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Hug Your Customers

Posted on Friday, September 30th, 2005 by

Hug Your Customers
Clothing retailer Mitchells/Richards uses personalized direct mail to retain customers and keep them feeling appreciated

How well do you treat your customers? That question can keep many small business owners up at night, but for Jack Mitchell, CEO of the Connecticut-based clothing retailer Mitchells/Richards, it has become an obsession. So much so, that the 66- year old Mitchell recently found time in his already busy schedule to write a book about his customer-focused philosophy. Its straightforward title: Hug Your Customers.

A custom magazine
(above), announcements
of special
events (above, left),
and a semi-annual
look book (below, left) are
just three of the many
products Mitchells/
Richards regularly
mails to customers.

“We’ve been told by others that we’re one of the most successful, if not the most successful, high-end clothing businesses of our size in the country,” Mitchell says. Mitchells/Richards routinely does more than $65 million in annual sales and his business clothes more than 300 chief executives from around the world. For a menswear company that was started 47 years ago by Jack’s father, Ed Mitchell—and now includes Jack’s brother Bill as well as five Mitchell sons from the next generation—in a former plumbing supply store in Westport, CT, this was no small feat.

Mitchell attributes almost all of his company’s success to one simple mantra: “it’s how we personally treat customers.” For a business that might see its best customers only once or twice a year, a big part of maintaining that customer relationship is through the use of direct mail. Jack’s son, Andrew, who is Mitchells/Richards’ vice president of marketing, estimates that 80 percent of the company’s ad budget is dedicated to various pieces of direct mail. “Direct mail is our number two priority for maintaining the customer relationship, right behind our sales associates’ actual face-to-face meetings,” he says. “The minute our customers leave the store, it is my responsibility to keep them coming back.” Using a multi-pronged approach, Mitchells employs everything from large-scale circulation mailings, like a custom-published magazine and a semi-annual fashion catalog, to hundreds of small, customized items, such as thank-you notes and fashion show invitations.

Mitchells’ glossy, full-color magazine, Mitchells Richards, now in its seventh year, is mailed to 25,000 of its current customers every spring and fall and covers topics from fashion trends to travel to fine wine. “It’s a another way to speak directly to the customer in a broad sense and it helps us build trust with them,” Mitchell explains. “We also use it as a “how to” for our customers, answering their many questions on how to dress—that’s the number one thing people ask us.”

In addition to the magazine, Mitchells also produces a sumptuous catalog or “look book” twice a year. It is sent to 25,000 current customers as well as inserted into 100,000 copies of the Connecticut and Westchester editions of the New York Times. As to its effectiveness in spurring growth, Mitchell replies, “we know it works because we have both new and existing customers coming in with ads they have torn out of the look book.”

But for a company that strives to differentiate itself through personal touches, Mitchell has found that the little things often make the biggest impact. “Last spring, we sent out ‘Thank you for your business’ notes along with a dozen collar stays for men’s shirts because we know that’s something our male customers end up needing everyday,” says Mitchell. “We got more positive feedback from that than any other recent promotion.” After the latest postal rate increase, Mitchells mailed out 10 one-cent stamps to some of its women customers, just as a courtesy. “They loved it and it only cost us a few extra pennies per customer.” Mitchell also stresses that there’s nothing wrong with mailings of only 200 or 300 pieces. In fact, the more personalized the better, he says. “Just find a local printer who takes on small projects and do it,” he advises. “Because as soon as you send your customers something that isn’t relevant to them, they lose their trust in you.” And for a company that goes out of its way to “hug” its customers, that loss of trust just might mean kissing them goodbye.

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