The one thought that crosses the minds of most European women living in Asia is “Will I be able to get a good bra or bikini here?” The weather being bright and sunny constantly seems an inviting time to get down to the pool or go to the beach.
Mette, who moved to Singapore five years ago because of her husband, Bjorn’s job at a shipping company called Clipper, thought exactly the same thing. To her horror, her worst fears were realised when she found nothing she could put on and feel comfortable in.
To make matters worse, when she went to visit Denmark and tried to purchase bikinis in the summer, they were all sold out leaving only the dull or black ones for her to choose from.
She had actually purchased undergarments of a very reputable brand before leaving Denmark to Singapore. In fact, she had spent a lot of money in buying them. After a few months, however, she started having persistent headaches which she then found out from a specialist were caused by the bras she had purchased. She was frustrated and unsure of where to go from there.
Mette started cracking her head for a good and reliable solution especially when it came to quality and cost. Thankfully she had a contact back in Denmark from whom she used to buy undergarments from. She contacted her and soon found out about Change in the Middle East.
“She told me about the Change chains in the Middle East, at least seven of them, and she asked me why I don’t start something like that in Singapore,” she said.
Getting into the line
Mette had always wanted to launch off something to own. After getting the advice from her friend, she went home and thought long and hard about it. Soon she decided to call up the people in charge of the Change stores and express her interest of expanding the chain here.
“Their initial response was quite negative because they were not convinced the concept I proposed, which is to sell from home, will work,” she said.
But somehow she convinced them by explaining that she needed to get to know the market here before starting anything major. Another factor that drove her to start from home is the high rental she would have to pay for the shop lot.
“I’m glad I did it this way. Selling from my house first for almost two years before moving out made me aware of the market out there. It also gave me an opportunity to speak to people about the products I sell when I went to fairs and all kinds of events,” she said.
When she attended events, she was able to meet all kinds of people who seemed like potential future customers. That is how she started marketing Change. People soon started becoming aware of the brand and felt comfortable about the products. Soon, Mette had gained herself had quite a few people coming to her house.
“I had customers even from Thailand. They told me that they heard about me and wanted to buy some swimwear and bra,” she said.
When asked about how she possesses such natural instincts and undeniable knowledge in helping her customers out when choosing their bras, Mette discloses her seven weeks of a summer break seven years ago.
“I approached my friend then, way before I had even plans of having this shop, and I spent that time watching her and seeing how she deals with different people,” she said.
She acknowledged that through that experience, she had gained some knowledge and become much more aware of things she had not been of before.
“But what I have realised is, it takes time to get here, and the knowledge of these things come with time. It really can’t be learned within a day or two,” she admitted.
She said the best way that she learned is when she has different kinds of people coming to meet her. She then began to see and learn about different body types and what type of bra actually suits them. She also realised that as the one who sells to these customers, she was responsible over what would make them look good.
“Some customers come in exclaiming in delight that they can get a triangle bikini in an 85F-cup size but in all honesty, it looks ridiculous. A triangle bikini in that size does not look nice. So these days I don’t carry those in the shop anymore because more than the bikini looking nice, you need to look nice,” she said.
Mette shared about how Change started in Denmark by a team of a mother and son some years back. The mother was quite upset because a good bra that fits a plus size woman costs so much, up to two or three hundred dollars, which was a lot of money.
She decided that it was way too overpriced just because you had a bit more of a bust and she decided that she wanted to start something of her own which allowed women to feel comfortable for a reasonable price. Currently, the son has taken over the business and runs most business relations around the world.
“Change has now become quite popular and known for its products. Back when I started using it in Denmark it was sold on home based or in small shops but they grew very big, very fast, which I think is because of different reasons,” she related.
“It quite depends on how much you spend on the elasticity of the products, especially these, and the support they provide for different sizes,” she added.
She said some brands provide a very limited range of cup sizes while Change, goes up to J-cup. So, from small to large sizes, it is possible to find the right bra. There are also a lot of different styles, shapes and sizes and Mette brings them all in. We have the whole size range going on so even if the biggest lady comes in, we are most likely able to help her out.
Moving from home to shop
After two years of selling from home, Mette finally decided to bring her business to the next level which is to get a proper shop lot to move her business into. She felt then, that it was the right time for that decision to come to pass.
“Many of my customers preferred when I sold from my house and told me that. But I knew it was a good decision to move out. So we moved to this venue in 2008,” she said.
One of Mette’s main worries was getting the right kind of staff. She desired to have staff that could overcome the comfort zone boundaries and be comfortable in small spaces with the customers.
“That is my biggest thing when I hire people. They need to feel how the customers are feeling not push too hard. So that is quite a challenge,” she said.
“This is what we do, we get in there with the customers and we help them decide which bra suits them best. To do that, we have no space of feeling shy or awkward,” Mette said.
Mette believes that since this is a private product, customers will like to buy from someone who makes them feel comfortable. The staff also needs to know what to say or how to advice the customers to choose a bra type because sometimes, some customers think they are a certain size but in actual fact, they are a totally different size.
“Here is where the staff needs to be able to offer their expertise or help to them,” she said.
Mette said that the best part of her day is she has in the store is being with the customers. Most of the customers are expats but there are locals who bring in other locals too as people are coming to know about Change.
She confesses that her best customers are definitely some of her first ones because they always come back and that has kindled a friendship which has lasted for many years.
“Initially, many people didn’t understand what Change is. One of the reasons are because at that time, Obama was becoming president and he had up a big banner saying ‘We Need a Change’. People started confusing this brand as Obama’s slogan instead,” she said laughing.
Mette mentioned some interest that some of the chain’s leaders in Denmark has expressed in her opening up another joint here in Southeast Asia. They believe it will be easier for somebody who has gotten used to the local culture to adapt better than someone who is totally new.
“It is easy to just open up the next Change store any place but it is important to know a little bit about the place before venturing into something like that, but I just might,” Mette said.
Despite her busy schedule of handling the shop, receiving the goods and sorting out the papers, Mette’s real passion and desire lies in spending quality time with her family.
“If it gets quiet here at the store, I go off early and spend time with my 13-year-old daughter, Camilla. She goes to Overseas Family School,” she said.
Mette also likes walking her dog, exercising and do things with her friends and family. Since the shop is not open on Sundays, which is one of the great advantages of the store being in Holland Village, she has considered it a family day.
According to Mette, there have not been any plans to head back to Denmark anytime soon.
She added “Although I do miss the Danish Christmas every year, I see no other reason to go back now. Singapore has great food, weather, people and I have something to do here that I am passionate about.”