‘Tis the Season for Clientelling

This holiday season, New York City-based Brooks Bros. is featuring a new clothing line called Black Fleece. While the line, created by designer Thom Browne, was introduced during Labor Day, the chain is relying on a clientelling solution to spark further interest for the new label among loyal shoppers this holiday season.

Personalized service is part of Brooks Bros. corporate culture. Owned and operated by the $1.4 billion holding company Retail Brand Alliance, Enfield, Conn., Brooks Bros. operates approximately 200 retail locations in the United States, as well as 100 stores across Asia.

The upscale retailer, which specializes in men and women’s apparel, has been delivering a top-notch customer experience throughout its 185 years of operation. The only way to consistently achieve this level is to understand its customers’ needs. This becomes especially important as frenzied shoppers begin flooding stores to find the perfect holiday gift.

“November is when we expect our holiday rush to begin,” Stefano Gaggion, senior VP of IT, Retail Brand Alliance, told Chain Store Age. “The biggest challenge during this time is how to maintain a high-level of personalized, one-on-one care. This factor intensifies as we serve more customers through more channels.”

Brooks Bros.’ main concern used to be getting the right product to the right stores at the right time. Last year, it created a new supply chain initiative that added efficiency as merchandise was allocated for its retail channels.

“However, adding efficiency was not enough,” Gaggion said. “We wanted to incorporate the needs of shoppers, across all stores and direct channels, and use this data to properly allocate merchandise for each channel.”

However, sending the right goods to meet its customer demand “was a huge challenge,” noted Patrick Walsh, senior VP of retail operations, Brooks Bros. “We had no sophisticated way to mine data and react to customer demand.”

That is, not until the company began using the SAS Enterprise BI Server business-intelligence solution from Cary, N.C.-based SAS last year. This analytics suite measures store, regional and category performance, promotional effectiveness and marketing response rates. The solution also enables the company to profile each individual store location and capitalize on specific customer needs and channel opportunities.

By adding a clientelling solution from Delray Beach, Fla.-based Escalate Retail to the mix in August 2006, Brooks Bros. has upped the ante.

It is commonplace for the retailer to create profiles on each customer that shops with the chain. However, each Brooks Bros. sales associate used to manually record information about customers in their own “Black Book.”

The new solution enables store-level employees to enter customer information into an electronic database that is shared with all sales associates. Now if a customer visits when their primary associate is off duty, another sales associate can easily tap into that customer’s data and fulfill their shopping needs.

Casual Male’s Formal Approach to Merchandise Allocation

“We don’t look at the ‘holiday rush’ as a separate shopping period. This is just busier than other times of the year,” said Dennis Hernreich, COO, CFO and executive VP, Casual Male Retail Group, Canton, Mass. To prepare for this “busier time,” Casual Male is using business intelligence to expertly allocate merchandise throughout its multiple channels.

Casual Male defines its shoppers differently than many other retail chains. Unlike retailers that cater to a shopper’s demographic or characteristic, Casual Male caters to physical characteristics. “Our shoppers are either big, tall or both,” he said.

This focus also increases Casual Male’s breadth of assortment. Besides carrying an assortment that is three or four times bigger than most chains carry, Casual Male features up to three times more sizes in shirts and up to six times the number of sizes in pants, Hernreich said.

“Top of mind is coordinating assortments for our stores and direct channels,” he told Chain Store Age. “We are striving for better execution and planning to provide a universal assortment. Since every SKU we sell is available online, we want to seamlessly tie our stores into that.”

Besides using a merchandising engine from JDA Software, Scottsdale, Ariz., a replenishment system from E3 (which will soon be integrated with JDA’s suite) and the Arthur Planning assortment-planning tool from JDA, Casual Male is installing a business-intelligence tool from Atlanta-based Quantisense, to analyze assortments down to a store-and SKU-level. The chain is using a similar configuration for its direct-to-consumer channels with the help of a BI tool from Oco, Waltham, Mass.

“By feeding SKU information into the BI tool, our planners can understand merchandise performance from a store-or channel-level, by lifestyle or size, and then manage our core assortment,” he explained.

“If you are not on top of these details, you can miss the opportunity to improve sell through in our stores and direct channels,” he said. “During the holidays, this becomes even more important.”

More importantly, the electronic solution is helping the chain solidify relationships and proactively cross-sell to its loyal shoppers. For example, as new merchandise lists apprise associates about incoming merchandise, associates can use Escalate to tap the customer directory and reveal who might be interested in the new arrivals.

“Then associates can personally contact these shoppers to let them know the merchandise is coming in, giving them the first crack at getting their size,” explained Walsh.

Besides allowing Brooks Bros. “to extend our relationship with the customer, we are proactively increasing the turns of merchandise once they hit the sales floor,” he said. “We are also increasing margins since we are selling stock as it enters stores vs. selling merchandise during sales periods.”

The solution will play a major role as the chain markets its Black Fleece label this fall. “The line caters to shoppers who are partial to tailored clothing styles. We expect the line to engage a new generation of customers for Brooks Bros.,” Walsh said. “Clientelling will help us identify shoppers who may be most partial to the line and build that customer base.”

At presstime, the chain was completing its training, “so our entire employee group will be ready to embrace clientelling and take full advantage of the solution for the holiday season,” Gaggion said.