Very Much On Topic: Important Store Updates

Today, I am checking my usual humor at the door and ripping down the curtains obscuring the view into the true state of our business: Last month, I planned to shut our doors permanently by the end of December. Usually when I contemplate closing, it’s in the midst of an emotional meltdown, all sobs or screams and half-serious intentions. The toll of small business ownership and a never-ending string of bad luck in the last four years more than once made want to quit and work a corporate job where life may not be better but at least it’d be easier. As the tears dried and my mood stabilized, I’d rush remorsefully back to the shop as if it were a sentient being whose feelings I injured with my idle threats.

In September, closing was not a threat. I was serious. For my family, 2018 has proved a mixed blessing. At the start of the year, my dad needed emergency surgery and ultimately discovered he had the initial stages of testicular cancer. After several weeks, the doctors were confident they completely removed it, and we resumed more regular hours. Shortly afterwards, I contracted e-coli followed by an antibiotic resistant staph infection which required months of treatment. No sooner did I feel better than we received a hateful email threatening to burn down our business. In August, my dad discovered significant swelling and tenderness at his incision site–another emergency procedure, more scans, more follow-ups, and more missed work. In the end, the doctors did not discover any cancer and chocked up the irritation to a complication from the initial surgery. No matter what happens with the business, I am grateful for the good news. My mom passed away several years ago, and my brother and I depend on him for so much. We needed him to be okay, and he was.

Unfortunately, when it came time to crunch the numbers, our cash flow was nonexistent. We are barely scraping by to pay bills, and I had to request a shipping hold on new inventory until I can afford to pay for it. The natural question was whether we should just take this as the final sign from a cruel universe and look into winding down the business by the end of the year. It certainly would be easier than fighting every day for even the smallest victories. I began researching the best ways to shut down a business, which steps we needed to take, and so on. Suddenly, the emotionally insincere threats were taking on a somber, rationale tone. I was objectively detached from the situation as if I hadn’t spent the last seven years dedicated to this endeavor. The disconnect jarred me.

For better or worse, I put myself into this business. I rely on a mix of cool rationality, compassion, humor, and caring to make business decisions. Whether it is the way I interact with customers to the dedication I have for educating people to my posts here, many like this one where I bare my soul, I have always been deeply connected to the shop. My passion fuels everything we do. How could I compartmentalize those feelings in such a large decision? Would I regret dispassionately dismantling something into which I poured my everything?

Ultimately, I pushed the computer aside and began evaluating how many more personal sacrifices I was willing to make and where we could trim budgetary fat and improve our cash flow to facilitate recovery. The same day I contemplated the fate of A Sophisticated Pair, I received an email from a lady who wanted to personally thank me for the service we gave her and how shopping with us had changed her life for the better. She was grateful we were here, and almost all at once, my heart flushed with warmth and then ached with a profound sadness at the thought of closing, especially because of the circumstances. No, I thought to myself, I have lost too much because of things outside my control, and I’d be damned if this was one more item to add to the list. I am going to fight for this place, for what it means to me and for what it means to our community. If I lose, at least I went down swinging.

Part of that fight means making changes and adjusting our strategy. We will not be bringing in any new inventory until we rebound financially. If you want fashion colors or special items for the holidays, you will need to special order them. We are essentially entering a holding pattern, only replenishing what is absolutely needed, phasing out what isn’t, and saving to bring in the inventory we promised. Furthermore, we will be enforcing strict special order and return policies (which I’ll discuss in a later post) because we are losing thousands of dollars every year by not doing so.

The last component of my rebound strategy is the hardest. I need to ask for help. No matter what has happened, I have always managed to overcome it, and I feel a sense of shame or wounded pride or both that I couldn’t manage on my own this time. Dad’s second cancer scare reared its ugly head in the middle of our busy season and ended at the start of our slow period, making recovery that much more challenging. And so here is my plea: If you love our shop, our blog, and/or our videos, consider contributing in one of the following ways:

    • Be understanding. I am doing everything in my power to save this business, and it means you may need to wait a little longer for orders or that the inventory won’t be as fresh as usual. I am sure we have all had times of struggle, and having a support system of understanding people makes it easier to recover and ease the stress.
    • Shop our sale section. On our website, we have assembled amazing deals on a variety of sizes, all of which are available in-store too. Sale items require no replenishing and allow me to direct the total of the sale toward our current finances.
    • Buy gift certificates. They never expire and contribute fully to our inventory.
    • Consider donating. I set up a Paypal donate button on the blog as well as in our Bra Naked Truth series. For over seven years, I have provided an ongoing source of free advice on our website, through our videos, and in email, and I have never once asked for anything in return. If you are someone who has benefited from the help I have given and continue to give freely, please consider donating. Every little bit helps.



In the meantime, I will be working tirelessly to continue improving the blog, the website, and the shop for all of our customers. I do not want to simply rebuild the business but to nurture and grow it. There are so many products and styles not represented yet in our store, and my ambitions for the heights the store can reach are limitless.

Regardless of what the future holds, I want to personally thank everyone who has made this journey possible and whose ongoing support has propped us up during these long difficult months. You know who you are. Your thoughts and prayers have been a constant reminder of the good in this world and the power it offers all of us. With all my love dear friends,

Erica

Very Much On Topic: Important Store Updates
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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25 thoughts on “Very Much On Topic: Important Store Updates

  • October 9, 2018 at 11:43 am
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    Erica. I just started a blog and have thought that I’d love to feature your shop in a blog post on the importance of proper bra fittings and the advantage of shopping a local specialized bra retailer. I’ve had to make financial cutbacks lately so I haven’t been able to get back to you for a fall fitting. I hope to remedy that next month as I truly have only received equal care from one other retailer. If you would like to collaborate and coordinate a blog post ( not looking for any compensation or acclaim on my part just want to help) feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to do my part because you my dear are awesome and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead for you. As you said a setback is just a springboard for a comeback.

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    • Erica
      November 1, 2018 at 3:12 pm
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      Hi Laura! Yes, I would love to collaborate with you. That sounds like a fun way to work together. Just email me the details/deadline, and we’ll pull something together. Also, thank you for the ongoing support of the shop. I appreciate it. <3

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      • November 26, 2018 at 8:16 pm
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        Erica I haven’t forgotten about this. I promise I will be emailing you soon. I was thinking a post holidays post reminding women it’s time to give themselves the gift of a great bra.

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        • Erica
          December 6, 2018 at 5:34 pm
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          That sounds fabulous, Laura! I am horrible about deadlines/blogging lately anyway, so no worries 🙂

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  • October 9, 2018 at 11:47 am
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    You are the bravest and strongest woman in the business. As someone who has worked in a small locally owned bra shop, and witness the struggles and hardships it takes to keep the doors open and new stock flowing in, I wish you the best in the coming months.
    I really hope we can support you as a community to keep your doors open.
    Hugs

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    • Erica
      November 1, 2018 at 3:14 pm
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      Thank you, Darci. <3 The sacrifices which go into small business management are numerous, but the reward is being able to interact with and help so many wonderful people out there. It's not an easy job, but it's very rewarding. My hope is that life will stop interfering, and the business can grow and thrive. *hugs*

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  • October 9, 2018 at 11:50 am
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    Erica, with there being so few bra boutiques located throughout the country, your store is truly a much-needed resource. There are, quite literally, only one or two stores per state and, with the numbers of ABTF growing, you’ll be needed all the more. That sub has doubled in size in the three years since I joined and, I expect, will continue to do so.
    Every day, a woman learns her actual, not-measured-at-VS size and needs a place to shop. I hope, in the very near future (I’m talking two or three years), that you have more business than you know what to do with. Until then, I will chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and send the power of the Mystic Law your way.

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    • Erica
      November 1, 2018 at 3:17 pm
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      Nichole, you are very right that there are not many boutiques, but there’s also a lot closing too. I think the growing ABTF community will help, but I think one of the bigger threats is really the way Amazon can undercut on prices (even though they aren’t supposed to according to MAP policies). You wind up with people who may find their size at a boutique but then go online for future purchases. I hope we’ll see things turn around more on this front because I think boutiques not only provide an amazing service but a positive experience too. Thank you for supporting me and for sending positive vibes my way. <3

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  • October 9, 2018 at 12:03 pm
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    Would having an online-only store possibly help? Or a “traveling” store that goes to different locations to provide on-site bra fittings and sell bras? You might have more options than you think! We’re all rooting for you 🙂

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    • October 10, 2018 at 7:31 pm
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      I agree that sometimes the best way to get from here to there is to come up with an entirely new model! Erica – you are a gem who cares so much about everyone (and ensuring great fit / confidence / boob happiness). It shouldn’t be so hard for you to do this given your talent and dedication. I mean, I understand that it can be very hard at times – but I wonder if there isn’t another way to get where you would like to go. Your health (and that of your family) is the most important thing.

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      • Erica
        November 1, 2018 at 3:20 pm
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        Thank you both! I was thinking of doing some other format, but the store has so many advantages. I truly believe the bigger problem for me has just been such an ongoing string of bad luck. I suppose the lesson is that if I can survive growing a business with all those disadvantages, I’ll be even more prepared for growth without setbacks. I’ve had a few boutique owners who shut down and are doing pop-up events or parties. The logistics on that almost seem worse to me than the storefront though. I’ll be pursuing a few other options, including revamping our website to make it more online friendly. I’d also like to bring in someone who can work the store when I am unavailable. Having a staff would alleviate so many problems for us. In the meantime, we’re rebuilding and focusing on the best ways to grow in the future. The support from everyone has been overwhelming and really reinforced that this is something I want.

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  • October 9, 2018 at 12:27 pm
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    Small business is definitely not for the faint of heart! I started my own just over a year ago and it is hard! I just started reading Business Boutique by Christy Wright because I need somewhere to start. I’m the all over the place kid who does a little bit of everything rather than seeing a single task to completion before moving to the next.

    I’ve not been in the place financially to order much over the past two years, but will send you an email now as I finally have some monies! 😉 I really wish I could buy everything and have all matching bras and chonies. Someday. =D

    I believe Christopher Robin had it right.

    You are stronger than you feel, smarter than you think, and braver than you believe.

    We can do this!! <3 <3 <3

    Love from Louisville.

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    • Erica
      November 1, 2018 at 3:24 pm
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      Thank you, Aimee <3 <3 I think my problem is prioritizing. I'll sometimes work on things which didn't *need* to be done right then because I enjoy those more. A friend suggested that I treat Thursdays as my "if the worst happens" days and plan out which would need to be done if I had to miss work the first part of the following week. She does this with her business so that important things are not left hanging and that if she does miss time, it's not overwhelming or stressful to catch up. I started this week and am already feeling better knowing things are taken care of differently. You may want to try it too. I wish I had been doing it all along! And yes, I can start a bunch of projects too! Plus, I feel like I get distracted easily at the shop. I'll start working on a blog, a customer will walk in, and then I need to practically start from the beginning again in order to get back into the flow. Small business owners wear many hats! Sometimes I just seem to wear them all at once and then look a bit crazy. 😉 So proud of you for starting your own business, and I am hope life only gets better for you.

      Reply
  • October 9, 2018 at 1:40 pm
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    Erica,I know first hand just how hard it is to run a small business I own a small farm were I grow organic produce. The weather has been more than a little challenging to much rain,not enough sunlight, crops failing ,still I must pay back loans.I work very hard to made every thing work ,but then stuff beyond my control hits, it is very discouraging.Some days I just want to quit. However it is passion for me so I just try by putting one foot in front of the other.Hoping things will get better!

    You offer a very needed and rare service. I for one appreciate your blogs and advice. I plan on seeing you soon after the new year.

    Lv Fran.

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    • Erica
      November 1, 2018 at 3:27 pm
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      Fran, I had another customer who worked with organic items (she grew flowers), and she said it was very tough because it was so easy for things to go wrong. I can’t imagine making a farm work. My hat is off to you for being able to handle all those variables. My grandfather grew up on a farm, and I have great respect for anyone who works/runs one. Here’s hoping the next season will be better for you. Much love to you. <3

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  • October 9, 2018 at 2:31 pm
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    You have a wonderful gift for connecting with people of both genders, whether through your blog or in your store. Business is rewarding, but it sure can be hard, too. It would be unfortunate for everyone involved if you couldn’t continue your store operations because people need your help and your beautiful products and yet you also need to make a living commensurate with your lifestyle and stress level. Heaven forbide that you end up closing your wonderful shop, but if you do then I thnk that your helpful personality and role in the lingerie business could find a very meaningful and hopefully enjoyable outlet working for one of the larger stores that offer fittings, advice and guidance in their “delectables” department. Perhaps a store like Nordstrom or Macey’s, without ruling out some smaller yet customer-oriented shops, would give you the opportunity to serve the people who need you and give you the advantage of being able to leave it behind when you drive home. Best of luck whichever way you go. You deserve success and I sincerely commend you for your service to people who need your help as well as those who simply enjoy your blog and shopping at your store.

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    • Erica
      November 1, 2018 at 3:59 pm
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      Thank you, Roger! If I were to close, I could certainly find another job in the industry, but this one really calls to me. I love being my own boss and being able to help people without corporate interference. 🙂 So far, things have been going well, and we’re starting to rebound. It is just going to take some time, but when you find something so special like this, it is hard to walk away. Thank you for the well-wishes and for leaving such a thoughtful comment!

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  • October 10, 2018 at 4:04 am
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    Thank you for your honesty and transparency because you didn’t have to share anything. I’m sorry that your family has gone through so much in such a short amount of time. I live an hr away from your boutique but your store is the only store that I can find, try on, and be properly fitted for big busted bras. I had been ordering online but getting the right size and fit had been hit or miss. You made ordering my bras a breeze and you made me feel so comfortable and welcomed. It’s about time for me to order again. I’ll see you soon. Sending prayers for you and your family.

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    • Erica
      November 1, 2018 at 4:01 pm
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      Thanks Leslye! <3 One of the things I decided early on was that I wanted to break down this wall obscuring customers from the realities of small business ownership. I love brands which are honest what is working and what isn't, and I wanted to have a business people could trust and understand. Thank you for the prayers and for the support! <3

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  • October 10, 2018 at 1:56 pm
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    Erica, thank you for all you do. I’m so sorry you and your family have gone through such a difficult time. Your shop has made a huge difference for my two daughters and we are grateful for the service, education and awareness you provide. We support your business and hope you find a way to make things work for the best for you. Best wishes and cheers from here!

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    • Erica
      November 1, 2018 at 4:02 pm
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      Teresa, I am glad I could make a difference for your daughters. <3 I know firsthand how tough it can be if you are wearing the wrong size, and that is one of the reasons I am so dedicated to making the shop succeed. Thank you for the wishes, cheers, and words of encouragement!

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  • October 13, 2018 at 12:35 am
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    Erica, do what you need to, but know that I’d be heartbroken if you went anywhere! Your shop is incredible. You’re a cherished friend. Your strength in keeping this shop open is an example to me and all entrepreneurs.

    I’m seriously glad you’ve decided to rebuild and I look forward to helping in whatever small ways I can. 🙂

    Reply
    • Erica
      November 1, 2018 at 4:02 pm
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      Thank you, my friend. <3 Your ongoing support and just general niceness as friend has been wonderful. Much love to you and the family!

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  • November 20, 2018 at 12:47 am
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    Hi Erica, I’ve been a fan of your shop for years even though I’ve never visited North Carolina. Mad respect to you and your boutique from a fellow shop owner – I know exactly how hard it can be and I know how hard you work. I’m sending you good thoughts from California. Here’s hoping things turn around and that you pull through.

    -Robynne (of Revelation in Fit)

    Reply
    • Erica
      December 6, 2018 at 5:33 pm
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      Thank you, Robynne. <3 I appreciate the the positive wishes. I've heard amazing things about your shop too and refer clients there. Thank you again!!

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