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The Shape Of Success

A go-getting business plan and a focus on fitting customers correctly have fueled Intimacy’s success.<br><br><br><br>Ten years ago Susan Nethero opened Intimacy, one of Atlanta’s few luxury lingerie stores, in Buckhead’s upscale...

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A go-getting business plan and a focus on fitting customers correctly have fueled Intimacy’s success.

Ten years ago Susan Nethero opened Intimacy, one of Atlanta’s few luxury lingerie stores, in Buckhead’s upscale Phipps Plaza shopping center.

“For 17 years I was marketing products from other companies, but I loved the concept of either starting a lingerie catalog or retail store. The original concept was focused on servicing the customer with proper fit and merchandise with a European flair, at better price points,” said Nethero.

Intimacy carries lines including Le Mystére, Prima Donna, Chantelle, Aubade, Lise Charmel, La Perla, Malizia and Gossard, which range in price from $35-$280. A key item for the store has been a bra-sized cami from Panache, which retails at $58.

“We select lines not solely based on the bra, but on the brand’s reputation for providing a good fit and quality workmanship,” said Nethero. The foundations assortment is broken down by replenishment business and fashion. The full-busted bra, however, defined as size DD and up, accounts for half of the total foundations business.

First year net sales for the 2,000-square-foot store, of $350,000, have grown to $2.1 million, for the fiscal year ending June 2002.

Intimacy’s success can be attributed to two factors, said the owners: an ad campaign that promotes the stores’ personal approach to fittings and service, and a business plan implemented in May 2001 by Nethero’s husband David, who serves as the store’s business director.

Previously, Susan had been working with E Myth, a San Francisco-based company specializing in small businesses. “E Myth provided models, selling dynamics and tools to work with in our business. We refined that information and focused on four core parts,” said Nethero. “Our plan now focuses on four areas: customer service, marketing, vendor management, and financial planning systems. The business model can work for any privately owned, comparably sized retail fashion business.”

For the first eight months of 2002, sales of $1.5 million were up 11 percent from the same period last year. Total transactions increased, due to better inventory management, marketing and advertising. The average sales transaction is down 15 percent, however, from a $165 high last year to $140, due to economic conditions.

This story first appeared in the October 2, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

David Nethero, who has 25 years’ experience in global marketing and finance, oversees business practices and Intimacy’s revamped advertising campaign, which was produced by Atlanta-based freelance advertising creative director Ben Hopkins. Susan Nethero spearheads buying, vendor management and financial initiatives.

The ad campaign, launched in April, emphasizes comfort and fit along with aspirational images and tag lines such as “Stop Blaming Your Body … for something that’s your bra’s fault.” and “85 percent of All Women Are Wearing The Wrong Size Bra … Good thing we’re open seven days a week.”

“Our whole theme promotes our approach to fitting,” said Nethero. “Our goal was to make the customer a hero, communicate that there is nothing wrong with her body, and show what the product could do for her if she’s properly fitted and serviced by us.”

Nethero developed the store’s approach to fitting bras with the help of the owner of a high-end British corsetry business. All fit consultations are free.

The ad campaign is supported by staff training in what the Netheros call “the Intimacy way of satisfying customers.” It includes instruction in sales techniques, role playing, and follow-up strategies designed to encourage repeat business.

“[Sales training] represents a culture change and will take time to employ fully,” said David. “Role-playing in monthly meetings has made the experience easier.”

Intimacy enjoys co-op support from vendors, an unusual perk for a specialty store. Vendors who share support of the campaign have product featured in five separate ads, each with a different tagline. Two full-page four-color ads run in every issue of Jezebel, a local alternative newspaper, from April to September.

In addition to a well-developed ad strategy, the Netheros pay special attention to staffing concerns. In addition to four sales associates and an assistant buyer, they employ a seamstress and a telemarketer to further fine-tune their operation.

Sales staff work on a base salary plus commission that allowed one associate to sell $600,000 in 2001. Each associate maintains a client book and averages 400 customer contacts per month. A performance “scorecard” tracks sales goals, actual sales, and customer contacts. (Vendors’ performances are also carefully monitored. Each vendor also has a “scorecard” tracking things like on-time deliveries, products’ mark-up potential, and damage and markdown allowances.)

Intimacy’s on-staff telemarketer conducts product surveys, invites customers to in-store events, and tells them how to care for their lingerie.

“We have a vested interest in teaching our customers how to care for their lingerie, since they have spent the time and money, we want them to be satisfied for a long time,” said Nethero. The telemarketer phones 400-600 customers per month and summarizes their feedback weekly.

The telemarketing efforts began six years ago, when the Netheros decided to survey 500 customers about bra performance. Sixty percent complained about bra straps falling down, 50 percent had trouble finding comfortably fitting styles, 35 percent complained about underwire-induced discomfort, 35 percent wanted additional lift and support, and 20 percent complained about backs riding up.

“It’s unbelievable how many people come in who have never been fitted, or fitted correctly,” said Nethero.

She developed a direct mail piece on personalized fitting solutions, complete with before and after shots that were also blown up and used as visuals inside the store.

Direct mail also plays a part in Intimacy’s promotional efforts. Last year, eight mailings were conducted with the help of a database containing 26,000 names, advertising trunk shows, holiday events and promotions, which typically happen about ten times per year.

A Belgium-based vendor, Van De Velde, whose American agent, Tizizano DeFranco, president of TDF American, began distributing the line in the United States seven years ago, refers to Intimacy as the company’s “ambassadors in the U.S.”

“One of my first customers was Intimacy,” said DeFranco. “The lines, Marie Jo and Prima Donna, served Intimacy’s mission well; to provide good fit, quality and size ranges, which run up to size 46H.

“Product is important, but communicating the benefits and servicing the customers’ fit needs is what ultimately has made Intimacy successful.”

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