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Success in a Mail World : A Lingerie Store Owner's Loyal Customers Follow Her When She Makes the Transition From Boutique to Catalogs

January 21, 1998|KAREN E. KLEIN | Karen E. Klein is a freelance writer

Michelle Round opened a lingerie boutique with a five-year lease in Old Pasadena in May 1992. By last May, Round had established a loyal customer base, but her landlord decided to bring in a larger tenant for the Colorado Boulevard location. Instead of finding new retail space, Round decided to establish a mail-order catalog. She was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.

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I had worked in Old Town Pasadena for four years before I opened my store. From Day One, business literally took off. I had established client relationships when I worked at a women's clothing boutique next door to my location and I continued to work hand-in-hand with that store.

My customers were experienced shoppers who liked the smaller location and personal touch I offered. They weren't looking for bargains and they didn't like malls. My merchandise was always turning over. By the end, I had added estate jewelry and antiques to my inventory.

But when my lease came up last May, the landlord was not open to renegotiating with me, so my husband and I went looking for a new space.

My customers were complaining about the parking problems, crowds and rowdy kids in Old Pasadena, so I did not want to be there anymore--and there weren't any small retail sites available there anyway.

I looked at other locations, but I felt they would be too far away from my customers and I had just paid off my original loan and did not want to start all over.

At that time, a lot of my business was coming in through phone orders from my regular clients and I realized I could continue to provide high-quality products and good service by publishing a catalog, but have no geographical limits and no parking problems. Because the catalog will come out twice a year, I can still change my merchandise regularly. With our Internet site [http://www.heatherbloom.com], I can change some items even more frequently.

I started out with a very strong database of local customers, most in Los Angeles. Working out of my home office, I mailed our first, 16-page edition Oct. 15 to 5,000 customers. I had to narrow my merchandise down by analyzing what sold well, what was not size-specific and what name-brand items had been the most popular.

I went to the graphic artist who had created my logo and worked with him to design the catalog. I wanted it to be unique, so we went with illustrations rather than photos. I wrote the copy, giving the same advice that I would give if my customers were there in person.

The next step was getting a P.O. box and bulk-mailing permit. Then we printed up the catalogs and updated our mailing list. To take advantage of cheaper bulk mail rates, my husband and I sorted and mailed them ourselves.

The start-up costs for putting out the first catalog were the same as one year's rent in Old Town. I expect that we won't have to pay as much for subsequent catalogs.

So far, we have had about a 4% return, which is considered very good. I hired some part-time employees to help with holiday telephone orders and I tried to be on hand Monday through Friday to take calls personally.

The second catalog will go out the first week of March. I'm very happy with my decision to go mail order. We plan to buy mailing lists and double the size of the mailing to send it as far east as Chicago next time.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

* Company: Heatherbloom

* Owner: Michelle Round

* Nature of business: Mail-order catalog featuring lingerie and sleepwear

* Address: P.O. Box 50767, Pasadena, CA 91115

* Year founded: 1992

* Number of employees: One full-timer, three part-timers

* Annual sales: $250,000

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