WHEN bride-to-be Karen Smith scoured shops in vain to buy a once-worn wedding dress, little did she know she was walking down the aisle to a new business.

The fact no shops in Bury or Manchester stocked nearly new wedding gowns acted as a springboard for 34-year-old Karen to launch such a business herself.

Now, she has established her newly-opened "Wedding Daze" shop from premises in busy Bolton Road, Bury.

And it's an ideal outlet for brides who want to look their best on their big day without having to fork out more than £1,000 for new designer gowns.

Karen, who marries her fiance Paul Openshaw in July, explained: "This all came about really when I set out to buy a once-worn designer wedding dress for myself.

"But I went round Bury and Manchester and couldn't find such a shop. I then realised I had discovered a niche in the wedding market and so I decided to exploit it." Thanks to a vital £1,000 grant, provided through Bury Council's Single Regeneration Budget, the businesswoman set up her company under the "Working for Myself" scheme.

"Under this initiative, 25 per cent of the money has to be used for learning and I am enrolling in a business management course at Bury College," said Karen.

"Wedding Daze" takes once-worn gowns from members of the public and the eventual purchase price is split 50-50 between Karen and the seller.

Because the dresses are much cheaper than buying brand new designer gowns, brides-to-be watching their wedding budgets need not pay a fortune.

"Designer dresses can be extortionate to buy," says Karen. "Many brides would like to wear one, but the truth is that they just can't afford to buy new.

"That's why when it comes to cutting wedding costs, once-worn gowns are a real option. All my dresses are thoroughly inspected and cleaned.

"I have a silk gown in stock here which cost £1,100 when new. I am selling it for £399."

Her shop stocks 75 bridal gowns and 50 bridesmaids dresses, plus accessories.

At the same time, to cater for all the nuptial needs, Karen also promotes a range of additional wedding services such as photography, flowers and transport.

"As far as I am aware, I'm the only shop certainly in the Bury area which offers once-worn gowns for sale," she added.

"And I'm quite confident that because of this, the business will really take off. I hope to expand soon and to take on a beautician in the near future."

For many years, Karen worked as a secretary before studying social work at university.

But now, she has fulfilled her ambition to go it alone.

"I just love weddings and wedding dresses," concluded Karen who hopes to walk down the aisle to business prosperity.