Q&A with Gail Ropel, president of The Comfort Zone Boutique
Number of stores: 1
Location: Medford, Ore.
Square footage: 1,800
Year opened: 2005
Ted Vayos, BODY: Describe your store.
Gail: The Comfort Zone Boutique is a unique-needs lingerie store located in Southern Oregon. Our 1,800 square feet is filled with both regular and mastectomy bras, sleepwear, jewelry and post-surgical needs. The walls are decorated with the paintings of local breast cancer survivors as well as retro Vogue prints. The Comfort Zone carries well-known brands such as Wacoal, Anita International, Elomi, Fantasie, Freya, b’tempt’d, DKNY, Aviana, Amoena Mia and nursing bras such as Bravado. The sleepwear selection includes WildBleu with its moisture-wicking properties, The Cat’s Pajamas and Mystique Intimates.
Ted: What makes your store special?
Gail: The Comfort Zone Boutique is made special by its high-quality fittings, broad size selection and warm and friendly atmosphere. We pride ourselves on the ability to get women in to the right-fitting bra.
Ted: What brands are important to your store? What brands have you stopped carrying?
Gail: The bestselling brands include Wacoal, Elomi, Aviana and Anita International. Some of the brands that we have tried in the past and no longer carry are Enell, Elila, Venus and Le Mystere. One of our criteria is that the bras must fit a wide selection of women and breast tissue while remaining comfortable and stylish.
Ted: Describe what you are looking for in a vendor.
Gail: Some of the things we look for in a vendor is how receptive they are to our needs and if they are willing to help establish a strong relationship with the retailer. Retailers cannot always get away to attend trade shows, so if a vendor’s representative can visit once a year to show us new products and styles, that really helps us. We do have some sales representatives that have gone out of their way in supporting us by recommending certain styles, informing us of back orders and making sure we have current line sheets. Anne Locke from Anita International and Margaret Scott from Eveden are wonderful in that way. If we have a question, we can always count on them to get back in touch with us.
Ted: Describe popular styles or trends in your store.
Gail: Our popular styles are T-shirt-style bras or contour cups because so many women are wearing the finer knits. But we have been able to educate our clientele that a well-made seamed-cup bra will provide the slimming silhouette without a noticeable line.
Ted: What brands are customers asking for by name?
Gail: Before opening the store, many women in our area had never heard of Wacoal or Anita International or too many of the brands we carry, but we have educated them regarding well-made bras, so they do come back asking for them now. Women are also requesting bras such as Sassybax that provide a rounded silhouette with as smooth of a line as possible for the back. We do carry shapewear for that sleek look and have done quite well with the Sassybax bralette and torso trim.
Ted: Describe your price points and size ranges.
Gail: Our band sizes range from 32 to 46 with cup sizes ranging from AA to a European J. Our price points also have a wide range, from $36 for b.tempt’d to $85 for Anita International.
Ted: What is the average customer size?
Gail: Our typical customer is an American 38 to 40, G to H bra size, but we cannot keep enough 36 to 38 D bras in stock either.
Ted: What does the average customer spend per visit to your store?
Gail: On the average, our customers spend roughly $100 to $125 per visit.
Ted: Describe your customer base.
Gail: Our customer base is women aged 35, but we do advertise towards men because they come into the store with their wives. The husbands pick up on the complaints women have about their bras and want to do something about it.
Ted: Is there any other information you wish to provide?
Gail: Our core purpose and love is to provide for women who have gone through a breast cancer diagnosis, but we have worked out well by providing a wide selection of bras, including nursing. Our mastectomy or post-surgery bras are out on the main selling floor with all the other styles and not hidden away. It has been a great way to educate women about breast cancer and it has sparked some wonderful conversation with our customers.