By  on February 4, 2008

BOSTON — Susan Nethero, founder of Intimacy lingerie stores, was fussing about making sure the women milling around her newest shop for breakfast were served quiche, orange juice or, if chocolate is required, a mini éclair.

They weren't customers, but managers working in neighboring stores in Copley Place Mall here, where Intimacy opened its fourth location last month. And Nethero served them as attentively as VIPs.

Service at all levels is Intimacy's hallmark. It is known for a 30-minute bra fit appointment, for stocking one of the broadest ranges of bra cup sizes that start at A and go to K and for free alterations.

Oprah Winfrey has endorsed the brand, featuring it on her show and in her magazine. Nethero also has a regular gig on "How to Look Good Naked," a Lifetime network makeover program starring former "Queer Eye" guru Carson Kressley.

The exposure has shown up in Intimacy's bottom line — sales run $2,500 per square foot. She declined to give total revenues for the privately held firm, but it could be pulling in $25 million annually based on the square footage performance. Intimacy will open stores in the Aventura Mall in Miami and in Houston next year and Nethero is negotiating a lease for a store she plans to open in this year's fourth quarter.

Her goal is to grow the Atlanta-based company to 20 to 25 stores by 2013.

The high-touch approach has struck a chord with customers. The bra fitting is an all-out, sometimes emotional affair, where fitters are trained to do a lot of listening. Beforehand, women fill out a pamphlet assessing whether factors like weight fluctuations, childbirth or illness have changed their breasts. Then the customer strips to the waist with her fitter, who discusses preferred styles in a range of merchandise. The average sale is about $250, Nethero said.

Among the brands are: Chantelle, La Perla, Simone Pérèle, Le Mystère and Cosabella.

The Copley store represents a fresh prototype. There's a new logo, an entry wall of body forms showing fashion looks and a back wall of gold-foil drawers holding inventory. It is next door to Barneys New York, which does not carry lingerie. In the first few weeks, sales of fashion bras exceeded projections fourfold, Nethero said.Most of the space, about two-thirds of the store total, is devoted to eight dressing rooms, an unusual ratio, given that most retailers maximize their selling floor. But, in this case, the luminous dressing rooms with lots of money invested in flattering lighting are the real selling floor.

Alterations are another important competitive advantage. Based on Nethero's research, about 25 percent of women are concerned that one breast is bigger than the other. Free alternations have become an important way to connect with this customer.

"We bring a woman in and we help her realize her body isn't difficult or unique to fit," Nethero said. "We work on transforming a sense of limitation into possibility."

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