Know your product — you are the ultimate ambassador of your business and your brand. You need to know the product inside and out — where is it made, what makes it fabulous, and why your customer needs it. Give your staff the knowledge as well. They are a direct reflection of you and the faces of your business.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cassie Walin.
Cassie Walin graduated from UCF in 2011 and moved to NYC post-graduation. She worked for footwear brand Sam Edelman in NYC from 2013–2016 as an account executive managing the northeast territory. She then moved to Miami in 2016 and worked for fine jewelry brand Ippolita based in New York City where she was a regional business director for 5 years managing the east coast of the US. Cassie always knew that she would eventually take over the family business, but it was not until covid when she started to really help her mother in the store, building out the Barbara Katz digital presence when she realized it was the right time. Her mother then decided to retire in January 2021 after owning and operating the store for 12 years and Cassie decided that it was her moment to lead Barbara Katz in her grandmother’s legacy.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in fashion retail. Everyday after school, I would go to my grandmother’s store and watch both my mother and grandmother work. I learned the value of hard work, passion in what one does, and dedication to achieving success from the two of them. After graduating college, I moved to New York City and interned for handbag and accessory designer Carlos Falchi. I worked my way up in the city, holding roles in a multi-brand showroom and then as an account executive at Sam Edelman. I eventually decided to move back to Florida, arriving in Miami and working for the NYC based fine jewelry brand Ippolita as the company’s East Coast Sales Director.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My grandmother and my mother have always been my role models. They both taught me that you can not achieve success without working hard, showing kindness, and having thick skin. They also taught me from a young age that women can achieve the same success as men, and that it is empowering to help other women look and feel their best.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I highly recommend How I Built This by Guy Raz to anyone who is already a business owner or interested in starting their own business. Through real life examples of business leaders career stories, it shows that success is not always a straight line. Almost all highly successful people have failed once in their life, and many have multiple times. Those failures ultimately led them to starting their multi-million or billion dollar businesses.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
At Barbara Katz we value outstanding customer service and personal connection. Our staff knows their clients personally and selects pieces for them before they come into the store that they know will work for them. Our incredible staff takes the guess work and stress out of the shopping experience and makes it easy and fun.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take time for yourself. Mental and physical health is important. And do not forget to take technology breaks. We are so connected today with our smart phones always next to us, its too easy to forget to take time to recharge.
Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
For small businesses e-commerce and social media is 100% necessary to thrive. If you do not have an e-commerce portion of your business, it is essential to set it up asap or you will fall behind your competitors. The pandemic taught us that connecting with your consumers was key. Small retailers that connected with their consumers via social media saw that they were able to maintain sales with their doors shut and continue to generate revenue using these platforms.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
I always remind myself and tell others to focus of what you do best, and what makes your company successful rather than trying to keep up with others. My customer knows good quality and appreciates the product and offerings that we curate over a less expensive option.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
CEOs and founders of retail businesses need to remember that they must connect with their customers. Your customers need to love your product, have an incredible experience in your store, and want to come back repeatedly. The only way to connect with your customers and know what they are looking for is to listen to them and listen to your sales staff.
This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?
There are so many shopping options today and with e-commerce, the options are truly endless. If your customers do not have a great experience in your store, or worse, they have a bad experience, they will go somewhere else. It only takes one bad experience to turn a customer off for life.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Every day I receive feedback from my customers that they were wowed by an interaction they had with a member of my team. Having a great team that loves what they do is the most important part of running a retail business. My team knows their clients’ birthdays, husbands, children, and sometimes grandchildren’s names, their goals, their fears, and their insecurities. Recently, an associate of mine reached out to a client that had not shopped with her in two years since moving from Florida. The call turned into a shopping experience over the phone. My associate styled looks for her and shipped them directly to her home. The customer was so pleased with the package she received that she reached out to us to let us know that she could not believe after two years we still were able to style outfits for her that were not only her style but fit her perfectly!
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Absolutely — now the customer is 100% confident in shopping remotely with us and will continue to be a client although she no longer lives in the area. Cultivating and maintaining your customers is the key to success.
Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Inspire confidence — help women look and feel their best through making them feel good. Feeling good counts for more than looking great.
- Be honest — not everything is going to look good on everyone. Women come back to us time and time again because they know we are giving them our honest opinion and will not allow them to leave our store without looking perfect.
- Provide a quality product — women need to know that when they are shopping that they are buying something that is not only going to look good but also last.
- Cultivate an inviting and relaxing space — shopping should be fun! Create a space where women are greeted with a smile and feel relaxed and welcomed the moment they step in the door.
- Know your product — you are the ultimate ambassador of your business and your brand. You need to know the product inside and out — where is it made, what makes it fabulous, and why your customer needs it. Give your staff the knowledge as well. They are a direct reflection of you and the faces of your business.
Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I always remind myself that you never know what is going on in someone else’s life. Be nice to people, be patient and be kind. You never know who is struggling or may be going through hardship or loss. If we were all a little kinder, and a little more patient, the world would be a better place.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Shop with us on our website at BARBARAKATZ.COM, follow us on Instagram @BARBARAKATZBOCA, or on Facebook at facebook.com/barbarakatzboca.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!