her small business, having once completed and is currently participating the Inner City Capital Connections program (ICCC 2019 and 2021) and also graduated the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses (2020) program. Of those experiences she says, “I’ve learned so much about the financial growth, accounting, and bookkeeping piece of my business…[The biggest thing was] knowing what a financial statement is, how to come up with a decent budget and a plan for your business and being able to achieve that. And being consistent – just really, really knowing your back office and knowing that the growth of your business starts with [knowing] finance.”
These lessons were especially beneficial once the pandemic indefinitely closed nearly every storefront in Baltimore and beyond. It was then that Turnage enrolled in Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program to learn how she could possibly respond during a time when every small business was hurting.
“Networking, staying connected to what’s happening in your community and doing your part to make sure you are supporting your community as well – I’ve always known that was important,” said Turnage. “But the Goldman Sachs program solidified why it was so important.”
Having previously participated in an in-person cohort (ICCC Baltimore 2019), Turnage initially thought going through the programs on virtual platforms might not be as fulfilling, but she now feels she and cohort classmates have gained unique insight and knowledge during this unprecedented time.
“I don’t think any other cohort will get the experience that we received…Some [stores] were lucky to pivot and be able to do [business online], but for us, there was no way of building revenue. So, every webinar, or whatever there was, I was like a sponge and I was on it. And I think that’s kind of what also set fire under my butt because it’s like, okay, girl, if this happens again, you have got to have your ducks lined up, and know where your resources are. So that was big, and now I know there’s a Small Business Association, there’s the Small Business Development, there are local representatives and all that, so that taught me so much about being connected.”
In July 2021, Turnage was one of five business owners that Baltimore’s Downtown Partnership paired with a vacant storefront and $50,000 through its Black-Owned and Occupied Storefront Tenancy (BOOST) program to open a second brick-and-mortar location this fall.
Through it all, Turnage is excited to open a new location, “Last year was just insane, this year is just crazy…And we have the nerve to expand!,” she joked.
Her first storefront is in the Mount Vernon neighborhood. The new downtown location offers a specific tailored experience for brides, showcasing custom-made dresses by local Baltimore designers.
“We are looking to bring more light within our communities to a talented group of designers that are local…and will work with you hand-in-hand throughout your entire design of your dress. You would have a personalized experience so you can be very much involved in the creation of your dress.”
Turnage added that by participating in this experience you also “support an independent designer.
Here’s looking forward to both locations of Elite Secrets Bridal continuing in their passion and commitment to personalizing the wedding dress shopping experience to every bride that walks into their stores. Given LaTonya Turnage’s determination and entrepreneurial drive, we have no doubt that more success is to come.
Photo provided by @megapixelsmedia
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