This Western apparel retailer is fine with having the customer guide the way it stocks and sells its merchandise. Employees at any of RCC Western Stores’ locations aren’t there to sell their customers Western apparel. They’re there to help them buy items that meet their needs. It’s an important distinction that Bob Hoover, CEO, says makes coming to work enjoyable for him and his employees.
“I’ve said for a long time that RCC should be a fun place to work; we don’t have to do work to the funeral dirge,” he said. “From our store managers, assistant managers, and key holders to sales associates, everyone in the store knows their job is to open the doors, turn on the lights, and assist customers.”
Hoover believes the greatest question you can ask a customer shopping at RCC isn’t “What are you looking for?” but rather “Where will you be wearing your purchase?” The answer will determine where to guide the customer to best suit his or her needs, not the needs of the corporation.
“It’s our job at RCC to help customers buy what they need,” he said. “We’re not there to push what we want to move.” Taking the focus away from pushing product and turning it to customer service is just one way Hoover creates an inviting store atmosphere. Having buyers and a general merchandising manager who understand the importance of keeping product in the stores that provides the selection, value, and mix customers need and want is another.
With a store footprint that spans from Minot, ND to Ocala, Fla., it’s not appropriate to buy the same product for every store. “Retailers often think about customer service at the store level,” Hoover said, “but it’s so much more than that. It starts at the buying level. We differentiate ourselves through selection and value.”
From boots and shirts to jeans, work wear, hats, accessories, gifts, and décor, RCC carries it all and in a wide variety of brands and styles. Rather than viewing its vendors as suppliers, RCC looks at them as collaborators in how it handles in-store promotions and sales.
“Vendors supply us with promotional material and opportunities to buy and fill in with special merchandise,” said Hoover. “This helps us give our customers better pricing and value on merchandise that they either need or want.”
Since its inception in 1948, RCC has focused on merchandising moderate to high-end Western fashions, whether a $50 shirt or a $400 pair of boots. Hoover said RCC operates primarily as a replenishment company with a lot of model stocks and tight controls over it all.
“I say we sell it, buy it, and fill in to those stock models,” he said. “We have merchandise plans for every store for every month broken out into about 40 classes of merchandise. We are very focused on inventory control.”
Hoover got involved with RCC in 1988 when he and a former business partner purchased the company’s initial seven stores from its founders, Nate Horwitz and Jack Bober. Since that time, the company has grown its footprint to 32 locations out of company profits. “We haven’t had any outside investors,” said Hoover.
Initially, all RCC stores were located in malls. In recent years, the company has diversified its placement strategy by also focusing on standalone locations and strip centers. Its mall locations are typically between 3,000 and 5,500 square feet, and its standalone locations range up to 10,000 square feet. Bigger locations equal bigger selection, but Hoover said there are some benefits to staying in mall-based locations.
“Mall locations draw a lot of traffic, but you don’t want to get so tied to the idea of being in a mall that you’re willing to end up in a dark corner with no foot traffic,” he said. “Western stores traditionally draw a lot of traffic because of the specialty nature of the merchandise, so we’re more focused on what’s best at the time.”
In November, the company took the placement question out of the equation a bit by launching its e-commerce site at rccwestern.com. New to the e-commerce game, Hoover said it would be interesting to see if RCC’s online selection and pricing matches customer expectations. “Our goal is to offer most items with same-day shipping. We have already set up a customer call center, and we’re focused doing whatever we need to keep those web customers happy,” he said.
To stay connected, RCC asked its customers to send in photos of them wearing the merchandise they picked out from RCC’s brick-and-mortar stores. The response was overwhelming and illustrated the varied lifestyles of the company’s customers.
“We received some wonderful photos of customers riding horses, working, going to concerts, and showing off their kids, a perfect illustration of how diverse our customer base is,” Hoover said. “The web will give us a way to further build the RCC brand and stay connected to our entire customer base.”