A commonly accepted definition of “underwear” refers to briefs, bikinis, or boxers as undergarments for the lower half of the body. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, however, “underwear” refers to “clothing that’s worn next to the skin." Using this definition, underwear can also include slips, camisoles, bras, shapers, and pantyhose. Similar products might include nightgowns, negligees, and robes. Within each product category, there are variations in style and color that allow for a range of choices for customers.
Firm up your business structure. Meet with a certified public accountant with small-business experience (and preferably with specialty store expertise). Contact a commercial insurance agent for the proper coverage for your business, your staff, and your customers. Visit your city or county clerk’s office for a business license. Finally, arrange for utilities and communications systems services.
Choose a strategic location. Your underwear store’s “specialty shop” status means it may not be an existing destination for many shoppers. To increase your chances of attracting traffic, locate your store adjacent to other businesses with similar types of customers, such as an upscale hair salon, ladies’ boutique or jewelry store.
Ensure that your store has at least two driveways for easy entries and exits. Look carefully at the available parking, especially if you share a parking lot with other bustling businesses.
Identify your markets and product lines. First, decide whether you will limit your selections to women's bodywear, or whether you will include men's products as well. Although the men's product line would be limited (briefs, boxers, bikinis, and thongs), it would take up valuable store space.
Next, look at the types and depth of products you will offer. For example, there are several major bra manufacturers, and each brand may feature a wide range of styles for all sizes (including plus sizes). In addition, there are products that enhance a woman’s shape, and bras for nursing mothers and mastectomy patients. Look at your available store space, and choose product lines that will best serve your customers and give you the best return on your investment.
Decorate with elegant décor. Give your shop an upscale feel with soft colors, subdued lighting, and tastefully executed displays. Provide at least two private fitting rooms for your customers’ comfort. Create a shopping environment that will help to pamper your customers while they are there.
Place your first product order. When filling your racks for the first time, adhere to your product guidelines to avoid impulse purchases. It’s usually possible to replenish sold-out stock, but much harder to move an oversupply of stagnant products. Aim for diversified product choices for most sizes of customers.
Train your staff in selling techniques. Although a customer may come in for a few pairs of underwear, other merchandise may strike her fancy while she is there. Hire friendly, outgoing staff who enjoy helping customers look and feel their best. Conduct some “role play” training sessions to help employees handle different selling scenarios.
Hold a grand opening fashion show. Structure this ladies-only event to show off your product line, and also to create a fun afternoon with some refreshments and door prizes. Recruit some outgoing ladies of different sizes, and outfit them in tasteful and elegant lingerie and robes. Models can also carry samples of bras and undies while they parade through the store.
To publicize the grand opening, distribute classy invitations in upscale ladies’ boutiques, hair salons, spas, and fitness centers. A display ad in the local newspaper will also provide good visibility. Finally, join your local chamber of commerce and invite other female members to this “must attend” grand opening event. To locate your local chamber of commerce, visit the United States Chamber of Commerce website.
Based in North Carolina, Felicia Greene has written professionally since 1986. Greene edited sailing-related newsletters and designed marketing programs for the New Bern, N.C. "Sun Journal" and New Bern Habitat ReStore. She earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Baltimore.