Melissa Bennett had always dreamed of running her own business, so when the opportunity arose one year ago she jumped on it. In July 2008, she purchased the 500-square-foot lingerie boutique “French Dressing” from the shop’s previous owner, who opened it in 2005 in Boston’s affluent, historic Beacon Hill neighborhood. Although she didn’t have any intimate apparel experience at the time, Bennett’s love of lingerie coupled with her retail experience in management and visual merchandising made learning about the industry a piece of cake.
“The previous owner realized that Boston didn’t have anything like [the boutique] so she decided to open the business,” Bennett explained. “The concept is to provide quality and special lingerie, sleep and loungewear with personalized service. The clients really like the one-on-one attention, bra fitting and product that they will not find in many other places in Boston.”
Today, Bennett employs four employees—two of whom are fitting specialists—and she maintains all buying responsibilities. Although she cannot carry the selection she would like due to the store’s small size, she manages to offer bras ranging from 32A to 38G, (more than Victoria’s Secret can say, which runs up to DD.) Merchandise includes top-sellers Chantelle, Aubade and Hanky Panky run from $16 to $200 with most bras in the $60 to $100 range.
Least-requested brands are newer, pricier La Coi Mondain, which Bennete said is because the price point is more than most people can spend right now, and the brand is still new to the store. In light of the recession, she has cut back significantly on ordering, and is purchasing more moderately- priced lines than previously.
The typical shopper is an upper-middle to upper class local woman from her mid-20s to late 50s spending $60 to $250 per visit. The average customer bra size is 34 B through C. Although some men do shop for gifts, approximately 85 percent of shoppers are woman shopping for themselves or for bridal showers and other occasions.
To keep the clients coming back, French Dressing offers clients one-on-one customer service in an atmosphere “reminiscent of a Paris Boudoir,” with French blue walls accented with floral wallpaper, white furniture and crystal chandeliers adorning the ceilings.
Although local competitor Intimacy carries many of the same lines and has more space for inventory, Bennett sets her store apart by “building and maintaining strong client relationships, which in turn creates loyalty.” She also hosts shopping parties and lingerie shows throughout Boston to showcase the shop’s products, and runs two sales per year in January and July “to clear out old products and make room for the new.”
Bennett’s techniques for succeeding in a tough marketplace are building and maintaining strong client relationships, networking with local boutiques and increasing the shop’s visibility through lingerie shows. She also advertises in local newspapers and magazines including The Improper Bostonian, Lola and the Beacon Hill Times.
French Dressing is located at 49 River Street, Boston.