This week I have been tackling the important issue of how retailers choose which items to purchase for their store, but so far, I have only discussed bras—an impressive feat since it took two blogs to cover! However, bras compose the bulk of our overall inventory, meaning they tend to be the highest investment and also the most crucial to our success. When we first opened, bras were basically all we offered customers with the occasional matching panty in the mix for good measure. As we have been open longer, I have seen the value of having additional non-bra items in the shop. Instead of just being “the bra shop,” I want our store to be something customers visit for other items throughout the year. From a business perspective, having diversity in products enables me to capture more consumer dollars, and the more profit the shop makes, the more we can talk about expansion. But, what do you choose to bring in? How can you anticipate where customers will feel confident spending their money? Research is one of the most valuable tools, and I am always listening to my customers about what they would like to see. Nevertheless, there are still special considerations for each product, but since we are still gaining in experience here, I will be addressing my store more specifically without being overly general toward other retailers.
Some women love to have a matching set, particularly for bras with unique color palettes, but most of our manufacturers think it’s completely acceptable to charge half the cost of the bra for the matching underwear. In some cases, the added cost is evident through the use of materials or the thoughtfulness of the design, but most of the time, they’re just trying add to their bottom line. Before anyone thinks retailer’s are marking up $6 underwear to $30, let me tell ya: It’s expensive for us too. The average $30 pair of matching panties costs me $13.50, and if I am being completely honest, my wholesale cost should really be the retail price. When companies like Tutti Rouge or Affinitas can make a perfectly adorable matching underwear for a $23 retail price point, it’s hard to offer a $30+ pair alongside them without any change in quality. Now, for this category, I am strictly speaking of major manufacturers as I know there are some more expensive underwear which are hand-made or use luxury fabrics, two qualities that naturally add to the price. As an example, I purchased the Elomi Jocelyn last year in a large size assortment, and I also ordered one pair of matching briefs per size. I still have some leftover because the $29 retail price does match the quality of the garment, and after spending $65 on the bra, they better! As a result, I tend to not carry a matching panty if it is above $25.
For basic panties, we look primarily at quality, cut, and price. The panties that perform the best for us often have “Buy More” deals associated with them, like the Natori Bliss series (3 for $45) or the b.tempt’d Fits Me, Fits you (3 for $30). If they come in a variety of fashion colors, I am also more likely to buy them because we can often pair them as “faux-matches” with the bras whose matching panties require the deposit of a firstborn child. A flattering cut and soft materials are equally important as is the “ride” problem. I religiously read reviews of any product which comes into the store, and panties are no exception. I am also big on testing them when I can which is why I can confidently recommend them to customers.
Last year, we expanded to include two Shapewear companies into our inventory because we were seeing requests for them from customers. Furthermore, we help a lot of women with special occasion clothing ranging from bridal to black tie, and we wanted to not only be able to sell the bra but also the other foundation garments. My biggest concern was finding quality products at a great price point which could be reused in the future. The first company we purchased was Yummie Tummie because they often utilize graduated control with their smoothing garments to not only improve the fit but also the comfort. If you don’t own a Stephanie tank, you’re missing out! Furthermore, Yummie Tummie also produces panties, bralettes, workout gear, and even jeans. It’s a multifaceted company with a lot to offer retailers—an attractive quality because it enables us to expand easily. For most retailers, it’s easier to add products from companies with whom they have an existing relationship, meaning companies with multiple products can fuel a retailer’s expansion plans quicker and with less headache.
Of course, some women aren’t interested in the “light hold” provided by Yummie Tummie. They want something a little more . . . industrial. And for that customer, I did extensive research of the shapewear industry and selected Rago. Their products have outstanding reviews and are made and designed in the US. They’re not seasonally driven, so I know I can order anything from their catalog at any given time and so do my customers. They provide a large range of basic shapewear pieces as well as high quality garter belts and open bottom girdles, again making it easy to work with them to expand new products.
Lingerie is probably the trickiest piece we have attempted to add, and it has been one area where our successes have equaled our failures. Where possible I wanted to work with existing vendors, but since the majority here were strictly selling bras, I had to branch outward. In the lingerie world, there’s a huge amount of diversity. You have everything ranging from the traditional sex shop sheer bodysuits or slinky school girl outfits to amazing, hand-made silk chemises with French lace accents, and to accompany the diversity in selection, there’s also a diversity in price. Since we are more of a moderately priced establishment, I knew I wanted a company that would be affordable while still presenting a quality product, and after seeing a lot of samples at Curves, I found Golyta was the best choice because they have both iCollection and Tia Lyn. In addition to a value-based product, I also want to keep the store more in line with (and I know this is a loaded term but it’s the best I can do) classy pieces. We have a lot of moms who come with kids, and I didn’t want there to be any products which would make things awkward or would need special storage. iCollection certainly has some of those, but they also have a fantastic range of fashion corsets which are the best quality I have seen for the price as well as satin or lace robes, chemises, and bridal attire. For the customer with a little extra money, there’s Tia Lyn whose chemises, lingerie, slips, and loungewear are not only amazing in quality but are also plus-size friendly. Eventually, we will include some bra-sized lingerie into the mix, especially if Anna Pardal makes one.
The Add-On Products
Anyone with retail experience can tell you all about upselling or cross-selling, which is basically a retailer’s way of getting you to spend a little extra money on a product you didn’t anticipate purchasing. Typically, it’s on something that’s not overly expensive, and while I don’t ask “Do you want to buy lingerie wash today?” at the register, I do have some smaller products available to complement a purchase. In the case of accessories, we wanted a company with a wide variety and fast shipping, and Brazabra fit the bill. However, they aren’t ideal for higher quality products, like lingerie wash, stockings, or nipple covers. When it came to these products, the companies who won out were the ones who had the best samples. I adored my Kix’ies, and so we brought them in just as we will with Glamoury. Eucalan is the best lingerie wash I have tried (review coming next week), and Chippey’s nipple covers are made from high quality silicone gel so they can be washed and reused indefinitely.
Confession time: Complementary products always make me nervous. You just don’t know what your customer will buy or what they will consider a good deal. I pre-ordered the Stephanie tanks at Curves last year, but I was never sure people would buy them. In fact, I got cold feet and was about to cancel the order when I received word they shipped. It’s not that the product isn’t great (it is); it’s that I wasn’t sure people would like them as much as me. Well, they flew off the rack. People didn’t want just one. They’d come back for multiples, and we had trouble keeping them in stock for a few months. On the flip side, Affinitas released the Sasha babydolls which are adorable for a smaller to average busted person, and with Christmas around the corner (at the time), I thought they would increase my lingerie sales. *ahem* Let’s just say they haven’t performed as expected. I rarely make mistakes with bras anymore, but this is definitely a sketchier area for me. It’s also helpful for me to keep in mind I have only been selling non-bra products for about a year now. After a year of operation, I felt the same way with bras too, and I am hoping that as we are in business longer, I can make more confident purchases. A lack of confidence is not going to deter me, however, as I already have plans for Fluert with Me sleepwear, Bolero dresses, and Urkye button-fronts!