Ordinarily, I like to post these stats as close to our actual anniversary (July 17th) as possible, but between a hectic summer season, a website remodel, and my brother’s emergency surgery, this intense, labor-of-love series was continuously placed at the bottom of my queue. However, with my life finally returning to some semblance of normalcy, I knew it was time to break out the spread sheets and start work on analyzing our sales! This year proves to be even more exciting because we are entering a state of stability with the business and have a lot more sales to examine and discuss. Our business model has shifted significantly too because we expanded our online sales presence, thus necessitating some changes to how we showcase and scrutinize the data.
Per usual, I want to start by discussing the demographics for our region as well as for our in-store customers. Not only can age, income, and even race impact what sizes, styles, and colors customers purchased, but they can also be useful in identifying the current or emerging needs of our target market. Consequently, I wanted to include them as a way of providing context for our sales history. The statistical data for the county and city are courtesy of the US Census, but the information regarding customers will be strictly observational based on my experiences as I never collect customer’s personal details.
Below is a table consisting of the various counties from which we see the most customers, and I’ve included the average income as well as the percentage of white and black residents. The link below provides significantly more information for anyone interested in learning more. All of the counties as well as the state contain roughly 51.3% female, so I decided not to include this figure in the chart.*
Since we are based in Burlington (Alamance County), I also am including background information on our city.**
- The median age is 38.3 years.
- 57% of population is white.
- 28% of population is black.
Now, I want to provide my personal observations from working in the store daily for the last two years:
- The median age is between 32 and 38 years.
- 49% of customers are white, and 51% are people of color***.
What does race tell us?
After I posted last year’s demographics post, I was criticized privately by another retail owner for observing racial statistics of our in-store customers, and as a result, I spent several weeks wavering about my desire to include them this year. Recently, we as a nation have seen persistent issues with racism prevalent in everything from Halloween costumes to police use of force. Should I really be discussing race at all here? Should I risk inviting controversy? Is it worth it?
In my opinion, I do not believe simply stating that roughly half of my in-store customer base are people of color is inherently racist. I do not have some elaborate tally system that I mark off to keep score, and I am not utilizing the observation to make a pejorative, racist, or stereotypical argument. The truth is I spend a lot of individual time with my customers, listening to their needs and then bringing those needs to the attention of manufacturers. Any in-store clients reading this can tell you that I am pretty damn good at remembering people by name or face even if they have not visited in months or years. I have only two reasons for observing race at all: advocacy and representation.
My blog has a decent following of customers and readers, but what I have come to realize is that a lot of our manufacturers actually read what I write here too. As a result, when I say that we need more flesh-tone options in core styles, it’s not some generalized observation easily dismissed for lack of evidence. It’s a statement rooted in fact. We need manufacturers to understand “Nude” is not beige, that “Black” should not be the only non-beige neutral alternative, and that these are not imagined or perceived needs. Statistics give those needs an added weight and even urgency.
Furthermore, with such a strong showing from people of color, it begs the question why most lingerie models are white. It’s 2015. Have we not progressed to the point where we can embrace the beautiful spectrum of skin tone diversity both in what manufacturers produce as well as in who they select to represent the brand? At the start of this section, I asked whether it was worth discussing race here, and I truly believe it is. Many of our brands have evolved enormously in the last 12 to 18 months specifically because we are talking about race. Last year, nearly every Eveden product was stuck in a Nude/Black cycle for core colors. This year, we’re seeing them rename “Nude” as “Sand” or “Latte,” and they are already offering more middle ground colors like the new pecan version for Elomi Cate or the mocha Freya Deco Vibe. They are listening to articles like this one, to requests from retailers, and to pleas on social media. This is a good thing. Brands like Nubian Skin, which focuses on a diverse color spectrum of neutrals, should not be the exception. They should be the rule. And without a frank discussion of race representation, we will never make progress.
On the retail side of the issue, a mix of skin tones does present unique inventory challenges for the shop. My goal is to continue to incorporate more neutral skin tone options for customers, but given that we are still a small store and can usually only afford to carry one color per style, it means we field questions on a daily basis why we have Bra A in beige or Bra B in chocolate only. As we become more established, I will be able to feature multiple colors in our best-selling sizes, but in the meantime, I encourage our customers to be aware of the amazing diversity around them and how challenging it can be for retailers to meet those demands. People are different and require a range of colors to suit their skin tones. While we continue to expand, please remember we do have a generous special order policy for alternative colors.
What does income tell us?
Quite intuitively, we understand that if you make more money, you often have extra cash to spend on discretionary items. As a result, customers with higher incomes sometimes stock up on bras or are more likely to buy several throughout the year—often with an affinity for new fashion styles. These customers regularly purchase from the shop, which can translate to the appearance of more sales (both in dollar amount and quantity) in a certain band or cup sizes.
What does age tell us?
As with last year, the age range of our store mirrors the median age in the area, roughly mid-to-late thirties. Consequently, we see a shift not only in what these customers want but also in which styles will fit, especially compared with our teenage or college-age clients. Younger customers usually want push-up or cleavage-enhancing designs as well as fun colors and prints whereas our core customers prefer stocking up on basic bras in neutral colors with the occasional fun purchase thrown into the mix. Furthermore, as we age, we lose some firmness in our breasts—a process that can be exacerbated by weight fluctuations, pregnancy, or medication—and the fit element can be challenging, particularly with finding molded cup styles that contour well. This is part of the reason why the flexible cups of spacer fabric or memory foam bras enable these styles to dominate the competition. Finally, our younger customers also tend to wear smaller bands with the majority of our 28 and 30 band sales being to women under 25. However, there is also a significant section of women in the 28/30 band market needing designs for softer tissue. Bras like the Wacoal Awareness, Visual Effects, or Retro Chic fit perfectly with the exception of a too large band. Hopefully, companies will consider these customers with future collections.
What has changed since last year?
When I first began my annual statistical series, I fielded criticism about the method in which I presented the statistics as I had neither provided the amount of total sales nor had I normalized the statistics to reduce the skew to certain sizes created by repeat customers. Two years ago, I devised a new system where the statistics showed percentages instead of amounts to keep my sales data private while still portraying an accurate picture, and I chose not to normalize them due to the enormous time component. Since the system succeeded, I am utilizing it again for this analysis. However, there are two important distinctions from last year. First, I am using total sales amount rather than the units sold. In most cases, the difference between the two is minor, and the overall shape of the charts remain the same. However, I realized when I read through Bluestocking’s own sales data that I was doing a disservice to the series by looking at units sold. At first, I was more interested in showing the diversity of bra sizes to raise awareness, but as the years have gone by, I am more interested to see how the actual sales look. After all, in order to stay in business, it’s the sales figures that drive our inventory plans and expansion needs. I could sell 50 28Es and 50 32DDDs, but if I make more money off the 32DDD bras, then that is where I will focus more money in the future. Since the series have evolved into a way of showcasing the evolution of the shop and how that impacts buying decisions, I felt the switch to sales figures was the right move.
This decision works in tandem with another change from past years. Roughly 25% of our total sales occur online. When we first opened as a mostly brick-and-mortar store, our online sales were pretty low, and as a result, the sales figures were actually representational of people who were properly fitted for a bra. With the increase in online sales, the series shifted to be less about studying bra sizes and more about discussing what sells and how that impacts the future of our store.
With the demographics and background information covered, the next blog will cover the details on what band sizes people are purchasing!
*** The use of white/black prior to this line is because that is the terminology used in the original sources.