Cover Story: Working its Way Into a New Channel
From a merchandising perspective, Carhartt is still learning when it comes to its brick-and-mortar retail. The brand formed a merchandising team to handle the responsibilities of selling via a new channel — e.g., making inventory purchases, figuring out an assortment strategy, tracking the flow of goods — but is still acquiring the acumen necessary to develop its stores. Carhartt has enlisted the help of outside resources to aid in that pursuit.
"We're putting in place systems that are specific to retail," says Maryann McGeorge, a retail operations consultant who's worked with Carhartt for nearly a year on the launch of its stand-alone stores. "We're not attempting to piggyback on the wholesale systems. It's important for a couple of reasons: One, we don't want retail to become an internal distraction to the existing wholesale business and, two, we need systems that work specifically for retail."
A Forum for Engagement
With a Twitter feed, YouTube channel, company blog, and Facebook and MySpace pages, Carhartt has a fully developed social media program. The brand's primary goal when it comes to social media is consumer engagement that keeps fans coming back to the brand, whether it's for company news, sharing stories, getting product feedback, among other things.
This consumer engagement was exemplified in Carhartt's use of Facebook to publicize the opening of its Wicker Park store last month. The retailer targeted fans in the Chicago area to let them know that one, it was going to be hiring for the store in that area and, two, it was seeking ideas on how it can engage with that community directly.
"The interesting thing about this brand is that it hasn't been driven by advertising," notes Ambroza. "It's been driven by consumers and their word-of-mouth sharing of stories. So many of our customers have a story to tell when it comes to our products. It really comes from how they're built and that they last for so long. They'll send us in jackets that are 15-, 20-, 30-years-old and they'll say, 'It was hard for them to throw it away, so they wanted to send it back to us.' That's the way the brand has been built for many years, and that's our primary focus with Facebook: provide a forum for those that share those common beliefs and experiences. Others will then read those stories and understand them. It's the word-of-mouth becoming the word of many."
Carhartt doesn't currently view social media as a sales driver, but that could be changing as more and more retailers roll out commerce-enabled Facebook pages. The retailer will only pull the trigger on such a move, however, if it helps consumers to further engage and embrace the Carhartt brand. An out-and-out sales tactic isn't part of the retailer's social media strategy. Risking the loyalty of our fan base isn't worth it, says Ambroza.