Terry Levine took a European commonplace – the lingerie boutique – and made it a novelty in Kansas City. She opened “clair de lune” on October 1, 2004, and has so far heard nothing but accolades. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here.” “I haven’t had so much fun buying a bra before.” “Thanks for taking so much time with me.”

The 1,000-square-foot shop boasts, “style, selection, and service.” Terry modeled clair de lune after lingerie boutiques in Italy and France. It carries mostly European lines known for their design, fit, and craftsmanship (“the lace,” exclaimed Terry, “and the foundations”). The store offers professional fittings that can run up to three-quarters of an hour, unheard of in department stores and chains. It caters to women between 30 and 65, who may not find what they like at such youth-oriented venues as Victoria’s Secret, nor the right size. Clair de lune carries sizes that run the gamut from tiny to ample, another area where many stores play shy.

It all started about five years ago, when burnout set in for this 25-year veteran of advertising. On a trip to Europe around this time, Terry noticed, “these wonderful lingerie boutiques, where the lingerie was so beautiful; of a higher quality and better design than the things you see in Kansas City.” A fancy for lingerie boutiques turned into a serious career move. It was not as if she had ever pined to run a boutique before, she said. Just that she wanted to bring the European lingerie boutique to Kansas City. Once she’d made the decision, she started to plan.

Terry augmented her marketing experience with Business Plan Pro®. She knew the lingo, she said, of business cycles and buy backs, but the numbers mystified her. A financial consultant advised her to find a business plan, and when searching the Web, Palo Alto Software’s Business Plan Pro popped up as “having everything” she wanted. She found it easy to use and not at all intimidating. For Terry, “it was the numbers part that was wonderful, helping me make educated guesses about what might happen. And then the tables were already there,” in fair copies for the loan officers. Palo Alto Software put her in a position to create and finance her dream business. She wrote a prize-winning proposal that got her a $150,000 Small Business Administration (SBA) loan.

Last summer, Terry found a great location in an outdoor lifestyle mall for the sophisticated shopper, filled largely with locally-owned businesses. While keeping her day job in business marketing until August 1st, Terry went to work on the space. Today, clair de lune has a “warm and charming” atmosphere, with Oriental rugs on the floor and fabric on the walls. It’s not at all fussy Victorian, she noted, but the emphasis on color, natural wood, and fabric creates a sense of comfort and luxury. When shopping for intimate apparel, it’s the experience as much as the item that matters. And if women find clair de lune unique, surely their partners will follow, particularly around the holidays when the store hosts Gentlemen’s Nights with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and plenty of beautiful things to choose from.

Without a business background, Terry moved with surprising alacrity from her job in advertising and marketing to running a store. She admits her habit of reaching out to experts has worked so well it amazed her. She got “good guidance from good people,” found mentors when she needed them (when foggy about how much to order in each size, for example). She learned that if you ask, people are often willing. The vendors themselves proved helpful. “They don’t want you to have things that don’t move, so they’ll be honest with you about what to buy.”

The slow days are Terry’s biggest challenge, but because she works six, often seven days a week, she can turn the lulls to good effect by doing what she likes – interacting with customers, learning what they want. Her presence encourages people to identify her with clair de lune, too – yet another way to personalize the place.

All in all, Terry’s career shift has brought her out from behind the scenes and into the open. She loves offering a unique sense of style, variety (forty lingerie lines) and service to women in Kansas City. Her goal: to make the store a regional attraction for lingerie shoppers. Toward that end, clair de lune not only looks like a destination, it acts like one, offering opportunities like the “Great Bra Exchange” which gives shoppers a chance to recycle slightly worn bras and earn $10 toward their next purchase. As she says on the website: “It’s not just the size of your bra that matters; it’s the size of your heart.”

After only five months, it’s hard for Terry to tell how things are going. She has an optimistic outlook based on observation, facts, and good advice. She has advertised in newspapers and on the radio, but has found direct mail to be the most effective method. The store’s reputation is spreading, and customers rave. “I’m feeling very good about it. I am not meeting my sales projections, but because of the extremely positive reaction to the store, and because the average transaction is higher than I projected, I am going to keep things lean, watch the dollars, and cut where I need to, to keep the cash flow positive.”

Meanwhile, Business Plan Pro continues to serve as a benchmark to track Terry’s original goals and remind her of initiatives she intended to establish. By October 2005, Terry anticipates a healthy client base of about 1,500, with the majority repeat customers. After that, she hopes her reputation and client base will do nothing but “grow exponentially,” earning clair de lune a strong reputation with customers from around the Midwest. She would like to develop an e-commerce component, and offer enhanced services for niche markets such as maternity and mastectomy clients.

With its unique European inventory and service orientation, its looks, atmosphere, sense of style, and events, there is every reason to believe clair de lune has already found its niche in Kansas City.

To learn more about clair de lune, check out the website, http://www.clairdelunekc.com, or stop by Hawthorne Plaza, 5014 West 119 Street, Overland Park, Kansas, Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.