University of Rhode Island
TMD 402 Spring 2012 "Entrepreneurship"
“Be passionate about what you do and enjoy it, then it’s not a job.” This is Michelle Russell’s theme when choosing your career. Michelle is the VP of Bra Fit Inc and general manager of Zoë & Co. and has been with the company for eight years, and she can proudly say that she loves her job as a professional bra fitter.
Michelle attended the University of Rhode Island where she studied human development and family studies. She enjoyed the program, but knew it wasn’t the field that she wanted to pursue a career in after college. Michelle decided to take some time off from school and checked out the want ads in the newspaper for anyone that was hiring. She found an ad for Zoë & Co. which sounded interesting, applied, and was hired on the spot.
Michelle is very passionate about her job because Zoë & Co. changed her life when a sales associate helped her find her true bra size. This transformed Michelle’s style from wearing baggy clothes to fitted and gave her a big boost of confidence. The way Zoë & Co. changed Michelle’s life is the same thing she wishes to accomplish with her customers and make them feel like a totally new person.
Zoë & Co. has been attracting women from all over to their store in Westerly, Rhode Island for the past ten years and their second store location in Concord, New Hampshire for the past four years. Their incredible customer service, vast amount of bra sizes, and wide variety of styles is what has kept this business flourishing. Their Westerly location broke even after two years of being open and their Concord store turned a profit after only one year. Michelle believes their success has mainly been driven by Zoë & Co.’s personal service. New employees undergo a three-month training period to learn about all the different shapes and sizes of bras. These employees also are told to be patient with customers and understand that they need to build a relationship to earn their trust because they are very vulnerable under the circumstances. Building customers’ trust is key in the lingerie industry because the customer is almost always wrong and has been wearing the wrong bra size their whole lives.
Zoë & Co. prides itself on its unconventional ways of operating their business, which has contributed to their success over the years. First off, Zoë & Co. was started and is owned by a man. He wanted women to have a one stop shopping experience where they could find all the different sizes and styles of bras while providing top of the line customer service. Typically the lingerie industry is divided into two categories: foundational, which are basic styles of bras, and fashion, which are high end and not in all sizes. Zoë & Co. combines the two categories at their store to offer a larger variety and selection to their customers. Zoë & Co. also takes the non-traditional route when it comes to advertising. They do all of their advertising in house rather than hire an outside advertising company that barely knows their business. Zoë & Co. also uses the everyday woman as a model in their ads, which is usually one of their own employees. This helps them market to women of all ages because they can relate to these ads.
As the president of Westerly’s Chamber of Commerce, Michelle added that it is very important as a small, local business to be involved in its community. Every year, for the past seven years, Zoë & Co. collects unwanted bras and donates one dollar per bra to the Athena scholarship fund, which benefits women looking to go to college and excel in a career field to help other women. Over the years, Zoë & Co. has developed an invaluable relationship with the Westerly Chamber of Commerce, which has benefitted both of them. Michelle ended with some words of wisdom to those hopeful entrepreneurs in the audience: make sure you love your work, have capital to reinvest, dedication, and availability to give all of your time to accomplishing success.
Return to Speaker Summaries