KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Peregrine Honig and Corrie VanAusdal had no business plan or experience when they opened their lingerie store here on Valentine’s Day 2003.
But they knew they wanted a billboard. “Actually, we wanted a billboard before we even had a store,” Honig said.
The two twentysomethings got their wish more than two years later, on May 1. That’s when a 672-square-foot billboard, more than three times the size of the 200-square-foot Birdies boutique it advertises, went up at 20th and Main Streets in downtown Kansas City, a couple of blocks from the boutique. At $8,000 for three months, the billboard is a risky move for a store that had $60,000 in sales last year.
How did Honig, an artist whose work is part of the collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan, and VanAusdal, an actress who plays Apollonia in a local all-female stage spoof of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” pay for it? They cut costs by designing the ad themselves with the help of talented friends, and the pair held their third annual Live Panty Auction to help raise the rest. Two previous auctions paid for Birdies’ business license and collected $1,500 for Planned Parenthood.
The April 9 event, held at a country-and-western bar, featured a rockabilly band and attracted almost 400 people, who each paid $5. In keeping with its purpose, the auction theme was advertising, as evidenced by the 14 one-of-a-kind lingerie looks inspired by commercial characters such as the Energizer Bunny, the Doublemint Twins and the Morton Salt Girl. The bidding, done with underwear-shaped auction paddles as volunteer models worked the catwalk, began at $20 and topped out around $100. The event generated $2,000 after expenses,
The auction proceeds won’t cover the billboard, but when it comes to Birdies, money has never been the main point.
“We don’t put all our eggs in one basket,” VanAusdal said. “It’s a fun thing that the last year has been able to give us money sometimes, but we’re not expecting it to make us a million dollars.”
After all, Birdies began on a lark.
“We opened the store as a joke,” Honig said. “Because of the small space, we thought we could either do shoes or underwear.”
But the entrepreneurs couldn’t afford shoes, so they bought underwear at Costco, printed it with birds drawn by Honig and priced them at $5. Birdies made $150 on its first day.
The store, which specializes in limited-edition underwear and is Kansas City’s only lingerie-only boutique, has been growing since. That first $150 translated into $30,000 in sales in 2003, a number that doubled in 2004 and is expected to rise again this year.
The Costco panties have been replaced by American Apparel cotton thongs, bikinis, briefs and boyshorts printed with the owners’ original drawings. To keep it fresh, the designs change monthly.
“If you’ve got them and your friend can’t buy them anymore, that’s pretty cool,” VanAusdal said. “Some designs people still come in and ask for, but once they’re gone, that’s it.”
Styles, at $10, include purple panties printed with a peacock feather, a baby blue pair printed with the United Nations flag in white and a red pair printed with a hammer and sickle.
“We have fun,” Honig said. “We’re not making any sort of political statement, but we could.”