From the source: Eloise Monaghan, Honey Birdette
BIO: Eloise Monaghan is the founder and managing director of luxury lingerie and lifestyle brand, Honey Birdette. With a mother who worked in retail, Monaghan grew up with a foot in the retail industry, before opening the first Honey Birdette Boutique in Brisbane in 2006.
COMPANY PROFILE: Since Honey Birdette launched 11 years ago, the brand has expanded to 50 stores and 350 employees across Australia. Last September, the brand opened its first international boutique in Covent Garden in London and is set for future expansion into Europe and the US.
IRW: Who is the Honey Birdette customer?
EM: It’s always been interesting with HB. When we first launched the concept, a lot of our consumers were men buying for their partners.
Then the GFC hit soon after. I worked the floor for five to seven years and as soon as the GFC happened, we saw a massive change in the customer and it was her buying for their weekend trips and marriages and proposals went through the roof. When Black Friday occurred, I was at home and watching everyone tear everything up on the stock market floor. We were onto our third store by then and we were barely making it through. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be devastating for us’. I picked up the phone and called my partner in the store and she said, ‘I’ve got no time to talk. I’m really busy!’
Sex, chocolate and wine always sell when people are depressed. It’s the little luxuries that cheer people up.
IRW: What plans do you have for Honey Birdette in Australia this year?
EM: We’ve done a lot of renewals lately – a lot of our five-year leases are coming up. We relocated in Chermside – it’s a cracking store with a new design and a Rodeo Drive look. It’s got high ceilings, it’s full of archways and has a beautiful entry with a red vinyl sign that comes down, it’s like there’s a canopy over the store. We put a $9,000 chandelier in there.
Honey Birdette needs to grow up now. We went through the burlesque and pin-up look, we went through the showgirl stage and the Studio 54 look with a disco feel and now we’re getting to a level of maturity, but it’s still fun and accessible. We’re looking at putting cameras in the changerooms for selfies and putting hologram fashion catwalks in, too. It’s all about interactivity and we’re constantly working on how we can improve the experience and that’s what excites me the most.
2017 is the year of innovation and re-focusing the HB brand and looking at how we can rediscover our sense of naughtiness. I’m trying to get away from the operations as much as I can and focus on the product.
The other exciting thing that’s coming out at the moment is our contour collection. It’s called Blair. It’s incredible. It’s the sort of shapewear that you want to get caught with your pants down. There was Bridget Jones and the Spanx she was wearing, but this is hot stuff. It’s really expensive to produce and for what you want to charge for it, it’s difficult to make margin. At the end of the day, it’s more of a service to the business and an incredible marketing opportunity because I don’t think anyone’s doing sexy shapewear.
IRW: How are things tracking along in terms of your international expansion?
EM: We see the brand having a stronghold in the UK, Ireland and Scotland – we’ve seen some Glasgow sites lately. We’re already looking at Germany, which we’re dabbling with at the moment, too. I see us being huge in America and with the uniqueness of our brand and the pace at which we run, I can’t see anyone catching us.
We want to put a basement into the Covent Garden store in London, which is spectacular and where we’ll do private showings. We’re looking at kicking it off in September – we might get 20 personalities in there and do a show with high-end models with fox masks. We’re looking at putting in lots of latex and leather and exclusive pieces designed specifically for the show.
We’re designing a range of 5,000-pound sex saddles, which we’ll launch in exclusive numbers and there’ll be Swarovski-encrusted whips and 24-carat gold plated limited edition toys. We’re really going all out.
IRW: Quite a few lingerie businesses have faced their fair share of controversy and backlash from the community, usually over the provocative imagery that’s been used in their marketing campaigns.
EM: We really battled that in the first five years. It was a real struggle. I don’t know how many councils and newspapers we fought against. I won’t name the council, but the first one we came up against was when we were in a Westfield.
Thankfully, Westfield’s Steve Lowey popped up in a private jet to come into the Brisbane store when he found out I was on the cover of the weekend Australian straddling a chair with the headline, ‘The adult industry grows up’. Someone passed it to him and said, ‘You’ve got a sex shop in your shopping centre.’
I got a call that the leasing manager was flying up and the boys were coming in to check out this 29-square metre store. They took one look at it and said, ‘This is fabulous.’ I was grateful for that partnership with Westfield.
I walked into that council and it was an old boys club. I said, ‘Why is it okay for Ralph to be sold at the front of a newsagency?’ We considered our bedroom accessories to be massagers at the time. We sold massagers, but so did some of the big department stores.
I said, ‘If you’re going to hold us accountable, then anyone else that sells any other sort of massager should be held accountable as well.’
Why can’t women have a safe, private environment with a knowledgeable team who love their job and the product and purchase something for their sexuality? Why is it OK for men to sell sexuality but not for women to sell it to each other?’
West End in Brisbane was an interesting area. It was quite conservative. We had a large image of a woman in our marketing. She was covered up in a bustier and stockings, but it was probably a confronting image for West End at the time.
There was one ridiculous woman who went against us. The problem was with the model’s side cleavage, not front cleavage. People were used to front cleavage, but not side cleavage, which is just your armpit. At the time, I was driving around Brisbane and seeing Sexpo being advertised – but that was OK.
You don’t want to do your advertising to the point where it’s offensive. I don’t want to offend the mother with the pram in the centre because more often than not, that’s 70 per cent of our customers, but you have to be able to advertise and sell lingerie. Did we have any complaints over David Beckham’s luxury watch ad that was in the middle of every jeweller that you walked past and he was just lying there, for all to see?
We’ve had a great relationship with the Advertising Standards Bureau and we do focus testing and we do take things seriously in terms of how to advertise responsibly, but at the same time, we are a provocative brand and we have to be able to sell lingerie.
IRW: Honey Birdette releases a new collection each week. What’s it been like working in the fast fashion space?
EM: When we first started manufacturing, we were buying in depth. So the same collection would hang around for a long time because we didn’t have other options. As we evolved and got faster and faster, we still had the depth, but because we had a bigger audience, we’d sell through quickly. Launching a collection each week has been the most significant thing I’ve done with the business.
There have been a few weeks that we’ve missed in six months. There was a gap when we launched ‘Michelle’, though – it was a nightmare for my production manager. He’s constantly tearing his hair out. He’s constantly fighting with the design team, I’m constantly bringing them together!
There’s a seven to eight month lead time on lingerie, but we can go through up to 12 samples on the one collection. We’ll put a collection to the side, even though we might be two ranges short. We don’t want to just flog collections off in-store – we need to make sure we get them right. It might be something as small as the accessories aren’t right. You don’t always get it right, but we get it right more than most.
We deal with an Italian factory in China and they just get the fashionability of where the brand has to be and we’ve worked together over the years. Massive English and French brands have been going into our Covent Garden store, buying ‘Madame’ in emerald and taking it to our factory to ask them to produce it for them!
IRW: What’s the Honey Birdette in-store experience like?
EM: It’s about knowing what makes the customer feel comfortable and letting people live and breathe in the store. It’s a touch and feel experience, it’s like having a conversation with a friend.
When we interview for new staff, something that goes through my mind is, ‘Is this someone I’d be comfortable having a glass of champagne with?’ You have to be comfortable discussing the most private aspects of someone’s life. It needs to be an environment of respect and interaction.
I think we’re at our best when our customer giggles and says, ‘Can you just wait there?’ and she leaves, runs back to the law firm or recruitment agency that she works at, grabs her girlfriends and comes back running down with them.
It’s a party atmosphere. That’s the most magical thing. When you’re standing there, explaining a bedroom accessory to a customer, and someone else has just walked in and all of sudden, you’re talking to four strangers about their sex lives and they’re all joining in the conversation.
We have soy massage candles burning and ‘push for champagne’ buttons in some of our stores. Where we can, we incorporate fridges. It can be a nightmare. There might be a cafe next door and we’ll need to ask them, ‘Can you keep this chilled for me?’ Champagne is a big part of the experience.
We are very serious about the team we put in front of our customers and I’m not ashamed to say that. It’s essential that every customer gets treated with a level of respect, as do our girls.
We tend to hire girls with a high level of emotional intelligence. We’re going through a process now with the National Retailers Association to get our policies and procedures in place. We want to be gold-class and fine tune those procedures. We have a learning and development platform and we have two learning and development managers.
We have an induction manual in progress at the moment. It’s not just about establishing policies, it’s about making sure everyone has read it, gone through it, answered the questions, tick, tick – you’re accredited in that part of the business.
IRW: What’s it like selling bedroom accessories to customers?
EM: It’s fabulous. It’s actually the easiest part of the business. You’ve got a captive audience. How often have you been able to walk into a shopping centre and have a beautiful honey explain to you how to have the best orgasm of your life? The reason for our employee handbook is to explain the language and grammar that staff need to use – we keep it very far from the adult world and very poised, but the girls are entertaining.
IRW: How would you describe the current lingerie retail landscape?
EM: Shocking. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen. There’s no innovation, it’s a complete corporate outlook, brands are still doing what they did 20 years ago, thinking that’s acceptable.
They’re putting collections in that hang around in their stores for six months. This is an Instagram generation and people want it now, new, and every week.
The word ‘on-trend’ is banned from the office. We saw a lot of those triangle top bralettes in the UK and Europe…
IRW: I’ve noticed a lot of non-lingerie brands are now selling lingerie, like Amazon. How do you feel about that?
EM: We did washbags with sexy illustrations on them awhile ago and we couldn’t sell them for love nor money. She doesn’t want to think about doing the laundry when she’s in Honey Birdette. If I had just normal candles and they weren’t soy massage candles, they wouldn’t sell. We know our niche. So I wouldn’t want to go to H&M and buy sexy underwear for a hot Tinder date, nor would I get the right fit or the right material.
It takes 32 pieces of machinery to make a bra. Manufacturing in China is the best – they’ve had tailoring in their blood for thousands of years and they get it. It’s a huge beautiful factory.
We pay a premium price for our products and we’re happy to. A lot of our lace has come out of Austria or Switzerland and designed specifically for us. We have such long lead times because they have to create the embroidery and lace especially for us and that takes six weeks.
At some fast fashion brands, they’ll receive their first sample and then they’re done. But eight, 10 samples later, and we’re still trying to get it right when it comes to re-engineering a collection.
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