opinion

Wrap It Up, I'll Take It

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Despite a steep decline in DVD sales and rentals, lingerie sales are up and showing no sign of decline. Retail chains and boutiques are looking to capitalize on this. Sure customers could head to their local Victoria’s Secret. But the type of customer that heads to Castle Megastores, Fairvilla or A Touch of Romance want kink, value and a good selection.

Boxed lingerie is all these things and more but without the hangers. Boxed lingerie has existed for some time now, but in 2005 it became a highly defined product with Dream Girls’ Diamond Collection. Dreamgirls introduced Red Diamond, a lingerie line, and Black Diamond, a hosiery line. Then in 2008, they unveiled Blue Diamond, a line of men’s intimates marketed under the name Dream Guy. In the last three years there definitely has been a revolution — lingerie is more likely to be found in a box on a rack or fixtures and sorted by size and style. This allows more stock to be displayed in less space. Multiple spinners means more selection and the potential for huge sales — with selection and low price points, customers will be more likely to buy multiple items.

Another plus of boxed lingerie is that the packaging actually helps sell the item. Leg Avenue recently has redesigned its packaging design so it will stand out among the competition.

“Great packaging blended with great photography and great merchandise is a winning combination,” says Dream Girls’ Marketing Manager Lisa Griffin. The model on the box lets the customer see what the item will look like while being worn, rather than them trying to imagine what it will look like on (as it would hanging on a hanger). Women no longer have to head for the dressing rooms, saving them time. This also allows the stores to have a smaller staff that won’t have to patrol the dressing rooms and cuts down on theft and loss.

It not only makes it easier for women to shop, but men (who are more visual) can buy lingerie for women. And if it’s a one size fits all, the guesswork of sizing is now gone. What would take 30 minutes in the past is now a 5-minute purchase. Forplay, one of the oldest companies specializing in lingerie and costumes, introduced the Luxe Collection, one-size-fits-all lingerie. According to Merchandise Manager Primrose Boon, “The line is selling through the roof. Our customers are looking for convenience and affordability. This is exactly what this line has to offer.”

Some items sell better for manufacturers than others. For Leg Avenue, it’s babydolls and mini dresses. “They fit most body types well and make every type of woman feel sexy,” says Griffin. For Forplay, it’s all across the board from fishnet styles with lingerie looks to nurse and schoolgirl-themed fantasy sets, which Primrose Boons refers to as “staple categories within costumes that are also in demand behind the bedroom doors. Cal Exotics does really well men’s thongs and women’s g-strings, along with our costume outfits.

Shirley of Hollywood is banking on sex and they are doing well with their H.O.T. collection, which consists of sleek bra tops, hip-hugging skirts, lacy see-through teddies and baby dolls. And of course, French maid and perky pink kitten costumes that allow customers to indulge in their fantasies sell well.

Despite excellent price points and stellar marketing, the manufacturers realizes that the country is in an economic slump, so they are taking steps to offer deals to their customers who want to keep more money in their pockets. Leg Avenue offered an Economic Stimulus Sale for the month of September, giving its customers 12 percent off orders.

Forplay is planning their marketing and promotions more strategically. “Our sales don’t affect our product design and merchandise selection; it only tells us to be more particular and careful in taste,” says Boon. Additionally, they are exclusive with their line and only sell to Peekay, Hustler, Adam & Eve, Fascinations, Lovers Lane, Bliss Ave and a few others. Shirley of Hollywood has had an amazing 2008, but they are offering specials to celebrate their 60th anniversary and thank the customers for loyalty.

And for future sales, some of the manufacturers are banking on new designs and of course, Valentine’s Day. Leg Avenue is introducing a naughtier more provocative line for Valentine’s Day 2009. Primrose Boon sees a bright future for boxed lingerie. “A customer’s disposable income is becoming much more limited and the quality and aesthetics of a garment plays an important role during the buying process.”

Shirley of Hollywood offers not only misses sizes but plus sizes and this is intricate in meeting the needs of the marketplace.

“Our voluptuous plus-sized maximize every curve — all affordably priced, available boxed or on hangers,” said President Roy Schlobohm. “This year, the collection has added new boy shorts, fabulous new lace sets, frilly and soft mesh ruffle tri-top sets and lots of playful and sexy hosiery.” Additionally, they are rolling out their Red Carpet Collection, along with a model search for plus-sized models.

On the other end of the spectrum are the actual retail shops and boutiques. And what they have to say echoes the manufacturers. When CEO/President of Castle Megastores, Mark Franks, took over five years ago, he saw that stores were going to need to transition away from DVDs to more lucrative items. Castle might have just dabbled in lingerie in the past, but he decided to invest seven figures to get the ball rolling. And, they have continued to expand. Despite the sizes of his stores, they are specialty stores — they offer the newest and the best along with a huge array of price points and products/lines to choose from and an exceedingly knowledgeable sales staff. If it sells, it’s in one of Franks’ 18 stores.

Lingerie has become a huge part of his business. To give you an idea, in his 18,000 square foot Phoenix store, 5,000 square feet is lingerie (and a major portion of it is boxed lingerie). He carries over 20 lines of boxed lingerie in his stores. The target audience is women and couples, so he knows he needs to “keep it softer, far more so than when retail stores were more of bookshops or peeps.”

Based out of Florida, Farvilla stores have also seen the need to refocus their retail space. They started modifying the lines they carry about seven years ago and have focused on it even more so in the last two years. With a huge increase in apparel sales, they cater to fantasy wear.

According to Director of Marketing Debra Peterson, “We sell on average 10 to 1 women’s boxed lingerie to men’s boxed product. The women’s boxed line wins hands down.” And despite a troubled economy, sales are up. “Our average sale has increased, which means that the people who are coming in are spending more than before. We haven’t strayed from our vision to be a unique store that caters to the diverse tastes of our customers and we are not forgoing our quality for a less expensive, poorly manufactured, product. This is our vision and I believe it to be the reason behind our success,” says Peterson.

Peekay, a corporation that operates 32 stores in the Los Angeles and Washington areas under the names Lovers, A Touch of Romance and Condom Revolution, also has started to see a slightly larger increase in the sale of boxed lingerie. “It’s drawing the attention from the customer who is more cautious with how they are spending their money,” says Rona Barilla, lingerie buyer. And although they couldn’t pinpoint a specific style, bedroom/fantasy costumes seem to lead the way.

Adam & Eve always had a huge Internet presence, but they are also a franchise with over 30 stores throughout the country. Adam & Eve offers a full program to make sure the franchise stores are a success — you get an experienced management team to help you find store sites, deal with legal issues and stock your store along with store layout assistance, training for your staff and advertising/marketing.

Marcus Goswick owns four such stores in Raleigh, Durham, Wilmington and Clayton North Carolina. Boxed lingerie does very well in his stores. The key to their success in selling lingerie (and toys) is encouraging their customers to try new things. Another reason lingerie is doing well is that it’s multi-faceted.

“Lingerie sales are increasing because lingerie is being used for everyday wear, such as corsets, hosiery and shoes. It’s not just for the bedroom anymore and it can be used to add a sexy flare to your everyday wear,” says Goswick.

According to the general manger/buyer of Goswick’s stores Sheila McDaniel, “The reason that customers buy from us is because Adam & Eve has always been a sex positive company. Our store is very women and couple friendly because we are very tasteful, by keeping a positive staff we will maintain positive results for the future.” And although there has been a dip in the economy, Goswick’s franchise hasn’t felt it too intensely. “We have definitely seen a decrease, but because we are in the sexy industry our retail sales haven’t been as effected as much as other major retail stores,” says Goswick. More A&E franchise stores are popping up all the time and both web/catalog and the brickand- mortar stores offer the same great price points and a huge selection.

For the customers, buying boxed lingerie might just an impulse buy like candy at the checkout line of the grocery. But retailers and manufacturers see it as a booming business and where many of the customers’ dollars will go to in the future. It may even get to the point where retailers and boutiques are dedicating more than 80 percent of their space to lingerie, many of it boxed.

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