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Re-tales: An Interview with Kaitlin Gottlieb

Posted by Amanda Nadile on Oct 23, 2019

Last updated on November 11th, 2019 at 05:26 pm

Re-tales is an interview series featuring experts in retail, commerce, and technology. In this post, we speak with Kaitlin Gottlieb, Director of Retail Sales & Clienteling at UNTUCKit. Kaitlin started her career in retail like many of us, working in a store part-time in high school. She shares how that position and others have unlocked new career opportunities, and why the future of retail is all about disruption.

How did you get your start in retail and how did it lead you to where you are today?

I worked at a boutique in the suburbs of Chicago during high school. It was only a few hours here and there but at some point, the owner took me on a buying trip to Los Angeles. The experience of going to showrooms really opened my eyes to the business of retail. I went on to Tulane University, graduating from the business school. Throughout my four years there, I stayed connected to fashion. After graduation, I enrolled in Parsons’ one-year AAS Fashion Marketing program. At the same time I was walking into Parsons, I got an internship at 7 For All Mankind’s showroom. It came from a vendor referral from my high school selling days.

I eventually moved back to Chicago where I got a job at Bloomingdale’s on Michigan Avenue. I ended up in the Executive Development Program, which was my first glance at managing people in retail and also managing a department. Not too long after, Reiss came into Bloomingdale’s to open a shop-in-shop. The brand was one of the original concession businesses at Bloomingdale’s. I was recommended by leadership to run the shop and I was so excited to be back in the world of contemporary fashion.

Several years later, a senior partner presented me with the opportunity to join UNTUCKit. I took a leap of faith and started as Director of Stores. The multi-store role with Reiss really exposed me to managing not just my four walls, but also another set of four walls – and then some. There were five UNTUCKit stores when I started. We opened 20 stores in my first year and the same number a year later. What an opportunity to help grow the brand from the ground up.

Your current role is focused on clienteling. How do you define clienteling? How has it evolved from a luxury differentiator to a widespread approach to customer engagement?

When I think of clienteling I think of the word smart. It is a two-way communication that has to be authentic from the start. It’s relationship-driven, and it’s curated and tailored. To me, clienteling is not sale notifications or back-in-stock alerts. It could be perks, but it’s the foundational relationship that scales and provides the best experience for engaged customers.

I came from Bloomingdale’s where there was a culture of clienteling. The platform was newly rolled out and while it wasn’t necessarily luxury, it was authentic and on-brand. Clienteling has to be both no matter the retailer you represent. At UNTUCKit, our clienteling is going to be casual, confident, and connected. Our associates will look for outfit building opportunities and they’ll suggest new arrivals to customers because they know what’s already in their wardrobe. It’s the feature, benefit, and impact for the customer based on the great relationship that’s been established.

“[…] understand the most frequent or important customer journeys in your retail environment. Identifying them will help you know what you need in a clienteling platform to fuel your employees.”

In your opinion, what are the core elements of a modern clienteling strategy? 

It starts with the store associate. Are they personable and conversational? Can they build relationships with customers and coworkers? These qualities are key to successful clienteling. You also need associates who are brand ambassadors. People who talk about your product outside the four walls of the store. People who are really passionate.

On the HQ side, you need to understand the most frequent or important customer journeys in your retail environment. Identifying them will help you know what you need in a clienteling platform to fuel your employees. Every retailer is different. I reflect back on old experiences and think about the boutique setup versus the department store. I would have had very different customer journeys to maximize. When we went from five stores to 25 stores at UNTUCKit, I lived on the floor with my store teams. Working with repeat online customers, new customers, new or veteran associates. This was critical in my understanding of key customer journeys and how we support them with clienteling.

Physical stores are no longer just for buying – they’re all about the experience. How can brands empower their store teams through the shift in focus from sales to services?

At UNTUCKit we are fast-paced. We have high traffic in a lot of our stores which requires multitasking. Even so, it’s important to keep the customer top of mind. You need to move at the pace the customer is non-verbally or verbally communicating. It could be the slow I-want-to-lounge-and-enjoy-the-store customer. Or the customer who has shopped with us for years, is looking for new arrivals, and needs the service to be quick and efficient. You need to understand the customer in front of you so you can tailor the experience to him or her.

It’s also important for associates to understand that the best customers have the highest lifetime value. This is a loaded KPI though, right? The best way to communicate this KPI and demonstrate what’s in it for the associate is through education. Using case studies from outside your brand is a great way to bring the metrics to life and show that it’s not only your expectation. Or, show them internal reporting examples. Ultimately though, it’s the combination of reacting to the customer in front of you and education.

As a former store manager and then director of stores, what are your biggest lessons learned? Any key pieces of advice for being successful at either position?

As cliche as it sounds, I’ve always enjoyed what I was doing and I’ve always worked really hard. I learned recently that working hard, staying positive, having a good attitude, and being curious about what’s to come is what has taken me from opportunity to opportunity.

The best advice I’ve been given has been non-verbal advice. It’s been cues and people wanting to help me get to the next opportunity – the vendor referral to my internship, the internal move from Bloomingdale’s to Reiss, the Bloomingdale’s senior leader who took me to UNTUCKit. My advice is simple: Always give 100%. It’s easy to say, but it really is worth it to put your best foot forward.

UNTUCKit has grown exponentially in recent years. What excites you most about where the brand is headed? 

It has been such a journey already. International expansion is the next and most exciting thing for us. We’ve been in Canada and will continue to grow there. In November, we are going to London where we’ll open two stores. The very nature of going international will bring us new challenges and it will force us to be on our toes.

In 2020, clienteling will be the big exciting thing for me. It’s the culmination of everything we’ve been working on from a sales perspective, growing stores and building relationships in various markets. Clienteling is what will bring all of the efforts together.

“Omnichannel business reporting is going to be crucial to the success of many retailers in the future.”

What is your prediction for retail 3, 5 or even 10 years from now? 

UNTUCKit was a disruptor – that was a word attached to us early on. We were a shirt brand that disrupted the shirt industry. I think retail will continue to move in the direction of disruptors. Think of Casper and Warby Parker. People have made mattresses and eyeglasses for years, but they’ve put a new twist on a niche within the market. And there’s usually an experience involved. Bringing digital to physical retail environments is the disruption I believe will continue.

Social media and influencers are also disrupting the space quite a bit. Brands are trying to partner with the right influencers because of the ways they style and connect with their followers. Retail is going in this direction.

As an industry, we have to tie it all together with reporting that truly captures omnichannel retailing. Store sales are still store business, and online is e-commerce. But there are so many gray areas with clienteling, attribution, and customization. Omnichannel business reporting is going to be crucial to the success of many retailers in the future.

What mobile apps can’t you live without?

Instagram. I don’t post often but I’m a lurker. I gravitate toward the feed. Shopbop. The e-commerce retailer and I have been on a long journey together. It is celebrating 20 years in business and I recently went to the pop-up in New York. Rent The Runway. It’s a new one for me, but in the past few months, I’ve become addicted. It is another example of a disruptor. There are so many benefits to understanding its model and participating in it. I also love that it’s run by women. Yelp. I’ve mastered the filters. If I’m in a new city, I’ll look at the most frequently rated spots then filter from there. I like to know where the good food is. I also can’t live without Lyft.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I’ve learned at UNTUCKit that it’s so important to self-discover. Our Head of Retail isn’t telling us what to do in every situation. He empowers us to self-discover and find options. By doing that, you’ll come to the right conclusion. I also really believe in the power of partnerships and collaboration.

What does your ideal weekend look like?

My husband and I take our mini Goldendoodle on power walks on the Chicago Riverwalk all through summer and even in the winter. And, I really love barre and dance – all types of dance, Latin, Zumba, ballet, hip hop…you name it. Lastly, brunch or dinner with friends! The West Loop is the new food area of Chicago so I’m enjoying exploring the neighborhood.

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