Q&A with Brandy Ornelas, president & key buyer
Number of stores: 1
Location: Las Vegas
Square footage: 1,300
Year opened: 2010
Ted Vayos, BODY: Describe your store.
Brandy: My store is not what you would expect, starting from when you enter. There is no theme, no white walls, no slat wall of hanging packages and no battery-operated toys. Too many people think that "lingerie" translates to "adult store," especially if you’re in Las Vegas. We are different and we want our customers to remember us as being different. It all starts with an eclectic mix of pink and light green décor. Everyone who enters is always greeted with a "hello" or "welcome." I want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome in every way. I add a little extra finishing touch by wrapping all items in pink tissue paper and placing them in pink bags. That makes what’s inside the bag seem even more special. We sell lingerie from the sexy to the comfortable and functional in sizes small to 6X. That means sexy babydolls, chemises, corsets, bras, panties, shapewear, pajamas, robes, slippers and even bubble bath and scented lotions.
Ted: What makes your store special?
Brandy: I suppose I could say it’s me; OK, maybe it’s Carrie, my manager ... but truthfully, we are in a middle-class neighborhood — among many of the hardest hit during this down economy — in an outdoor mall. Not an ideal location for a growing business. However, our customers appreciate our boutique style and feel, the big box store pricing, our knowledgeable staff and our great customer service. If we don’t have it, we direct them to someone who does. Many of our customers rely on us as the experts and start here first. Our pricing brings them in and our great customer service keeps them coming back.
Ted: What do you look for in a brand?
Brandy: We look for quality products with affordable pricing. If someone washes their panties in the washing machine instead of the sink, they shouldn’t fall apart — that’s the quality. And who can afford to pay $15 for a pair of underwear? No one in our neighborhood, so we don’t offer them — that’s the affordable part. We’ve found that our customers aren’t looking for something to live forever, but they at least want to be able to use something more than once. With that in mind, our top brand by far is René Rofé Lingerie, followed by Shirley of Hollywood, Leg Avenue, Oh La La Cheri and VX Intimates.
Ted: Describe popular styles or trends in your store.
Brandy: There really isn’t any trend, one popular style or a specific color that is favored in our store. I can tell you we sell A LOT of underwear. We recently started a "brown paper bag sale" to get rid of some overstocked, closeout and clearance panties. We bag 10 pairs of panties in a brown paper bag, staple it closed, label it by specific style and size and sell them for $12.50 to $20 a bag. Customers don’t get to pick the color or fabric, but they buy them like hotcakes! We don’t make much on each bag, but we get dead stock out the door and the cash back in our pockets.
Ted: Describe your price points and size ranges.
Brandy: Our panties start at $2.99, and our most expensive items are our corsets, with those running from $40 to just under $70. Our average price is about $25, the cost of a chemise with a G-string in all size ranges. We truly do carry most everything in sizes small to 6X.
Ted: What is your average customer size?
Brandy: Our most common customer size varies between the standard and plus-size ranges. Basically, we see a lot of medium to large in regular sizing and 1X in the plus.
Ted: What does the average customer spend per visit to your store?
Brandy: Most guests spend around $30 to $35 per visit.
Ted: Describe your customer base.
Brandy: Our customers are mostly women in their mid-to-late 30s, followed by men in the same age range — mostly working middle class with one to two children. We don’t allow anyone under 18 without an adult so we don’t end up with any legal issues later.
Ted: What other information would you like to share?
Brandy: I have always wanted to have my own business. I knew I had to pick something that there was a need for, not just a want. And what women doesn’t wear a bra and underwear? I also knew that I couldn’t make a living just selling bras and underwear. Sexy lingerie is not a necessity, so I had to find a way to make it one. I did that by offering items at a price that they can’t afford to pass on — they would be willing to buy it now because they felt the deal was so great. I don’t follow the standards or rules for retail mark-ups. Sometimes I compromise and make less money on something because I believe I can sell more of them, thus making the difference up in volume. I look at things and ask myself ... what would I pay for that? If I wouldn’t buy it based upon what I would need to charge for it, I don’t put it into my store. I raised five kids on a tight budget, so I am pretty frugal myself. I try to buy in smaller quantities so I can rotate the stock more quickly.
My daughter-in-law, Carrie, has been with me from the start. She and I run the store. I could do it without her, but it wouldn’t be as much fun — and I’ve always believed that if you can’t have fun doing something, then it isn’t worth doing. We all need to be realistic because if you’re going to invest your time and money in a business, you’d better enjoy it or you will go out of your mind.
Recently we opened an online version of our store at www.shop4realintimates.com so we could start expanding our little operation. At this time we can only ship within the U.S. and Canada, but who knows what the future holds?
Thank you for allowing me to share the start of my journey in the world of fashion. Being a plus-size gal with past sales experience, I know how important customer service is before and after a sale. It’s a great feeling to see customers leave with smiles on their faces. After all, the goal is to be able to sell them something else later, and if they aren’t happy, they won’t be back.