Partnership is crucial; especially if the maxim you’re only as strong as your weakest link, holds up. Most of us learn the veracity of this principle early on, say during the fourth grade Field Day’s three-legged race. Or the spoon and egg relay. (Egg yolk, by the way, when allowed to dry in your socks under the Texas sun will act as an adhesive agent practically rivaling the strength of super glue.)
To talk about the power of partnership, I spoke with Shannon Kitchens of Sage Clothing Company. Sage is a multi-store clothing retailer based in Atlanta, Georgia. Shannon opened the store in 1997 with the support of her parents. At the time, they opened one location, and Shannon, who had lived in Los Angeles and worked in wardrobe styling, undertook most functions of the business herself.
Within the ten years after the first Sage location opened, Shannon had married James Kitchens, brought him into the operation in varying capacities, and opened a second store. In the beginning, the single store’s inventory was tracked using a DOS-based system. “It was very bare-bones,” said Kitchens. After the second store was up and running, Shannon began looking for a better way to manage her inventory and upgrade her point-of-sale (POS) system.
Kitchens did her POS system research by talking with other store owners, getting referrals, and checking out, in-depth, three or four vendors. Most of them have booths at retail and apparel shows, which was a helpful way to get information at the time. “I looked at three different systems, and in the end I felt most comfortable with CAM,” she said. One of the perks was that CAM had an Internet component, which, at the time, was difficult to find.
CAM Commerce Solutions was founded in 1983 and develops, installs and services highly integrated POS and inventory management solutions for small to medium size retailers. Sage Clothing is running Retail Star as its point-of-sale and inventory control system in both brick-and-mortar stores, and CAM’s fully integrated ecommerce site i.STAR.
Implementing Retail Star with two stores made tracking inventory much easier. “We could just check the system to see if we had an item. It eliminated the need to call over to the other store, said Shannon.
CAM also gave Sage a more robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database. Customers give Sage information about themselves at the point-of-sale, all of which can be translated into detailed reports. For example, Sage can find out things like who the biggest spenders are, or who hasn’t come into the store in a specified period of time. This allows Shannon to do more targeted email marketing, which she has. “We send emails out two to three times per month,” she explained, adding that if there is a report she doesn’t have but wants to run, she can just call CAM customer support and they will help her build it.
In 2009, Sage launched its online store using CAM’s i.STAR module. Around this time, James became a more full-time partner in the business, using his expertise to handle IT and system updates, photograph merchandise for the web, and upload photos and item-related information to CAM’s online module.
“The system especially helps with the online store,” James and Shannon explained. “The system self manages inventory. If we sell out of something, it’s automatically taken off the site, which is nice,” said James. And if you check out their online store, you find quite a bit of inventory. Most boutique-type retailers haven’t yet put a big selection online, but Sage is working hard to capture web-based business. “The more you have available, the better your sales,” said the couple.
Thus far, Shannon and James have been very happy with Retail Star. “The POS system works like a charm. They’ve mastered that,” James said, “but the shopping cart has some kinks.” He explains that overall, they are happy with it, but there are a few things they would like to be able to do. For example, James would like to be able to give away coupon codes that work only with sale items, but the system applies coupons to classes of merchandise. So, they have had to work their promotions around that.
There is a system upgrade available James added, that could possibly take care of that kind of issue, which Sage may implement in the future. One thing they really appreciate about CAM, is that users like James and Shannon can add their requests to a list, and if enough customers have similar requests, CAM will work them into an upgrade.
Today, James and Shannon continue to grow their business. “Our online sales have jumped in the past year,” said Shannon, who now runs marketing and day-to-day store operations while James manages IT. They’ve figured out a way to work toward each other’s strengths, and they seem to be having a good time along the way.
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