Around 12,000 people live in the South Island town of Gore, which is nestled at the bottom of the South Island.
Though it’s small, the town's shops pack a large punch and among them is Carvin Streetwear, a store that prides itself on its excellent customer service.
Carvin doesn’t just talk the talk, either – the shop has won numerous accolades at Retail NZ’s Top Shop Awards, including the Single Store Omnichannel Award and the Lower South Island Overall Regional Award. It also was the runner up to the overall Supreme Award.
Here are some of the key lessons from owner Chanelle Purser’s shop.kiwi talk.
Pay attention to who you hire
Purser is both a dairy farmer and a retailer. She notes the contrast between having three retail staff versus 750 livestock.
In such a small business, huge importance is placed on who’s on the team.
Purser says her interview methods are “quirky” as she hires on personality, rather than experience.
“It’s important, especially in a smaller business, that staff are there for each other and get on well. You can’t train the jerk away,” she says.
“I hire off personality. Obviously they have to have a few skills – reading, writing - but you can teach anyone skills. It’s the personality you can’t change. People are who they are.”
She also asks candidates whether they are the baby or the eldest in their family.
“You never want too many eldest – the dynamics do not work.”
Once people are on board as a member of her team, it’s incredibly important to forge a connection with them, she says.
This is because good relationships with staff means good relationships with customers.
“Do you know your staff? A lot of people don’t even know what they do out of work. Get to know their interests, their family, what makes them tick. It creates a better workplace and creates ambience in store.”
Purser says it’s also important to let staff take ownership of their jobs.
Carvin’s employees are trained by her and put through Service IQ, and she says they relish the challenge.
Clearly it’s working, as store manager Jess Pulham won the National Retail Professional Award at the 2015 Top Shop Awards.
Not every store needs an ecommerce arm
But with all the success, there have been failures, too.
When ecommerce began taking off, Purser decided Carvin should start doing online sales.
She hired more staff, bought expensive camera equipment and even leased extra floor space for the venture.
The first 18 months were great, she said, as they had a bit of the market share. Then the competitors came in with even bigger marketing budgets and Carvin couldn’t compete.
By the end of 2013, sales were declining quickly, so she put an end to it.
Lesson learnt? Not every store needs an ecommerce aspect to their business.
“Asos and Boohoo do it well, I’m going to leave them to it,” Purser says.
Carvin still maintains a digital presence through its website and is very active on social media.
Be careful with what products you stock
Purser spoke of a time when a brand Carvin stocked dropped its prices, and the quality of its product also dropped.
All of a sudden, four out of every 10 items were being returned by customers.
“That didn’t look bad on the company - the brand - it looked bad on our store,” she says.
Consumers don’t think so much about what the label says, she says, so be aware the quality of the products reflect on the store.
Ask questions, don’t make assumptions
Another key piece of wisdom Purser shared is to ensure staff never stereotype customers, as it’s detrimental to business.
If a Gore granny wants to wear a Billabong sarong, then why not, she says.
She spoke of when she and her husband were shopping in a department store in Auckland while up for the conference.
“We were looking like tourists in shorts, t-shirts and jandals, a little bit scruffy, and we were in a certain department store and no one gave us service. He was looking at an $1800 sports jacket and was really quite keen to buy it, and nobody came to give us any service so we left. We went into an unassuming little store, we were acknowledged and he ended up spending almost twice that amount.”
Get involved in the local community
Back in Gore, knowing people’s business is good business, she says.
“We know who’s getting married, who’s going to the fashion awards, and we make sure no one's going to be wearing the same thing.”
This feeds into being a part of the community, which Purser says is the best advertising she can do.
Carvin gets involved with different community events, whether it is providing a prize for a local quiz night or staff volunteering their time to support a cause.
The business is also heavily involved in Go Retail, a collaborative initiative in Gore by First Retail, the Council and local businesses to revive the town centre and encourage more business.
“Rural towns are getting smaller and dying, were seeing it happen and social impact can be huge – no towns mean communities do break down,” Purser says.
“It’s about getting rural places excited about shopping again.”
Start thinking about responsibilities
Purser touched on retail’s impact on the environment, saying she feels like retailers are a wee bit behind the eight ball when compared to other industries.
Ways retailers could begin thinking about this issue are encouraging customers to bring in their own bags, swapping plastic for paper, or encouraging suppliers to stop using as much packaging, she says.
As for where retail is heading, Purser says customers will always want great service, regardless of it being face to face or through a screen.
“Service will be king. That’s the future of retail,” she says.