In a series of interviews, yourbrandspace asks retailers all about their business, from stock to sales, and everything in between. This month, the company sits down with Estelle Puleston, owner and founder of Esty Lingerie.
yourbrandspace: When did Esty Lingerie first open?
Estelle Puleston: We’ve been online since late 2009. We started out selling our own hand-sewn designs and have grown to offer more than 40 brands from around the world. We pick the brands we stock carefully to make sure they’ve all got something unique to offer – the vast majority offer handmade lingerie, many produce eco-friendly lingerie, and some of them even create one-of-a-kind items.
YB: What is the ethos of your online store?
EP:We want to be a one-stop shop for anyone who loves handmade lingerie – and by that I don’t just mean customers, but people interested in making their own undergarments. At Esty Lingerie, we also believe that beautiful, independent designer lingerie should be accessible to everyone.
YB: Why did you decide to go online rather than open up an independent shop?
EP: Budget! I launched Esty Lingerie when I was a 20-year old student so a website was much more affordable than renting floorspace. However, as we’ve grown, we’ve attended craft fairs and are considering opening a pop-up shop in 2014 to get a feel for the offline market.
YB: Who is your core customer?
EP: Women in their 20s and 30s who are conscious about where their clothing comes from. The Esty Lingerie customer doesn’t want the same mass-produced lingerie as everyone else, she wants something that is a bit more special and unique, and ethically-produced.
YB: What buying trends have you witnessed in your business?
EP: Knickers, corsets and accessories, such as harnesses and eye masks are our best-sellers. Seasonally, we sell a lot of bridal garters and swimwear in the summer. Most of our customers buy lingerie, nightwear or swimwear – it’s rare that we get an order for all three of these items at the same time.
YB: You focus primarily on independent designers – what was the thinking behind this decision?
EP: It’s something I’m personally very passionate about promoting. I design and produce my own collection for the site, and when I first came up with the idea of creating my own lingerie line I realised there wasn’t a platform specifically for independent lingerie designers. So Esty Lingerie became that platform.
YB: What brands do you stock?
EP: We sell over 40 different independent designer brands and there’s something for every style, preference and budget. Our own-branded range, Esty Lingerie, is very popular, as are Love Me Sugar, Louise Ferdinand and Andrea Billard.
YB: How do you manage your budget to ensure that you have relevant stock all year round?
EP: Our best-selling items are popular all year round, but at the start of the year we’ll concentrate on adding mainly bridal brands ready for Spring/Summer, and after that we concentrate mostly on other lingerie brands. That’s not to say we won’t take on a new non-bridal brand in the first half of the year if we really love it.
YB: How many new collections will you take on in a year?
EP: In 2013 we added 10 new brands to the website, but at least half of the existing brands launched between one and three new collections too.
YB: How do you engage with your customers to keep them coming back online?
EP: Esty Lingerie is very active on social media – I run the Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ accounts myself to make sure they all have a personal touch so customers don’t feel like they’re talking to a faceless business. We have a popular blog too, with columnists who also run their own lingerie blogs.
YB: What challenges do online boutiques face that bricks and mortar stores don’t?
EP: I think the key issue is returns – in store you can try items on and make sure they fit before you buy, but you don’t get that benefit when you buy online. That’s perfectly understandable – I return a lot of online purchases myself – but it does lead to a bit of cash-flow uncertainty for the business.
YB: Do you think people are as open to buying undergarments as outergarments?
EP: In general, yes. Most of the people I know, myself included, do most of their fashion shopping online and lingerie is no exception. So long as you have a website that’s secure, and you have a clear sizing guide and a clear returns policy, there’s no reason for people to feel unsure about buying from you.
YB: What advice would you give to anyone looking to start an online retail business?
EP: Don’t underestimate the value of a good web design – it’s worth paying for. I’ve designed the Esty Lingerie website myself and learnt from experience. I can’t help but wonder if the company would have been more successful in its initial stages if we’d had a well-designed, easy-to-use website in place right from the start.
YB: What is the biggest challenge you face?
EP: Running your own business is always going to be hard work. I have an assistant but I still have to squeeze in website updates, blog articles, processing orders, customer service and designing and sewing my own collection. Luckily I love what I do, so Esty Lingerie rarely feels like ‘work’. It’s more like a successful hobby!
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