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Tell us about Brava?
Brava is a lingerie store for D-cup and above. I struggled a lot finding bras; as a teenager there was one bra in the whole department store that fit me so it wasn’t very good for my self-esteem and my mum struggled with the same issue. So it’s been a bit of a lifelong problem where I just haven’t felt that there were many bras in my size and also the service was always a bit daunting. I think it is for most women. So 20 years down the track, mum and I were just talking and complaining about bras and said gosh, imagine if we could go into a shop and actually have a choice and not feel bad about our bodies. So we just started talking about it and we did research for a year and spoke to a lot of women, did a lot of mystery shopping and went for it!
What was it like opening your first retail store?
It was interesting because we had never had a business before, never even worked in retail and aren’t even very good shoppers! We felt so strongly about the idea and giving women better choices and helping them feel better about their bodies that we jumped in the deep end. We put our house up to get a loan so we did take a few risks but we had faith; we never thought it was an option to fail. I guess that may have came with a bit of naivety! Mum and I are business partners, so it’s a family business which is great.
How did you get your suppliers on board?
We started with just going for the mainstream brands that you see in the department stores because it seemed like they were the best-known in the market. But within six months we realised they weren’t for our customer. Now we have brands that are all from overseas because they make bras specifically for a fuller bust. It was just all about trial and error and learning; we still have stock that we bought in from almost ten years ago in our warehouse that never sold!
You’ve opened three stores in the last ten years. How did you know it was the right time to open more?
We opened our city store and our High Point Store in three months of each other so that was pretty stressful. We had lists of people waiting, but we just weren’t able to service well our customers. We have five change rooms at Prahran and we used to and still do get a waiting list. Especially on a Saturday we could have ten women waiting at one time and it’s quite a small store.
What have you struggled with?
Just growing from one store where we had less than ten staff, to thirty staff, there’s just extra challenges dealing with more people. Dealing with extra staff and ensuring that we can support our staff, especially through the quieter times, and that we have more staff through the busier times is a human resources challenge but I think as you grow you’ve just got to be really on top of it.
What’s your role in the business now?
I’m out on the store floors every now and then. I work on the business, so the website and the business development and the marketing. My mum deals with the staff and more the operations but we drop into the stores every week and every now and then we will work on the floor just to ensure that we maintain, well we just know what’s going on in the stores and chat to our staff and our customers so we still go on the floor every now and then.
We’re still bedding down our newest stores so working on our processes and procedures and fine tuning those until the end of the year. Then we’re going to look at where we want to go but there’s definitely potential and room for growth. We get asked from every state in Australia when we’re expanding! We even had somebody start a Facebook page called Bring Brava to Adelaide so we know there’s potential. If we’re going to do it we want to do it really well. We don’t want to grow just for the sake of it, we want to ensure that our customer service is spot on and our procedures are spot on and our staff are happy .
Every day, KBB’s Dannie Doughan chats with an entrepreneur and features their story on our website. If your business wants a ‘Date with Dannie’, email us a quick bit about your biz!