One day, Wendy Klein was walking around downtown Burlington, Iowa when she realized the city was missing a women’s lingerie boutique. From that moment on, Wendy began developing an idea that would eventually become Bella Ragazza, a specialty shop in downtown Burlington.
“I’d always wanted to be a small business owner,” Wendy says. “And my mom always told me a woman needs a good bra.”
After reading a newsletter promoting a local business plan contest, Wendy turned to Southeastern SBDC Regional Director Janine Clover, who teaches the “How to Write a Successful Business Plan” course offered by the SBDC. Feedback and ideas were readily available and Wendy ended up also using SBDC services for her financial plan, QuickBooks setup, and marketing needs.
With Janine’s help, Wendy entered and won second place at the 2014 Des Moines County Business Plan competition, garnering her a $2,000 cash prize and $100 a month for rental assistance for a year. She considers the SBDC and the competition’s judges “instrumental” in helping her with the Bella Ragazza business plan.
“Janine was so helpful and informative; I knew that if I was looking for something she could help me. A wonderful friendship has grown because of this and she is one of my biggest supporters,” Wendy says.
In October of 2014, Wendy opened Bella Ragazza, which specializes in foundation garments for the hard-to-fit sizes and carries bras from size 28C to size 56K. Her business carries foundation garments, loungewear, shapewear, and lingerie.
Wendy has found that many of her customers are choosing to stay in town and shop local at Bella Ragazza for their intimate needs rather than traveling to the surrounding cities to shop at more commercial options. Through advertising over the radio, in the newspaper, and marketing on social media sites such as Facebook and Tumblr, she is seeing customers visit from 40 to 50 miles away and loves watching their reactions to her specialty merchandise.
Since opening, Bella Ragazza has proven each month to be more profitable than the last. Wendy has doubled her sales over the past year and has provided over 600 professional bra fittings. She plans to continue providing free professional bra fittings for the hard-to-fit women. Additionally, she would like to increase her inventory selection, stating, “In the future I’d like to expand my mastectomy bra line, and to get into some maternity foundation wear and swimwear. I want to keep growing!”
Recently, Wendy won first place at the regional and statewide Open4Business Contest held by Main Street Iowa.
Bella Ragazza is a member of the Greater Burlington Chamber of Commerce and is heavily involved with the Burlington Downtown Partners group. Although Wendy is just getting settled in the downtown area, the store has contributed donations to community auctions and supported various organizations. She will continue to expand on the shop’s community contributions while participating in downtown promotional activities.
Regarding her experience with the SBDC thus far, Wendy stated, “I have learned that you are not alone and there are amazing people and organizations out there willing to support you in ways you could never imagine. From market research to reviewing a power point, Janine Clover of the SBDC has been an integral part in the growth of myself and my business. She has so much compassion for the small business and is willing to help out any way she can to help you be a success. I cannot say enough great things about her and the Small Business Development Center.”
For more information about this specialty shop in Burlington, Iowa, visit the Bella Ragazza Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/bella.ragazza.IA/ or call (319) 209-2080.