The team at this family owned business knows that maintaining a loyal customer base is the key to any retailer’s success. The retail industry can be broken down into an array of sectors according to a range of criterion, but there is a common thread that will forever tie all of the businesses in the industry together.
Linen Source is a family owned business that has remained successful throughout the years because its team focuses on the one thing that all retail companies should make a priority: keeping customers satisfied.
More often than not, a customer’s level of satisfaction is the single most influential factor in his or her decision to return to a particular store. Determining how to achieve the highest possible level of customer satisfaction isn’t always simple, and it usually requires an organization-wide effort, which means all employees must be in tune.
According to Lisa Street, nearly every decision the team at Linen Source makes is made with the customer in mind. “First and foremost, we focus on service because we want to build a strong, long-term relationship with each of our customers,” said Street, vice president of merchandising at the Tampa, Fla.-based company. “We want people to come back and purchase from us a number of times because repeat customers are the backbone of any retailer.”
At the center of Linen Source’s customer-friendly model is a liberal return policy. Although the company might occasionally lose a small amount of capital as a result of this policy, it’s beneficial in the long term because it appeases customers and serves as proof of the organization’s integrity. “We want our customers to know that we’re not happy unless they’re happy,” Street said.
Although superb service is important, it’s not the sole aspect of an individual’s experience that influences whether or not s/he will make a future purchase. The quality of a retailer’s products are as, if not more, important, and Street and her team are well aware of this.
“If the quality of your products is great and your service is mediocre, a customer might return, but you won’t gain any repeat customers if you have subpar products, even if your service is outstanding,” Street said.
Because the team at Linen Source recognizes the importance of producing superior goods, it implemented a number of processes to monitor and maintain quality throughout the design and manufacturing stages.
During the initial design stages, Street and her team review fabric samples from an assortment of vendors and manufacturers, which she said ensures quality features are built into the products. The team compiles a list of features it believes will enhance an item’s performance and differentiate it from similar items in the market.
Because it visits the factories regularly, the team is able to see firsthand what new fabrics and techniques are available. “It’s not uncommon for us to compare sheets of the same thread count at a dozen factories,” Street said. “Believe it or not, they all feel different, and choosing the right fabric is the first step in designing a great product.”
During the production stage, the company hires a team of quality assurance specialists to visit the manufacturing factories and perform mid-process tests. This ensures the products are coming to fruition in a manner similar to what was originally envisioned.
Quality testing doesn’t always stop when a product hits the market, however. Street and her team developed a system that allows them to review products that have the highest return rates. By analyzing these items, the team can figure out why a significant number of customers were unsatisfied with something they originally felt they needed. “This information directly influences the design of new products,” Street said.
“We might use the information to tweak a feature on an old product and reintroduce the item to the market, or we might use it to completely rule out the use of a particular fabric in the future,” she continued. “Even if there isn’t anything technically wrong with the product, it was returned for a reason, and we try to figure out why it didn’t live up to the customers’ expectations. Our success relies on us understanding these issues, reacting to them, and coming up with a solution.”
With a team of 400 employees, Linen Source is a relatively small company, considering its competitors are industry giants, like Bed Bath & Beyond and Macy’s, but its size has never been a disadvantage. In fact, Street said the small size allows she and her team to work more efficiently.
Because the company operates with just a small group of merchandisers, each associate and buyer can contribute his or her ideas and be heard.
“They know there’s a direct correlation between the work they do and the results we see, and that creates an entrepreneurial spirit that permeates throughout the organization,” Street said. “There aren’t a lot of managerial layers to go through, which is conducive to a collaborative environment.”
The team effort proved especially useful one year ago when Linen Source underwent a transformation in terms of its brand and marketing efforts. “It was a time of self evaluation,” Street said.
“We wanted to update our brand personality and develop a brand-specific visual identity and copy voice,” she continued. “We started to look a little too similar to the mass merchants in the market. We spent a lot of time talking to our customers, vendors, and employees, and we used their feedback to establish a plan.”
Since the brand update, the team at Linen Source has received positive feedback from its customers, and despite a crunch in the soft goods market last fall, the company is doing well, and Street is optimistic about the future.