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

Hello Everyone,

With the Curves Expo, aka one of the biggest lingerie trade shows in the US, officially completed, many retailers have returned home to plan their purchases for the next several months, and I thought this would be the perfect time to discuss how many of us decide what to purchase.  Furthermore, I hope this helps my own customers better understand the decisions I make with regard to what products are available in the store and why I believed this to be the best course of action at the time.  Because the buying process is significantly more complex than one would anticipate, I have split the factors into two posts, and I am strictly focusing on bras.  Lingerie, shapewear, accessories, sleepwear, clothing, and other miscellaneous products will be discussed in another post altogether.

Using Past Sales to Predict Present Fashion

Fashion items tend to be one of the more risky investments for many American retail stores, particularly if the style is new.  Not only must you contend with potential fit or fabric issues, but you also have to balance the many tastes of your customer base.  Not every color or print bra suits every person, and on more than one occasion, I have been conflicted about how I personally feel about a bra and how I anticipate customers will react.  One helpful tool can be to examine your past sales and see which fashion styles performed well and in what colors.  Although it is now becoming more maligned by industry insiders, the ubiquity of purple in the lingerie world is no coincidence.  At the moment, I have both the deep wine variation of the Parfait Charlotte as well as the new ice blue colorway, and the purple outsells the blue 2 to 1.  Why?  I am going to conservatively estimate 35% of my customers’ favorite color is purple, and another 40% still love it even if it isn’t quite their favorite.  In the past, we have purchased other purple fashion bras, and every single one has performed exceptionally.  In our shop, jewel tones resonate with customers, and purple is truly the shining gem.  Which prints work can also be analyzed through past sales and customer feedback.  We struggle with animal prints but sell most floral designs easily.

Ice Blue Variation of Charlotte
Ice Blue Variation of Charlotte

Past sales also go a long way in helping to identify which fashion-only styles should be brought into the shop.  The Elomi Valentina/Jocelyn/Lexi bra has always been popular on account of the fit and comfortable fabrics.  In fact, through special order, we have seen an increase in sales overall on all of the Elomi plunge bras (that were not done in an animal print), like Betty or Tiffany.  Since Elomi has yet to offer a basic Valentina/etc., I always plan to purchase a variation each year.  The Panache Cleo line is another great example.  We usually bring in several Cleo styles every year because the sales history is strong, and people will continue to buy what the line has to offer.

The upcoming Lexi from Elomi
The upcoming Lexi from Elomi combines both a popular purple color with electric blue.

Current sales of basics can sometimes be helpful too for deciding fashion too.  If a style performs well in a basic color, this can sometimes translate to quick sales in a fashion version.  However, there are exceptions.  Some bras sell well simply because they are basic.  The Elomi Amelia is one of the top sellers for the entire store, but we have never indulged in a fashion color.  In some ways, this may seem counter-intuitive.  After all, if it is already performing so well, why not double your money?  This is where time, experience, and a hefty dose of customer feedback can be invaluable.  Since we have been carrying Amelia, Elomi has offered it in multiple fashion colors.  Only a handful of people have ever requested it.  People like Amelia in beige and black because it’s a quality, everyday t-shirt bra, and they save their “pretty bra” money for something with more detail and pop.  They may think the upcoming Dahlia (purple again) is gorgeous, but that never translates to an actual sale.  However, in other instances, people love a bra and want more color options than the basic.  The Freya Deco, another best-seller, is an excellent example of this phenomenon.  Deco is one of those styles people will buy in fashion colors as well as basics, which is obvious by how many variations Freya has created over the past seasons.  This would be a better investment than the Amelia.

Amelia in Basic Black
Amelia in Basic Black

Once you have analyzed which prints, colors, and styles work best, you must still choose the size assortment, and again, past sales can help you make smarter decisions.  Let’s examine the Cleo bras I mentioned.  These bras sell out the fastest in G-J cups in 32-38 bands, which makes it a good idea to double up in certain sizes if I can afford it.  In D and DD cups, they never sell, and E-FF, it takes the right kind of customer.  As a result, I usually start my Cleo purchases at the E or F cup mark depending on my budget.  Furthermore, I also know from past sales that 28 and 30 bands take the longest to sell, but I also know that since the market doesn’t always have strong contenders for this customer, it’s still worth bringing in some core sizing (usually E-GG cup) with the understanding, they may wind up in the sale drawer.

The most popular Cleo bra for us with Lily close behind.
The most popular Cleo bra for us is Marcie with Lily close behind.

If you’re looking at a totally new fashion style, past sales can aid in the color and print department, but sizing needs to be taken more generally.  Usually, companies or sales reps will tell you if a new bra is based on an existing frame, which helps immensely.  One thing I commend Eveden on is the use of specific technical details in their catalogs along with descriptions like “Abi frame with shorter straps” or “based on Caitlyn with a lower front and side.”  With a better idea of the origins of the new styles, past sales become a better predictor to ensure you have the right mix.  In other cases, you simply don’t have that knowledge to accurately predict whether a bra will fit like something else you have sold.  In those cases, I try to rely on my instinct about the brand itself.  Who does this line usually work for, and what sells the best?  It’s still a risky prospect, which is why I (personally) tend to go with bras I can trust.

The Price and Quality Factor

One of our manufacturers could create a bra which fits well in the most beautiful shade of purple ever in the most luxurious fabric, but if the retail price is higher than $70, more than likely, we will not be purchasing it.  For us, $70 is the threshold for where we see people not wanting to spend extra money.  Naturally, other boutiques will have their own unique pricing schematics too.  They may have a price maximum or an ideal price range, or they may realize they have certain customer niches who will spend extra money for the right piece.  For them, data mining their past sales and customer preferences can help form a cost-benefit analysis of whether a luxury or higher-priced bra is worth the equally higher investment.

Freya Deco Vibe in Watermelon
Freya Deco Vibe in Watermelon

Moreover, this should almost go without saying, but quality really is important.  One of the reasons I like to test styles myself or use small special orders is to ensure an unknown product will meet our standards.  When Panache first released the Cleo Neve molded cup bra as the successor to Jude, there were some pretty egregious design problems where the cup would curl outward toward the center no matter the size or overall fit.  In their defense, they rectified the problem and allowed us to return the handful we had already ordered, but (and not to pick on Panache here), it serves as an important reminder that retailers must be vigilant about quality, even if a company has an excellent record.  Finally, the quality must match the price of the bra.  If the manufacturer wants a bra to retail for $70, but the quality is more on par with $50, it’s worth passing up.  In some cases, the opposite can be true.  I have seen several instances where a bra retails for $50 but looks and feels like a $70 style.

The b.tempt'd Ciao Bella retails for $38 but has quality on par with a $50 bra.
The b.tempt’d Ciao Bella retails for $38 but has quality on par with a $50 bra.

So as not to bore you too terribly, I feel like this is a great place to stop for the day.  Tomorrow, I’ll follow-up with some more considerations retailers examine when planning a buying agenda.  I have to admit that until I started writing this post, I did not realize myself how much work I am doing and how many variables I utilize to make new purchases.  Inventory management is so crucial to the success of a business that it intuitively makes sense it would also be one of the areas with the most complexity.

Erica

 

A Retailer’s Perspective: A Guide to Bra Buying Part I
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.
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29 thoughts on “A Retailer’s Perspective: A Guide to Bra Buying Part I

  • March 3, 2015 at 1:03 pm
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    Purple is the most popular color? I would have guessed red. Come to think of it, purple works well on most skin tones.
    Do you use spreadsheets or databases to keep all this information straight, write it down in a notebook, or do you keep it in your head?

    Reply
    • Erica
      March 4, 2015 at 11:59 am
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      Hi Lee! I do use Quickbooks Point of Sale for analyzing past sales, but I also try to listen when I speak with my customers about what they like. I also listen to which styles they say they love when flipping through catalogs, and I am constantly asking people to tell me how they liked the bras they bought. It helps me fine tune my decision making process for sure! With purple, I hear “Purple is my favorite color” a couple times a week, so it’s not too hard to remember. 🙂

      Reply
  • March 3, 2015 at 5:08 pm
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    I fully agree with your perspective that your merchandise cache is dependent on several variables. You want to bring the best, and sometimes innovative, items to your clientele. It’s probably one of the most nerve racking feelings to try a new product line or new vendor and not know how well it will do until you place it on the sales floor. So far I think you’re doing great 😀

    Reply
    • Erica
      March 4, 2015 at 12:03 pm
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      Jillian, it incredibly nerve-wracking. Whenever a new styles come in, I watch them like hawks to see if they are getting any interest, and then when it takes a while for the bra to catch on, I’m like: Oh no, what have I done??? Sometimes you have to be patient and let the right customer find the bra, and I’m not good with patience. Thanks for the words of encouragement! 🙂

      Reply
  • March 3, 2015 at 5:09 pm
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    Could you post photos of the bras you mention? It may seem obvious to you, but I don’t know what a Parfait Charlotte looks like. Etc. Thanks.

    Reply
  • March 3, 2015 at 9:03 pm
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    Your bio states you love to walk your Jack Russell “terrorists” 🙂 I wanted to let you know in case they are actually dogs! 🙂

    Reply
    • Erica
      March 4, 2015 at 12:09 pm
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      They’re definitely dogs, but I always affectionately call them “Jack Russell Terrorists” because that sums up their personalities. Okay, not all of the time, but enough to warrant the description . . . especially the female. She literally loves to betray trust, incite chaos, and defile my rug. 🙂

      Reply
      • March 4, 2015 at 2:41 pm
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        Ohhhh! I thought it was a result of auto-correct 🙂

        Reply
        • Erica
          March 4, 2015 at 3:39 pm
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          No worries! 🙂 I got a few personal emails asking the same thing which leads me to believe other people’s terriers are not as terrorizing as mine! I ought to do a fun post with all the pictures of them being terrorists so people understand how they earned their title.

          Reply
  • March 4, 2015 at 9:46 am
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    So interesting that Cleo sells best in 30-38 G-J, when they are adding B/C cup in core band sizes (the planned 28B/C cups which would have been useful to a much less served market have been mostly cancelled)!
    I have a theory that purple hits a sweet spot between classic/neutral colours like black and fun trendy colours like yellow and can appeal to a widest range of customers. Also, looking at the purple Charlotte, it would work on more skin tones than ice blue, for instance.

    Reply
    • Erica
      March 4, 2015 at 12:27 pm
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      Astrid, that is going to be covered in an upcoming “Letter to the Manufacturer” series because I feel like it was a bit of a betrayal to all the women pleading with the line to add JJ and K cups. Then they cut higher cup sizes in 28 bands too. 🙁 I agree seeing more B/C cups in 28 and 30 bands would be great as the market is also under-served, but then they went and cancelled those too. The competition for the 32-38B-C market is pretty fierce here with established lines like Natori, Wacoal (and sister line b.tempt’d), and Affinitas taking a nice chunk of the market.

      I love your theory on purple. I remember in fashion there were certain seasons where they would treat dark purple as a pseudo-neutral. One of the things I notice with some of my customers is they are conservatively stepping their toe into the fashion bra pool. As a result, traditional floral prints and darker colors like purple are a nice first step as opposed to diving in with a neon green bra!

      Reply
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  • March 4, 2015 at 12:58 pm
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    I love the new Elomi Lexi as shown. If it fit me I would buy it. Some of us guys who wear discreetly love colorful bras, too. That would be my “Dating ” bra. I have two purple bras myself.

    Reply
    • Erica
      March 4, 2015 at 1:00 pm
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      The mix of the purples and blues is really exceptional here, and I can tell you it looks even better in person. I think we will be carrying this one when it releases in May actually!

      Reply
  • March 5, 2015 at 7:30 pm
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    Erica, thank you so much for sharing! As new as I am in the industry, and being a consumer myself, I am sometimes tempted to make purchases based on my personal taste rather than on a true rigorous market analysis. Of course, for new businesses without a buying/selling history, there are inherent risks with initial orders, as there hasn’t been any real established demographic.

    Reply
    • Erica
      March 6, 2015 at 1:32 pm
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      Aisha, I made sooooooo many mistakes our first 1.5 years because you’re right: There’s no history. You can never know for sure which sizes will see the most demand in your shop or what styles, and I think it’s important to understand that mistakes are natural. They can teach you so much about your customers so that you make smarter choices in the future. Signed, The Girl Who Thought COLOR! COLOR! COLOR! Would Sell So Fast She Overstocked It

      Reply
    • Erica
      March 13, 2015 at 11:12 am
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      Elomi has some of the best prints of the Eveden group sometimes, which does make me jealous. I was a big fan of Naoko this past winter!

      Reply
  • March 31, 2015 at 6:34 am
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    Great Post!! In daily life right bra color provides you a beautiful and perfectly stylish look.

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  • February 3, 2016 at 8:22 pm
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    I know this is an old, old post but I came across it referenced on r/abrathatfits & I wanted to add another insight to why purple may be such a great selling bra color: I have very brown skin and it’s nearly impossible to find a truly BROWN, nude-for-me bra that won’t cost an arm and leg; purples, dark greens and navy (as well as other deep jewel tones) are good, easily sourced alternatives for me while not being a boring black bra.

    Reply
    • Erica
      February 4, 2016 at 2:16 pm
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      Wea, this is an excellent point too. I have several darker-skinned customers who love deeper fashion colors like olive, indigo, etc. as a skin-tone neutral alternative. We’ve had the same thing happen with paler skin-tones too (like myself) with blush pinks or buttercream yellow. I love when designers can come up with those beautiful colors which function in this manner because I think it makes it easier to encourage customers to step outside the beige/black routine and try something new.

      Reply
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