For independent menswear retailer Hubert White, moving was a tightrope decision. While a new location would allow them to expand their clothing lines, attract more customers and grow the family business, it could also potentially alienate some of the longer-term customers. In particular, those who had become accustomed to the quiet, hidden location. Many of Hubert White’s customers didn’t want a bright “shiny” new shop located in the middle of the retail district where just anyone could drop by – they preferred the old, club-like atmosphere to which they had become accustomed over the years.
So when Hubert White decided to relocate in the fall of 1999, owner Bob White approached Karwoski & Courage to help communicate its rationale for a move with the media.
To soften the reality that the store was “re-inventing” itself, Karwoski & Courage identified the following key messages:
Prosperity: Most clothiers are struggling to succeed in a time where business casual is the norm, and competition from department stores is continuing to aggressively increase. Not only is Hubert White succeeding, it is able to invest a significant amount of capital into a prominent new location.
History: The store had resided in its current location for more than half a century. It was one of few retail establishments that could call Minneapolis home for such a significant amount of time.
Technology: While Hubert White was founded on old-fashioned values of customer service, the store caters to today’s technology-driven customer. Customers interested in working at the store while waiting for tailoring or shined shoes can use their laptop computers to dial into the office. And women shopping for the men in their lives can refer to the ClothesLogic computer program which catalogs photos of pieces in each customer’s wardrobe.
Pace with the Times: Hubert White’s move will enable the store to keep pace with the times and expand their offerings of business casual wear to appeal to more casual and younger professional.
Before solidifying the key messages, Karwoski & Courage assessed customers’ attitudes about Hubert White’s upcoming move. More than a dozen Hubert White customers were invited to participate in closed focus groups to learn more about what they valued about the store and about the concerns or excitement they held about the store’s plans to relocate to the IDS.
Well-loved for its “old-fashioned” customer-service approach to business, many customers expressed concerns about the move changing the store they had come to know and love. The store their fathers shopped at was seemingly transforming itself into a store that could begin to better-serve the younger executive, and many were afraid that Hubert White would lose some of its “treat the customer like a king” practices.
As a result of lessons learned in the focus groups, Karwoski & Courage focused pitches around the store’s prosperity and push for growth in a challenging market. These messages would help make the store’s customers more aware of the store’s motivation to continue growing and meeting the changing needs of consumers without abandoning its tried-and-true customer service philosophies.
Because the Hubert White customer profile includes a high percentage of the presidents, CEOs and chairman level executive professionals from prominent Minneapolis corporations, Karwoski & Courage focused efforts on securing coverage in Minneapolis’ premier business magazine – Twin Cities Business Monthly. Plans also included securing coverage in the business section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the weekly CityBusiness newspaper.
Following prominent placement of a Hubert White move-related article in the business section of the Star Tribune, Karwoski & Courage pitched an angle to Twin Cities Business Monthly that incorporated Hubert White’s rich history of success in today’s business-casual-focused climate. An “against all odds” article would appeal to two audience segments – those who were currently customers of the store (or a recently out-of-business competitor); and the business owner or entrepreneur interested in learning more about how customer service can help a company succeed, even during challenging times.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS:
When Tom Mason, the editor of Twin Cities Business Monthly, heard the angles presented by Karwoski & Courage, he assigned a reporter immediately. Interviews were scheduled with the owner and manager of the store, as well as with customers. Both sets of interviews provided enough rich perspective and flavor that, following a review of the article, Mason decided to make it the cover story.
The timing of the article coincided with the store’s grand opening. Customers poured into the new store, congratulating the store owner on a successful move and the media coverage secured in Twin Cities Business Monthly and other publications.
Most importantly, the store flourished as Hubert White continued to deliver the exceptional service that customers had come to value. Longstanding customers were retained. New customers poured in. Revenues increased. The store experienced a 25 percent increase in sales, and the amount of casual wear sold doubled. Given the current “down” sales in the fine clothing industry, Hubert White’s success can be attributed to a good location, great media coverage, and of course, good old-fashioned customer service.