Kendra Scott had 2020 planned out for her eponymous jewelry and home decor company when all of her plans--along with those of so many businesses--changed in an instant. "Covid-19 was not part of our plan," Scott told Inc. editor-at-large Tom Foster during Inc.'s latest Real Talk: Business Reboot webinar Thursday. "The best-laid plans don't always come to fruition."
Scott, who's based in Austin, says she had to return to a "startup mentality" to face the health crisis that temporarily closed the doors on her 108 retail locations and the economic freeze that altered her supply chain and changed customers' purchasing habits. Working from home--while juggling homeschooling for her three kids--and staying in touch with her teams and customers, she reminds herself to "be creative and collaborative and take each day as it comes."
Here are some of the insights and highlights from Foster's conversation with Scott:
Scott learned about flexibility during the Great Recession when she realized that selling her jewelry primarily through stores owned by others wasn't going to work for her or her long-term plan. "Every store around was closing. Nobody had a store," she recalled.
"When the crisis hit, I had to pivot quickly. It forced me to look at my business differently," she said. That meant opening her own brick-and-mortar shop and going direct to consumer through the web. She remembers telling her staff that this move could not fail ("I'll have to move back in my mother," she said with a laugh), and that it could succeed beyond their hopes.
A decade later, Scott has 108 stores and a thriving online business. And, pre-pandemic, her company was valued at $1 billion.
Create a connection--however you can
Much of the success of her retail locations is the way the stores' design encourages customers to interact with the merchandise and salespeople. Unlike other jewelry stores filled with glass display cases (and, in some cases, plexiglass barriers), Kendra Scott stores emphasize tactility and connection.
The challenge now is maintaining that feel in the 78 shops that have already reopened post-Covid, as well as translating the experience online. Salespeople can no longer touch customers, but, as Scott muses, "How else can we touch her heart, touch her mind?"
One way has been speeding up a virtual try-on concept that was in the works for a year and that launched in April. Another has been implementing curbside pickup programs at some stores. This is especially important, since Scott believes brick-and-mortar stores are not going away. "We need those places," she says. "We have to create places that allow people to connect."
As Scott advises her employees: "Don't worry about the transaction. Worry about the connection."
Businesses need to ask (and answer), "Where is [the customer] in this moment? How can we serve her? How can we bring her joy?" Scott says. "Because she's our boss. She signs our checks. If not for her, we don't have jobs."
Since the start of the pandemic, Scott and her team have been reaching out to customers on every possible platform. She advises people to pick up the phone, send emails, or get on FaceTime with customers to make them feel seen and appreciated. (Even her mother has been making calls.) Scott has also sent many handwritten letters. "The simplest things can make a real difference," she says. "Don't focus on the business. Focus on the customer."
Learn from every crisis
Scott, whose company survived the last recession (and whose previous business did not succeed), knows about challenges. She also knows about keeping the faith during tough times. "There's a reason this moment is happening," she likes to tell herself. "In the moment, you may not understand it," but a lesson will present itself. If you can understand that lesson, you--and your company--will gain from it.
"Right now it seems so hard to understand why something like this has happened," Scott says. One possible lesson: After the quarantine lifts and some of the harder hit sectors of the economy rebound, "We may be kinder to each other, more loving to each other," she hopes. "Those are the gifts that may come from this struggle."