Vanity has endured industry ups and downs over the years, “[but] we definitely have a history of being successful in women’s retail,” Miller says, noting that the company understands its customers. “[We know] what’s right for her lifestyle.”
Miller joined Vanity two years ago. “Formerly, I was at Coldwater Creek for 11 years,” she says, noting that her previous experience also includes Costco Wholesale Corp. and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
Recently, she says, Vanity has undergone a rebranding. During the process, “We started doing customer research,” Miller recalls.
The majority of Vanity’s female customers range between 20 to 35 years of age. “Once we understood who ‘she’ was, we went through the process of creating with a much more appealing and updated logo and brand color palette,” Miller says.
The company also changed its brand photography. “We’re trying to really provide aspirational imagery that’s not unachievable,” she declares.
Vanity’s hard work has been worth it. Not only has it had positive reactions from customers, “But also from our employees,” Miller says. “Other stores in the malls have approached us and commented about the elevation of our overall brand.”
In the Cloud
Vanity’s efforts also included a new website, which launched in October 2014. “It’s completely on the cloud and utilizes new technology,” Miller says. “Our old site was riddled with problems and technical issues.
“Customers did not have a good experience because it was slow and error-prone,” she says, noting the company improved its online efforts by hiring Vice President of Technology and Customer Acquisition Matt Williams.
“Matt has a long history and background with retailers, doing web development and this type of work,” Miller says. “He’s rebuilt the site from the ground up.
“If you’re on the web site, it will automatically adjust to the size of your screen,” she says, noting these changes have had a strong impact on web sales. “They’ve increased significantly.”
Up to Standards
Vanity is in the process of remodeling 10 stores and opening new ones. “On the remodel side of things, we have picked stores that were a bit dated,” Miller says. “We’re trying to bring them up to our visual standards.”
That will involve renovating the stores in terms of flooring, chandeliers and fixtures, she says. “It makes the stores feel much brighter and have much more of a boutique feel.
“We’ve had a very good sales performance in the remodeled stores, and we take that same approach in those new stores as well,” Miller says, noting that the company plans to open nine locations this year and two more next year in multiple states, including Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, Colorado and Texas.
This will put the company primarily in the Midwest. “[Operating in that region] is really in our historical strength,” she says. “This is traditionally the market in which we are known and we have been expanding from there, as well as adding new customers in new marketing through our online channel.”
When hiring, Vanity looks for associates that have experience relevant to the position, Miller says. However, “What’s really important is that we’re looking for people with a passion for apparel and clothes,” she says.
“In order to excel, you need to love what you’re doing,” Miller continues. “That’s why [Vanity is] a fun place to work. We have people that have been here 20 years. They all have the same, common goals. It makes it a really nice place to work.”
Employee retention is critical to Vanity, Miller says. “It’s a well-established fact that turnover is costly, and it’s especially costly for a retailer that puts an emphasis on the customer/store relationship as we do at Vanity,” she says.
In the past few years, the company made substantial changes to its field operations to keep consistency in its expectations across all stores, districts and regions, which have been well received by its field teams, Miller says. “Knowing what is expected is important, and knowing that everyone is being measured fairly and equally across the country helps to build confidence amongst the teams,” she states.
Changes in the field also included a focus on its people and behaviors that drive results as opposed to only focusing on metrics alone, Miller says. “This was a big cultural shift for Vanity,” she recalls.
“Initially, we experienced some turnover as a result of our new initiatives, but that was necessary,” she declares. “We recognized that not everyone would be able to, or want to, adjust to the new strategy.”
Before launching the new operational strategy in the field, the company experienced high turnover at the management levels in its stores. “After working under the new strategy for just 18 months, we experienced a 26 percent improvement in retention,” she reports.
Today, key members of Vanity’s team include Visual Manager Angie Sunde, who “has been instrumental in the design of our new stores and remodels,” Miller says. “She has been able to create an eclectic, upscale feel to the stores, with a very small budget.
“This, combined with the work of Dane Tollefson, director of real estate and construction, has enabled Vanity to target appealing malls with profitable terms, enabling growth of the brand in a time when many retailers are closing doors,” Miller adds.
Vanity regularly copes with the challenge of attracting new customers, Miller says. Although it maintains a loyal following of clients, “[We need to] understand what our customers go to our competitors for,” she says.
The company is now in the process of studying those potential clients. “From there, we will determine different strategies to either do additional marketing and possibly look at different twists to our product line,” she says.
But for the moment, “We’re really continuing to grow our web business and grow our customer base,” Miller says. “We have a profitable number of stores, and we’re always looking to expand the base, or be able to reach new customers and new markets.”
So far, Vanity has seen significant increases in web customers. “We are also opening stores in new markets and obtaining new customers through market expansion,” she adds.
She has a positive outlook for the company, going forward. “We have many customers that tell their friends about Vanity with 93 percent of survey respondents stating they recommend Vanity to friends,” Miller continues. “Over time, more and more will hear about the brand.
“They get an experience at Vanity that’s unlike any other,” Miller says. “She gets service and honesty while being able to buy product that is of high quality and is at low price. Overall, Vanity has a really bright future and huge potential.”