SOL Lingerie Boutique is single-handedly changing the way consumers shop. After 22 years in business with SOL, sisters Jeanie Peterson and Cindy Johnson are taking their annual buying trip to a new level. In 2020, SOL will take 23 of its customers on a trip to Paris for the boutique’s annual buying trip in the spring. While some brands focus on market trends to discover what they should carry in their stores, SOL is working directly with consumers — or “SOL girls”— to figure out what exactly they want to see in their store, and more importantly, what Peterson and Johnson should buy for the boutique.
Leading up to the trip, SOL created an entire program out of the new experiential retail concept, including French lessons that will be taught in the store, French designer shows and more. The two businesswomen state, “It is a completely different way of creating an experience that hopefully will translate into long-time customers.” The trip is not only a business venture but in many ways, an homage to their loyal SOL girls. By taking their own customers on their annual buying trip, SOL’s owners are inviting customers to not only get to have an influence on the products carried but also get to learn the history behind the store, the lingerie and the business side.
Talking with Peterson and Johnson, we learned more about this new customer retail experience, how this method of buying could change the future of retail for boutiques everywhere and how SOL has created a community for women in Denver. “We’ve always had a community of girls here and we really see it as a sisterhood. And the Paris trip has just elevated it,” said Johnson.
The pair have been going on their buying trip to Paris for 17 years — one that is known as the largest industry trade show. This trade show is unlike any other because the SOL team gets to meet with the entire team behind all of their collections, meet with designers, brainstorm ideas and meet with CEOs and CFOs behind some of the most iconic brands they choose to carry. SOL wanted to discover a way to make this trip more meaningful, specifically to their community of loyal women who stand by their product and the group of women behind it. Giving an opportunity to several of their customers to get a behind the scenes experience is just one way that SOL is continuing to build this community and educate SOL lovers on the history of the business.
Peterson explained to 303 Magazine that last January the SOL team sent out an email to their customers with an offer to come to Paris for their buying trip listed at the bottom. They explained that they would be providing luxury transportation to and from events and three VIP surprise events — one of which was just revealed to the 23 customers just this month— attending a fashion show in Paris. This is not any fashion show though. Marie Jo — the creator of the iconic Daisy Bra that more than 30,000 women just in Denver wear — will be celebrating its 100th year in business with their fashion show and SOL girls are invited to sit front row to enjoy the show. This is just one of the three surprises that these 23 customers will get to enjoy, the other two have yet to be revealed.
“We are a unique lingerie boutique. We are the largest female-run lingerie shop in the U.S. and we guide how specialty lingerie evolves. Two years ago in Paris, we thought, we have SOL girls and die-hard SOL fans and every time we go to Paris, they want to see everything. “They always tell us that they want to see what we get to see,” said Peterson. Peterson and Johnson listened to their customers and wanted to get them involved. She continued, “This is less about what they would want to buy and more about just sharing the joy and the joy of fashion.” Denver’s SOL girls will get to meet with Paris’s SOL girls to inspire one another and build out the SOL community even more.
In addition to the three surprises, the SOL team is providing even more complimentary experiences. Johnson explained that they have dinner reservations in the Eiffel Tower, a shopping tour where they will stop at Galleries Lafayette, and finally, they will end the trip with a Moulin Rouge experience. Johnson also notes that Galleries Lafayette features an entire floor just of lingerie that is the size of one floor at Nieman Marcus, so it’s safe to say the experience will be like no other.
When asked how they decide what designs and styles they want to carry in the store for upcoming seasons, Johnson simply stated, “If it speaks to me, I sell it. It’s the same as an art museum or art curator, so I’m not exactly looking at trends, I’m looking at what I would want or what’s missing from my closet.”
Johnson said she knew from a fairly early age that she wanted to be in this industry. Peterson, Johnson and their two other sisters grew up with a German grandmother who would always give the girls practical gifts for the holidays. This meant they would get new underwear every year, but unlike her sisters who would receive dainty, bikini style items, Johnson would get full-coverage underwear, simply because her grandmother was under the notion that the bikini-style pieces would not properly fit her bigger bottom. Johnson challenged this notion, confident that she would make it work. This was just the start of her desire to work in the industry. After several experiences in the fashion and fashion merchandising industry, Johnson continued to gain more and more experience prior to SOL’s opening.
Peterson, on the other hand, began working alongside her sister after still being unsure of what she wanted to do after college. The two fell in love with working alongside each other and with the business, but most importantly, fell in love with how they were making women in Denver and in the U.S. feel. “We’ve created a SOL culture,” said Peterson, and including SOL girls and costumers to their Paris buying trip is just a continuation of the efforts both Peterson and Johnson put in to grow not only their business but their relationship with their customers and the SOL community.