(Note: This story appears in the February 2021 issue of SE Magazine)
Lingerie connotes intimacy, and Ruth McMahon has spent 36 years building a trustworthy business that conveys that message to its customers.
It was practically predestined that Ruth McMahon should be a prodigious bra fitter. McMahon, owner of Kiss and Make-Up, has been honing her skills and building her business acumen for the better part of three decades.
Kiss and Make-Up opened in November, 1984, offering cosmetics and perfumes. But competition eventually encroached in the form of Cosmetic Center which opened by her.
“I got very nervous about how they would affect my business at the time,” McMahon recalls. “So, I changed the focus of the store from cosmetics to lingerie because in the early ‘80s, women were getting back into being sensual and romantic. I saw that coming and I remember going to my first lingerie show in New York in 1986 and I knew that was going to be an area I wanted to take the store into.”
She had worked in a lingerie department while in high school and knew a little about bra fitting already, so it only stood to reason she’d morph into that business. And while having her father’s tailoring business physically connected to her store helped — “I was exposed to his long-time customers,” she says — McMahon is quick to point out it’s her customer service that has positioned her for longevity.
“I take care of the people that come to me,” she says. “I know them by name, I keep cards on everyone. People refer their family members to me. I had a whole family come in: a mother, two daughters, and a mother-in-law. I’m a specialist in bra fitting, that’s what people come to me from all over the country, and I was able to fit that entire family.”
“The specialty part of my store is why people come to me,” she says. “I carry the wide range and am a fitter that people trust. People come to me a lot by word of mouth.”
That reliability has been threatened more than once by external forces. After McMahon had made the transition to lingerie, Victoria’s Secret entered the lingerie picture.
“I thought they were going to take my business away,” McMahon says. “But they ended up helping me.”
“The more exposure people had to lingerie, the more people knew that they had options for different types of lingerie,” she continues. “They sent me a lot of business. If I needed to refer them for something I would, or vice versa. Sometimes having a competitor can be a good thing.”
Well, if the lingerie giant couldn’t take Ruth down, surely the internet would … right?
McMahon has had Kiss and MakeUp online since 1997, and was one of the first stores in Richmond to have a website.
“I remember thinking (a website) was a phenomenal idea because I was going to be able to showcase my stuff on the internet; not just what I had, but what I’d ordered,” McMahon says. “It was a great tool for helping people shop before they ever stepped in the business. (The internet) does supplement the business, but I still predominantly do most of my business in the store, hands-on.”
Her clientele wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Lingerie is a much more personal type of business and people have to trust you with your opinion,” she says. “I think that’s what I’ve built over the years, the trust.”
For more information, visit kissandmakeup.com or call (804) 285-0326.