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Who Needs Social Media Anyway?: Carabella’s Retail Marketing the Good Old Fashion Way Via Customer Service

December 15, 2011

    A few months ago,  I drove to Carabella in Oakmont, PA to interview its owner Carol Kinkela.   Carabella is a gem of an upscale woman’s retail clothing boutique  to which I was introduced last year at a fashion show benefitting Lydia’s Place, a non-profit.   

Carabella Fashion Event

     Just a few weeks earlier, I attended Carabella’s  6th Annual Alzheimers Association Benefit  Some Like it Haute event/burger contest/shopping spree fashion show.  This event was so much fun, a perfect girls’ night  out for a good cause.  Over the past six years, Carabella has raised over $350k for The Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Pittsburgh.  Here is a slideshow of some of my iphone photos of the event.

     I had read about how Carol was one of 6 persons inducted into the 2011 Pittsburgh Fashion Hall of Fame  during a luncheon at the tail end of Pittsburgh Fashion Week.   As a business lawyer with a concentration on the retail and fashion industry, I wanted to interview her to talk about her long-standing retail brick and mortar shop.  We sat down before the shop opened, on the  autographed leather couch in the center of her store.  

    Carol and I talked about a litany of things while her “bellas” (sales associates) prepped the store to open.  We talked about:  How she has built her business.  What drives her.   How important the bellas are to her business, how her business would not be where it is today were it not for the wonderful women with whom she works.  Their Carabella’s At Your Service van.  The psychology of shopping (one of my favorite topics).  Sizing.  Body image.  Dealing with the dynamics of mother daughter shopping tension (with which every female is familiar).  Dressing age appropriate.   Her customer service policies and philosophy.   Their outfit seal of approval.

I also asked Carol about her use of social media or lack thereof. 

     Carol said that, at this juncture, she doesn’t feel as though she really needs to rely on social media for her particular business.   She said her store is somewhat of a throw-back.  She believes in one brick and mortar store with superior customer service.  Carabella adheres to a simple marketing plan:  print advertisements in select magazines, supporting charitable events, and word of mouth.   She emphasized that her approach was about building relationships.   Judging by how busy the shop was at 10 a.m. (just minutes after her sales associate unlocked the front door), it would appear as though her approach works.  Her dressing rooms were buzzing.  I could not believe how busy they were on a rainy Tuesday after a holiday. 

    I, of course, took the liberty to try on a few things too, with Carol’s guidance.  

     Carol has an elegance, sincerity, and eye for fashion that so many of her patrons want to emulate, including myself.  In fact, one customer with bag in tow, said goodbye to Carol, kissing her cheek, walking out the door literally saying to Carol, “I want to be just like you.”  For Carabella’s, word of mouth marketing and superior customer service works, whether  Carabella has Twitter followers or not.

So is your business also a business that doesn’t even need social media?   Facebook, Twitter, Blogging.  I have heard many firms say they have so many institutional clients that there is no need to open that “can of worms”.  I know I have a few social media consultants that would have to disagree.  What are your thoughts on the necessity for businesses to use social media?   

  • What kind of customer service are you providing to your customers? 

    Carabella Storefront

  • Do you have customer loyalty?
  •  How much do you know about your end consumer?  Do you reach out to them via email?  Is it just an email blast or a one on one correspondence?
  •  What does your brand exude? 
  • Do your customers want to be just like you?

As I sit in my office chair, with my new blue Carabella ruffle sweater on, I think we can all learn a thing or two from Carol Kinkela. 

             *Also, Carol was a 2009 Woman of Integrity Award winner, an award presented to only four business woman in the Western Pennsylvania region each year by the Pittsburgh Professional Women.  Awardees are women of distinction who have balanced career and civic responsibility, who share their success by mentoring others and supporting their communities.

     Besides providing beautiful and sophisticated fashions, Carol also supports  many important causes.  The Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Pittsburgh is just one of the causes she quietly and elegantly supports. Carol is noted for supporting dozens of charities including Juvenile Diabetes, Jones Legacy, The Crohns & Colitis Foundation and Relay for Life.

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