Best Friends Patti Platt and Sharon Borland opened Á La Mode to address a mutual problem of theirs: like many women, they had trouble finding good quality, comfortable, and well-fitting bras.
"While many retailers are moving toward a 'do it yourself' business approach, we wanted to provide excellent, personalized customer service, where we do the work, not the customer," co-owner and buyer Patti Platt said, "We wanted Á La Mode to be a place where a woman can go and the fitters know her name, her size, the styles she likes, and will call her when something comes in that she will love."
Patti Platt's son and daughter, Jason and Sarah Platt, also work for Á La Mode, him as CEO and her as public relations director. The Annapolis-based retailer has the 770-square-foot store, opened on Christmas Eve 2004, and the purchasing website: www.alamodelingerie.com. It employs five people, and all those who work on the sales floor are trained bra fitters, with four certified in fitting women who have undergone mastectomies. Sarah Platt described the store's ambience as:
"comfortable and relaxing. We have a couch and chairs where people can sit while they wait and are fitting rooms are spacious. We want it to feel like a spa environment."
Bra sizes range from a 28AA to 48K at a price range of $28 to $130. The majority of customers are women of ages 30 to 55 of mid-to-high socioeconomic backgrounds, with an average bra size of 34D. However, around special occasions, "quite a bit of men shop for their girlfriends and wives. We keep track of all of our clients' purchasing history, favorite brands, styles and colors. Men love this because it makes their shopping experience quick and painless," Jason Platt said.
The typical customer spends about $200 per visit, and $120 on a bra and panty. Currently, the most requested brands are Simone Perele, Chantelle, and Fantasie, with the hottest bra items as the Chantelle Africa, Simone Perele Andora, Fantasie Allure, Bravado! Seamless Body Nursing, and for panties, and Hanky Panky thongs. Sarah Platt named Sheandme Organic Intimates as the current up-and-coming brand in the industry.
"Lately we have noticed that vendors are offering a wider range of materials, such as eco-friendly fabrics and those that keep moisture and impurities away from the skin," she said, "Many are also offering an increased range of cup sizes with small band widths."
The store has recently cut back on advertising, instead focusing on word-of-mouth and teaming up with other companies and charity organizations. They provide discount coupon referrals cards to hospitals, lactation consultants, and retailers, which has "brought in many new customers." They also participate in and run countless events and promotions, and reach current and potential customers through the Internet.
"In these hard economic times, thinking outside of the box and being creative are the keys to success," Sarah said, "We take advantage of any kind of event occurring in our area."
Every January, the store hosts their annual Dead Bra Month, where customers donate discarded bras, which the company will then donates to a local women's charity.
Their monthly electronic newsletter includes the latest boutique news in the "Get the look locally" section, which is "an effort to promote fellow small retailers."
"We feel that it is especially important right now to work together with other small businesses and help one and another. 'Get the look locally' also provides a great service to our customers, which we feel will be appreciated," Sarah said.
In addition to "outstanding customer service" the retailer works to educate employees and clientele.
"We have the pleasure of certain vendors, such as from Fantasie and Freya, Spanx, Simone Perele, and Cosabella coming to our boutique to train our staff on their products," Sarah said, "We also educate customers on the importance of fit, how to measure themselves, and how to put on a bra correctly. We love to educate women on bra fit and its importance to women's health and preventing damaged breast tissue."
She added that another recipe to their success is a lack of competition.
"Women can expect to see beautiful bras in their size and not just basic white cotton. Department stores like Victoria's Secret and Macy's send women they cannot fit our way," she said, "There was another lingerie boutique near us when we first opened that went out of business a few years ago. Customers have said that they decided to switch to us was because we provided better customer service, a friendly and welcoming environment, and a wider selection of sizes and prices."