Instead, the owner of Anna Maria Bridal shop in Franklin entered at the last minute and went on to win the $5,000 top prize.
The ongoing pandemic prevented organizer Tiffany Henry of SCC’s Small Business Center from presenting Millsaps an oversized check in front of a crowded banquet hall, but that didn’t keep the winner from enthusiastically celebrating her victory among friends and mentors during a Google Meet call on Thursday, April 23.
“This is amazing! I’ve never won a contest in my life, especially one that took this much work,” said Millsaps, who opened her store in August of last year. “To be fully honest, I kept getting these emails from Tiffany – but I didn’t actually open any until one came across that said ‘last chance to enter.’ I opened it and said to myself, ‘I need to do that. It’s just eight weeks.’
“It taught me a lot about what our market is and how to cater to potential customers,” she added. “I think bridal shops in larger population centers cater to higher incomes. With us being in Franklin, we want to offer breath-taking gowns at a fair price so people in our area can have the weddings of their dreams. We have gowns to fit every budget.”
Twenty-four entrepreneurs took part in the competition, which was organized by Henry. The contest included a series of eight seminars designed to help participants develop or enhance their business plans.
The seminars helped Millsaps identify one particular area of potential growth in which she plans to invest her winnings.
“I truly appreciate the support I received by taking part in this contest,” Millsaps told judges and organizers who attended the online meeting. “I am so excited to be able to build on the fact that we’re going to have a section of plus-size dresses.
“I really was hoping to win so we could use the money specifically for this purpose; we’ve received a lot of inquiries about carrying plus-size gowns,” she added. “I think it’s going to draw in a lot more brides. I hope that we do you all proud.”
Russ Seagle, who is executive director of the Sequoyah Fund, served on the contest panel and said Anna Maria Bridal’s entry rose to the top because it clearly showed the potential to succeed despite the current strain on the economy.
“She’s already market-tested this, and this is to some degree a recession-proof business,” Seagle said. “Even in the situation we’re in right now with COVID-19, a lot of people are still having their weddings but putting off the public ceremony until everybody can get back together. Connie’s business plan checked off all the boxes in terms of being a really solid plan with really solid financial projections. In my view, a business plan is a story that communicates what your business concept is. It’s so easy to see where she’s going with this. It’s a great narrative. The numbers worked. The whole package was there.”
The competition was co-sponsored by the Jackson County Office of Economic Development, the Macon County Economic Development Commission and the Swain County Economic Development Commission, respectively.
Although COVID-19 caused organizers to hold the last two sessions over Google Meet, Henry said she was impressed by how many participants used the contest as an opportunity to advance their businesses.
“It was a huge sacrifice of time and effort, and I’m very proud of Connie and all of our participants for sticking through to the end,” Henry said. “I’m very happy for Connie, and I’m super-grateful for all our sponsors.”