A service culture, bolstered by the best fashions, fine tuned stores, and technology investments, helped this Texas specialty clothing chain reach 65 years in business. Since 1945, Julian Gold has carved out a name for itself in Texas as a specialty store providing women with top fashions at competitive prices. Founded in San Antonio, the company now has locations in Austin, Corpus Christi, and Midland. The stores offer whatever a women could want, from designer brands, sportswear, contemporary, bridal, and casual clothes to eveningwear, shoes, lingerie, accessories, cosmetics, jewelry, and handbags.
But it isn’t renovation to stores or investments in IT that define this store. Julian Gold, is, was, and always will be defined by one word: service. “We work with our personnel to educate them so they will work well with our customers and keep them happy,” said Bob Gurwitz, owner and president. “The large chains can’t compete with us when it comes to service.”
Gurwitz has been with Julian Gold since 1963, learning by the side of the company’s namesake and founder. Since day one, putting the customer first has defined the Julian Gold experience. The company has large alteration departments in each store with more than a dozen people in San Antonio alone to make each purchase literally fit the needs of the customer.
“Our customer base is loyal not only to the store, but also to the staff,” said Gurwitz. “We encourage staff to gain our customers’ trust, and many of our salespeople have been here for a long time. They’ve built a strong customer base because they think of this as their business and take ownership in it.”
By promoting a culture where employees feel comfortable making decisions keeps salespeople happy with their jobs and improves the level of customer service. Not only that, Gurwitz said Julian Gold’s success in recruiting and retention also stems from an understanding of what is most important in life.
“This is a family store. Family comes first to staff, and we help them do what they need to in order to take care of their families. That helps them put the store right behind family on their priority list,” he said. “As a result, I think we have the strongest staff in all four stores that the company has ever had.”
James Glover, COO, is in charge of merchandising the four stores, which Gurwitz feels is another important aspect of effective customer service at Julian Gold. Company stores feature open floor plans, although departments such as lingerie or shoes have fixed locations and feature expert staff. Arrange-ments of remaining departments are based on seasonal products and other items the store chooses to highlight.
In addition, the company has nine buyers, essentially having a buyer focus exclusively on each category in the stores. That way, buyers have a better understanding of their category and can focus on their specialty, whether that is in contemporary, shoes, lingerie, or formal. Buyers also play a direct role in serving customers. They travel to each store and spend a great deal of time on the floor. That way, customers get to know the sales staff and the buyers.
“That is another thing you can’t do at the big chain stores,” said Gurwitz. “Each buyer works out of San Antonio, but they visit each store at least once a month.”
Maintaining a presence in the community that goes beyond simple advertising is another part of making the right connections with area shoppers. Working with charities through runway shows at all four stores and bringing in professional models not only showcases glamorous items for sale at the stores, it also generates goodwill by helping worthy causes.
Although service is the foundation Julian Gold is built on, ensuring its physical plant and operational procedures are constantly evolving is also a priority for Gurwitz. In 2008, the company remodeled the Corpus Christi location, opening up 2,000 square feet and turning it into selling space, making it 11,000 square feet overall. Renovations are on the table for the Austin, San Antonio, and Midland locations as well.
“At this point, renovation plans are all at least a year off because we need to protect our cash flow and do one store at a time,” Gurwitz said. “Those renovations will be similar to what we did in Corpus Christi, adding extra selling space by getting the most out the facilities we have and eliminating as much wasted space as possible.”
Investments in technology are another way Julian Gold has been able to improve operations and service. The company keeps complete records of each sale and customer, providing access of that data to sales staff. Understanding a customer’s shopping preferences is hugely important to better service.
In addition, Julian Gold’s IT system includes a comparative reporting system that allows the company to manage inventory better than ever.
“Technology is important because it provides us with information, which is the key to knowledge, which is the key to great selling,” said Gurwitz. “We have complete histories of customers, employees, and inventory. Daily inventory controls help us know where we are at in each department every day from an inventory and sales standpoint. We update the system all the time because technology is key to the survival of a specialty shop like Julian Gold.”
Entering its 65th year in business, Julian Gold is seeing the same dips in sales that are common all across each sector of the retail industry. However, Gurwitz said inventories and costs are better controlled now then at the beginning of the recession. The company will always carry some of the most recognizable names in fashion in all its categories—Armani, Escada, Etro, Nanette LePore, Trina Turk, and St. John are among the many recognizable brands in the stores. But the service foundation on which it was built will always be the cornerstone of Julian Gold.
“Although the opportunities are always there for us to expand, I don’t think we will go much beyond where we are at now and add stores because we need to keep our focus on service,” said Gurwitz. “Maintaining that high level of service is an essential part of the Julian Gold experience.”