How to Start a Mail Order Lingerie Business

Written by gigi starr
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How to Start a Mail Order Lingerie Business
(2007 Sklathill / Creative Commons)

If you love lingerie, opening a lingerie shop can be a fun, rewarding venture with a profitable future. Underwear never goes out of style, and everyone needs it, making lingerie a stable business. This guide will give you some rudimentary small business advice for your beginning entrepreneurial journey.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Social Security number
  • Accountant or accounting software

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    Formulating the Business

  1. 1

    Obtain proper licenses and forms from the government. A tax identification number is necessary in order to obtain catalogues and sales materials from suppliers. At this time, it may be a good idea to go through the process of incorporation, as well. Setting up an incorporation, sole proprietorship or LLC is good because it adds credibility to your business. Plus, certain categories will protect from any later financial mishaps that may happen (see Resources below).

  2. 2

    Create a business plan. The business plan will call for laser-sharp focus on many aspects of the lingerie business, and will clarify what exactly will happen. Why sell lingerie? Will the lingerie business be growing or shrinking in coming years? Use the business plan to answer these questions (see Resources below).

  3. 3

    Figure out how much starting capital you'll need and incorporate that into the plan. For a drop ship lingerie business, there may not be a need for lots of start-up money. A business that intends to keep stock will require a bank loan or significant investment. A good way to figure out numbers is to run a hypothetical business for a month on paper. This means selecting preliminary stock from catalogues, figuring out shipping rates, covering hosting costs, utilities and other necessary expenses. That number will be of great use in your plan and strategy.

  4. 4

    Start a relationship with a dependable accountant who is accustomed to working with small businesses. If this is too much of an expense at first, use QuickBooks software for your accounting needs. A human accountant will be necessary as soon as possible, however.

  5. 5

    Set up shipping accounts with various carriers. Obtain packaging from suppliers, along with a good shipping scale. Set up daily pickups, if necessary.

  6. 6

    Obtain business identity designs such as logos, business cards and digital graphics. These add credibility and serve to develop a brand image.

  7. 7

    Sign up for an affordable toll-free number to help with customer service inquiries. Many cost under £6 a month. These toll-free forwarding services keep people from having your personal phone information, and add prestige.

    Selecting Merchandise

  1. 1

    Read all catalogues and sales information thoroughly. Some wholesalers require a minimum purchase of £162 or more on the first shipment. For drop ship, there may be no minimum. Ascertain what guidelines fit the type of business you wish to run (see Resources below).

  2. 2

    Attend lingerie trade shows to get a feel for what the industry is doing. There are different shows for various categories; Lingerie Americas appeals to the upscale boutique buyer, while an adult lingerie show will feature items on the other end of the spectrum. Don't be afraid to talk to others in order to get ideas for what will suit your particular demographic.

  3. 3

    Place the first order, with some extra pieces for models if choosing to shoot photos for sales materials later on. When received, be careful to sort items well to avoid trouble in the future. Warehoused inventory must be counted and taxed several times a year, so make certain to keep it all straight.

  4. 4

    Be careful when pricing items to ensure that both the customer and you are getting the best value out of each sale. Some products will be loss leaders (may create a cost deficit), while some will be cash cows. One can figure this out by looking at popular lingerie websites like Frederick's of Hollywood and Victoria's Secret (see Resources below). Notice that panties are often sold in bargain sets of 3, while bras seldom retail in that fashion. Panties make a smaller profit, so it pays to group them. Analyse businesses that are already profitable; there's no shame in copying what works.

    Handling Orders

  1. 1

    Emphasise that intimate apparel may not be returned for any reason (when listing items for sale). Make the return policy abundantly clear. Many states prevent the return of undergarments or adult apparel because of health concerns; this point must be emphasised.

  2. 2

    Wrap orders well, making sure to place promotional materials or discount cards in with the clothing items. Fun ideas for coupons include an underwear subscription club, buy-ten-panties-get-one-free program or birthday surprise. Make it worthwhile for customers to come back for more.

  3. 3

    Give excellent customer service. Check up on customers after their purchases to see if they're satisfied with the merchandise, and don't be afraid to solicit advice and pointers on the process. Good customer service is something that results in positive word-of-mouth. This, of course, translates into high sales and lots of return business.

Tips and warnings

  • Do thorough research before starting any kind of small business. Most businesses fail because the owners didn't prepare properly or overlooked important steps in the planning stages. Call the Small Business Administration to find out about classes that could help increase your chance of success (see Resources below).
  • Have a Web presence, even if you choose to sell mainly through paper catalogues. E-commerce is rising in popularity, and many of your customers will expect to be able to buy online. Don't let them down!

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