A Retailer’s Perspective: A Guide to Bra Buying Part 2

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s post, we discussed some of the factors involved in how retailers choose which bras to buy, focusing mostly on past sales experience, quality, and price.  Today, I want to continue the discussion with even more considerations that go into a yearly buying plan.

Budget

In a perfect world, retailers would have an infinite budget to bring in all of the gorgeous lingerie on the market.  In the real world, we only have so much budget and open cash flow, and with literally, hundreds of new styles and colors available every year, impulse control is essential.  Overbuying quickly leads to issues, ranging from decreased ability to write special orders to excess debt to potentially closing the shop’s doors permanently.  As a result, it’s important to set a budget and choose styles which have the most likelihood of optimizing that budget.  Here, inventory turnover is key.  If it is a fashion style, you want it to sell quickly and at full price; if it’s a continuity bra, you want it to sell often.  This also applies to your size assortment too.  If you sell a 32DDD 10 times more than a 28E, it stands to reason you want more selection in the former size.  Unfortunately, this means some truly exceptional pieces never make it to your store, but it’s more important to stay in business than it is to bring in everything you want.

The Size Rotation:  Whose turn is it?

I couldn’t think of a more professional title for this section, but when you carry 120+ sizes in your shop, not every size is going to get something new all the time.  There has to be a system for rotating in new basic and fashion items based on your current assortment.  If I just spent $1000 this month on my 32-38E-J customers, then I am not going to be spending another $1000 on them next month too (unless, of course, a miracle happens, and everything I bought last month sold out).  Instead, I’m going to shift my focus to another size cluster and then another until I eventually rotate around to that size range again.  Not only does this ensure the inventory stays fresh, but I think it also helps customers not feel left out from my buying plan.  If I only bought new things for one size range, my other customers wouldn’t feel appreciated or like the store was interested in addressing their demands.

Sculptresse Chi Chi purchased specifically for the 38-46 F-HH size range
Sculptresse Chi Chi purchased specifically for the 38-46 F-HH size range

Space Constraints

Retail stores only have so much space without broaching the topic of expansion (don’t even get me started on upfitting), meaning they have to maximize the dollar value of inventory vying for space.  One of the worst things is dead inventory hogging valuable space on your sales floor.  Sometimes, you can purchase new storage units which help you organize products more efficiently, but in other cases, you have to use sales and clearance to clear the excess before bringing in new products. 

Release Date

When a bra releases can be almost as important as everything else I have written in both posts.  In some cases, there are scheduling conflicts where several amazing bras are all releasing within the same, lets say, six week time frame, but you only have so much budget to spend.  Other times, an otherwise fantastic bra may release in what is a traditionally slow period for your shop, making it unwise to tie up cash flow.  For example, I reign in spending and new purchases between October and January because our sales drop from the successful summer months.

One of my favorite Elomi prints, but a December release meant we would not carry it.
One of my favorite Elomi prints, but a December release meant we would not carry it.

Inventory Mix

Lest my earlier statements about the popularity of purple lead some to believe I would adopt a monochromatic fashion palette, I also take into account the overall mix of my inventory.  Striking the perfect inventory mix is a complex, ever-changing dance in which retailers participate.  With fashion items selling out, old styles being phased out or discontinued entirely, and new demands arising, it’s challenging to determine the right proportion of sizes, colors, and styles in your shop.  When planning new inventory purchases, you must examine your existing inventory as well as any open orders you may already have.  This is true for both basic or fashion purchases.  It’s important to have a diverse selection in your best-selling sizes, not just of basics but of fashion items as well, but you also need to cater to the less common sizes too.  In some cases, this means complementary new products or styles, but in others, it involves bringing in something completely new to satisfy increased demand for a particular size cluster or bra style.  With specific regard to fashion colors and prints, I also think it’s helpful to consider group appeal.  I try to choose prints and colors which are harmonious with the other inventory, and since my customers seem to have similar preferences, this is actually pretty easy.  Many manufacturers, when discussing new fashion colors, often talk about “groups” or “hangs well together” because it helps sell multiple products to one consumer.  In any given season, most manufacturers—if they don’t use a unified color palette and theme altogether—have clusters of colors/prints that are pretty similar.  Two companies which succeed well here are Eveden and the Little Bra Company.  Eveden subscribes more to the groups philosophy and has even started a panty program in Freya, known as Fancies, designed to work interchangeably with certain collection.  Little Bra Company, on the other hand, finds a way to work with a seasonal palette so that every style works well, and the matching coordinates for one bra could easily substitute for another.

Notice how complementary the colors are of each other.
Notice how complementary the colors are of each other.

The Company Itself

To be totally blunt:  If I hate dealing with a company, I scale back what I buy from them or cut them out altogether.  If you make me put out metaphorical fires week after week, drop my orders, don’t answer my emails, do not process payments, and/or generally are a pain in my butt, I don’t care how good a product you produce, I am going to find ways to replace you or work around you.  I won’t name names (this time), but there are definitely companies we no longer work with or those where we only carry the products we absolutely have to carry.

Order Minimums/Terms Agreements/Markup/etc. — Aka Future Post

This category doesn’t apply so much to brands with whom we have existing agreements, but we are always searching for new growth opportunities through brand expansion.  Engaging in a supplier relationship usually involves analyzing not only the products the company offers but also what kind of agreements they have with retailers and the marketplace as a whole.  There’s a lot involved here ranging from how much product we have to buy to carry their products to how their payment structure works, so much so that I think I will save this for an entirely separate post later this spring.

Special Considerations for New Basics

While most of the above constraints, like budgeting and quality, all factor into choosing new basic or core styles for the shop, there are also some special considerations applied here.  First, past sales can still be a useful tool for figuring out which core styles to carry in your store.  Just as you can look at what basic styles sell well to determine which fashion items to purchase, the same can be true in reverse.  For example, the Cleo Marcie has always performed strongly in our shop, which is why I jumped at the chance to carry it in both new basic colors.  Of course, as with the earlier example of the Amelia, there are some bras which perform well specifically because of the fashionable aspect and thus would not make good basics, but by and large, with my shop, I have found people prefer basic colors.  They may buy one or two pretty bras a year, but the rest are some variation of a neutral color.

In addition to tracking sales, the inventory mix is another key factor in determining new basics.  Sometimes a fantastic style is discontinued (I am looking your way Natori), and you need to replace it  Other times, a style is under-performing and needs to be phased out then replaced.  I have mentioned before that I tend to focus my inventory mix into size clusters, and that is especially true of basics.  Basics are our stock and trade and compose the majority of our business.  As a result, it’s important for us to have multiple options for multiple breast shapes for multiple women in each size cluster.  It’s also important to have the right mix of neutral colors too.  Beige and black dominate, but it’s good to look at some in-between colors like mocha or cappuccino too.  With basics, I am always looking for new products to make the inventory more rounded, and for some size clusters, I’m on the lookout for any style.  Period.  There are definitely areas where our inventory is weakest, wireless bras and small cups to name a few, and we’re working to rectify that this year as our budget allows.

aka "The Best-Seller for the Shop"
The Elomi Amelia in Beige aka “The Best-Seller for the Shop”

With basic bras more than fashion, we tend to branch out and try new styles.  Whenever you try a previously untested style, there is going to be some risk, especially if it is a size I cannot personally test.  In these cases, I sometimes rely on feedback from sales reps or other retailers, but that is not without risk either.  I have some truly exceptional sales reps, and then I have some who . . . well, not to be mean . . . just aren’t.  One rep convinced me to buy bras when we first opened that were discontinued less than six months later.  Ultimately, they were donated to TROSA, and I learned a valuable lesson about trusting my instincts and doing the legwork.  Even with experienced retailers, the recommendations sometimes to do not work from store to store.  Each boutique is different, and each customer base is different.  It’s hard to ensure a recommendation from one shop will work in another.  For me, I love to read reviews and check Bratabase for feedback on fit.  Sometimes I will try out new styles on customers through our special order policy before making a decision.

Hopefully this series has provided you with a better understanding of some of the factors which influence a retailer’s decision to stock certain bras.  It’s not that we don’t want to carry your size or to carry that gorgeous bra you absolutely adore.  It’s that we have to consider so many different buying components, and with a huge plethora of choices, some are not going to make the cut.  But, hey, that’s what special orders are for!

Erica

 

 

A Retailer’s Perspective: A Guide to Bra Buying Part 2
Erica
Erica is a lover all things lingerie and is passionate about helping people find the bra which fits and flatters. Side passions include reading, writing, hiking, dairy-free food, walking her Jack Russell terrorists, and dying her hair everything from black to red.

17 thoughts on “A Retailer’s Perspective: A Guide to Bra Buying Part 2

  • March 4, 2015 at 2:43 pm
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    Budget, budget, budget. Trying to figure out inventory mix on a shoestring budget was, by far, the most stressful part of the startup process. I’m basically sitting here with all this lingerie alternating between, “Yes, I feel mostly good about this” and “Holy &!$@ what have I done.”

    Phenomenal series. I love your blog so hard.

    Reply
    • Erica
      March 4, 2015 at 3:42 pm
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      Jeanna, we started very small as well (and are still pretty small), so I totally get it. We made A LOT of mistakes the first year or so (not that we still don’t make them now too), and it can seem impossible to recover. Plus, I am a perfectionist so I beat myself up for picking the wrong style or bringing in something which doesn’t work. I’m always on pins and needles when new products arrive! Wow . . . I don’t sound all that comforting here, but seriously, it does get better as you’re open longer! When you start out, there’s so much guesswork: What sizes will I see? What customers are we targeting? What colors do they want? What styles? What other products will they but? And so on. Unless you’re a psychic, there are going to be purchases that end up in the “What was I thinking?” category!

      P.S. Thanks for the nice comments about the blog! 🙂

      Reply
  • March 4, 2015 at 3:01 pm
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    I am just curious do you find people with the larger, less commercially available sizes still mostly buying basics? Because I spent 95% of my bra wearing life in white “over the shoulder boulder holders” with Lane Bryant mixing it up with the occasional black, brown, or pink. I am now completely enamored with pretty bras like I still *need* a neutral bra (which I now have a couple) but only one beige bra. Now some of this I am sure is my best fitting styles are the Jasmine and Chi Chi. (Jasmine only recently getting an basic sister in the Envy). But life is to short to wear plain bras? Like I finally understand what all the fuss is about because bra shopping isn’t a shame inducing cryfest …. ITS FUN…. I GET TO WEAR PRETTY THINGS TOO!!!

    Sidenote: I just starting wearing my fancy multi colored/dark bras clothes shopping and the wardrobe changed not the bras.

    Also also its all Erica’s fault (isn’t she great).

    Reply
    • Erica
      March 4, 2015 at 3:54 pm
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      Great question, Ashley! I would actually say it has more to do with how the woman views bras and lingerie from the get-go. Some women only care about bras insofar as they have to wear them, so to them, they only want practical. They’ll spend $40 a month on their nails or buy designer jeans or have a gazillion shoes because those are the things they like, but for bras, they get what they have to and move on (not that there is anything wrong here as we all have different personalities and tastes). This applies from the A cup to the K cup. However, having said that, I find that women like you and me who were forced into practical colors and can now have pretty enjoy the process more and focus on building up a little bra wardrobe onto itself. We weren’t wearing basics by choice, if that makes sense. Now, that said, I do think there are sometimes psychological components to why women buy basic bras over pretty ones, and in some cases, it’s been so drilled in their heads by other women that they sort of adopt it at their own philosophy. This isn’t true for every basic-bra customer, but I found that if they try on a pretty bra and like it, they will buy it and soon, that’s all they buy. My aunt is a great example here. She used to live in basic bras until I got her to try some pretty ones, and now she has more than me!

      My wardrobe changed too with all the pretty bras, but I also found some are more discreet than others too. And what’s this about it being my fault? I always tell you I am not trying to enable you! 😛

      Reply
      • March 4, 2015 at 5:33 pm
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        In the question of basics vs. and colorfull – I am a 28H and really miss a well fitting nude bra and find that it is generally difficult to find something a bit more subtle and sofisticated. Everything is so colorfull and full of pattern and contrasting colors. And it is actually a problem for me, because the straps often shows when I wear something sleeveless or the bright colors shine through my light fabric summer blouses. There is actually much spring and summer clothes I cannot wear simply becuase the only bras that I fit only come in bright red, blue, pink etc. To me it seems as if the designers have gone completely mad in paint or somethin. 20 years ago I should have lucky to be able to buy a plain wite bra. Today it seems as if the designers want to make up for that boring past by splashing as many colors on as possible. Well, for me it would be much more fun whith some delicate, sophisticated subtle colors, preferable skin tones. Boring? It doesnt have to be. Workappropriate? Yes.

        Reply
        • Erica
          March 5, 2015 at 12:37 pm
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          April, I felt the same way until I found Comexim and Anna Pardal. I don’t wear much light colored clothing, but I did want a mostly black bra. Just something pretty but that read overall as being black. At the time, the only brand I could wear was Cleo (mostly Marcie), so I was at the mercy of whatever color palette they chose for the season. If you want sophisticated designs in neutral colors, definitely check out Anna Pardal.

          Reply
          • March 5, 2015 at 2:22 pm
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            *lol* Erica, you are spot on – I _am_ at the mercy of Cleos color palette – it is the only brand that fits! Hence my longing for something less colorfull.

          • Erica
            March 6, 2015 at 11:52 am
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            Definitely consider Anna Pardal then. They totally wooed me away from Cleo, which was an impressive feat because I was even contemplating order that yellow Marcie from spring of last year. And me and yellow? Hah, we do not get on well!

      • March 4, 2015 at 8:13 pm
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        I’ve also had the experience of — Bras in my size (~34H/HH for most large UK brands) are commercially available but are not locally available, so I tend to shop online. A lot of times, it’s the fashion colors that go on sale. And because an online purchase had the added cost of shipping and the added drawback of not being able to try on prior to purchase (and sometimes not being able to return or exchange), that initial price difference made purchasing fashion colors a much more practical option financially. As a result, I’ve had a number of bras in color options — red, fuschia, black and pink polka dot, leopard print, pink and teal, red leopard print, mint and pink print, purple (I would totally have purchased a purple bra voluntarily, but maybe not so many bras in purple) — that I probably would not have purchased were all those other factors/constraints present.

        Now that I’ve found a brand I trust to fit consistently (thank you, Anna Pardal and Comexim!) I can trust to fit me and a retailer who makes it easy to order them (thank you, Erica!), I’m looking at bras a lot more as investment pieces — and it shows in my color choices. To date, I have ordered (or tried to order, manufacturer supply issues notwithstanding): one mostly black bra, one black and teal bra (reads black under clothing), one brown bra (alas, Miss Pam and I will never meet), one salmon bra (reads nude under the clothing for which I need a nude bra), one beige bra, and one brown and beige bra. That second list is a lot more “basic” than the first — and entirely by choice.

        Reply
        • Erica
          March 5, 2015 at 12:29 pm
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          Tori, I feel like “basic” is never a word to be used with Anna Pardal and Comexim! They may have neutral colors, but oh they know how to work with them so well. The laces and the finishing touches are always so beautiful. 🙂 Miss Pam being discontinued was devastating. I had to send quite a few emails, and heartbreak ensued all around. I hope they are able to find something comparable in the future because it provided such a sophisticated alternative to beige/black. The new collection looks amazing too, but oh Miss Pam!

          Also, thanks for explaining your pre-Comexim buying habits. That makes a lot of sense to snag what is on sale since the risk is higher, and you’re right, fashion goes on sale long before a basic color does. I think sometimes people get trapped by their favorite brands too. When I wore only Cleo, I had a ton of crazy prints and bright color (which I do like) when I really would have preferred more of a mix of styles.

          Reply
      • March 4, 2015 at 9:20 pm
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        Telling me you aren’t trying to enable me is not the same as not actually enabling me. 😛 Its great though, I am not exactly a hard sale.

        Reply
      • March 5, 2015 at 6:27 pm
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        There’s also the reverse- the woman who will buy pretty $55-70 bras but be annoyed when she has to spend more than $30 on a pair of pants or $20 on a top. *whistles innocently* In the modern world, we pick our priorities in our budget

        I get to refit my mom this May- she’s been wearing decade old bras despite my nagging until she discovered b’tempt’d by Wacoal a month ago. I’m giving them my endorsement for what they have done for her in comfort. If a practical 67-year-old likes the Sheer Delight even though they seem marketed at younger women, they must have broad appeal!

        Reply
        • Erica
          March 6, 2015 at 1:30 pm
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          Very, very true! We all have things we consider worthy of our dollars, which is why there are so many diverse options available. 🙂 b.tempt’d is so wonderful. I really wish I could review them here on the blog because I think the line deserves a lot more attention. The quality is great, and they have some amazing fits for women of all shapes and sizes. I know it’s marketed as a teen/young woman line, but the products work well across all ages.

          Reply
  • March 4, 2015 at 7:15 pm
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    These posts are so well-considered Erica. Thank you for sharing because I find this process fascinating. Curious to know – did you go to business school to learn these principles of merchandising? Or did you learn from experience?

    Reply
    • Erica
      March 5, 2015 at 12:35 pm
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      Thanks, K-Line! I took a couple business classes at a community college since my original degrees weren’t super helpful here (math and computer science), but most of this is experience and observation from being open. In some cases, we benefited or were hurt by decisions I made, and I try to learn from both my successes and my failures. For example, I thought December was and February were going to be THE months for us, so I tried get new things in for that time frame. As it turns out, we’re slammed in spring and summer and not so much in February or December. We took a financial beating on those purchases until sales picked up, so now I am more cautious. For other factors, it boils down to the fact I pay A LOT of attention to my customers (in a non-creepy way I promise) which helps with many decisions. I’m also obsessed with research and am not afraid to ask questions for fear of looking dumb if I don’t know something.

      Reply
  • March 9, 2015 at 7:19 pm
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    Posts like these are starting to rate up there with my love of reading obscure, old cookbooks.

    This is really my fave, of the series.

    Reply
    • Erica
      March 13, 2015 at 11:19 am
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      Thanks! I love sharing these things because I think it helps break down this barrier between retailers and consumers and open up a dialog.

      Reply

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