Isha Knill - Business Coaching
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Sponsor Spotlight with Rita Sullivan founder of Knickerboxers Lingerie

Isha Knill - Thursday, October 18, 2018

Sponsor Spotlight highlighting Rita Sullivan founder of Knickerboxers 

Isha: So how did you get involved in the world of lingerie?

Rita: Well I have to take you back to 1968 when I was working in a department store, a fashion department where I had discovered that lingerie was very pretty so my interest started there but, in the beginning,, I didn’t do much as I then I got married, went and did nursing and started a family. 

However, salaries for nurses were pretty ordinary so I started selling Salamander lingerie on party plan, parties from home, a bit like linen parties and I did very well out of it and found that I really enjoyed it.

At the time we also owned the Fairy Shop in Berry for a little while. 

Isha: So, which one was that?

RitaWell it’s not there anymore, but at the time it was well known in the community and the women who started it had to get out, so we bought it and had it for a few years.  Catheryn was studying Graphic Design at University so we thought that it would be a good idea to give her a job whilst she was at Uni and as there was a new shop being built in Berry and we have some contacts and family members who had the wholesale rights on Calvin Klein and a few others lingerie brands, and because I had some experience, not much, we decided to start a factory outlet.  Of course, it wasn’t long, and we worked out that we really didn’t want to have a factory outlet and that what we really wanted to do was lingerie because we just loved it.

What we did find is that having lingerie in Berry wasn’t a good idea though, didn’t do any market research just went ahead and soon discovered that there wasn’t much of an appetite for it in Berry.  People loved to come and look but no one really bought anything which is why we moved the shop to Nowra, as we realised that there was a need for what we call ‘bread and butter’ lingerie.

So, we have changed and evolved.

Isha: So, when you say ‘bread and butter’ lingerie what do you mean?

Rita: Comfortable, sensible, a little bit of sexy and pretty but very, very comfortable is the main thing.

Isha: So, you moved the shop to Nowra

Rita: Yes, we bought the premises and we traded in the Berry one until the lease ran out. Then we moved everything to the Nowra shop.  So we were two shops in the beginning and then we moved down to the one shop in Nowra.  We did well in Nowra and built up a good clientele but as I am a nurse by trade I always kept nursing so I would work part time in the shop and go back to the hospital for a short term contract but all the while I was working on the business and building it up.

We decided that we would go into post-mastectomy fitting because with my nurse experience, I was actually head-hunted to cover the South Coast Area for mastectomy, prothesis fittings.  We were a bit nervous to start off with.  We weren’t sure we were going to like it, I was particularly unsure because I had worked in palliative care and grave illness and I had had enough of it and a bit burnt out, so I was cautious.  However, I think because we were seeing ladies straight after surgery, almost immediate surgery, they were very positive, and it was a very positive experience.

So, I had all of the girls and myself trained to do this and I even brought in some outside consultants, so my team could learn what to do and what to say to help people who needed to be fitted.  So, we had the staff taught and trained because it is a very sensitive area and I felt it was important to support my team so that they knew what to say and how to act.  I am happy to say that the girls are really fabulous.

We did start a home fitting service at one stage, but we found that we couldn’t take enough stock with us, so we didn’t really continue this.  We still do them, but they usually take two visits instead of the one, so from a business perspective it isn’t a great idea but for a good will perspective it was very comforting knowing that we were supporting people and helping them to be happy.

We now cover quite a large area, we go down as far to Milton and up to Bowral.

So, the post-mastectomy part of our business has been a very rewarding side of the business, it’s not the main role that we play, it’s a value add to our business.

Isha: Having been in the lingerie business for quite some time, have you seen a lot of changes in the industry?

Rita: Yes, very much so, it’s quite amazing.  In the 70’s people didn’t really wear bras, a lot of people wore holter-neck dresses and holter-neck tops and skinny pants with platform shoes but then in the 80’s the pretty clothes started to come in with shoulder pads and bridal gowns were huge. Then there was the era where the bridal gown had a corset in them or needing a corset under them.  Then bridal gowns have changed again but bridal lingerie is not something we do.  We have done bridal expos for the first ten years of our business but now we tend to focus more on comfortable lingerie.

Isha: What do your customers like the most?

Rita: The most common thing that customers say to me and it’s what gives me my biggest buzz is ‘oh that feels lovely, that is so comfortable’.

Isha: I think that’s something that women can be a bit bad about, we tend to solider on and put ourselves last which means we don’t always invest in comfortable lingerie and to be honest, some lingerie can be really uncomfortable so comfortable is really important.

Rita: You right and I agree we aren’t very good at making sure we are comfortable but if we aren’t comfortable we are cranky and that’s never good so it just a good idea to come and get fitted properly and wear a better bra!  Also, if you are comfortable in your lingerie it’s going to last you longer anyway because it’s well made, and you are going to enjoy wearing it.

Isha: So why did you open a shop in Kiama?

Rita: We moved to Kiama.  We sold up in Berry and as our daughter and her husband were moving to Kiama with the grandkids, we decided it would be a good move, so we moved and now we have two shops again.  

However recently I have been head hunted for the hospitals to be an education facilitator for some of the university students which I will do as it helps to keep my registration up as a nurse. My lingerie and nursing are quite intertwined, I don’t think they will ever be separate but I it’s important that I bring my clinical skills to the mastectomy side and the surgical, breast enhancement and reduction side of the business. 

Isha: Taking a bit of a different turn in our conversation, in business, what do you think are the most important things you have learnt?

Rita: Wow, that’s a huge question.  I think off the top of my head and not in any given order, people are price driven, so you have to be very organised in what you stock and make sure that you keep your cashflow going.  You have to have cashflow.

Isha: Cashflow is king! Have you found opening two shops to be beneficial?

Rita: Not in the beginning and I think that’s mainly because we opened with the same kind of stock that we carry in Nowra but soon discovered that we needed quite different stock on our Kiama shop, so it’s been bit of a learning curve.  We’ve had to trial different things in this shop to get the right formula.  It’s taken a bit of time but things are starting to settle and do well.

Isha: So how did you work out the difference?

Rita: I watch what people are buying, I keep abreast with the fashions and that type of thing but I mainly speak to my customers and ask them what they want and by doing this we have managed to settle on the products that people are more interested in Kiama and we now stock a variety of things, not only lingerie.

Isha: And we have some exciting things coming up towards the end of the month?

Rita: Yes, as it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month on the 29th October we will be holding a fundraiser evening here in the shop from 5 to 8  – ‘Bubbles and Boobles’ where we will have bubbles and nibbles, donations, gifts, prizes.  It’s going to be a fun evening so you have come along!  And I thought as we will be raising funds for breast awareness and it would be great to support one of our own by giving what we raise to Maralyn Young from Breast Aware.  So please come along and support us, I promise it will be a lovely night!

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