Michelle HammondFollow on twitter www.startupsmart.com.au
A business that is all about supporting women
To say Lin Windram and her daughter Maxine know a bit about bras would be an understatement. After all, they’ve successfully launched not one but two retail concepts around the product.
“Maxine and I developed Brava Lingerie in 2006 to specialise in helping women who are D cup and up to feel supported and look great,” Windram says.
“Brava Lingerie is now a thriving business with 20 employees.”
On the back of Brava Lingerie’s success, the duo recently launched Brava Sport, which sells nothing but sports bras.
Lin talks to StartupSmart about how the Brava brands are fighting fit in the tough retail climate.
What prompted you to launch Brava Lingerie and Brava Sport?
Our personal experience had led to much research of the lingerie industry and, after plenty of mystery shopping, we knew there was a gap we could fill.
The D cup and up woman was receiving very little attention from the major stores, and now my daughter Maxine and I now have more than five years of rich experience with Brava Lingerie.
Referrals are a major part of growing the business, and has led to us opening our second Brava Lingerie store in the Melbourne CBD, while our online store continues to grow.
Brava Sport was a natural progression for us because of our commitment to specialisation, and we recognised that the need for correct sports bra fitting has been largely ignored by mainstream sportswear companies.
Every bra in our retail shop in East Brighton is a sports bra, and it is the only specialty sports bra store of its kind – anywhere.
The idea for Brava Sport developed from Maxine training and running a marathon, and being struck by how many women were poorly supported.
She knew that women who want to run, compete in sports, ride horses, lift weights, win gold at the Olympics, do Zumba, or try yoga and Pilates, all need fit, comfort and support.
The university research here and overseas confirms the need for the breast to be supported during physical activity.
It is well documented that inadequate sports bras can lead to breast sag because the momentum created by intense bouncing can stretch the breast’s connective tissues, causing sagging and pain for many women.
Not wearing the right sports bra can lead to neck, shoulder and back pain; more prevalent in women with a fuller bust.
Brava Sport is unique in utilising an in-store treadmill with video analysis to determine which sports bra best minimises the bounce for each individual customer.
The best sports bras are selected from many brands from around the world in sizes 6–22, A cup to K cup, to encourage all women of every shape and size, not just elite athletes, to be active.
How did you fund the business?
Brava Lingerie was funded six years ago through mortgaging our homes – it was risky but it ensured we were committed to success.
We found a fabulous 1860 retail store in East Prahran that needed some cosmetic work but was ready to move into.
The major part of our start-up costs were for shop fit and stock, and this was at a cost of around $280,000. Brava Sport has been mostly funded internally at a start-up cost of around $100,000.
How do you promote the business?
We have been fortunate in getting exposure through mainstream TV and editorials for Brava Lingerie.
We are diligent with our website enhancement and devote a lot of time to providing not only product but also research on the importance of correct bra fitting.
Social media via Facebook has become significant and is an area we are focusing on now. However, our major source of new customers is through referral.
In the case of Brava Sport, the business is being promoted through newspaper editorials, access to our extensive database at Brava Lingerie, onsite signage and soon to be launched mobile awareness through sign written vehicles used to take the business to the marketplace via gyms, sporting events, personal trainers, girls’ schools, clinics and specialist sporting activities.
How do you stand out in the market? What’s your point/s of difference?
Our points of difference are specialisation and a fierce attention to good customer service. At Brava Lingerie we specialise in D cup and up only, and in Brava Sport we specialise in sports bras only.
Our customer service is one-on-one, and we know our products and customers extremely well.
We employ fantastic, compassionate women, mostly without prior fitting experience who want to help other women.
They are trained in-house to our own high standards because it’s important they learn our holistic approach to bra fitting which focuses on the woman, her feelings and her body.
A referral rate of in excess of 70% is telling us that what we are doing is what our target market wants.
Our customer base is the most effective advertising we utilise because women share their good experiences at Brava with their colleagues, friends and family.
What are your revenue projections for 2012/13?
The flagship business has been profitable for the past four years, and has a conservative growth estimate for the next financial year of between 25 and 30% on bottom line profit before tax.
The relatively new and still establishing city store will conservatively break even in its first full year of trading to December 30 2012.
For the Brava Sport business, due to its relatively low setup and establishment costs, is projected to run a small PBT of maybe 3-5%, on the proviso we can get it out to the market within the next two to three months.
The retail industry is undergoing major change. How will you safeguard your business?
One of the keys for us is controlling our stock to ensure we are not holding product that is costing us money.
Being vigilant and watching what others are doing has always helped prepare us so there are not too many surprises.
Growing our internet presence and for Brava Sport, building strong relationships with the health and fitness industry.
It is imperative to maintain the highest standards of customer service and remain focused on our USPs.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
The purchasing power of the big companies disadvantages us. If major department stores stock our best performing brands and then they discount them, we suffer.
A second potential issue is the threat from international websites able to offer lower costs on similar products.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
With hindsight, we could have expanded earlier.
We could have let go of more duties and delegated better to allow management to focus on the business rather than working within the business so much.
A mum and daughter duo is quite rare nowadays. What are the pros and cons?
We have similar drivers and are both very hard workers. Maxine is entrepreneurial and I occasionally put the brakes on.
We value each other’s input and can’t imagine working without a partner who is on the same wavelength.
Another advantage relates to the fact that we cover two generations and consequently bring balance to what we offer across our entire client spectrum of ages.
It can be a little hard to switch off, but we try to do that when in the company of others.
What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs?
Research and research again. Be incredibly sure of your business model, but be willing to change. Listen to your industry and then question everything.
Focus on the important things in the business and recognise where your own skills might be lacking, and then find the right people to fill those gaps or go and get the necessary training.
Be ready to sacrifice a lot of personal time and have no doubt your USP is strong enough to withstand the tough times, like the GFC.