Bravissimo product director Clare Harris explains how the retailer is bucking the trend for declining sales on the high street and discusses its potential for future growth.
Fuller-bust lingerie and swimwear retailer Bravissimo has been making the headlines this year with a wave of new store openings.
The company now has 26 stores open across the country, with the 27th opening in Chelmsford this summer, and has recently relocated its Cardiff and Liverpool to prime shopping locations.
But the journey to expanding its retail presence in the UK hasn’t always been smooth sailing, with suitable locations being few and far between.
In an exclusive interview, Bravissimo product manager Clare Harris reveals the unusual criteria the brand looks for when hunting for new premises.
She also discusses the inspirations behind an exciting new design format that is being rolled out into all Bravissimo stores, and a new website design, creating a uniform experience across all channels.
Product innovation is another major focus for Bravissimo. Harris’ main aim is to offer customers the best choice in terms of fit, look and feel. The challenge is editing a range that works for big boobs.
What triggered your recent focus on expanding your retail presence?
We aim to open three to four shops a year and that’s been our focus for quite a while, but it’s really difficult to find the right locations. We’ve been really lucky this year in that we’ve been able to find a few locations in quick succession. What we need in a shop is the opposite of what other retailers need, so because we stock so many sizes – going from a D to an L cup – we need a massive stock room and good size fitting rooms, but it’s okay to have a smaller shop floor. This is the polar opposite of what almost every other retailer looks for in a store. There are still lots of places in the country that our customers want us to be in, but it depends on us finding a location. So we do a good job on presence from the Midlands upwards and we’ve got some premises in London, but the South and the South West are still massive areas where we don’t have a great retail presence. It’s just a case of a soon as we can find the shops, we will go for it.
What were the inspirations behind your new-look stores?
We’re in massive growth mode as a brand and when you are growing it’s really important for every touch point between you and your customer to be as you want it to be. Our retail estate was mixed in terms of shops that have opened recently and shops that hadn’t been touched for a while, so we wanted to make everything uniform. The refit programme that we are undergoing now is actually going to be rolled out to all of our shops and we hope that in the next 12 to 18 months we’ll have refurbed every single one.
How have the new-look stores been received by customers?
The response has been really positive, both in feedback and sales. It’s our aim to get our estate up to that standard as soon as possible so that we can give our customers that great experience, but, as I mentioned, it’s really hard to find new shops, especially given that all our stores have completely different layouts. Our Liverpool shop, for example, which has recently moved to Liverpool One, spreads across a ground floor and a mezzanine and has a grand stair case going through the middle of it. For most retailers, this location would be a nightmare because you don’t have a lot of shop floor space, but it’s great for us because it has a fitting area and the stock room size that we need so we have made it work. And then our Covent Garden store – one of our smaller stores – has a small shop floor and almost an iceberg basement with a massive stock room.
It’s an exciting time for multiple lingerie retailers on the high street, with Ann Summers, Boux Avenue and Bravissimo opening and refurbishing stores. What is driving this trend and what does this say about the lingerie industry as a whole?
For us, it’s about being in growth mode and wanting to offer a uniform experience of our brand on every channel, so our website ties into that. I can’t speak for the other retailers, but I think it’s a sign that the industry is healthy and that multiple lingerie retailers feel confident in investing in bricks and mortar. Also, I think it just proves something that I really believe in – that as much as ecommerce is brilliant, you can’t substitute the great experience of a professional bra fitting, and I think it’s great that other retailers are recognising that too.
Yes. Partly due to the athleisure movement, retailers diversifying ranges and lingerie being that key purchase for women as other things are dropping off. I think it’s a great time for our industry.
Who are your main competitors?
This is a really interesting question. I would say, in theory, everybody and, in theory, nobody. So starting of with nobody, I don’t think there is any retailer out there, especially on the high street, that is doing what we are doing in terms of focusing on big-boob lingerie without having that plus size branch. We are all about big boobs, and that’s very unique to us. On the high street I would absolutely say that we’ve got the biggest collection of cup-size products across different categories that cater for a D cup and above.
So in lots of ways we are very unique, but at the same time there are so many women who aren’t wearing the right bra size and possibly think they are a B cup, but are actually an E or an F cup. So in that respect I see our competition as everybody on the high street because there are loads of women out there with big boobs who could absolutely shop at Bravissimo. Our aim is to introduce ourselves to them.
You’ve also recently launched a new website. How have in-store sales performed versus online over the last year?
We’ve seen sales growth on the year in ecommerce, which is great, but we are one of the few retailers that has seen growth in our shops as well. It’s only been a few of weeks since we launched our new website and we’ve still got lots of content that we want to add to it, so the fact that it’s going really well so far bodes well for a positive rest of the year.
What other projects have you been working on?
One of our biggest projects has been to review our brand, so looking at our tone of voice and our look and feel and making sure that the original spirit of Bravissimo really shines through in everything we do. So that’s coming through in our website, in our shops, in our packaging – every which way our customers have a touch point with our brand.
We’ve also been really busy on product, so we’ve been working quite a lot on innovation for big boobs. We launched our first sleep bra in February, which has been really great for us, and we’ve got lots more to come. In general, we’ve been focusing on making sure our range is offering the absolute best choice out there. We want big-boobed women to feel like they’ve got the same choice as their friends who don’t have big boobs and not feel like they are shopping in a specialist retailer.
Another really exciting thing that we are working on at the moment is that we are about to launch our first US transactional website. We’ve got a lot of US customers already, who we ship internationally to, but it’s going to mean that we can offer them much better service levels and it also allows to us reach out to new customers in the States.
Which are your current best-selling brands?
We stock 18 brands across lingerie, swimwear and own-brand and we buy all those brands for very specific reasons. In some styles, we buy up to 90 sizes and every style in our range has a very specific and different use, so it’s quite a hard question to answer. However, there are brands that we have been working with for as long as Bravissimo has been going, so Panache, Fantasie and Freya are household brands for us that are very important to our customers. More recently, we have taken on some brands that are newer for us, so we’ve been introducing Gossard over the past couple of years and that’s been working really well.
Are there any gaps in the market that you hope will be filled?
I think there are always gaps in the market and there are new gaps appearing all the time. My focus is looking for products that translate the wonderful fabric innovations used in A-D styles into styles and shapes that work for big boobs.
Every brand that we buy offers a difference in fit, shape, look and feel, and own-brand is really no different to that. Our own brand is there to complement the whole branded offering and just to provide a different choice to our customers. We are all about fit and support, so we can’t compete your brands against each other because what fits one customer isn’t going to fit another. We just aim to offer the best choice and hopefully any customer who shops with us will find something that they absolutely love.
What are the main challenges you face as a lingerie buyer?
Commercially, Brexit is still affecting our industry and Bravissimo is no exception. It has been a challenging time. Costs have risen because of poor exchange rates. More generally, the challenge that I face as a lingerie buyer is buying across such a broad range of SKUs. Putting together a range that is going to do a brilliant job for customers of all different shapes and sizes and offering them the choice in fit, as well as look and feel, is a bit like a mathematical puzzle. Some customers love a really firm fit, while others like a more natural fit, which is a massive trend that we are seeing at the moment.
Where do you see Bravissimo heading in the future?
Our focus is on having a much greater UK retail presence. It’s brilliant that we’ve been able to open so many more shops this year and we will continue to make sure that we hit our targets. We’re taking our brand international – that’s the future for us – and we are focused on driving more innovation for big boobs. Product will always be a real focus for us, whether that’s on our own brand or branded lingerie. We want to drive innovation in order to ensure that everything that’s going on in the lingerie industry is reflected at Bravissimo and we are making it work for big boobs.