Turning On the Charm
By Nicole Giannopoulos
Fashion accessories retailer charming charlie is a one-of-a-kind source of style that’s been helping women find their fabulous since 2004. While the accessories have women turning heads around town, the retailer has been turning a few around the industry. With 242 stores in the United States, charming charlie is spreading not just style but innovation.
The retailer is unique because each store is merchandised and laid out by color, not category. From earrings and necklaces to scarves, purses to shoes and any accessory in between, each color-specific display offers an overwhelming selection of all the finishing touches needed to complete an outfit. Charming charlie has been recognized for leading a retail revolution with its uniquely designed in-store experience, rapid growth rate and ability to scale at a fast pace.
Founder and CEO Charlie Chanaratsopon saw an opportunity that nobody else did. According to charming charlie executives, the first store in Houston was an experimental trial and since then, the company has watched it fly. “Charlie saw it as a chance in the marketplace; as he opened additional stores early on the customer response was positive so he tried not to stray from that,” explains Robin Beighley, director of store operations for charming charlie. As the retailer has grown, it has tweaked the shopping experience, but always maintained its color integrity.
“This spring is big for us,” says John Hnanicek, CIO for charming charlie, and he isn’t kidding. Charming charlie is doing much more than helping women find their fabulous. Keeping up with its expansion rate, the retailer has rolled out communication and task management tools to streamline communications between the stores, the home office and its district and regional managers, as well as to help improve the employee onboarding process. It is also using traffic counting and conversion measurement tools to deliver and analyze store performance data with actionable insights that will integrate with labor scheduling to efficiently manage store associates.
To look at data across all systems in one place, including financial, merchandise, ERP, traffic and POS, a retail-specific solution will provide access to data in one centralized location with one true value. Last but not least, charming charlie will be returning to e-commerce with the re-launch of its customer-facing website to help create a compelling shopping experience across multiple channels.
Because of its fast growth, charming charlie knew it needed a solution to help it be more effective, productive and efficient. In 2010, the retailer discovered Opterus communication and task management solutions.
The Opterus solution was first rolled out at 70 locations with the primary purpose of tasking and calendar planning. Today, the platform is used across the retailer’s 242 retail locations as well as its corporate offices as a communication calendar and task vehicle.
“Essentially it serves as the store intranet,” says Hnanicek. “It allows us to communicate between stores and the home office, and for district and regional managers to communicate to the stores. All calendar and task planning is now done on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. It’s used for consistency as well as for document library storage for items such as training modules, standard operating procedures and anything document-related.”
In September 2012, the retailer launched training module enhancements. The enhancements allow it to create certification quizzes that support onboarding training for managers and Charmers, as store-level employees are called.
“It’s been great, we actually have a module that employees read and complete training on, then they are able to go onto the Opterus system and actually take tests and be scored,” says Beighley. “So it really helps us from an accountability and compliance standpoint to track where people are on their onboarding.”
September also saw the launch of the Opterus Training & Certification and Form Modules. Both are interactive tools that allow the retailer to request information from stores in a standardized format. For example, if a Charmer is terminated there is a form that is entered at the store level and uploaded through the system to headquarters, where it is sent to human resources and flows through that system.
“A good intranet is a great vehicle for replacing paper forms and sending things back to the corporate office by scanning papers via e-mail,” says Hnanicek. “This allows us to have a form that automatically feeds our systems or outside vendor systems as well.”
Beighley adds, “It’s really a one stop shop for store employees, so they’re going to the Opterus system for most of their daily operational functions.”
“Most retailers up until now have built their own intranet to handle the non-structured data in the store operations,” notes Hnanicek. “And retailers spend a lot of money building these platforms from scratch. Opterus has a package that is pretty full-featured right out of the box.”
When forms were launched, the retailer took it a step further for the district manager population that had visitation standards to follow. Once a store visit is complete, district managers have criteria that they “score-the-store” on. This information is entered into Opterus and creates a form that provides the retailer with a historical record of how the store has performed over its lifespan, for shelf-life documentation and performance reviews.
With the help of Opterus’ execution management tool, charming charlie communicates more efficiently with its growing number of stores, using the tool to manage the efforts of the teams opening new stores. The retailer monitors metrics such as compliance, task management, communications, execution, consistency, and score-the-store performance, which confirms that Charmers are executing what they are tasked and signing off on items that need to be read.
Dazzling Data Delivery
In the fall of 2012 charming charlie also completed the rollout of ShopperTrak Managed Service to measure, analyze and deliver store performance data for its 242 locations. After a 30-day pilot during which the retailer compared ShopperTrak data and analysis with data from its existing foot-traffic system, the retailer decided to roll out the technology because it offers access to secure and anonymous foot-traffic data and actionable analyses.
During the trial, the retailer evaluated providers based on their ability to provide accurate, consistent traffic counts and key performance indicator (KPI) reports that are critical to supporting field analytics, payroll scheduling and loss prevention.
The customer is charming charlie’s first priority. The company works hard to provide customers with on-trend, quality products and in-store experiences that drive loyalty and word-of-mouth endorsements. Shopper counts, conversion rates and analyses are fundamental to the retailer’s goals, to understand its customers better and make appropriate adjustments to serve them well.
Charming charlie tracks conversion and traffic and is still very much learning and understanding the collected data. “We’re starting to integrate the data into everything we do,” says Beighley. “The hope is to integrate that into our labor scheduling system so we can really get a read on traffic patterns and counts, to more effectively schedule our labor. Knowledge and data are very powerful if used appropriately.”
As a young (founded less than a decade ago) retailer, charming charlie has discovered a lot of data that it must decide how to use, which is why its business intelligence initiative is key. The challenge any retailer faces is that there are multiple sources of data – financial, retail ERP, merchandise planning systems, financial planning systems, traffic, POS. Charming charlie selected a retail-specific solution from Manthan Systems that will allow the retailer to look at its data across all these systems in one centralized location.
“It pulls everything into one place, establishing one source of truth and eliminating a lot of dumps into Excel and people manually crunching Excel,” says Hnanicek. “It also ensures there is one calculation for a number across the entire organization, versus people doing what they label as the same piece of information but having different calculations.”
Creating Charming Content
This month, charming charlie will also be re-launching its customer-facing website, built on the Magento platform. Currently, the retailer’s website is limited to content, but the re-launch this spring has brought up many discussions around how the company will create the compelling ability to shop by color online.
“It poses some real operational challenges that the company has learned and worked through,” says Hnanicek. “That’s our secret sauce, because it’s not easy to do and it takes time and real commitment to do."
Turning Charm into Loyalty
In late October 2012, charming charlie piloted a loyalty program called the Charm Club in the San Antonio/Austin, St. Louis/Omaha and Washington DC/Virginia areas. So far, the retailer is extremely pleased with the results and what it has meant from the standpoint of consumer loyalty. The retailer is now moving toward rolling the program out chainwide by mid-May.
“It simplifies having a customer-central database and collecting all the information in one place and doing promotions,” says CIO John Hnanicek. “Our mission is to help women find their fabulous through coming to charming charlie. That just involves good customer service. We call our associates Charmers, and their role is to help you find your fabulous.”
In the past, the retailer lacked a formal customer loyalty program, relying on its Charmers to meet the customers’ in-store needs, providing not only assistance around the store but also fashion advice and insights. While Charmers were responsible for building brand loyalty in-store, the retailer had no way of quantifying their success.
“We do that by being trusted fashion advisors,” notes director of store operations Robin Beighley. “So educating our Charmers on the latest trends and how to wear the latest looks is important. When someone comes into the store it may be as simple as how to tie a scarf in several different ways, but it’s really about elevating the how-to’s of the trends that we sell in our stores, so engagement and interaction are key for us.”