23 October 1998

Top frocks sold on farm for a

big night out

Designer dresses are proving a fitting career

change for a Shropshire dairy farmers wife, as

Tessa Gates found when she visited After Dark

HEATHER Dale used to advise people on choosing a career, now she helps them select what to wear for a big night out from the range of designer evening dresses she sells from her home on a dairy farm in Shropshire.

Heather started her business, After Dark, a year ago at The Park, Minsterly, which her husband Jeremy farms in partnership with his parents. "It is nice to go into a business where you dont have the overheads of a high street premises, and people really seem to enjoy coming here. The downside is that you dont have a shop window," says Heather, who sells a range of beautiful dresses from designers such as Bernshaw and Roots, Katerina, Ronald Joyce, Rena Koh and John Charles.

"I felt there was a niche for someone specialising in ladies evening wear and so far the business has lived up to the business plan. Throughout the year I have been stocking up to 100 dresses. As these are not as seasonal as general wear, I dont have to clear everything out with the change in season," she says. "I stock the type of evening wear that you would find in a London boutique but at much lower prices – from around £100 to £200."

Heather is really getting to know the social calendar in the area where events at public and private schools and RAF bases are regular occurrences and boost business. Summer balls and customers buying for cruise holidays have kept her almost as busy as the more expected peak time around Christmas and, for these, customers have been opting for coloured dresses rather than the ubiquitous black. "But the little black dress will always sell well," she says.

Heather seems to have developed a flair for buying stock that caters for a wide range of women. "People have such different tastes but I think I have developed a feel for what will go well in Shropshire. People assume that because I am young I cant fit them but I cater for all ages. I do a lot of fashion shows jointly with a beautician and an interior designer and sometimes I will put the same dress on two models of different ages and the audience can see how the clothes look on a more mature person."

Certainly she has some great modern designs in stock and flattering rather than frumpy classics. At present the largest size she stocks is 18 but in the future she hopes to offer up to size 26.

"Finding out what people want and what is flattering to the figure has been a great learning curve for me but it is nice to do something completely different from my former career," says Heather. Previously, she worked for the local Chamber of Commerce training and enterprise scheme as a careers adviser to adults. "I used to work for people I turned to for advice when setting up After Dark," she explains.

"I would advise anyone starting up a new business to look at what advice is available free. Talk to Training and Enterprise Councils, Business Link, the Princes Youth Trust and even some county councils – anyone offering advice and support. It helps to have someone to bounce ideas off and talking to them means you take time out to really look at your business," she says.

Inquiries: (01743-792777).

Heather Dale models After Dark stock. The short beaded dress (left) costs £90. The stole is extra. The red crepe dress (above) sells at £120. The svelte black dress (top right) has cut-away panels and the black and white one (below) has diamante straps.