9 Intimate Apparel Brands on Adapting to the "New Normal"

“It’s not about making money, it’s about being relevant and staying alive.”

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a webinar hosted by Curve NY and moderated by Ellen Lewis, Publisher of Lingerie Briefs. Nine specialty and intimate apparel stores came together to share how they’re adjusting to the “new normal” despite the ever-changing future that lies ahead.

I especially appreciated the willingness of the panel to share their experiences, no matter how difficult. The result was an afternoon of valuable incite and heartfelt expression, all shared in a spirit of camaraderie and mutual support.

While a common sentiment included concerns around transitioning an extremely customer-focused and high-touch suite of products and services onto any type of virtual platform, a pattern of equally shared realities also began to emerge and echo throughout:

  1. Just about everyone is experiencing difficulties with their landlords.
  2. The future is still very uncertain.
  3. Comfort is driving sales.
  4. Social media and eCommerce are now more important than ever.
  5. The need to embrace change.

From challenges with landlords to thinking outside-the-box and embracing customer needs, below are some of the thoughts, and expressions shared.

Difficulties with landlords…

“My landlord sent me a letter saying, yup, rent is due on the first [April] in full, and there’s no discussion about it.” — Sonya Perkins, Forever Yours (British Columbia)

“Let me tell you we have been dealing with a difficult landlord. Our landlord has not been willing to work with us at all. And that was our biggest expense.” — Susanne Alvarado, Sugar Cookies (Downtown Manhatten)

Uncertainty and the future…

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep all my stores because I will not be able to pay all the rents and take on all the debts/losses. It scares me that my best store is actually in a mall and I don’t know when the malls will open. I don’t know how it will be, working and doing fittings anymore. That’s also my biggest expense. It’s my biggest store, and it’s my highest rent.” — Lilliana Mann, Linea Intima (Ontario)

“For the vendors, I think it’s gonna be extremely tough. We’re all sitting on 2-3 months worth of merchandise. […] I was really hoping to be open for Memorial Day weekend. We have a large amount of swimwear available in the store, and to not have Memorial Day weekend or Spring Break to sell it, was really, really difficult. I don’t know if I’m going to order anything until we’re open for a month.” — Danny Koch, Town Shop (NY)

Echoing a deep sense of responsibility and appreciation for employees, Jeanne shared her thoughts on laying people off: “As a business owner, we always wanna be the hero. And we wanna be approved by our team; we love them, they’re like our family… at some point, you have to look out for the financial security of your business.” — Jeanne Emory, Bra Genie (Louisiana)

“I am so conflicted about online. I have never online shopped for clothing and don’t plan on it. The very nature of our business is a proper fit and in order to do that, we need to have women come to the store. Different brands, different styles, and fit. Sometimes within color runs of the same bra the fit can be different. Some women only get a bra(s) every couple of years so even when we have them on file it is not always the same. My issue is that I feel I am doing my customers a disservice by not fitting them. I am envious of those that offer online and are successful at it but it goes against everything I believe in. Even if I put items online that don’t require fitting would it be worth the cost?” — (Chat Comment)

Comfort is driving sales…

Sugar Cookies
Sugar Cookies Lingerie

“This [the bralette] is the quarantine bra. This is the bra people want to wear at home. Nobody wants to wear a real bra right now.”

“We are finding that comfortable bras are really what are driving sales. Lots of no wire. Lots of comfort. A little bit of sexy.” — Jeanne Emory, Bra Genie (Louisiana)

“Bralettes had exploded. I was getting so many requests for bralettes, I couldn’t keep them in stock.” After realizing the bralette is “the quarantine bra” — the bra that people want to wear at home, Sonya continued: “And so we did our first order. We did 100 pieces. Keep in mind we are a single store. We sold out those pieces in 24 hrs just by social media, no email, no nothing. So then we opened a presale, and we did 600 pieces. Sold those out — it actually crashed our website. And we sold those out again, in 24 hrs. The next order we did — another presale, sold out.” — Sonya Perkins, Forever Yours (British Columbia)

“We were noticing that even with our eCommerce sales, people weren’t buying sexy. And we noticed in their searches, what they were looking for were bralettes, sleepwear, specifically comfy sleepwear. In the past, if something had a garter belt people would come in and buy it. No one’s even touched garter belts, it’s all been about the sleepwear or panties, but no one’s been buying a bra. We’ve even had husbands reaching out saying, ‘I wanna get my wife a pair of comfy pj’s.’” — Susanne Alvarado, Sugar Cookies (Downtown Manhatten)

eCommerce and social media marketing…

“We have a pretty robust website which I bitch and complain about every day because it’s hard to maintain, and it takes a lot of work, and there’s problems constantly with it – that thing has been our savior. [...] I had no idea how we were gonna pay our rent. And I went on social media and I did a video, and I said, ‘Look. I really need you guys to support the businesses that you want to see alive after this. And if we’re one of those businesses, please help us and buy something…granted we do have quite a few followers, but we had enough for our rent in 24 hrs. You need to get your face in front of people and develop a relationship with people, and have those people see you not just as a store in their community but as a person in their community that they really love and they really wanna support, who does good things for the community.” — Sonya Perkins, Forever Yours (British Columbia)

“Start showing us stuff. We wanna shop. We want some retail therapy, we want some normalcy.”

“I went again on video and I said, ‘I don’t feel right selling to you guys, do you want this? Like, do you want me just to do fun videos or cooking, or whatever? And so I did some cooking videos, I did some educational videos, and then people said, ‘Start showing us stuff…we wanna shop. We want some retail therapy, we want some normalcy. And I started showing people things and people bought. Like people will not stop buying if you show them stuff.— Sonya Perkins, Forever Yours (British Columbia)

“I started with virtual fittings. I got this idea of making videos, talking about each cup size, and that was very successful. I gained a lot of followers on Instagram and Facebook. People are writing and asking questions, so that’s wonderful.” — Lilliana Mann, Linea Intima (Ontario)

“Pretty much how we marketed the virtual trunk show, first on our website we would choose a collection of pieces that we wanted to carry from each vendor. We would add it on to our website. We would also market it on social media as well. And what we found from our web sales and Instagram – which now I’m a huge believer in, social media, I wasn’t so much before, but now I am, was that there are some people that are still working, or they’re taking care of their families, so we found that most of our sales, whether on the eCommerce or on social media, were happening late at night, nine, ten o’clock, or even midnight.” — Susanne Alvarado, Sugar Cookies (Downtown Manhatten)

“I would have to say the first month when we did the Cosabella trunk show, in comfy sleepwear alone, we did 25% of our sales on web orders — and that’s completely separate from the social media. So that was pretty much paving our way to cover our rent for last month, and then even this month too. It’s all the web sales.” — Susanne Alvarado, Sugar Cookies (Downtown Manhatten)

“We are selling through our Facebook shop, Facebook live videos, over the phone and we just started offering virtual bra fittings over Zoom, which has been HUGELY popular.” — (Chat Comment)

Thoughts on staying relevant and embracing change…

Sugar Cookies
Forever Yours Lingerie

“I find that I have to constantly think of what else to do to be relevant. It’s not about making money, it’s about being relevant and staying alive. It’s a hard thing to swallow after 22 years of being in business.” — Lilliana Mann, Linea Intima (Ontario)

“Build it and they will come. You just have to think outside the box. Would I rather be selling regular bras? Absolutely, but right now, this is what’s paying my bills. […] So we’re just gonna have to constantly, on the daily, on the weekly, really adjust our thinking, adjust our marketing, and adjust how we’re doing business how customers want us to do business. [...] You gotta just adjust and be ready for change. The next two years is just gonna be all about change. Be ready for it, and be accepting of it.” — Sonya Perkins, Forever Yours (British Columbia)

“We knew marketing was gonna be really important, so we used a sales funnel that we’ve created over the last 15 years of emails, and home addresses, and phone numbers, to basically start blasting our customers three times a week with relevant emails that talk to comfort, and loneliness, and being at home, and bringing pleasure, and…it worked. I wanna say that the phone orders were even better than the web orders because with a phone order you get to talk to people maybe you haven’t spoken to since you first fit them 10 yrs ago.” — Jeanne Emory, Bra Genie (Louisiana)

“We thought, okay we have this void, we need to get some sleepwear. We don’t have a lot of dollars in, what can we do to fill this void? […] So we first reached out to Cosabella and they had offered to partner up with us and do the virtual trunk show. We did two with Cosabella and then we did one with Aubade and we are currently doing one today, which we started with Verdiani Italian Luxury.” — Susanne Alvarado, Sugar Cookies (Downtown Manhatten), on sleepwear not being a category, they originally had.

“Even the things that we have currently on our website and in our store, no one is looking for sexy lingerie…it’s all been about the sleepwear or panties, but no one’s been buying a bra, it’s just been a completely different business model that we’re used to in the past, but we’re embracing it because we know it’s what our customers need. It’s gonna be interesting to see once we do get through this if we’re gonna continue with that category [sleepwear].” — Susanne Alvarado, Sugar Cookies (Downtown Manhatten)

“The first thing we did was we got a company cell phone and utilized that to forward our shop phones. And Lisa and I took turns being accessible any time that anybody called [Lisa “Day or night.”] that they got a live person, us, and we’d talk to them. Even if they were just nervous about the pandemic if they were calling our store we knew there was a need. We showed them that we were here for them.” — Tana Re & Lisa Cetrone, TLC Lingerie (Montana)

“I’m getting ready for the new normal. I don’t think things are going back to the old way. Just like there’s discussion of change, you gotta be ready for change, you gotta think outside the box; you gotta show your customers that you’re ready; and what you’re doing to be ready.” — Patti Platt, A La Mode (Maryland)

“I have seen tremendous success in my Women’s Creative Entrepreneurial group in Boston. We are a collection of different creative people: shop owners, makers, designers, etc. I’d like to share with you that finding a way to connect with others: Designers, artists, social media people in order to COLLABORATE, COLLABORATE, COLLABORATE can really help to promote in new ways. For many small shops in my area, this has been a good way to stay afloat, or even find new opportunities.” — (Chat Comment)

Sugar Cookies
Sugar Cookies Lingerie

Do you run a specialty or intimate apparel store? Are you experiencing the same? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @FlyDuo!

And of course, if there’s any way that Fly Media Productions can be of service, please reach out! We’d love to lend you the benefit of our years of experience helping folks build and maintain niche, extremely customer experience-oriented, and unapologetically authentic premium lifestyle brands. It’s not easy to bring the high-touch focused experience of a premium brand from the offline world, and leave the same impression in the virtual space — we can help you achieve that while successfully maintaining differentiation!

Mark Your Calendars There’s more to come!

BUDGET BLUES? Strategies & Financial Planning Post Pandemic
Webinar Hosted by California Apparel News with Financial Experts
Wednesday, May 20th at 12:30 pm EST

Virtual Support: Simple Ways to Serve Lingerie Clients With Virtual and Digital Offers
Webinar Hosted by Kimmay Caldwell, Owner Hurray Media LLC
Wednesday, May 27th at 12:30 pm EST

Show some love! #FlyDuo