In a series of interviews, online showroom yourbrandspace asks retailers all about their business from stock to sales and everything in between. This month, the company sits down with Pam Thomas, owner of Cheltenham’s specialist lingerie boutique Joyce Brooks.
When did Joyce Brooks Lingerie open?
Joyce Brooks opened in the late 1970s. It was started by Joyce Brooks following the closure of Shirers and Lances, a big department store in Cheltenham. I bought the business in 2001.
What is the ethos of your store?
We offer traditional styles with the emphasis on bra fitting. Customer service is the key to our continued survival.
Who is your core customer?
We fit women aged from 12 to 100, but our main customer base is aged between 40 and 60.
You stock a range of back sizes, from 30 to 52. Have you seen the market change over the years in terms offering larger sized lingerie?
Definitely. It’s great to find lingerie manufacturers are offering lovely materials in larger cup sizes and we are gradually, as money permits, adding to our range.
What brands do you stock and which are the most successful for you?
Our bra brands are Fantasie, Elomi, Chantelle, Passionata, Silhouette, Triumph, Charnos, Anita, Royce, Bestform and Berdita. We sell across all brands with equal success, however, we do cherry pick our favourite styles from each brand.
How do you decide which products to stock in your store?
On the bra side, we look for side-support styles, good finishing, good length on straps, attractive, understated colours and stretch lace is always a bonus.
How many new collections will you take on in a year?
Normally this will be two or three, usually from our established brands. We tend to only take on one collection if it is made by an untried brand.
How do you engage with your customers to keep them coming back?
We have a good rapport with our customers. On their first visit, they often have a special reason to buy a bra, such as a special occasion or perhaps following surgery. We can relate to each circumstance. Bra fitting is very up close and personal so it is vital that we concentrate solely on the fitting. We never decide what bra the customer should choose, and, as often as possible, we leave the customer with a choice of bras in the fitting room. We usually end on first-name terms with our customers, keeping the sale light and friendly. This results in recommendations too. There is no hard selling. Having been established since the 1970s, daughters visit to buy for mothers and then come for themselves, often bringing in younger family members the next time they visit, and so we progress.
You also have an online presence. What challenges does this bring?
Online is different as the objective is to process the sale and post out as soon as possible – there is no personal contact. However, we do find that we are sourced online, but the sale comes via a telephone call as the customer often wants to discuss sizing and choices. We cannot stock huge ranges so we stick to goods that are “bread and butter” to us. Fortunately, we have excellent suppliers who will post out to me quickly should I be caught short.
Do you notice different buying habits online to in store?
Our in-store customers do like to inspect the goods and they like to compare brands and prices. Obviously, they can try on bras in store as well, while they can’t online. They will notice other things and buy add-ons in store and we can point out special offers, suggest buying two pairs of knickers to one bra and discuss our various special events. Online, these things can be promoted, but customers usually buy just what they had searched for.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing at the moment?
Our biggest challenge, apart from the ongoing awful weather, is the economy. Our retired customers are gaining little interest from their savings accounts and all age groups have seen their household bills rise. Some have little money left for extras and will buy only what is needed. Add to this are the rising costs to us; postage costs, higher minimum order levels and increases in stock prices. I could go on.
yourbrandspace brings wholesale fashion online, exclusively for buyers and brands. Retailers can register for free at: www.yourbrandspace.com