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Charmed Concept

BY CSA STAFF

Charming Charlie took a simple idea — arranging merchandise by color — and has parlayed it into a burgeoning fashion accessories retail empire, recognized in 2010 by the International Council of Shopping Centers as one of its premier “hot concepts.”

But founder Charlie Chanaratsopon will tell you that the plan to color-code the merchandise schematic — clustering identically hued items, from handbags to scarves to jewelry — came not from within the ranks of the chain’s talented retail team, but from the Charming Charlie customer herself. In fact, the chain’s operational head, Ron Batts, credits listening to the core customer as key to its success.

Senior editor Katherine Field talked with Batts about the company’s unique merchandising strategies, growth plans and the recent deployment of a Kronos workforce management system designed to elevate Charming Charlie’s customer service to new heights.

With all the accolades that Charming Charlie has received, how have you managed to keep from resting on your laurels and continue forging ahead?
We are constantly looking at how we can improve, both operationally from an execution standpoint, and how to serve our customers better. It’s a relentless focus on our customers.

What are your top priorities for 2011?
Personally, my goal is to improve as a leader. I’ve been doing this for a while and have had some great successes in my career, but, as you said, one can never have that ‘rest on your laurels attitude.’ From a company perspective, improving the customer experience is top of mind. That’s really what Charming Charlie is all about. Anything that would impede that is something we want to remove.

What would be impediments to your progress?
Anything that is task-oriented, that takes away from time with the customer. If we are spending an inordinate amount of time on achieving tasks, then that is taking away our focus on making sure we’re listening to the customer and doing everything we can to enhance her experience. And those, then, are the very things we need to simplify so that our people can return their focus to where it really belongs — on our customer.

Explain how your merchandising strategies have played an integral part in your store identity.
All of our strategies, especially on the merchandising side, have come chiefly from listening to our customers. Much of what you see in place in our stores is a result of what the customer wanted. Through Charming Charlie fashion accessories, a woman can complete her look for any occasion. And since we offer such a broad selection, which she loves, and there are so many occasions and moods to accessorize for, she wanted it to be easy. So that’s what we did. It’s very Garanimal.

What is Garanimal?
It was a children’s clothing concept that offered mothers a selection of children’s clothing that was easy to coordinate. I liken our merchandising approach to that same Garanimal-like concept. Replace the children’s clothing with fabulous fashion accessories and replace the children’s section with a boutique atmosphere and you have Charming Charlie. From jewelry to handbags to accessory pieces, when a customer is in a color zone, she can easily complete an outfit. Our role in the store is not to be highly consultative sellers, but rather to be Charming Charlie navigation experts, or tour guides. We not only help her navigate and discover the fashion accessories that Charming Charlie has to offer, but we give her the power to create her own look.

Customer service plays a huge role at Charming Charlie. How will your workforce management system enhance the customer experience?
Kronos [based in Chelmsford, Mass.] is a terrific system, and a proven winner to improve efficiency and for effective placement of personnel. But what we’re most excited about is that it is a seamless solution for our operating needs. New applicants to the Charming Charlie team will go through Kronos, of course, but what is unique in our development with Kronos is that we are going to utilize this as an assessment tool in our interviewing process. We are looking for people with the three E’s: high energy, high levels of enthusiasm and empathy. So we are working closely with Kronos to develop testing to help us identify people with those very traits.

Basically, we are working with Kronos to apply a matchmaking approach to help us find the right candidates. We’re excited to be involved in something so innovative.

Describe your current work force — number of associates and the kind of training each receives.
On average, we have a staff of 16 to 20 per store comprised of our associates, called ‘charmers,’ and managers. A highlight of our training is the newly refined Charming Charlie University, a virtual program that takes a lot of the elements of what we do, from visual merchandising to policy and procedure to our general operating structure, and encapsulates it into a bachelor’s, master’s and a doctorate of Charmology. Also, in partnership with the National Retail Federation, we are adding to our training menu by marrying elements of NRF’s online university with ours in order to create an even more thorough and effective training experience.

What are your growth plans over the next three to five years?
We opened 60 stores in 2010, growing from 36 to 96 stores, and that’s a pretty consistent indicator of the type of expansion expectations we have.

How often do you visit your stores?
My goal this year is to be out in the field at least 100 days or more. When I am in a store, my focus is on two things: making sure our field team is delivering a great customer service experience and interacting with our customers. I want to talk with them and learn from them and see how to make our associates better players. We have 18 skilled district and regional managers, and our objective is to give them not only an exciting place to work with lots of opportunity for growth but also a culture that is based on a great environment where people really matter.

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A.Luis says:
Mar-20-2013 04:16 pm

Charming Charlie’s customer service to new heights. Interior Design Offices in Dubai

A.Luis says:
Mar-20-2013 04:16 pm

Charming Charlie’s customer service to new heights. Interior Design Offices in Dubai

F.Olsen says:
Jan-21-2013 04:46 am

I just really don't know what to do with this but I guess i have to realize that things would really go out this way then. mortgage broker new york city

F.Olsen says:
Jan-21-2013 04:46 am

I just really don't know what to do with this but I guess i have to realize that things would really go out this way then. mortgage broker new york city

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Positive Outcome 


BY CSA STAFF

In recent years, real-estate portfolio optimization has become standard practice for retailers, and with it, so, too, have store closings. Oftentimes, the closings result from retailers’ desire to relocate stores to improve their position within a market as leases come up for renewal. Or they may result from the necessity to move to a smaller or larger footprint. In other instances, a location may be underperforming the rest of the chain. 


Whatever the reason, the complexities and challenges of the process make it cumbersome for everyone, from a store manager to the corporate office. Even retailers with successful operations and excellent procedures for opening stores say that closings are difficult experiences that can drain valuable resources and distract from the core business. How to change the dynamics of the situation?


“The key to transitioning that potentially negative experience into a positive outcome is utilizing proper processes and understanding value,” said Richard P. Edwards, principal and managing director, Gordon Brothers Group, which leads inventory dispositions and manages financial due diligence for major retail store-closing events. 


According to Edwards, although each closing has unique characteristics, the processes that enable a retailer to achieve maximum recovery remain constant and consistently yield positive results and a 100% sell-through rate. Based on his firm’s effective experiences across all retail sectors and formats, he offers the following suggestions for a positive outcome:


Plan strategically: Evaluate store-specific data and establish realistic expectations for recovery. Ideally, you should analyze previous store-closing sales with comparable inventories and institute an efficient wind-down program that controls payroll, advertising and operations expenses to maximize the net recovery. 


“When the store-closing event is outsourced, define a sum-certain recovery that gives the event manager a stake in the outcome,” Edwards added. 


Control presentation and prices: Avoid costly mistakes that leave shelves bare and adversely impact sell-through rates. Traditionally, retailers stop inventory replenishment to a location that is closing, leaving the store with a very poor presentation. The better tactic is to augment inventories with strong-selling product. 


For example, when a grocery store closes it will achieve more profitable returns by continuing to stock high-turning staples, which keeps traffic returning to the store and promotes sell-through of slow-turning product. 


“Another mistake is unilaterally slashing prices across all product categories,” Edwards said. “Instead, current fashion or more-desirable products should be discounted less than slow-turning merchandise that must be priced at deeper discounts.”


Seize opportunities: When a closing is due to relocation or additional stores remain open in the market, the event offers an opportunity to transition customers either to the new store or to other stores in the market. In-store signage and store-level promotions are effective tools for incenting shoppers to visit other locations. 


Additionally, store closings present opportunities to increase sell-through of aged or clearance inventory from ongoing stores or distribution centers. Historically, sell-through and recovery rates are higher at a store-closing event than if the merchandise was left on clearance at an ongoing store.


Play by the rules: However, local jurisdictions often prohibit augmentation of inventories after a closing event has begun. Ironically, even retailers that have closed numerous stores are often shocked to learn permits are required and regulations differ in every town.


End strong: In addition to selling inventory to the final piece, you should recover maximum value for the store’s furniture, fixtures and equipment and leave stores in broom-clean condition, compliant with lease agreements.


Consider outsourcing: Profitable recoveries come from strategic plans and processes that are considerably more complex than merely hanging a store-closing sign. 


“Outsourcing to an experienced event merchant enables the retailer to achieve a higher recovery while expending fewer resources,” Edwards said. “In virtually every instance that we’ve experienced, the recovery value more than covered the cost of outsourcing.”


For more on this topic, attend the SPECS session, “How to Create a Profitable Process of Closing or Reducing a Store,” on Tuesday, March 15, 2011, presented by Richard Edwards ([email protected]). 


[email protected]

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