After a near-fatal car accident 27 years ago, Karen Edbrooke realised she had put on 30 kilograms – and couldn’t find a bra to fit her.
Rather than wait until someone created one, she started a bra business of her own: Big Girls Don’t Cry Anymore.
“That was a long time ago,” Edbrooke told Yahoo Finance.
“Back then there was no Google, I had to go to the library and research, and get the post office to bring me my Yellow Pages… And we started with one range.”
To this date, Edbrooke said, that range is her best-selling – and it’s held the same price-tag for over 20 years.
But while Big Girls enjoyed early success, Edbrooke recalls her business suffered when the likes of Amazon and other large online retailers entered the picture.
She said she watched as her business and other retailers suffered at the hands of big multinational competitors, and was determined to revolutionise her business.
“We were wary of what would happen when they came into the picture, but the one thing Amazon doesn’t have that we have, is customer service,” she said.
“Old-fashioned customer service is coming back big.
“A lot of people are changing the way they’re doing business because they realise that old-fashioned customer service is the way to go.”
With that in mind, Edbrooke had to figure out how to interact more with customers - and beat out Amazon.
Virtual fitting rooms
Edbrooke’s first idea was the virtual fitting room.
“We’ve got great customers that never come in...so we thought ‘let’s bring the customer to us’,” she said.
“We don’t touch customers when we fit, we educate them, so we thought ‘if we’re doing that for people walking into a store, why can’t we offer that service to people that can’t get to us?’
“We’ve got nine fitting rooms, so we thought customers could Skype or FaceTime into our fitting rooms.”
And there was an overwhelming response from customers.
“They realise it’s just like coming into a store,” she said.
“People are desperate when they want good bras, and it makes all the difference. And a lot of disabled women who find it difficult to come into a store can just do it from home.”
The world’s first live fashion show: Big Girls TV
Jumping on the social media train, Edbrooke started the everyday woman’s answer to Victoria’s Secret: Big Girls TV.
“We started the world’s first live fashion show on real women, and we could stop models and ask them questions on the runway,” she said.
“We tell people a few days in advance, and they can log in and watch it live. And if you have a question about the bra or swimsuit, we can answer it for you there and then.
“We’re trying to bring our product to customers - it’s old-fashioned customer service, but with technology, we’ve upped the ante.”
Where retailers are going wrong
Retail expert Amanda Stevens told Yahoo Finance big traditional retailers have cut back on that old-fashioned customer service, and are losing sales as a result.
“Big traditional retailers have really cut back on staff, they've cut back on training and then they wonder why people choose to shop online. So, 61 per cent of Australian consumers now say they get a better experience online and they do in store,” she said.
“That, to me, says that traditional retailers just aren't getting it. They're not leveraging the opportunity that they literally have right now to create a competitive advantage with the customer experience. But that involves investing in their staff and really getting that customer journey right and giving consumers a reason to shop in store.”
And if you’re trying to grow your presence online, Edbrooke said there’s no excuse for stores not utilising social media to their advantage.
“You absolutely have to,” Edbrooke said.
“And it doesn’t cost anything. What’s stopping a store from posting on social media saying, ‘Hey guys, look at this new garment’.”
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