Boston Proper – Retail Merchandiser Report

Boston Proper believes the future of retail success lies in fostering authentic relationships not only with customers, but with each other. By Bianca Herron

While both the times and technology have evolved over the years, Boston Proper has always been able to adapt while staying true to their mantra: “We’re not from Boston and we’re definitely not proper, but we are unexpected and have been for 25 years.”

According to President and CMO, Sheryl Clark, the brand’s mission is to bring the runway to real women with fearlessly feminine collections designed and curated to be noticed. The Boca, Raton, Fla.-based company’s target demographic is women between the ages of 35-65, but they don’t obsess over age.

“We cater to an attitude,” Clark says. “While we may have an age demographic, it’s more of an internal guardrail so we stay focused and curate appropriately. Our goal is for women to know when they choose Boston Proper they can feel confident and wear it like no one else.

It’s more about owning your individuality, she notes. “We want to show her how to put together distinctive fashions and chic trends,” Clark explains. “We want to urge her out of her comfort zone and to embrace her fearlessly feminine side. We want to empower her with the personal conviction that confidence is the sexiest thing you can wear.”

Clark, who’s been with the company for nearly nine years, has seen the company transition through three ownership changes. “First, we were privately held by the family who started the business,” she explains. “Then we went public and now we are privately owned again. When we were publicly owned, we struggled to retain the sexy, distinctive style that defined our brand, and our business and our customers suffered because of it.

“Once we were sold back into the private sector, we had the freedom to push the envelope again and when our customers responded, it felt amazing,” she continues. “We were back, and now we’re better than ever.”

People Passionate

Prior to joining Boston Proper, Clark spent 16 years with Gap Inc. and started her career at Bloomingdale’s. Although most of her peers thought joining a company in Boca Raton was like “falling off the grid,” Clark enjoyed the passion Boston Proper’s employees had for its customer base. “Coming here was refreshing because everyone knows who that target customer is and they all love her,” she says. “We’re passionate about the customer because we are the customer.”

Boston Proper has 65 employees at its Boca Raton headquarters, and nearly 25 who work in its Mexico, Mo.-based warehouse. Half of the company’s workforce are millennial’s, so creating a work culture with the right policies and procedures to ensure they are successful is key, according to Clark. Policies like flex time, remote work, Summer Fridays, pet-friendly work spaces, yoga and meditation rooms, and “Innovation Fridays” are all part of creating a progressive work environment.

“We really try to create an atmosphere that mirrors who we want to be for our customers,” she says. “So, in order to retain people and attract talent, they also need to feel empowered. They want to learn, grow, and take responsibility and make decisions.”

To engage employee’s further, Boston Proper holds a “town hall” meeting once a month to share business results, communicate operational and personnel updates, and share wins and successes from its cross-functional teams. Ideas are also shared and questions are answered.

“Employees are also trained through webinars, or they can take a training course with our head of human resources,” Clark notes. “To keep a millennial in your company, they have to remain satisfied. That doesn’t always mean a promotion every year, so we’re trying to figure out ways to keep them creating, what we call, boxes of expertise. We want them to remain engaged, so they are inspired to come to work daily. Our innovation Fridays allow teams to solve strategic opportunities for the brand and learn about areas outside of their functional expertise.”

Valuing Relationships

Boston Proper has a family-like culture where senior-level management knows everyone’s names and their kids. “It’s a very small organization but we’re a big family,” Clark says. “Our employees interact with senior level management every day, which, I think, is empowering because it does not feel like a bureaucratic organization.

“I think people attract people, and culture attracts people,” she adds. “For us, we really are focusing on having the right people in the right jobs, but also the right culture to facilitate the things we want to accomplish as a company.

“We have learned the importance of hiring for cultural fit, it outweighs experience,” she continues. “If our culture and way of working is not something you value, you will not succeed. So we would rather train and develop talent versus hiring the wrong fit.”

The company’s family-like culture extends to its vendor relationships as well. “Everyone here works with us,” Clark says. “We want our vendors and suppliers to feel and know that they are very important to our success.

Clark notes that the only way Boston Proper will move forward is by utilizing new ideas and embracing the changing technology the customer is embracing. “If you aren’t open, receptive and flexible you won’t succeed,” she explains. “So, we have to communicate with our vendors and suppliers – we have to listen and we have to be open to new ways of doing business with the goal of creating a great customer experience.

“We don’t win if they don’t win,” she adds. “So, we have to figure out – through communication, positive reinforcement and sharing our results – how we can both win in the market. We already know everyone works hard, but we want to work smarter. That is why we seek ideas from everyone to figure out how we can streamline processes and be more efficient.”

In addition to nurturing employee and vendor relationships, Boston Proper has also branched out in exploration of co-branding partnerships. “We’re so excited about our most recent partnership with Celebrity Cruises,” Clark says. She notes that the company’s team met Michelle Homoky, Celebrity’s director of market sales for Eastern U.S., while collaborating on their annual Proper Affair fundraiser.

“We were both passionate about the cause, which is the Achievement Centers for Children and Families in Delray Beach, and as we worked together on this project, we realized the potential to expand the relationship,” Clark says. “We partnered with Celebrity because we feel there is a strong overlap in our audiences and a true win-win for both brands. It’s very new and we’re exploring a wealth of opportunities.

“It’s an exciting time for us right now as we navigate our catalog-based brand through an omnichannel world, but we’re skilled in the art of adapting,” Clark says, noting “we’re focused on curating the best assortment for our customer that is age, fit and trend appropriate while being innovative and embracing change.”

Clark is confident in her vision for the future, and projects exponential growth for the brand. “It really comes down to our people and relationships,” she concludes. “I know we have the right associates, the right vendors and the right partnerships in place to take us to the next level and beyond.”

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Boston Proper – Retail Merchandiser Report