Saturday, 21 May 2016

My First Two Years of Business

As you can expect (or maybe not?!) The first two years of owning my business I worked upwards of 57 hours a week, 7 days a week. My first day off was 4 months after opening my store. PHEW!
What some may think, is that owning your own business allows you to have employees work for you any day you want! While that may come in the future, it certainly doesn't happen in the first year, and for me it is only starting to happen now into my third year.
My husband is very handy and does most of the work around my store. He helps make my visions come to life!
First of all finding a passionate employee that you can trust is seriously the hardest part of owning a business, even harder when you are only looking for someone to work 5 hours a week. When you start a new business, you can expect to be in the store 90-100% of the open hours, you usually haven't built a huge clientele yet so the funds coming in pay for your merchandise restock, rent, utilities etc. You are lucky if you are able to hire an employee to work more then 5 hours a week. I would rather that money stay in my business or be in my own pockets!
57 hours, 7 days a week really eats at you though and sometimes you need to do whats best for your body and sanity, for me I really needed to start taking 1 day off a week.
On went the search for an employee! Most people that applied for the job wanted full time or 15+ hours which was not doable for me.
Side note: Did you know an employer add on monster jobs costs $500+?! That was totally off my scale of happening at that moment.

I decided to ask friends and family if they knew anyone looking to work 1 day a week. I managed to have a friend who knew someone and she worked out perfectly. She was mature, hard working, good with customers and only wanted to work Sundays! YESss!

One of the first bras I took home with me, Marlies Dekkers! I still have it, wear it, LOVE IT!
Building a bookshelf in the background for my office, my husband doesn't do all of the handy work ;)

Then came the "BEST" part of hiring, TRAINING!

This was my first time training an employee in my store and the only thing she knew about lingerie was that she wore it and could never find a size to fit her! There was no hand book to follow, just my personal expertise. But being the owner you really take pride in your store and nothing gets missed. You want that employee to represent your store the way you do and treat your customers with the utmost respect and gratitude. You will never find anyone as passionate about your business as you are, but are damn lucky if you find someone who really cares about you and your business. ( I am proud to say I now have a fantastic team. It has taken me 3 years to build it, but my staff are AMAZING, fantastic... seriously amazing! )
For the first summer I took Sundays off from June - September. Then I closed Sundays through September-February so I no longer had an employee until the following summer (my second summer) when I hired two new employees and now took 1-2 days off a week. YAHOO!
Winter Hours: 50 hours, 6 days a week (just myself working the first 2 winters). A little break!
The first couple years I really pushed myself hard so I could kept putting the extra money back into my business instead of paying anyone else. I didn't spend much on advertising, I mainly used social media as my advertising tool which was (and still is!) big for us. We use the free events that go on in our downtown as a huge leverage, they are always super busy. The sound of music festival closes down our street and there are concerts going on directly in front of our store. So needless to say, we get a lot of foot traffic! We always have good window displays to draw attention, and also get involved in community fashion shows.

*Some advice to anyone who is a new business or planning on opening a business, understand that there are slow days, even for accomplished retail stores. Use those days wisely and update your social media and online presence. Its a free tool that every small business should take advantage of.

XOXO Brenna Finucan
Happily ever after, one of our bridal social media posts

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

My Journey to Opening my Lingerie Boutique

The journey to opening a business doesn't just involve a substantial savings in your bank account or a hefty bank loan. You need to have the education and background in the field to succeed...

Hi! My name is Brenna Finucan and I'm the owner of Lingerie D'Amour. Lingerie D'Amour is a gorgeous lingerie boutique located in Burlington, Ontario, Canada, which specializes in custom-sized bras and bra fitting. I designed the store and filled it with my hard work and passion... Ok my Husband may have helped (if he's reading this...)

Lingerie has been a passion of mine since fashion design college 13 years ago. I started designing lingerie in College because I love the feminine side to fashion and lets face it with out proper support and foundation even the most tailored top wont fit right. 

I am a planner and always plan backwards. I decide what I want to achieve and then plan my way to achieving it from end to start. Once I decided that lingerie was what I wanted to design, my plan was to work for La Senza, then move to Montreal to design for La Senza.

So there I was in college excited to begin my journey working for La Senza.

My notebook and name tag when I first started
at La Senza, 2003. Shown with a Heidi Klum bra
(sold at Lingerie D'Amour)
By the way, I applied to La Senza at least 5 times before getting an interview. Retail is not an easy job to land without experience, so I showed that I had passion and was eager. During my interview, with no retail experience, just a passion for lingerie and less than 1 year of fashion design college education, I told the manager my career goal was to design for La Senza! It was a high goal but I was right where I needed to be at that moment in time to fulfill my dream.

If my manager is out there reading this I want to say Thank You for encouraging me and believing in me; You were absolutely amazing!

It was that store manager that mentioned to me that La Senza paid for any education that would benefit the company, so I decided to take extra courses in bra design and corsetry construction. The college I attended did not teach those in the fashion design classes I was taking and it was absolutely crucial for my career plan to work.
The bra and corset I made in lingerie design 101. The details that go into making a bra and corset are unbelievable!

About 3 years of working for La Senza, I went into work one day and my manager had a printout of a job opening in the Montreal head office for an office clerk. She thought it would be great for me to get my foot in the door. Just finishing my college education, it would be perfect timing. So I applied for the job and had great references from my manager and district manager, but didn't end up going for the interview because I could not afford the move. With a student loan to pay off and a minimum wage starting position, it wasn't physically doable to rent an apartment and live in Montreal. 
I graduated from Fanshawe College with a 3 year diploma in 2006. College photos include, bottom right: pattern making 101 class with my best friend 2003, top right: technical illustrations class 2003, left: College graduation photo 2006

Hard decisions needed to be made... I knew I had to move on to get more experience in the industry so I wouldn't have to start at an office position in the company to work my way up. I stayed at La Senza for a few more years to become a team leader and bra fitting manager before I applied for a job at a lingerie design company in Cambridge, Ontario called Coquette. It wasn't exactly the high-end kind of lingerie I was hoping to design - it was more sexy lingerie - but needless to say it would be an amazing experience and a fantastic job on my resume.

There was a design competition (ELBOWS OUT) to get the job and it was narrowed down to me and one other girl (who ironically went to college with me and was in all of my fashion design classes). We both ended up getting the job and started our journey into the lingerie design industry.

One of my designs at Coquette. This photo was used
worldwide on billboards and other forms of advertising.
I designed top sellers that were seen on billboards worldwide and made front page covers. But after two years of designing, it started to get tough. I'd used all of my amazing designs for the first two seasons (in lingerie there are two seasons, fall/winter and spring/summer) and it seemed I had run out of designs. This was terrifying for me and a big red flag. It was stressful to not produce a design, sometimes to go a whole month without thinking of a winning design. It was discouraging - it made me feel like I was incapable of doing my job.

This put my whole career plan into perspective and made me rethink my whole plan. I wasn't enjoying design anymore but I still loved lingerie and everything to do with it. I wanted to stay in the lingerie industry but needed to find a new career goal. I made my way to the internet and searched Kijiji using words like "lingerie job", "lingerie design" and found a job listing for a sales representative job in Toronto. At this point I had no idea what I wanted to do with my career, but I knew I wanted to stay in the lingerie industry so why not try something new! There was nothing to lose applying for this job and I wanted to learn more about it.

My route while working as a sales representative. Long lonely
drives, I sometimes would drive 6 hours to one location,
then drive 6 hours home in the same day.

I ended up getting the job and left coquette, onto new adventures. This job was terrible! I had to drive across all of Ontario selling lingerie brands that, I later found out, didn't sell. I literally had to be a car salesman (which I was not!) to get clients to take on the brand.

I am very educated in the lingerie field. I could tell you how an item was designed, the fabrics and components, the design and fit. But I could not sell a brand that had a bad reputation. To be honest, I didn't like the brand myself - it was uncomfortable and itchy. The fabrics were terrible and the construction was cheap. It was a European brand that retailed at $120 - it was not worth the money at all. There were a couple other brands in swimwear and mastectomy that I sold that did well, but it was still a tough job having your boss breathe down your neck when you don't bring in a sale for the brand she is trying to sell.

So, given the facts that I didn't believe in the lingerie brand, plus I wasn't a pushy salesperson, I didn't do so well at this job, although I lasted just over a year...

BUT! I found out exactly what I wanted to do with my life!

About a month into the job I realized I wanted to own my own boutique just like the people I was selling to.

It would be everything that I wanted to do in the industry. I could be a buyer in the lingerie world, (hello! amazing!), I would be back into retail where my roots started and I absolutely loved, and if I ever decided to give designing a try again, I could carry my own brand in my own store!

I ate up as much information from my clients as possible. I asked questions and picked their brains and left out no detail. It was like a shining star that hung in my view for the next 3 years. My goal, and it was only a stone's throw away.

The last piece of the puzzle was finances.

I had my new plan, I had the experience, now I just needed the money. I took jobs at Boston Pizza and Kelseys serving and bartending, and saving up my money while making my plans for the next 3 years until I'd earned enough to open my store.

On March 1, 2014, I opened my Lingerie Boutique at 374 Brant Street in Burlington.

Lingerie D'Amour Grand opening day, March 2014