Welcome to part two of my new Careers in Lingerie blog series! Today I’m speaking to Kirsty McAspurn, owner of Curvature Boutique in the UK, to find out what it’s like running a brick-and-mortar lingerie store. Through this series I’m hoping to shed more light on all of the many different career paths available to someone with a passion for lingerie, and how to get into them. Read on to find out Kirsty’s favourite and least favourite parts of the job, how much money she recommends raising to get your idea off the ground, and why she has no plans to move online any time soon.
Estelle: Hi Kirsty, thanks for joining my Careers in Lingerie series! Can you tell my readers a bit about Curvature Boutique?
Kirsty: Hi Estelle, thank you for asking me. Curvature Boutique is a small bricks and mortar lingerie shop in the seaside town of Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. It is just me, myself and I that work there, and consequently we are only open 5 days a week. We stock lingerie for women of all shapes and sizes, from an AA cup to a J cup (although we can get up to a K) and from a 30 band to a 44 (we can get 28s and up to a 50 band).
We offer first bras, wired and non-wired bras, moulded and non-moulded, and maternity bras. We also offer hosiery, steel-boned corsets and a small amount of menswear and nightwear. Prices start at just £15 for a bra, as we sell more of the everyday lingerie rather than the luxury side.
E: How did Curvature Boutique come about? Had you always planned to open your own store, and did you study anything relevant or work in a lingerie boutique beforehand?
K: I have had a varied career, with only a Saturday job in retail, in a newsagent when I was 16. After having been made redundant, I had the opportunity to reassess what I wanted to do career-wise whilst looking after the children. I had lost weight and wanted to have some photos taken to remember the size I once was, so ordered some corsets online to enable me to do so. A friend of mine said that they couldn’t order something like a corset online as they wouldn’t know if it would fit or how to do it up.
This got me thinking, and the idea of Curvature Boutique was formed. From that point there was a lot of research, and I did go away for 2 days to do a bra fitting course along with a lingerie retail course. I also did a couple of other day courses in London and spent time researching other lingerie shops, how they presented their products, greeted customers etc. So despite always believing in well-fitting, matching underwear, I never planned to make this leap. It just felt right when the opportunity appeared.
E: There’s so much that goes into running a lingerie boutique, from stock management to bra fittings. Can you walk me through a typical day in the store for you?
K: All of my day is based around the customers. Anything that I am doing will stop when customers come in, as they are the most important thing at that time. When with a customer it can range from buying something off the peg, to a full fitting, trying on lots of different bras and then matching bottoms if they wish. The same applies to the corsets.
Normally I find it quietest in the mornings, and that’s the time I have to answer or send emails. Deliveries often arrive in the morning as well. [Also] banking, telephone calls and dealing with any queries that come through. If customer orders have come in, I need to contact them as well as putting their orders to one side. Likewise orders are normally compiled ready for sending late on a Saturday, so that they can be processed on a Monday when the shop is closed.
The window display is changed on a weekly or two week basis, so I am always having to think of new ways to attract customers’ attention as they walk past. Likewise putting images and posts on social media or writing newsletters also has to be done through the day. As it’s just me, I also design promotional materials and work out any offers that will be put in place. Every couple of months I also re-arrange the shop in order to give regulars a different view when they come in, and therefore something different might catch their eye.
E: What are your favourite parts of the job, and the most boring or difficult ones?
K: My favourite part of the job is definitely interacting with customers. It’s lovely watching someone go from hating bras to finding that they can fit properly and be comfortable. The confidence it gives them is amazing. Likewise I enjoy chatting with my customers, and regulars become like friends.
I also love choosing ranges, and opening the boxes when they arrive. However, I don’t like ordering. Not because I don’t like the stock, but because they come in so many sizes. Here I find that one size won’t sell for ages and ages, then everyone that comes in wants that size. Therefore it’s difficult to choose what sizes to stock. I don’t want to miss an important size, but likewise I don’t want it to be left on the shelf either.
E: And what is your favourite thing about being your own boss? Would you ever go back to working for someone else?
K: If I had to, I’m sure I could work for someone else again, but hopefully it won’t come to that. I am happy that the buck stops with me, and I get to make the decisions (and if I’m 5 minutes late no-one tells me off) and I am lucky that I have the back-up of my husband, so if there are things I am unsure of, he can help despite not being here.
However it is also only down to me to make the business work. For me to find ways to promote, for me to engage with customers 100% of the time, and for me to look at the bank balance. That makes it harder. But then, I’ve never been good at taking orders from others, so perhaps it’s best this way.
E: Thanks to the internet it’s now easier and cheaper than ever to open a retail business if you do it online. What made you choose to go for a physical location, and do you envision a purely-offline future for Curvature Boutique?
K: My plans at present do not involve selling online. I opened Curvature Boutique so that customers would primarily have somewhere to try on corsets, and then added the lingerie to go with it. I provide a free fitting service, which you cannot get online and bra calculators can’t take into consideration shape or volume. Consequently the service customers receive in a store should outweigh the convenience of online.
I have a very small returns percentage. This is because people are happy and know things fit when they leave. If selling online returns are higher which create their own costs, as well items not always being received in the same condition as sold, or not arriving at all. Therefore although I have the costs of a shop I haven’t got the expense of postage, returns and warehouse costs – ultimately I doubt that there’s much in it, therefore I’d prefer to continue giving customers personal service and an expert fitting with advice.
E: For my readers who want to follow in your footsteps and open a brick-and-mortar lingerie boutique, what kind of money can they expect to need to get the business off the ground?
K: When I looked into opening the shop, I was advised that on top of rent, rates, legal fees, shop fittings, staffing etc. to keep about £8,000 to £10,000 for stock. [Unless] you are having a speciality or truly boutique store, with a small amount of stock, I would personally put this figure up to £15,000.
The cost of the rent will depend entirely where you are in the UK, and the size of the shop. My family and I did all of the shop fitting ourselves and I chose drawers rather than fitted units which kept my initial outlay down. You also need to factor in a website, even if only as basic one, as people will always look online for you. The more you do yourself, the less it will cost.
If you need to take a wage then this needs to be factored in as well. Traditionally companies make a loss in the first year, break even in the second and start to get a profit in the third. I still don’t take a proper wage, so everything can go back into the business.
E: Opening a lingerie boutique isn’t for everyone. What personality traits do you think it takes to make a success of it?
K: Determination, lots and lots of it. You have to be friendly; if customers don’t feel comfortable with the person serving them, they won’t buy. Strength – not everyone will like what you stock, and not everyone is in a great mood, don’t take it personally. You have to be able to multi-task, and do all the jobs that need doing. Even the boring ones. Creativity, to make the shop look appealing.
E: Thanks so much for answering these questions! Where can my readers find you, offline and online?
K: Online it’s www.curvatureboutique.com. Offline and in the flesh, it’s 79 Leigh Road, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, SS9 1JN. All visitors welcome.
I hope you’ve found this little look into life as a lingerie boutique owner interesting and insightful! If you’re wondering how it compares to being both the boutique owner and the designer-maker behind what you’re selling, check out my previous Careers in Lingerie feature on Ayten Gasson. Don’t forget to check out Curvature Boutique on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Have any other questions for Kirsty? Leave a comment below. Is there anything here that surprised you about what it’s like launching and owning a lingerie boutique?