For Jeanie Peterson and Cindy Johnson, opening SOL: Store of Lingerie was the natural combination of one sister's business savvy and the other's long-running experience in the lingerie business. And this Wednesday, August 29, the internationally-recognized Cherry Creek North boutique will celebrate fifteen years in the business with a party for its customers. In advance of the bash, Westword spoke with co-owner Jeanie Peterson about bras, the Oprah effect and how SOL has stayed successful over the last decade and a half.
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Westword: Why did you open SOL: Store of Lingerie?
Jeanie Peterson: My sister, Cindy, and I opened it together. Cindy has an unbelievable passion for lingerie -- she just always has. That was the impetus for it, her passion. When we were little, our grandma always bought us undies for Christmas; we have two older sisters, and they always got the pretty, lacy ones. Cindy got the ones with bumblebees on them that were a bit big. (Laughs.) So when she was old enough and realized that she could buy panties on her own -- and not only panties, but pretty, lacy ones that fit and had matching bras -- it was like the angels sang for her.
Her passion has driven this for so long; she started working at a lingerie store in high school, she went to CSU for fashion merchandising and apparel. Between the two of us, we would brainstorm and talk about opening a store often. She manages and oversees the creative side of the company, and I oversee the business side. It's a good yin and yang.
I'm a liberal arts girl -- but tons of people had told me, you should go into business. I knew this was something Cindy and I were pursuing, and once we really got into it, I felt like earned my MBA on the job.
What can a new customer expect if they have never walked into SOL before? What is different about you, versus, say, Victoria's Secret?
It is such a positive experience: We have a fantastic group of (bra) fitters that Cindy has personally trained. She is still very active on the floor and selling arena, which is fairly unique for a store of our size and age. Often, the owners disappear to the stockroom or office, so Cindy prides herself on staying connected with our customers.
When a customer walks in, she is greeted by a SOL Girl -- we're all called SOL Girls -- and gives her an explanation about what the store is. So many of our customers come in on a recommendation from someone else, so we are very aware that they are coming in and seeking that very personal experience.
After they've had time to browse, they are taken into a fitting room. One of our fitters is there to listen, educate and talk to them about how each woman and each bra is unique. The store itself is designed to make women and men feel at ease and feel comfortable. It is a beautiful Italian garden-type of feel; it's calm, there's a fountain. It's just a different experience than a place where you may feel overwhelmed by thousands of bras being presented to you.
We have all of the bras displayed on art boards -- it is almost as though you're looking at art. You're not having to be overwhelmed by things around you.
One of the free services we provide is bra wardrobing. We have many customers that bring in all of their bras -- whether they have been purchased from us or not -- and we talk through with them what they are for, if they fit, what they can wear them under. We help them realize what their wardrobe really requires. If she's a mom who's picking up her kids from school every day and running around, she may want five of the same bra because her wardrobe doesn't change that much in a week. But someone else might have a different need for her wardrobe -- that's where the education comes in from our fitter in the fitting room. It seems like knowing how a bra is supposed to fit is still something women might not know, exactly.
We certainly have Oprah to thank. When she started her bra revolution in 2005, it was a fantastic moment for women to get together and get educated. Cindy was chosen as one of the bra fitters by Today, and she has been on the show nine plus times since 2005. It became a nationwide education moment where women were realizing, maybe my bra doesn't fit -- how do I make it fit?
Because there was so much more discussion around that topic, it helped a lot of women, yes, but there are still customers who come in every day looking for guidance.
Can you talk a little about what makes you and Cindy experts in the field of lingerie?
Cindy as been in the industry for twenty-plus years, I've been in it for eighteen. We participate in trades hows in New York and Paris. We have extreme contact with many of our vendors -- Cindy has done a lot of design consulting for different vendors. We participate on every level. We spend a lot of time talking to other store-owners, talking to different vendors, talking about what styles of bras work for their customers.
What do you look for in a vendor when you choose to carry their product?
We are very, very selective. We are dedicated to the vendors that we have, and for Cindy and I to considering bringing a new vendor in, it is a many-month process. Much like when we're interviewing a new SOL Girl, I need to know that I can rely on them. With vendors, I need to know that I can truly rely on that vendor, that they are going to deliver a product that is of the standard that we require, and that they have a feel in fashion. They have to understand that this is something beautiful that women are wearing. It really has to be a combination of those things.
It's ironic that you ask, because we're in the midst of bringing in a new vendor. We are in the interview process now.
Did the vendor solicit SOL, or did you solicit them?
It's a fun story: We've had five different colleagues try to put us in contact with this new vendor and he has been soliciting us for over a year. It is a bit like matchmaking. (Laughs.) It is critical for our customers -- they don't want to see a brand that they see at other places. They don't want to see a brand that's going to fall apart in a year. They want to feel secure in that, if they are going to invest one hundred dollars into a bra, it will pay off for them.