In preparation for my vacation to San Diego, and based on a friend's recommendation, I recently visited Melmira for a swimwear shopping experience I'll never forget. Melmira is a lingerie and swimwear boutique in Toronto with a unique twist. There's no browsing allowed!
When I arrived at the store I was greeted with a warm welcome from my assigned "Fitting Consultant" and shown to my fitting room. I'll be honest, I was nervous. To start with, I really hate trying on bikinis and to have someone else there to witness my trauma was not exactly my idea of a good time. But I trusted my friend's advice that Melmira was the place to go and she was right. After a brief consultation, my Fitting Consultant offered a huge selection of swimsuits for me to try and the worst part of the experience was deciding which ones to leave behind and which ones to buy. I've never, ever, had that problem before!
I was so impressed by my experience at Melmira that I asked one of the owners, Amie Heenan, to share with us some of the secrets behind Melmira's 21 years of business success.
How did you come up with the idea for Melmira?
Our grandmother, Laurette Bell, was a pioneer in the "fitting" concept thirty-five years ago in Regina, Saskatchewan. She was from Marseille, France, and was raised to take pride in her undergarments. Noticing the lack of quality lingerie and service in Regina, Laurette opened "The Lingerie Shoppe" in 1977. She brought many lingerie lines, including Chantelle to Canada, and her daughter, Linda Paul, now owns the "shoppe". In 1992, my mother Melanie and her friend Mira (hence the name) launched Melmira Bra Boutique in Toronto and in 1997, I opened Melmira Swimwear across the street. The two stores were eventually combined into the one grand store with 14 fitting rooms and 28 staff that we have today.
What did Melanie and Mira do before they started the business?
Melanie was a nursing student and Mira was in the travel industry. Melanie’s four daughters (myself, Leah, Holly and Marnie) have slowly joined the business over time. We each have university educations in various disciplines but little by little and organically over time, each of us joined the company. Together with Laurette and Melanie's wisdom, and the energy of the four daughters, the company continues to be hugely successful.
What is your number one hot marketing tip for fellow entrepreneurs?
We believe you can’t beat word of mouth and that it takes many years to grow a sustainable business.
We have experimented with many forms of advertising over the years, including outsourcing Public Relations and every type of print. Because Melmira prides itself on catering to all women's (and REAL women's) needs, using a lingerie model or a media source to tell our story is misleading. Upon building our website, we realized that it is us who best understand and are able to convey our unique philosophy to our customers. Other forms of social media, including facebook and twitter, have reinforced that belief. Investing in social media has been our best marketing approach and gives the company great credibility.
We are also fortunate that with our strong reputation, we have been invited to speak at events and be on television on many occasions. Because we are representing our store (as opposed to a third party) we directly connect to our customers, and are best able to accurately and consistently deliver our message this way.
That being said, our very best advertising has always been our customers. One good experience can translate into many, and we must never forget that it is each customer that walks through our door that keeps us all employed.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs who are just getting started?
Find a niche, make sure you truly believe in what you do, and don’t be afraid to work very hard!
Is there anything in particular you would like readers to know about you or your business?
As women, we are our worst critic. Most women feel as though they are hard to fit for their own particular reason. In twenty years, there has not been a challenge that we couldn’t solve. At Melmira, we accentuate a woman’s strengths, minimize her insecurities, and truly enjoy the beauty of being a woman.
- Amen to that!