Retailer Uses Database to Serve Executive Clientele (711 words)
Think of some of the Fortune 100 companies based in the New York City metropolitan area. Chances are their CEOs and presidents live in a wealthy Fairfield County, CT, suburb. And if so, they may very well do their shopping at Mitchells of Westport. That's where these executives find the Armani suits they like, sold to them the personal and old-fashioned way. And it's all made possible through a comprehensive database of customer information.
Mitchells started out as a small family-owned boutique in Westport, CT, specializing in high-end apparel. It's been around since 1958, when it was founded as Ed Mitchell's by the man of the same name. (The store later changed its name to reflect the addition of more women's clothing; now 42 percent of its shoppers are women.)
One-to-one customer service has always been Mitchells' competitive advantage—"...in the beginning when we were a mom-and-pop and now when we're a large specialty retailer," says CEO Jack Mitchell.
In 1995, Ed Mitchell turned the day-to-day operation of the business over to sons Jack and Bill, who is now president. That was also the year it bought competing retailer Richards in Greenwich, CT, which it operates independently.
BUILDING A DATABASE
From the early days of the business when sales reps kept cards with notes about each customer to today when the retailer has a database that houses profiles on more than 50,000 active customers and more than 10 years of transaction data, Mitchells' goal has been to customize and personalize the shopping experience. Confirms Mitchell, "Our whole architecture has been and still is focused on the customer."
To compete with mass market retailers in the 1970s, Mitchells' worked with IBM to build a database, enabling it to understand its customers and facilitate personalized marketing. By 1989, it was ready to upgrade to an IBM AS/400 system, where it could "tie every sale to every customer," Mitchell says.
"What that means in real terms is that we can look at the historical preferences of our customers, and, for instance, see if a customer who used to buy American suits now likes a more contemporary European look in his clothing," Mitchell explains. That information can be used two ways: at the point-of-sale and for direct marketing efforts. All of this data is accessible from one of more than 40 computer terminals on the 25,000-square-foot selling floor, allowing sales reps to direct customers to appropriate clothing suggestions.
Mitchells' also uses the database a second way—for one-to-one marketing. For instance, Mitchell says, "The database would show our sales rep that Bob Smith hasn't bought business shoes in three years. Then we can send him a special note about some Italian shoes we have just coming in," he says.
To facilitate this type of communication, Mitchell says, "We collect positions and companies, birthdays, anniversaries, kids' names and ages, e-mail addresses—as much information as the customer is willing to part with." One personalized mailing using information from the database resulted in $314,000 worth of sales.
Decisions about whom to mail special offers or follow up thank you notes are left to the sales reps. All reps are assigned certain customers to be responsible for. "We try to connect a person with a person," says Mitchell, noting that the 186 CEOs in the database appreciate the personalized approach.
The company handles creative and marketing for direct mail and other promotions inhouse. Says Mitchell, "We try to have some kind of event each weekend, like an Escada trunk sale or a dinner for high-end customers. At the push of a button, we can get a list of customers who've spent over a certain amount for the year to invite to such events."
It all comes down to "different strokes for different folks, truly custom marketing," says Mitchell. "We like to think it's marketing down to the SKU level."
Mitchells is cautiously adding online media to its mix. "We're now looking at the Internet to enhance the shopping experience," says Mitchell. For instance, he says, "We can e-mail customers when their alterations are ready because, yes, that will make the shopping experience better." But, he's not planning any e-commerce yet. "We're still warm and fuzzy, brick and mortar. It's difficult to translate that to the Web."