This 100-year-old, single-site women’s specialty store offers everything a lady desires from a successful shopping experience. A phrase coined by Miss Jackson’s founder Nelle Jackson in 1916 aptly describes the concept behind the Oklahoma-based women’s specialty store: culture counts for more than coin.
Originally, Miss Jackson’s opened in 1910 as a lingerie shop on the balcony of a jewelry store in downtown Tulsa. Today, the 33,000-square-foot, single-site store carries it all, from ready-to-wear gifts to fine and fashion jewelry, handbags, and shoes. But regardless of the change in product focus, the philosophy of the shop has stayed the same for the past 100 years.
“Nelle’s mission was to make the life of her customers more elegant, more enjoyable, and more relaxed, and that’s what we still do today,” said Judy White, general manager. “We’re just following her footsteps.”
In addition to apparel items, Miss Jackson’s carries skin and beauty products. Although it’s rounded out as a one-stop shop, White said what truly differentiates the shop is its inhouse alteration department, complimentary gift-wrap, local delivery options, and fur storage and repair services. “You can come and get everything you need and all with excellent service,” she said.
Recent studies have shown that women baby boomers have started taking their shopping dollars online as it becomes harder to find qualified and friendly salespeople in brick and mortar shops. Luckily for Miss Jackson’s, which targets high-end ladies in all age groups, service is of the utmost importance.
For example, the store offers complimentary personal shopping services for those interested. From crystal to cufflinks, fragrance to fancy foods, scarves to silver service, or even a perfectly coordinated outfit, these personal shoppers are there to create a perfect purchasing experience.
Miss Jackson’s buyers are also on the shop floor about 50% of the time, enabling them to both stay in touch with what their customer population wants and with what regulars are looking for. “Sometimes our buyers go to market with a specific customer in mind,” said White. “When we go, we look and say, ‘This dress is what so-and-so wants.’ It makes the experience special for the customer and for us.”
Although Tulsa isn’t necessarily a small community, Miss Jackson’s prides itself on knowing what its community members want and what events they have in the future. When the daughter of one of its regular customers was getting married, White and her buying team went to market looking for something for her to wear to the wedding. The personal shopper philosophy, she said, was something near and dear to Nelle’s heart.
“That’s why we’re still in business 100 years later,” White said. “The grandmothers start shopping here, and the granddaughters follow.”
On Miss Jackson’s website, White has a list of items she calls, “A Retailer’s Survival Guide: 17 Ways to Beat The Heat and Stay Cool in These Challenging Economic Times.” Number six on the list: Don’t overbuy. Stay within your budget. Be more selective in making inventory purchases. Say “no” to trends you don’t trust and “yes” to the ones that speak to you as sellers.
With the recession impacting sales and an overall difficult economy making consumers jittery, rather than under-buying to give the store an empty look (something White cautions against in number eight on the list), the employees at Miss Jackson’s work as a team to make sure they’re keeping finances in check.
“We’ve cut costs, lowered inventory, and tried to improve our inventory turnover rate,” she said. “Working in retail during a recession is difficult because a sale is not guaranteed; you need to make customers’ experiences special and offer them something here that they can’t find elsewhere.”
To offset its budget-focused inventory levels, Miss Jackson’s puts together special events for its customers. Although the store may not carry a designer’s entire line, a special designer-featured event gives customers an opportunity to see what their options are and to advise their personal shoppers when an item peaks their interest.
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Miss Jackson’s is holding a series of such events, starting with an anniversary gala in April. Events include trunk shows with designers Jay Strongwater, Rebecca Minkoff, and Kevan Hall. To highlight its beauty product complement, the store will also hold spa, makeup, and hair scoping events.
“The gala is for people who have been involved with Miss Jackson’s throughout the years,” said White. “For the events, we are inviting our Tulsa community and customers who live outside of state.”
It might be surprising that customers travel from other areas to go to Miss Jackson’s, but White said once an out-of-towner comes to Tulsa and visits the store, she’s hooked. Salespeople understand that a chance meeting at the store is never simply a chance meeting. They often follow up on the visit with handwritten notes.
“I guess the secret is in the small details,” said White. “We call you by your name; we know who you are.”
This little secret is what gives Miss Jackson’s a competitive advantage against competitor high-quality apparel chains, such as its neighbor Saks Fifth Avenue. Although Saks has great product, Miss Jackson’s is more in touch with its patrons and takes the time to take care of them.
“When we go to market, we have our customers in mind,” said White. “I don’t believe the larger chains have that ability.”
Miss Jackson’s has something else most apparel chains don’t: employees who have been with them for more than 40 years. That longstanding connection to patrons, their children, and even their grandchildren only furthers Nelle Jackson’s mission and key phrase.
White also noted that women do not always shop to buy. Often, they shop because they enjoy the shopping experience, so although the Internet continues to impact consumers’ shopping behaviors, by offering an excellent shopping experience, Miss Jackson’s ensures it will be a hot spot.
“Culture counts for more than coin,” concluded White. “A successful retail business is based on relationships, as is a successful shopping experience. It’s also an experience that can be shared with a daughter, a best friend, a spouse—not something the Internet can offer…yet.”