Underwire: May 2024 ‘Our Quinceañera’

Lately folks have been seeking my advice on starting their own business or scaling up an already existing one. In all modesty, they’re not wrong. We just passed 15 years in business this weekend (an anniversary that I nearly forgot), and I have learned some hard lessons over that time. Stuff happens (it always happens, it never stops happening) and you have to deal with it. It’s all-consuming, like having a kid or a spouse–you can’t walk away. Actually my kids and my husband have been generally lower maintenance than this company. Jenette Bras has been my second act, and it has taken me from naif to hard-as-nails with regard to business.

Asking people questions is a fantastic practice. We often don’t do it enough. We don’t want to impose. But people like to be asked. They like to help, in general. Before we opened our first store I spent some time visiting local small businesses. If the owner was available, I’d start a conversation and usually I’d work in two questions: When you started, what did you spend a lot of money on that you didn’t need to, and what didn’t you spend money on that you should have? I also got some excellent advice from my local SCORE center who paired me with a business mentor, an 80-something gentleman with a thick Eastern-European accent who, when I told him I planned to open a bra store, said, “Ya, vimmen’s undervear. Alvays a gut business!” He then asked me how my customers would find me, which was the right question. Knowing little about marketing, I realized I had been avoiding the issue, vaguely imagining something something word of mouth… we hired the first of several PR consultants soon after we opened. We learned from their successes, but more from their failures.

Building the brand was, in fact, our strong suit–telling a story and matching it to a visual being just what my husband and I (an actress and an artist) are trained in, so we led with that. And we did in fact get some good word of mouth, and some press. All of the other skills of business; like financing, cash flow, budgets, buying, hiring, coaching and managing we have learned, or delegated, or learned to delegate along the way.

Now I sense that I’m arriving at a turning. Jenette Bras is reaching the point where the business can run with less oversight from me, and I’m feeling my mortality. My Act III is coming up, and I have no idea what it looks like. I think maybe I should ask somebody.

jenette goldstein