(Filed Under wholesale Lingerie News). With many of the largest intimates brands now selling direct to consumers, and with many retail stores rebelling at the idea of becoming mere showrooms for — but not actual sellers of — those brands, a new question has emerged: “Can a lingerie store succeed without a major brand?” Exploring this question, BODY associate publisher Ted Vayos interviewed Tatyana Ponomareva, owner of one specialty shop, Bra Spectrum.
VAYOS: Where is your store located?
PONOMAREVA: Bra Spectrum, 842 West Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
VAYOS: How many years have you been open?
PONOMAREVA: We will be celebrating our third year on November 10, 2019.
VAYOS: I noticed your store has a lot of old school woodwork. Did you put that in the original build out?
PONOMAREVA: Bra Spectrum was opened in a space that had previously been a mid-century Danish furniture shop. Most of the beautiful woodwork, shelving and drawers were originally crafted 70 years ago. The three-story granite building was constructed in 1920 and I was drawn to the space from the first encounter. Additionally, the shop has beautiful bay windows, eight-foot-tall oak doors with glass, wood floor and ceilings. The original interior layout worked perfectly to provide space for a main show room, three dressing rooms, a separate room dedicated for bridal lingerie and an office in the back of the shop.
VAYOS: What can you tell us about yourself?
PONOMAREVA: I was tremendously influenced by my grandmother who was a sought-after dress designer and seamstress in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Opening Bra Spectrum had been an aspiration of mine for a long time. I am a very private person and lingerie is one of my lifelong passion’s as it is very personal and intimate. On my educational background I am an engineer specialized on nuclear power plants. It gives me understanding of physical forces, weight and the density of the breast tissues that need to be taken into consideration in choice of the bra construction. I desire to provide solutions for the overwhelming number of women that are not aware of the origin of the problem of not being able to find properly fitting bras and potential health issues as an outcome of wearing poor quality or improperly fitted bras. And to educate clients on how to properly select proper bra construction and how to correctly adjust their bra to achieve the ultimate outcome. In our store we pay a lot of attention to young generation clients and encourage mothers to develop healthy habits and spend quality time with their children in our boutique. Additionally, having an MBA in Acquisition Management helps me with proper management of the business with absolute client orientation. In my spare time I enjoy listening to classical music, ice skating and playing tennis.
VAYOS: How is Bra Spectrum different than the typical lingerie store?
PONOMAREVA: I opened Bra Spectrum with a disruptive concept. The concept was to fill a new lingerie shop location with quality NOT SOLD ONLINE bras and briefs. The typical lingerie store fills its shelves with brands that are retailing directly online to their same customers or selling at discounts in all the major mass retailers. This makes the typical lingerie store a showroom for internet retailers and discounters. Bra Spectrum is not a showroom. We are a destination specialty retail shop. This concept gives us the ability to work with clients and drive repeat visits to the shop and develop long term relationship in providing proper fit and high-quality products.
VAYOS: Can a store open without selling a single major brand?
PONOMAREVA: From day one, our clients embraced the high quality and fit of my not well-known, designed and made in Europe brands. Yes, we have proven that you can open a lingerie bra focused shop with manufacturers that are not well known by client’s lingerie drawers. One client after another came to Bra Spectrum and embraced the brands that we import. And they state that they will not return to the King of Prussia Mall. Three years later we have new and repeat clients from New York to California. Bra Spectrum offers 18,000 items in an assortment of sizes - AA to L cup and 28 to 52 band - to meet the needs of the marketplace from teenagers to moms to grandmothers. We carry products that fit all shapes and sizes.
VAYOS: How can you be sure your European brands will not sell online retailers in the United States?
PONOMAREVA: I own a separate distribution company founded in 2013, Valens Lingerie. We have become the exclusive distributor for several European brands in the United States including Nikol Djumon, Latvia; Corin, Poland; Ivette Bridal, Spain; Leilieve by Manicardi, Italy; Sermija, Lithuania; Lauma, Latvia; Obsessive, Poland. Additionally, we purchase Lauma, Latvia; Regina N, Latvia; Gorsenia, Poland for sale in Bra Spectrum. We do not to sell these manufacturers to online retailers for the obvious reasons. Online retail has and continues to have a very negative impact on the specialty store business. My store and distribution businesses are focused on putting the special back into specialty. Our wholesale customers have expressed sincere appreciation that we are providing high quality manufacturers that fit, are not sold online and with which we are not competing against them online. Valens Lingerie has been exhibiting at the New York Curve show for the past five years. We currently work with many specialty stores across the country. We recently opened 18 new accounts at the August Curve show, and more than half have already reordered. We appreciate our clients’ trust in us, our certified products and the services that we provide.
VAYOS: Do you have a lot of competition in the area?
PONOMAREVA: Even hough we have considerable competition, King of Prussia mall is eight miles north of the shop and hosts Rigby & Peller, Intimissimi, Victoria’s Secrets, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Torrid, Aerie, Spanx, Wolford Boutique and Soma, our business continues to grow double digits every year! Filling the shop with NOT SOLD ONLINE lingerie drives customers back to the store to purchase additional product – because they appreciate the fit and quality and have fallen in love with their bras again or for the first time.
VAYOS: Do any customers come into your store asking for specific brands?
PONOMAREVA: Our business concept is to provide very personalized services to the client, that includes recognition of the client’s habits in clothing selection, comfort zone specification, fashion patterns, colors, and not least, the budget that they are allocating for the shopping visit. From the moment a client steps into the shop they are greeted and informed of the service and the product that we provide, including where the products have been made and where the fabric and components have been made. And then we listen…After this first engagement we have very a low percentage of clients asking if we are carrying ordinary industry brands, and even when they do, they do not leave empty handed. We consistently experience our new and repeat clients referring their mothers, daughters, friends and extended relatives, including those out of the state. We regularly encounter family members from out of state that are visiting relatives in the Philadelphia region, that come to experience all that Bra spectrum has to offer. Philadelphia has European state consulate offices and we have multiple spouses that are repeat clients because we offer the European manufacturers that they know cannot be purchased anywhere else.
VAYOS: What do you look for in a brand?
PONOMAREVA: We work with the brands that provide high quality products, that are properly designed, use high quality materials, and implement new technologies. We select lines from these manufacturers that fill niches and complement each other. Clients frequently purchase multiple brands during the same fitting. We created a collection of products with a wide variety of construction, sizes, and colors. We also have a beautiful bridal line provided by Ivette Bridal, designed and made in Barcelona, Spain utilizing Italian fabric and lace. Boutique shop owners can open a new store – fill their store with the manufacturers that we import and wholesale nationally and operate successfully the same as we do.
VAYOS: How do you chose which products you will distribute?
PONOMAREVA: Adding Bra Spectrum to the equation delivered a test lab for all the manufacturers that Valens Lingerie wholesales nationally. Only the lines that deliver the best fit and consistent quality become wholesale offerings. We select new lines carefully and make them available to wholesale clients after they have been properly vetted in Bra Spectrum. The providers of the product cooperate with Valens Lingerie wholesale in supporting NOT SOLD ONLINE concept in United States territories.
VAYOS: If retailers would like to learn more about your NOT SOLD ONLINE brands who should they contact?
PONOMAREVA: We are interested in specialty store businesses with single or multiple locations. Internet retailers need not apply. All specialty stores can reach out to Tom Dorsey at Valens Lingerie (610) 400-8460 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You are also very welcome to visit our website at www.valenslingerie.com. We also provide consulting services for store layout and website design.
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