Q&A with Catherine Burns, president & key buyer:
Key buyers: Catherine Burns & Betty Woods
Number of stores: 3
Flagship location: Chesterfield, Missouri
Flagship Square footage: 4,800
Year opened: 1967 in St. Louis
Other locations: Wentzville, Missouri and O’Fallon, Illinois
Typical Square footage: 4,800
Amanda Torres, BODY: Describe your store, including physical description and key product categories.
Catherine Burns: I started working at Ann’s Bra Shop at age 17 as the “Saturday Girl” for the original owner, Ann Prowkawski. Now my nickname is “doctor bra.” I had no idea I would still be there 25 years later! When I purchased the store in 2003 there were two locations. We have since expanded and currently have three locations surrounding the St. Louis area [...] Each store has a waiting area with toys, books and TV for waiting kids and husbands. The stores are divided into two sections; one for bras, one for swimsuits, and a separate, private areas for mastectomy customers. We recently expanded our Chesterfield store and moved into a space previously occupied by a bank. Now we offer the convenience of a drive-thru [...] Husbands love it; this way they can run errands on the Honey-Do list without embarrassment.
On a typical day, 60 to 120 women come into each store. Customer wanting a fitting sign up on a waiting list at the front of the store. Most of our customers are willing to wait, sometimes up to an hour, for a fitting from our certified fitters. We pride ourselves on fitting and finding the correct bra [...] Some of our ladies have been our customers for over 30 years. We have second and even some third generation clients. Customers who have moved away from St. Louis make it a point of shopping with us when they are in town [...] We also have the mastectomy center in each store, as 40 to 50 percent of our business comes from our mastectomy customers.
A.T.: What makes your store special, and why do customer choose it over competing stores?
C.B.: Ann’s Bra Shop has been serving the St. Louis, MO area for over 40 years. [We] are known for expert fitting and [our] extensive selection of bras, swimsuits, undergarments and lingerie with products for all ages, shapes and sizes. Between the three locations we have 14 trained bra fitters altogether. Our fitters are registered not only as certified bra fitters but also as certified mastectomy fitters, meaning they have completed 1,000 hours of standard fitting plus 1,000 of fitting women who have had mastectomies. It is a testament to our fits when we have customers referred by doctors and stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Macy’s.
A.T.: What brands are particularly important in your store?
C.B.: We carry Wacoal, Panache, Anita and Eveden as well as surgical products from TruLife.
A.T.: What price range and size range do you carry?
C.B.: Sizes range from 30AA to 56M. Prices range from $25 to $125.
A.T.: Who is your customer base made up of?
C.B.: Customers range from pre teens buying their first bra to women in their late 90’s. Our customers are from all walks of life as we have many sizes they can’t find anywhere else. We also have customers from all over the world - Germany, England, India.
A.T.: What other information about your store would you like to share with us?
C.B.: A few years ago, I noticed an increasing number of mastectomy patients coming in for products but could not afford it, either because of no insurance, high deductibles or no coverage. In 2004, I started No Woman Left Behind (NWLB), a 501 (c)(3) [nonprofit organization] designed to meet the needs of these women in need. Last year NWLB donated $23,000 worth of merchandise to over 70 women in Missouri and Illinois. Additional information can be obtained at Nwlb.org.