Susan Nethero – Founder, intimacy

Susan Nethero

Change Your Bra, Change Your Life

By Caroline Cox

Susan Nethero isn’t your typical businesswoman (if there is such a thing). She goes to an office, manages employees and is dedicated to satisfying her customers. But, as the founder and owner of Intimacy, a chain of lingerie stores specializing in custom bra fitting, it’s her out-of-the-box way of doing things that has gotten her so far.

Though many thought Nethero’s bra-fitting technique was an unnecessary aspect of her company at first, it’s the main thing that has made Intimacy stand out and continue to grow today. Now, a multi-million dollar business with 13 stores across the U.S. and four more coming this year, Nethero is proof that determination results in success.

Nethero talks to PINK about running a business with her husband, her biggest weakness as a leader and the proudest moment of her career.

PINK: What’s your success secret?
Susan Nethero: I’ve always been a strong marketing person, and I have a passion for learning and understanding customer behavior. We’ve been so successful at Intimacy because we’ve recognized the need that many others have walked away from: providing a bra fitting service to the customer. Many women believe there are things wrong with their body, whether they’ve gained a few pounds, lost firmness or are thicker than they use to be. They think bras can’t be comfortable. After doing a lot of research, we were able to draft a fitting process that teaches, educates and informs women. The education of our customer is a big part of what we do, as is training our people to be able to educate the consumer.

PINK: So it’s your commitment to the customer that makes your business stand out?
S.N..: Our training principles are all about making sure our people are passionate and excited to provide the customer experience. We’ve been doing business for 18 years. When we started, no one was providing fitting. We’re creating life-changing benefits for the customer and we believe a bra can change a woman’s self image and confidence.

PINK: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
S.N.: We have everything we need to succeed, we just don’t know it. Learn how to focus on the things that are going to make the most significant difference. What you emphasize and how much focus you put on it can result in developing competency in areas that you might not have been successful in before. Today, business owners have to be versatile and well rounded – that’s where our biggest challenge is. You come into a business with a certain skill set and you may not have all the skills that are necessary to be successful, but you have to acquire them.

PINK: What do you think is the biggest issue or concern for women business owners right now?
S.N.: The biggest concern is capital. It’s challenging in today’s financial environment to access capital affordably for growth. A lot of people, especially women, struggle to overcome financial issues. In the US, for every dollar you want to borrow, you have to secure it with your home or any financial investments you might have. There’s no leniency and they don’t extend themselves. It’s good that people have to be 100 percent committed to what they’re doing, but it’s difficult to secure capital without having the financial resources.

PINK: Describe your leadership style.
S.N.: I am a visionary type of leader. I try to picture the results and inspire people to achieve that. I am strong, domineering, and I have a lot of conviction. Conviction usually encourages others to find solutions and bring new ideas to the way we do things, so I think people would say that I am a visionary. I am not controlling – I like empowering, developing, and inspiring people.

PINK: How big is your team? How do you motivate and communicate with them?
S.N.: Overall, the 13 store managers report to a team of two. There are about six people on the executive committee, so I work very closely with them as well.

My husband and I run the company together, and we tend to divide our responsibilities. I’m on the sales, marketing and buying side. He’s on the finance, real estate, legal and growth-planning side. We have an excellent buying, finance, store management and marketing team. The group meets once a quarter, but we’re working together all the time.  Because of our stores being located around the country, we’re traveling a lot. We do videos about every other month and send them out or put them online so we can be timely in communicating with our people. In the video, we share our vision and passion for where we’re going and our focus area.

PINK: What is your biggest weakness as a leader?
S.N.: I need to slow down. I might get a little further ahead of everyone else working. 2010 was our year to focus on the stores we have and maximize the success of each store. Because we’re always looking ahead for new stores, we have a very sizeable base of stores we now want to give our focus to. I’m learning how to slow down and be a bit more focused.

PINK: What are your best tips for maintaining a Life/Work balance?
S.N.: My husband and I are active – we work out, do pilates and take walks with the dogs so that we can get a little bit of distance from our jobs. Children are a wonderful way to disconnect because they get you so engaged. My children are getting a little older now (Emily, 26 and Julia, 21), but in early years, being totally engrossed in what your children are doing sometimes gives you a wonderful prospective on how to be happy and fulfilled. Bringing that back to the professional world gives you more patience, wisdom and pride in what you’re accomplishing.

PINK: What is it about your background that led to your success today?
S.N.: I’ve always had a philosophy that if something wasn’t a strength, you should go towards it. Over the years, I’ve tried to be balanced and equally as strong qualitatively and quantitatively. I’ve always been more of a qualitative person. But I’ve learned that the numbers and analytics really drive a lot of great quality decisions. I’ve worked on developing those quantitative skills over the years.

PINK: What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
S.N.: I’ve always loved ‘life skills’ – helping people learn how to live happily and be fulfilled. So many young people grow up today with a lot of expectations and pressure. They haven’t discovered how to be happy. I would very much like to be a life coach someday down the road. I’d also love to help businesswomen. I love mentoring young people and encouraging them to be all they can be.

PINK: What is one personal goal you have yet to achieve?
S.N.: Successfully running a marathon. I don’t know if I’ll ever run a marathon, but learning to love running is something I’d really like to do. I love Pilates and yoga, I’m just not as good at the cardio stuff.

PINK: What has been the proudest moment in your career?
S.N.: Being on the Oprah show, particularly because she was so enthusiastic. She saw what we had created in terms of service and changing women’s lives. We started talking about how a bra can be life changing, and it was a moment when I said, “I’ve finally arrived. If nothing else happens in my life, this is what it’s all about.“

PINK: How do you define success?
S.N.: Having the ultimate passion for what you do. Being committed to making a difference in the world, whether it’s a technical advantage, a service advantage or fulfilling a mission you have. To me, that’s what success is all about: making the world a better place.

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