A Hanky-Panky Business Strategy for a Rough Economy

Economists point to men’s underwear sales as an economic barometer: when the brakes are on, sales suffer. The founders of ‘the world’s most comfortable thong’ employed a few strategies during the rough ride of late to ensure their brand wouldn’t follow suit.

“We’ve lived through four recessions and with this one, we’ve definitely felt it. We grew every year until this year,” said Lida Orzeck, co-founder of Hanky Panky lingerie line.

Orzeck and co-founder Gale Epstein said while they’ve successfully steered through stormy cycles during their 30 years in business, this past recession was the worst the company has experienced since opening its doors in 1977. As consumers pulled the brakes on discretionary spending, Hanky Panky worked to continue to woo customers without lowering prices -- not an easy feat as a thong can run $18 and a bra in the mid $30s.

One technique was to attach giveaways to products such as a matching tube of lipstick or nail polish. Another strategy was bringing the entire line, which originally had been sold exclusively at high-end retailers, online and making it available at the click of a mouse.

Getting Hanky Panky up the Hill

What has blossomed into a multi-million dollar business started as simply a bra-and-panty set made from delicate handkerchiefs.

When starting the company, the two said they faced an uphill battle — as the undergarment industry was then a nylon world and wearing a thong was often considered taboo. They plowed through, and the company did something its first year in business that is a rarity in the start up world: it broke even.

“Back then people were a little shy about … underwear,” Orzeck said. “Thongs were not being worn and we didn’t even make thongs back then. We started with G-strings and after a while we got inspired to make a garment that was much more comfortable than a G-string, and more sexy than a panty.”

The 4811, which debuted in 1986, has a loyal fan following and is the company’s most popular thong. The 4911, a low-rise version of the 4811, was introduced a couple years later, to compliment low-rise jeans. The company has since continued to expand, today offering more than 100 different products.

“A comfortable thong was an oxymoron before 1986, and then ours was developed very painstakingly to make sure it really was the most comfortable and met all of our quality standards,” said Orzeck.

You won’t find the Hanky Panky line splashed across magazines or displayed on billboards. Though it happened by accident, Orzeck said another successful strategy has been taking a minimalistic approach when it comes to marketing.

“Our product has always benefited from a buzz,” said Orzeck. “It started out early with us just not having the funds to advertise, but our end users have done all our PR over the years.”Orzeck took the many e-mails the company receives from satisfied customers and created the online series “Thong Diaries.”

“People didn’t realize when they would write telling how much they enjoyed our stuff, it was coming directly to me,” Orzeck said. “I read it all.”