Q&A with Andrea King, President
Ted Vayos, BODY: Describe your store for our readers.
Andrea King: In Burlington, the store is the middle of Burlington’s busiest shopping district, a 4-block pedestrian shopping street with a lot of foot traffic. In Portland, the store is also on a busy shopping street, Exchange Street, amidst several other high end stores. I chose to open in these locations based on research on the marginal additionality of walk-in customers despite higher rent. The primary rationale for opening Aristelle in both Burlington, VT and Portland, ME – in addition to my own entrepreneurial ambition - was unsatisfied demand for a great range of high-quality brands and styles and sizes, and the absence of a store offering superior brands – from every day to exquisite - known for excellent fit, innovative design, extreme comfort, and exceptional quality. Both are calm and spacious boutiques with a warm, welcoming and elegant atmosphere with friendly and professional lingerie specialists. Most bras are hung waterfall-style along the walls and there are several racks for sleepwear and loungewear in the middle of the store. It is easy to navigate and spacious enough for people with strollers. Importantly, there is a ‘man bench’ in the front of the store by the swimwear section for men who are shopping with their partners and want to sit (we offer men’s health, wine spectator and travel magazines to keep them busy). The dressing rooms are in an attractive private area in the back. There is additional seating there for women waiting for a dressing room or shopping with friends. (Men are only welcome here if there are no other customers in the store). Dressers with most of the bras are in the dressing room area making it easy and quick for us to get different sizes and styles for our customers. Products and brands include: bras and lingerie (PrimaDonna, Marie Jo, Empreinte, Aubade, Mimi Holliday, Pleasure State, Simone Perele, Huit, Fauve, Fleur of England, Marlies Dekkers, Lise Charmel, La Perla, Lou, others); Nightwear (Christine Vancouver, Olivia Von Halle, Bedhead, Huit, Else, Zinke, Eberjey); Loungewear (Hanro, Skin, Eberjey, Skin), Swimwear (Shan, Sunflair, Freya, Huit, La Perla, Aubade); Accessories (Eucalan, Forever New, Nubra, Evocateur, Sock-It-To-Me, etc);and Men’s underwear (Naked, Saxx, Bia Boro).
Ted: What makes your stores special?
Andrea: A broad range of brands, styles, sizes (28A – 48N); trained bra fitting specialists. Brands that are impossible or difficult to find anywhere locally. Spacious, high ceilinged stores, clean, ambience complemented by natural brick and wood.Merchandised by color scheme. Appropriate lighting, music; water and tea offered to customers. Also special are underlying business values. I believe in empowering women and that expressing one’s femininity through comfort and fashion is not at odds with feminist ideals. Aristelle’s goal is to help empower women by making them feel more comfortable with their bodies and embracing and expressing their femininity. “Lingerie and well-fitting bras can contribute to a woman’s confidence, self-image, and therefore her overall well-being and success. I want to help women feel wonderful about themselves”. Finally, our staff is non-judgemental and honest – we won’t sell something that doesn’t fit.
Ted: What do you look for in a brand?
Andrea: I look for quality in the manufacturing, featuring support and comfort while retaining fashion, style and beauty. All the brands I offer are important for the store. Brands who have disappointed me are those who also sell to discount stores (i.e., TJ Max) which impact my ability to highlight and promote them (once I see a brand in discount stores, I stop selling them). I am delighted to have recently brought in La Perla. Empreinte has been particularly outstanding, not only for the design, quality and beauty of their products but also their relationship management. Aristelle also offers a limited line of locally-designed jewelry, a few accessories designed and produced by formerly trafficked women (via the Somaly Mam Foundation), and the all-important Eucalan.
Ted: Describe the popular styles or trends in your store.
Andrea: A surprising number of ‘28-30’ bands – testimony to our appeal to women of all shapes and sizes – and a lot of demand from pregnant women and new mothers for specialized bras and other products. Our ratio of sales has been approximately 65% basic and 35% fashion. PrimaDonna and Marie Jo have tended to sell particularly strongly, followed closely by Empreinte, Lou and Mimi Holliday. But we’ve had good sales across the entire range of brands and it is an essential part of our business model to offer our customers a wide range of options via maximum selection, not only in terms of brands, but styles and sizes.
Ted: Describe your price points and size ranges.
Andrea: Aristelle is focused on selling the highest quality products, which tend to be higher-priced. Bras range from $60-$240 with an average price of $110. Nightwear ranges from $60-$460 with an average price of $140. Aristelle offers a wide range of sizes: (28A – 48N).
Ted: What is your typical or average customer size?
Andrea: Most popular bra size is 32D, but Aristelle prides itself on broad range of sizes ranging from 28 to 48 (band size) and A to N (cup). Aristelle’s customers are all shapes, sizes, ages and stages of life.
Ted: What does the average customer spend per visit to your store?
Andrea: Our financial figures are confidential, but we are happy to say that sales have exceeded our projections, both on a per-customer and square-foot basis, and the growth and health of the business was one factor which led to our decision to open a second store in Portland, Maine. Aristelle is focused on selling the highest quality products, which tend to be higher-priced. Bras range from $60-$240 with an average price of $110. Nightwear ranges from $60-$460 with an average price of $140.
Ted: Describe your customer.
Andrea: Local clients: 75% and Non-resident clients: 25%.
Age groups: Under 25: 5%, 25-35: 25% 36-50: 40% and Over 50: 30%.
Sex: Woman: 85%, Men: 5% and Couples: 10%.
Ted: What has impacted your intimate apparel business the most over the past year?
Andrea: Our overall business approach, underlying business values, customer-focused service, reputation, and innovative marketing has impacted the business the most. Location has also been a benefit. Marketing has been especially key.: Regular color ads in local newspapers, magazines, downtown area maps, etc. Direct mailing. Public radio spots. Social marketing includes Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pintrest, Instagram. Aristelle recently won praise for an innovative marketing initiative which featured local Vermont women as models in all of the store’s ads during the month of October. One ad featured a 7-months pregnant woman, and a second one featured a 65-year old woman. Another Aristelle initiative is going out to do bra fittings at senior centers to help those who can’t get out to go shopping. These initiatives are related to Aristelle’s goal of inspiring confidence in all women and breaking down stereotypes of traditional fashion and what is “beautiful”, and creating a positive self-image for women. In this regard, I am fond of quoting Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote in ‘The Second Sex’, “To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.” Also, cross-promotional partnerships with local businesses, including:
Lactation consultants – we sell a lot of maternity/nursing bras and have partnered with lactation consultants and groups involved with new moms to help us promote our store.
Bridal stores and wedding-related service providers to make brides aware of the store.
Other high-end stores in the same shopping area for referrals.
Photography – partnerships with several Boudoir Photographers.
Charity – we donate ‘Private Bra Fitting Parties with champagne and gift bags’ for Silent Auctions at many charitable events.