Bra Lounge Retail Spotlight
“The Bra Lounge is one place ALL women can shop at, and where all women are understood.” – Sheena Johnson.
by Kim “Kimmay” Caldwell
Canadian bra fitting shop, The Bra Lounge, is just as inviting and comfortable as the name suggests. And that’s mainly due to the welcoming demeanor of the two women responsible for its inception. Created by sisters, Cortney and Sheena, this business started with a spark of inspiration after a tragic family accident, and has bloomed into the go-to shopping destination for women in their Canadian community.
At the backbone of their success is teamwork, putting women first, a vast range of lingerie products, and offering reliable and sincere customer service. And that includes personalized bra fittings both in their shop, and through video chats. That recent innovative addition to their offerings is just one of the many things that sets this boutique apart from the rest. As they prepare to celebrate their 10th year in business, The Lingerie Journal talked shop with The Bra Lounge for an inside look at their years working in lingerie.
Q&A with Sheena Johnson, the Bra Lounge
Give our readers who may not be familiar with your boutique an overview of what the Bra Lounge is all about?
The Bra Lounge is about offering women a better option than conventional department or mall stores, when shopping for intimate apparel. This is not the same as shopping for t-shirts, or jackets, or new boots. Everywhere you look, marketing pushes body image, and it actually segregates women into social and physical demographics. “Plus Sized? Shop here!” “Petite? Shop here!” The Bra Lounge is one place ALL women can shop at, and where all women are understood.
Shopping for undergarments should empower women! They should be able to shop with their daughters and Mom’s and friends, and all find beautiful options at affordable prices. They should all feel embraced and loved and appreciated. That is what makes The Bra Lounge different. We strive everyday to offer top notch service, quality products, and a relaxed environment.
What was the spark that inspired you to start the Bra Lounge?
After losing our Mom in a car accident as young teen’s, we quickly realized in her absence how much she had done for our family. We realized that she was the backbone, she was the motivator, she was our everything. And we knew this was the same in many other households as well. We could see that women rarely put themselves first, they more often than not put their families, jobs, and communities before themselves. We wanted our boutique to cater to women on a personal level. We wanted them to feel welcome and comfortable as they shop for intimate apparel and to offer products all women can find purpose and empowerment in.
Could you tell us about why the boutique was named, the Bra Lounge?
When choosing a name, we knew we wanted something classy and trendy. We wanted something that conveyed a relaxed environment while also being intriguing to those hearing the name for the first time. Cortney came up with The Bra Lounge, and we both loved it right away.
On your Facebook page, the Bra Lounge is described as, “The Ultimate Bra Shopping Experience!” Could you tell our readers what you and your team provide to help your customers achieve this experience?
Women who shop at The Bra Lounge feel it’s the best bra shopping experience they have had, simply because of our personalized service. We invite our customers back into a spacious and warm fitting room, take her measurements quickly, and then listen to what exactly she is looking for. This way we can bring exactly what she needs quickly.
Our full time staff members are well versed in taking measurements and knowing very early on in the fitting what size we will need, and what brands or styles will compliment her shape best, so it eliminates a lot of the initial back and forth’s when trying different styles and sizes on. When a customer comes in open to trying on different items, we enjoy being able to be creative and show her more exciting colours and styles than she is used to having. Having customers leave feeling delighted with their purchase and educated in what their options are makes for a perfect day for our fitting team.
The Bra Lounge is also a family business, correct? Could you tell us what roles your sister and any other family members play at the boutique?
We are lucky to work together, being able to fully understand each others strengths. We have always tried to make sure each of us focuses on tasks that are in line with our individual talents.
Cortney manages inventory, ordering, budgeting, overseeing staff, displays and merchandising, while I, Sheena, handle communications, marketing, promotions. I attend trade shows, do presentations, and participate in networking groups. Both of us work on the floor, do bra fittings, and train and manage staffing.
What’s your secret to success with working with family?
Experiencing what we did as teenagers, we were forced to learn how to work as a team, and to keep moving forward. We balance each other and trust in the other’s strengths. We started the store all living under one roof, and have always had to compromise and work things out. Together we can be involved in every component of the business and keep our passion infused in the everyday culture.
How did your first year in business go? What was the most exciting part?
The most exciting part was having women seek us out, even when we were located in a quite inconvenient place. We were very hard to find, on the lower level of a downtown building, and we spent a great majority of our budget on radio and print advertising, as well as travelling out of town to do bra fittings on Sundays and Mondays when we kept the store closed.
We were going 24/7, and felt very anxious on quiet days. But month after month we got more and more customers, and in the 3 years we stayed in that space we expanded 3 times to accommodate the growth. It was fun making daily goals and was such a thrill when we started meeting them. And being able to actually help women who were unhappy, and coming to us desperate for something better. They put their trust in two young girls, and we were able to deliver. That felt really good and kept us dreaming bigger.
In our experience speaking with retailers, there’s also at least one major obstacle at the start of the business, did you have one? If so, what was it and how did you overcome it?
Staffing has always been a difficulty. We expect more from our staff, with exceptional customer service, communication, and a winning personality being important factors. With Cortney and I both fully involved we have been able to handle being short staffed occasionally as we wait for the right applicant.
Another trouble, of course, was cash flow. We started on a very strict budget, and had to reinvest every penny we could to get ahead. Learning how to manage that, and learning the ups and downs of the industry, could be very stressful at times.
Could you tell us how important social media is to the Bra Lounge? How has your social media outreach to consumers evolved the past five years?
We enjoy staying in touch with our customers on a daily basis and social media is a huge part of that. We have learned which platform to use for specific messages, and have had to evolve and try new things as we added new platforms or paid advertising. Now that we have had close to 10 years of experience with it all, we have learned so much about the demographic of each platform and which messages work best on them. We have moved from just having Facebook, to adding Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, and LinkedIn. We will be adding Snapchat and others in the coming months.
When did you start offering Skype and Facetime Fittings? Why was it important for you and your team to start offering this type of service?
We thought of this when we had family and friends who lived hours away wanted to have a bra fitting. We would get a few ladies to get together, and measure each other as we watched to make sure they were taking them properly. Once we narrowed down a size, we could bring bras right from the stock room and show them right there. They would chose a couple to try, usually 2 slightly different sizes, and we would mail them out. Finally, we would skype again once they received the items, so we could see exactly how they were fitting, and they would determine which they liked better. If they chose to return one we knew right away what would work better.
What are some of the things that you feel set the Bra Lounge apart?
Our commitment to service. We have learned that after almost 10 years in business, we do not need to compromise to make a sale. We approach every fitting with honesty and we treat every client with respect, whether she is buying something or just browsing. We tell customers when styles are not fitting properly, and when we feel its not a good investment for them. Every customer matters, and every bra in our stock room matters. We carry $65 bras and $225 bras. And every customer that walks through the door is treated the same regardless of what she purchases. Women in our community appreciate our efforts, they share us with their friends and family, and they know they will always have the same experience. We’ve seen women before and after augmentation surgery, women who have been diagnosed with a life changing disease, women who have experienced loss, women who have lost or gained a lot of weight. All these encounters fuel our passion for helping and offering quality options.
How do you see the lingerie business evolving the next five years?
There are well made, affordable brands popping up all the time. For the past 10 years’ women have had to pay top dollar for a well made bra, and now we are excited to see prices coming down and competition going up. When we first opened, our clientele was mostly women over 40. In recent years, we’ve been spending a lot of our time helping young women get a great fit, and they like to make their undergarments part of their wardrobe, so they want more options and will buy more items if they are affordable. We know that by helping a young lady with her first bra fitting leads to helping with items for her prom, then items for her wedding, then nursing, she can become a client for life. We’ve had 3 and 4 generations of women in the store being fitting at the same time, and having a ball together. Its wonderful to see bra shopping go from being “unmentionable” to part of everyday conversation, and women begin to embrace and enjoy their body’s!
Could you tell us what are some current best selling brands and bra sizes at the Bra Lounge right now?
We have such a vast demographic that we move styles in every size and price point. Higher end favourites include Empreinte and Prima Donna, and lower end include Wacoal and Panache. Sports bras in every size are always popular, nursing demand goes all year round, and even wireless styles move well for us. Our most popular sizes usually sit in the E-H range.
Are there any events we should let our readers know about?
We are excited to be celebrating our 10th anniversary coming up in February. With this we are redeveloping our website and building an online store, as well as changing the look of the boutique. To kick off our 10th winter, we are planning our Bra Lounge Favourite Things Fashion Show, happening in Red Deer Friday November 4th, where we will showcase our styles in a high energy show, and get some of our favourite local women’s businesses involved with raffle and auction items. We have incredible swag for all our guests, music and appetizers, and proceeds go to Cystic Fibrosis Canada. Then in March we do Mardi Bras, another high energy fashion show where we showcase upcoming seasonal styles. These are always a terrific time!