Kim Putens is no stranger to opening a business in the middle of a recession.
Both of the companies she helped found in Old Town Alexandria were started during rough economic times: Bellacara in 2000 and Bloomers in 2008.
“We thought to ourselves, we must be the stupidest people on the planet,” Putens said of opening Bloomers in the depth of the downturn. “But then we decided, let’s just keep doing what we’re doing. There was a lot of grin-and-bearing-it.”
Now, following the opening of the third Bloomers store — a boutique that sells women’s underwear, loungewear and sleepwear — in Georgetown, Putens said she’s succeeded in creating a store where she’d like to shop.
The store specializes in simple basics, including camisoles and chemises by Eberjey, underwear by Hanky Panky and Spanx shapewear.
“I was never comfortable walking into a traditional lingerie store,” she said. “Some of the other alternatives didn’t appeal to me either, especially as I got older. The last thing I needed was to walk into a store where the bras were next to a table of edible underwear.”
Instead, Putens said she wanted to create a comfortable store for working mothers and women, aged 30 to 60, to shop for pretty — and practical — items.
“Those women in soap operas who lounge around in slinky lingerie — that’s just not reality,” she said. “Bloomers is for women who are just like me, who want to come in and get a good product without dealing with all of the other stuff.”
Putens, 44, still maintains her day job as a management consultant. She co-founded Bellacara, a bath and body shop, with Angela Sitilides shortly after receiving her MBA from George Washington University,
“We wanted to keep our feet in the career world, but didn’t want to do that for all hours of the day,” Putens said. “Opening Bellacara was a way to take some time off and do something new.”
Since then, the two have parted ways. Sitilides now oversees Bellacara, and Putens is the sole owner of Bloomers.
Exactly three years after the opening of the first Bloomers store, Putens opened a second location in Arlington in November 2011. A third location,on the corner of O and 32nd Street NW, came a year and half later.
It took about seven months to find the right space. The location officially opened June 7.
Even though the economy has improved, Putens said there are certain lessons she still adheres to from the recession. For one, she is careful to save money where she can.
“Do everything yourself — that’s what I tell everybody,” said Putens, who lives in Alexandria. “When I’m opening a new store, I don’t call a contractor. I call my husband, my kids and my father.”
Before the opening of the Georgetown store, Putens and her family spent weekends fixing up the 900-square-foot space. Her children, ages 9 and 12, painted the walls and helped unpack inventory. Putens, her husband and her father laid hardwood floors, hung dressing room curtains and assembled furniture.
“It’s always been important to me to start off with as few costs as possible,” she said. “You don’t want to saddle yourself with tons of debt from the beginning.”
Putens would not disclose revenue figures, but said sales were up about 20 percent year-over-year. The company, which has 10 employees, has been profitable since its first year, she said.
“It hasn’t been all of a sudden, boom, the economy got better and people are spending more,” Putens said. “But we are definitely seeing improvements, month after month, year after year.”
Eileen Hanning, who lives in Arlington, often pops by the Bloomers in Shirlington to see what’s in stock.
“They carry beautiful, functional things,” she said. “To tell the truth, it’s made shopping for undies fun again.”