VOL. 128 | NO. 4 | Monday, January 07, 2013
SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT
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A Fitting Place Keeps Women in Proper Form
By ERINN FIGG
The realm of the professional bra fitter is a delicate one.
In this landscape of lace, silk, tiny hooks and feminine lingo, you could find yourself dancing around unintentional puns like landmines. During a professional conversation (or a business publication interview), phrases like “supportive work environment,” “boost in sales” and “uplifting outlook” become a little awkward.
And sometimes, despite your best intentions, you can’t help but blush, giggle or make the occasional bad joke.
No worries. After nearly four decades in business, A Fitting Place owners Sandra Lehman and Marcia Scheuner have heard and seen it all. Warm, approachable and humorous, they’re not easily fazed by flustered, demanding or skittish customers. Along with their daughters Melinda Durham and Janet Scheuner, the team is firmly resolved – no pun intended – to continue their mission of changing lives through properly fitted foundation garments.
“Helping the customers has always been my favorite part of this job,” Lehman said. “Often someone will come in who is so uncomfortable or big that she’s miserable. Once we put her in the proper bra, you see this huge transformation because she feels so much better. We’ve had women hug us, send us flowers, bake us cakes – it’s really rewarding to know you’ve made such a difference in someone’s life.”
Since its 1974 beginnings, A Fitting Place has expanded and moved four times. From an original staff of two – Lehman and Scheuner – in a 600-square-foot shop in the former Germantown Village Square enclosed mall, the business has evolved to its current staff of 12 in a 10,000-square-foot space at the Regalia Shopping Center (6150 Poplar Ave.) in East Memphis. They have tens of thousands of bras in stock, with sizes up to 54 N.
Marcia Scheuner, from left, Janet Scheuner, Belinda Durham and Sandra Lehman are co-owners of A Fitting Place, which specializes in finding the perfect fit for every woman.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
The massive inventory is necessary, Scheuner said, since about 95 percent of the store’s customers walk in wearing the wrong size or style for their body types. But tape measures, cup sizes and cleavage consultations are just one part of this business. The two women originally started A Fitting Place to fill a medical void.
“Marcia had a mastectomy, and there was no place to get bras fitted that wasn’t a surgical supply house. So we started with mastectomy products, and we had so many women coming in. There was a huge need there,” Lehman said.
Today, A Fitting Place carries one of the largest selections of mastectomy products in the Mid-South, a responsibility that comes with high industry standards and ongoing education requirements. They hold accreditation by the international Board of Certification/Accreditation, an independent, not-for-profit agency that sets rigorous guidelines for practitioners and suppliers of orthotic and prosthetic care and durable medical equipment. They also are accredited by Medicare and the American Association of Breast Care Professionals.
“Prosthetics have come such a long way. My first surgery was 45 years ago, and back then there was only one type of prosthesis available – it was pink with a lace cover, and basically you just had to wear it and like it. Now, we have more than 50 different prostheses with a variety of shapes, including partials and shells,” Scheuner said. “It makes women feel better. A mastectomy is mental surgery as well as physical surgery. Everyone makes such a big deal about women’s breasts and suddenly you’ve got one or none. It can be hard to handle.”
Breast cancer developments are among several milestones that dot the women’s careers. One memorable incident occurred when Oprah Winfrey featured the Le Mystére lingerie line on her show.
“We had carried it for years, and suddenly after that Oprah show aired it seemed like everyone in the city was here buying that bra. Women would dash in and grab them without even trying them on,” Lehman said.
Like every business, A Fitting Place has had its ups and downs, but it’s holding its own during a tight economy, Scheuner said.
“Lately we’ve had our good days and our bad days. Maybe people aren’t buying as many bras as they used to, but we have many customers that are extremely loyal and we really appreciate them. Many people see us more as service providers than a retail situation.”
The two women credit the store’s longevity to their passion for providing top-notch customer service and the fulfillment they find in making people happy. They have fitted generations of women – mothers, daughters, grandmothers and even great-grandmothers from the same family. They keep detailed records on every customer, recording each color, size and style of every bra purchased.
They give their free time to the community, assisting regional women’s clinics with free fittings and donations. And they’ve seen fashion trends come and go – at the moment, lacy bras and pretty straps are in, and seamless bras are among the most requested styles – and marketing gimmicks galore.
Do they have enough stories to fill a television show? Absolutely, say Lehman and Scheuner. When the Lifetime network announced its new series “Double Divas” (which debuted Jan. 2) about the escapades of two bra fitters in Atlanta, the team at A Fitting Place wasn’t surprised at all.
“We have way too many things happen here that are comical and unbelievable. You wouldn’t believe some of the stories people tell us,” Lehman said.
She mentions a time when a woman came in wearing a bra ripped to shreds because her dog tried to eat it, but she won’t share too many details. Above all, the women strive to make their store feel like a safe, inviting environment for women of all shapes, sizes and chest concerns. They’re protective of their customers’ privacy, even when the anecdotes get hilarious.
Like Vegas, what happens in A Fitting Place stays in A Fitting Place, at least when décolletage drama is involved.