By Ali Cudby
In my last Retail Briefs column we began looking at branding in the world of lingerie. The definition of branding – for the purposes of this series – is simple to say, and extremely difficult to execute. Namely, branding is “your promise to your customers.”
One company that is exceptional in this regard is Secrets In Lace. Secrets In Lace began as a bricks-and-mortar store in 1984 – almost 30 years ago. In 1995, President and co-owner Dan Whitsett realized that growing a brick-and-mortar operation was an expensive proposition with a small geographic radius. Instead, they shifted to mail order with a web presence. Suddenly, without adding lots of inventory or overhead, the world was their market. This prescient move made Secrets In Lace an early entrant into the world of web-based lingerie shopping.
I talked to Dan Whitsett about the Secrets In Lace brand.
AC: How do you characterize the Secrets in Lace brand?
DW: Unlike lingerie that’s strictly for fantasy, we view Secrets In Lace as more of a Retro Chic lifestyle brand that captures a feminine, classic look (some would say Vintage) and can also be worn all day by women who like to feel beautiful under their clothes.
AC: How did you determine this brand positioning?
DW: We originally wanted to launch a mail order business back 1984 but found the process to be too hard – the lack of personal computers, digital photography, desktop publishing etc. proved to be overwhelming. Instead we opened a store. All we knew was we wanted it to be a visual delight that when you walked by the store front you had to say “I want to go in that store” – of course we had to follow through with great product.
We created an elegant boudoir environment for clients to “get in the lingerie buying mood’. There were a lot of small lingerie shops but almost none of them “had a concept look”, they all used chrome fixtures purchased from fixture catalogues. I didn’t like any of that.
Our look was elegant with hardwood floors, refurbished antiques used as displays and custom brass floor fixtures. When we built 4 other stores we did built-in fixtures accented with antiques. We put a lot of time into creating an atmosphere. Today I see more stores creating atmosphere but in 1984 it was rare – our store was almost like shopping in a nicely decorated bedroom. That became our look/brand image.
AC: How do you broadcast that branding to customers?
DW: We keep the brand image consistent through product and photography.
I think part of having a brand revolves around having a product that is yours or at least a look that is yours. Sure you can have a “store brand” that is known for selling the highest quality “brands’ or the best value “brands” and there is nothing wrong with that.
For us it’s about SIL; we evolved to the Secrets In Lace lingerie brand because we couldn’t get what we needed from the big “brands” to satisfy the needs of our authentic nylon stocking clients; we needed garterbelts and coordinating bras and girdles. Consequently, we had to figure out how to get what we needed manufactured for us. Since we had been selling “vintage” from the beginning knowing what to have made was simple – getting it done was harder.
We decided to do our own photography (even for the very limited number of brands we carry that are not ours), which in the beginning was the hardest part from finding photographers to getting the photos either in a catalogue, online or in a store window. I think our photography more than anything else has defined Secrets In Lace. Today our photography is recognizable (as ours) around the world; we also have made a conscious decision NOT to create “high fashion” images.
AC: What’s one lesson you learned along the way about implementing your branding?
DW: I think you have to understand what you are about and not get drawn off that core concept. In doing that we are always learning and improving.
AC: What advice would you offer to retailers in thinking through their brand?
DW: Figure out what you are about, your look, your service or something that makes you different – then drive that point home.
AC: You have owned both bricks and mortar and mail-order/online stores. What’s the biggest difference between the two with regards to branding?
DW: There is no difference in the truest sense. We projected an elegant atmosphere in the stores, when we decided to launch the mail order company I knew our image had to be projected (in photography) in the same way to keep the brand intact; we spent a lot of time and money figuring that out.
The same thing is true for the website. Website design continues to evolve; since 1995 we have updated the website design 6 times and are about to roll out number 7. I don’t think that website changes should be done to try to out-innovate other websites but as internet speeds get faster, computer monitors change etc., but you need to adapt your look from time to time.