(Filed Under Fashion News). On February 4th, a tightly packed roomful of people at Manhattan's Grand Hyatt hotel sat quietly and listened intently to Bare Necessities' humble, gracious and well-spoken CEO, Noah Wrubel, give a speech about the nature of the intimate apparel industry at this point in time, while highlighting intimate apparel trends, what separates Bare Necessities from other retailers, what they look for in a vendor and the company's formula for success.
Sponsored by the Intimate Apparel Council, a division of the American Apparel and Footwear Association (a national trade association representing apparel, footwear and other sewn products companies), the evening began with a cocktail/networking hour from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. followed by the program from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Recently celebrating its 10-year anniversary, the web-based retailer, who now has over one million customers and over 500,000 email subscribers, officially launched its website December 11, 1998. In this short amount of time, the company has grown extensively and Wrubel cites over one million monthly unique visitors to the website.
Other impressive statistics include: 2,750,000 bras and 1.9 million panties have been sold since its inception. In addition, according to Internet Retailer, a trade publication that monitors the internet, Bare Necessities ranks as the 49th largest retail apparel website by total revenue.
The publication cited Victoria's Secret with estimated revenues of $1,111,712,000 in 2007, Frederick's of Hollywood with $60,081,750, Jockey with $18,600,000 and Bare Necessities with $37,000,000. "We won't reveal our numbers, but they are surprisingly accurate," said Wrubel of the estimated $37 million figure.
Bare Necessities sets itself apart from other e-tailers in several unique and special ways, including exceptional personalized customer service, something generally characteristic of small companies and not a largely-profitable business. Wrubel cited an example of a customer who called the customer service department in search of a dozen silk roses wrapped in Hanky Panky thongs to give to his girlfriend, but the customer also wanted a hand-written note attached to the roses before they were shipped out. The costumer service department happily obliged and searched through the office for someone with nice calligraphy that would be able to write the note, and went into the warehouse to manually enclose the note and ship the package.
Although the company now carries over 125 brands, it is picky with its selection of products. "Branding, innovation and differentiation," is what the company is looking for in a vendor during this time, said Wrubel. He explains that now is not the time to be slashing product prices because this will result in the loss of core customers. According to Wrubel, "companies that maintain a strong brand compass will survive".
Another way Bare Necessities differentiates itself is through the layout of its website. Wrubel stated there is no movement, no slides and no flashing to distract the customer from doing what it is they intended to do in the first place: shop.
Wrubel noticed that when manufacturers and wholesalers launch a retail website, they're surprised to see that for one reason or another they don't perform as well as their wholesale/manufacturing business. As a consequence and a decrease in enthusiasm, the companies often stop updating the retail website as frequently which ends up hurting the overall brand. Wrubel explained that it took ten years to get Bare Necessities at the position it is presently in and it is highly unusual to become successful overnight. "Do it right or don't do it at all," said Wrubel. "Doing it wrong will hurt your brand."
In addition, something that led to the company's great success is the fact that all operations are done internally - from the website layout to the catalog production.
"We handle everything from the buying, order taking, customer service to the lines of code, everything," said Wrubel.
During this slumped economic environment, Bare Necessities is delaying production of a new catalog until 2010. Last year's May/July catalog issues did well, said Wrubel, but the same could not be said for the October/November issue citing a large decrease in results.
Intimate apparel trends that were discovered through the activity of Bare Necessities' website were also outlined, including the average amount a woman spent on a bra in 2002 compared to 2008. In 2002, women spent an average of $25.97 per bra and $38.37 in 2008. Another trend he noticed is that from 2004 to the present, the online search traffic for the word "bras" has slightly decreased.
Wrubel also discussed the top-selling bra sizes in 2002 compared to 2008. He found that in 2002, the top five best-selling sizes were 36C, 38C, 36B, 34B, and 34C. In 2008, the top five were: 36C, 36D, 34C, 38C and 34D. His research led to the assumption that due to all the bra fitting specialists and specialty stores, women are realizing they have been wearing the wrong bra size for years.
In addition, Wrubel also cited "huge growth trends" in shapewear. He discussed how one key driver was the press given to Spanx after high-profile celebrities, such as Oprah, began using and advocating for the brand's products. "The rising tide lifts all boats,' he said. Spanx in this sense acted as an introduction to the category, and to other shapewear brands out in the market.
One of the company's weakest categories has been in sleepwear and Wrubel blames himself for not expanding the business and getting it out to the customer. This is something the company is trying to improve for 2009.
Bare Necessities is a truly self-sufficient company with 120 associate employees working together to provide the best service. Although the web-based company offers service to the entire country, Wrubel said his strongest states have the largest metropolitan cities such as New York, California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and Washington.
For information on future events held by the AAFA, visit the organization's website at www.apparelandfootwear.org or contact Mary Howell, the organization's vice president of industry relations via phone at (703) 797-9045 or via email at email@example.com.
For further information on Bare Necessities, visit their website at www.barenecessities.com.
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