We have finally arrived at my favorite post to compile in the series: our best-sellers. While knowing which cup sizes, band sizes, and bra sizes sell the best is an extremely important element to maintaining inventory, it’s also smart to keep track of what products perform well and in what sizes. My strategy with purchasing new inventory is to create a well-rounded set of options per size cluster, which includes carrying multiple styles, colors, and brands designed to suit a variety of customer breast shapes and preferences. Analyzing our best-sellers can be a key way to select future core styles, determine the best colors to choose, and even analyze the optimum size configuration per style.
For the best-selling items, I looked strictly at units sold which is in direct contrast to how we calculated best-selling band, cup, and bra sizes. Because we have bras varying in price point from $32 to $78, using a sales-based metric would unfairly skew the results toward more expensive pieces. As a retailer, my strategy with the shop is to offer a mix of price points, and I am most interested in knowing which pieces are selling quickly and at full price so that I not only continue stocking them but also expand the sizes and colors available.
On account of our tight budget, we initially opened with precious few brands and focused specifically on ones with which I either had the most experience, namely Panache, Elomi, Freya, and Fantasie, or had outstanding sales reps like Wacoal and Natori. As sales increased and we grew to meet customer demands, we eventually qualified for terms agreements with certain vendors. Terms agreements are a godsend to retailers because they offer us breathing room to sell products prior to paying the balance due. Generous term agreements even allow for increased expansion within the brand, and bulk purchasing discounts can increase low profit margins too. Because of these benefits, retailers often turn to existing brands for new styles before seeking alternatives. Not to mention, a good relationship with an existing vendor can lead to sample products or the ability to place small orders for a new style rather than investing heavily. A history with a brand also gives you a certain knowledge of how the bras tend to fit too, and if you are unsure, a sales rep can typically guide you in determining if the piece will work for your shop.
Consequently, retail shops can often engage in a kind of brand inbreeding where more and more products from core brands enter the store with little to no options from anyone new. “Inbreeding” understandably has a negative connotation, but brand inbreeding is not always a bad thing. Certain companies are so large and diverse in product offerings that a store can be quite successful simply by staying within the product lines of a few core manufacturers. However, depending on customer base, location, and sales strategy, the lack of new options can create missed opportunities for customers to try better products or for retailers to capture new customers outside the size range, price point, breast shape, or personal needs of their existing manufacturers.
In our store, I balance our expansion efforts with core brands by always looking for new designers too. For our statistics, this bias toward existing manufacturers also creates a heavier skew both for best-selling products as well as for brands toward the companies with whom we have the longest standing agreements. Time is also on the side of these companies because a bra present in the store since we opened will also have historical sales data padding their overall figures while a newer company has no such benefit. Finally, certain companies and bras are also at a disadvantage simply because of the size range available. Intuitively, a bra available in sizes 32-36A-DDD will have a harder time competing with a bra with a 30-38D-K size range. To address these biases this year, I have included an observations and predictions sections at the end of the article based on the last year of operation and how sales have shifted and most likely will shift within the store. Next year, I may switch from sales percentage to a growth-oriented model for tracking best-selling products.
The Best-Selling Bras Overall
Other Noteworthy Best-Sellers
The Common Feature
A quick glance through our best-selling bras plus some other noteworthy styles quickly reveals one major common feature: underwire. I feel like wireless customers are the ones we disappoint the most with in-store inventory and for whom we rely the most consistently on special orders to satisfy. When we discussed bra sizing, I mentioned that I could not keep every size in store for the sake of representation if those sizes never sell, and the wired vs. wireless bra is the style equivalent of this dilemma. Simply put, wired bras outsell wireless at a rate of 18 to 1. With such unbalanced sales figures, I have a hard time allocating my budget for a significant section of wireless bras. Remember, just like wired bras, there is a vast range of sizes which needs to be represented and within those sizes, customers want multiple choices. What this amounts to is a niche market needing and/or wanting us to set up a secondary store filled with every size bra in multiple options and colors. To say it’s “cost prohibitive” to accomplish this undersells the investment, but we have expanded and will continue to expand to include more options. However, since this is an area with a lower demand, it’s one that will have to grow slowly over time.
Panties, Shapewear, and Other Fun Stuff
Because bras have always been our primary focus, we dedicate the most time and space in the series to analyzing them, but in the last two years, we have grown to include other products like panties, maternity, and shapewear products, which deserve some attention. More recently, we have even added sleepwear, stockings, lingerie, and lounging robes into our inventory mix although these will be better reflected in next year’s stats. (Remember: These figures are from July 17th, 2011 to July 17th, 2015 only). Despite representing a lower amount of sales than bras, I wanted to dole out awards to a few outstanding products.
- Yummie by Heather Thompson makes some fantastic products and is a wonderful alternative to Spanx. I have not purchased any products for the shop which did not sell well. The brand frequently uses soft, high quality fabrics with a graduated fit to offer control where you want it without feeling overly tight or binding. In particular, the Stephanie tanks are so popular that no one ever buys just one.
- The Natori Bliss Series has been popular from the beginning with the classic pima cotton hipster leading the knicker pack. Every week, a new customer discovers how gloriously comfortable the panties are, but we have also expanded in the last six months to include new contenders from Wacoal, Le Mystere, Skarlett Blue, and Yummie by Heather Thompson. In fact, I have a more complete discussion of great everyday and fashion panties in the blog pipeline for the coming week.
- Fashion underwear always compromises a smaller sale percentage than classic everyday panties, usually on account of the higher price tag ($25+). However, Anna Pardal’s commitment to luxurious hand-made panties at the same price as competitor’s mass-produced pieces have deservedly drawn fans to her designs, with more people purchasing a matching set from her than any other brand in the store. An honorable mention goes to the Parfait Charlotte bikini, however, because the price point and classic fit work well.
Speaking of panties, I was feeling industrious and created a separate analysis for what sizes sell the best:
- The bulk of our sales for sizes “Small” and “X-Small” would be practically non-existent without the boost from online sales. In store customers rarely ever purchase those sizes, which is often why they are either not included in fashion panty orders or occupy a small number of what was ordered.
- Our plus-size customers have also asked for more options in the 2x-5X size range, and we have branched out to Curvy Couture recently with more options on the horizon for next year.
- Wacoal sells more units than Panache because of its sister-lined b.tempt’d and its exceptional panty program. While the Panache price point is on par with the original Wacoal line, the successful b.tempt’d line features prices between $35 and $48, thus adding less to the dollar amount calculations. We also do not carry any Panache underwear except for the occasional matching set, making their unit figure almost entirely based on bras sold.
- All the brands in the “Climbing Quickly” section are showing tremendous growth. I do not know that anyone will eclipse Elomi given how much historical sales data they have behind their status, but these contenders are certainly working toward the title!
In which I use anecdotal evidence to undermine certain elements of this post
In my opening remarks, I alluded to how the sales data can be at once accurate and misleading, and in this section, I want to offer in explaining what the figures fail to showcase.
- Parfait & Affinitas: We enjoy a wonderful relationship with both Parfait & Affinitas and our sales rep, resulting in growth for the brand inside the shop. However, the expansion only began within the last year. Originally, we only offered two styles from them, but the positive relationship enabled us to incorporate new products like Parfait Charlotte, Affinitas Sienna, and now bra-sized lingerie. With the inclusion of new products plus exceptional marketing promotions sponsored by the brand, the company has already increased their awareness and influence in the shop. In fact, the Charlotte set will at minimum become a “Noteworthy Seller” next year because it manages to show steady, ongoing growth driven by customers who love it so much they buy the set in every color.
- The 36+ Band Split: For nearly two years, the bulk of our sales for 36+ bands originated with Elomi. Panache, Goddess, and Wacoal assisted, but chances are: If you came into the shop before 2014 and wore a 36+ band, you left with Elomi. However, as I mentioned earlier, the downside of brand inbreeding can be missing better products for your customers or failing to capture new clients because of existing inventory. At the start of this year, I began aggressively diversifying in these sizes with the inclusion of more Goddess products and additional sizes from Wacoal, Parfait, and Sculptresse from Panache. Later, I brought in Curvy Couture and Natori’s Plus Support line as well as Elila, American Breast Care, and Glamorise for wireless customers. Consequently, while Elomi continues to boast the most sales, the actual growth rate for the company has leveled off as new manufacturers rise up the ranks. Sister-line Goddess, on the other hand, has show significant growth, which will only continue with the addition of several new styles. Next year, I think we will see the split reflected in sales data, particularly for existing companies like Natori, Panache, and Wacoal who will benefit from an added presence in these sizes.
- Curvy Couture: A friend of mine who owns a store in Hawaii spoke so highly of Curvy Couture, I decided to covertly test a few myself to see if the sizing and fit were what I expected. Ultimately, I was so impressed that I knew we had to start expanding. Curvy Couture specializes in the least exciting thing in the lingerie world: T-Shirt Bras. I sometimes feel like there are a lot of great companies who never get featured on blogs because they, like Curvy Couture, are known more for an arsenal of smooth cup bras some of which are available in a slew of safer fashion choices like purples, blues, or pinks. Nevertheless, the truth for this American retailer (and for the many others I have spoken with) is: Those bras sell, and they sell and sell some more. While I have made impassioned pleas to abandon the unwavering worship of t-shirt bras, I also have a business to run and realize a better selection translates to more sales. Since each brand utilizes a unique fit profile (and molded cups are tricky fits anyway), it’s essential to offer customers a mix of styles in each size. Curvy Couture has proven to be popular across 34-44 band sizes and with its recent addition of 32 bands, I think that will continue. The backs are wider to offer smoothing, and the straps are usually set inward to prevent slippage. So far, we’ve expanded to carry four styles with our eye on a fifth one already. Expect great things from this company on next year’s figures!
- Panache: Panache has stepped up their game in the last year. Not only is the basic Marcie bras finally re-releasing in December, but they will also introduce basic colors in the phenomenal Chi Chi bra from their Sculptresse range. Some of their new fashion styles like Olivia and Georgia have been successful in addressing the needs of customers too, and with fit tweaks to several Superbra products to make the underwires lower on the sides, I anticipate they will recapture some fans this year who departed for other brands.
- Freya & Fantasie: Let’s backtrack a minute to talk about our best-selling bra: The Freya Deco. The Deco series outsells the next closest best-seller 2-to-1. It’s just one of those bras that has a dedicated, unwavering fan base, so much so it propelled the brand to the top 5. Next year, I am looking to include a Freya non-padded style, and the Hero is a front-runner for me. I’ll have a review ready soon, but I think you’ll see why I think this new Freya style could make a great addition to the store. Sister-line Fantasie has lagged behind for years now for a number of reasons, but a prevalent one is the increased cost of the bras. It’s hard to find pieces under $65 from them, but the Lois and Alex bras have been doing well on special order, particularly for women in 30-36 band sizes and G+ cups who have softer tissue and/or find issues with the fit of Panache. We’ll see what new year brings, but next year may mark some growth for the brand.
- Skarlett Blue: I have made mention of this brand several times in the series because it’s one of those brands that, to me, is an exceptional quality and fit for the price. The Adore bra, reasonably priced at $58, is easily on par with with Natori, and the limited size range will be expanding to 28 and 30 bands next year too.
Your turn: Any surprises here? What do you think of some of our best-selling bras?