Navigating Potential Headwinds to Achieve Growth

Carrie Charlick is a wife, mother of 3 and a business owner.  She started her entrepreneurial journey at a young age and those early experiences helped shape her longer-term business philosophy, helping others through entrepreneurship. 

In 2003, the stay-at-home Michigan mom launched Commerce-based Essential Bodywear with an initial investment of $500.  She is now a savvy entrepreneur with a $5 million business that is expected to grow annually. 

The company offers bodywear and bra shopping products focused on properly fitting women.  With nearly 600 representatives nationally, the company focuses on providing the personal touch and fitting which, according to Charlick, drives confidence, increases self-esteem and empowerment.  

While achieving sustainability and consistent annual growth, there is a potential headwind which could impact her business–proposed tariffs.  Essential Bodywear relies heavily on imported products from China to support its business model. 

With this backdrop looming, I wanted a better understanding of how the proposed tariffs will potentially impact business, including customer relationships and pricing.

Lee: Why did you choose the entrepreneurial journey?

Charlick:  People have always told me that I am just “lucky” – but actually, I believe in me and work really hard at whatever I do.  Oprah had made a statement that rang so true to me that “The law of Physics: What you put out in the world will BAM–it comes back at you!” This is very true.  

I am a person that never wants to say “woulda, coulda, shoulda”. I am a dreamer and a doer. I make things happen.

Lee:  You started your business with $500 in 2003 and now you have $5 million in annual revenues.  How did you initially identify a consumer need and your keys for growth?  

Charlick:  At a convention nine years ago, I observed that many women, dressed to the nines, hair makeup, Kate Spades bags and noticed they were in great need of good foundations.  I noticed, displayed visible panty lines or ‘boob bubbles’, those unwanted little bulges that sneak out from the top of an ill-fitting bra.  And so I conceived a business that would offer women high-quality figure-flattering foundations.

Our distinction as a corporation stems from the unique business model, essential products and services we provide to our customers.  We are a direct sales ‘party plan’ essential bra and panty company, with almost 600 representatives nationwide.  That is why direct sales became so appealing to me. I get a chance to help others be the best they can be.  For them to get self-fulfillment for running their business.  Direct sales allow people to be their business owners while our company handles all the inventory and shipping.

This customer-centered business improves the figures of scores of women with its professionally fitted, attractive line of bras, panties, shapewear and more.

Lee:  And your business focus?

Charlick:  Our focus is the underserved women in the U.S. who find it difficult to be fitted and/or find their sizes with ease in traditional markets (32E – 44H in bra sizes; XL and above in other items).  For example, 34B was the average size in the 1980s and It is now a 38E and women cannot go to the mall and find a 38F or 40G while stores at the mall may typically go up to a 38DD.  

Therefore our fitting services and technique are unique to the industry and our product lineup includes 32A – 44H for bras and up to 3X in panties and shapewear.

Lee:  And your products have been featured nationally and recognized locally.

Charlick:  We have appeared on the ‘The Today Show’, other TV and radio spots, and in many national women’s magazines, including ‘Family Circle’, ‘Glamour’ and others.  

According to Crain’s Detroit Business, we were ranked among the ‘Top 50 Companies to Watch’ in 2010.

Lee:  You mentioned to me several of your competitors have closed recently, but you continue to grow.  What’s your “secret sauce”, so to speak?

Charlick:  Victoria’s Secret announced this year that they are closing 53 stores.  We are up and sales are continuing to rise.  I believe that our secret sauce is our Bras and the sizes we carry plus the service we offer.  For example, we can make women look 10 pounds lighter and look younger by putting the right size and style bra on a woman. 

This product is also the most overlooked item in their wardrobe and we say that you can make or break an outfit with your foundations.  

We believe we are a big part of the body positive movement.

Lee:  And yet there are potential headwinds in the horizon, most notably, tariffs.  Please share your perspective the potential impact tariffs would have on your business.

Charlick:  There is a possible threat coming of $267 billion in China tariffs.  The threat to impose tariffs on virtually everything the country imports from China means everyday items including clothing and shoes in closets across America could be targeted, from Victoria’s Secret bras and Under Armour sports gear to Nike shoes. There will likely be no escape for Apple smartphones, either.

Lee:  Will the proposed 25% tariff be ultimately passed onto your customers?

Charlick:  Yes, the consumers will end up paying for the tariffs  I saw an article in the news that broke out the cost on a pair of sneakers.  For example, the retail price, before tariffs and including various costs, is $48.18 compared to a post-tariff retail price totaling $60.93. Therefore, the total retail price increases $12.75. 

This should be a warning that tariffs will result in higher prices.

Lee:  What strategies will you implement to mitigate potential tariff impact and advice to those navigating potential headwinds which could affect their business?

Charlick:  We are working on them right now and trying to figure out the best option for us the company,  our field of Bra Fit Stylists and the consumers as well.

You should always be looking ahead on what possible things can affect your business.  You should look at buying trends, keep up to date on your industry – changes and future improvements, and shop the competition – find out consumers are saying about you and your competition.

Mark S. Lee is President, The LEE Group, a Plymouth-based integrated consulting firm and you can hear him Sundays, 8-9am, ET, “Small Talk with Mark S. Lee”, via radio.com, Sundays and, “In the Conference Room with Mark S. Lee”, 11am – 1pm, ET, on 910am.Superstation. in Detroit.