Paula Lorenz, owner of Stone Feather Road, keeps her high standards while making digital marketing look as effortless as her sense of style.
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Bringing style and class to the wardrobes of many has long been a mission of Paula Lorenz, owner and designer of Stone Feather Road, a higher-end clothing and accessories boutique with a wide-range of offerings. We asked Lorenz to tell us what her mission will look like in the year ahead.
Western & English Today: 2020 was a crazy year – what does your 2021 business outlook look like?
Paula Lorenz: Well I think to backtrack to 2020, we are one of the ones that was fortunate in that we already had an online presence. So we already had a website, as a retailer, and we already had a presence on Facebook and a lot of followers.
We really have three pieces to our business model. One is that we operate a brick and mortar store in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Then we have the roadshow, which is where we're on the road going to very select shows throughout the country. There are about five of them that we do each year, all pretty good sized shows. We do the NFR Cowboy Christmas normally held in Las Vegas. We do another big scale livestock show in November, and we set up at Cheyenne Frontier Days and San Antonio Rodeo. We also set up at a couple of other smaller ones as they present themselves and where it makes sense. So, when the pandemic hit we were just coming out of San Antonio Rodeo 2020, and when I learned that there was going to be a shutdown I talked to my marketing manager and just said, ‘you know, stop whatever we're doing and everything in the entire store goes on to the website now. That'll become our virtual business and our virtual way to reach everyone, because this isn't going away.’
One of our goals is that when we sell, we really only have one intention and that is a sale that sticks for the long haul. In other words, I hate returns. If we don't sell it right, and it doesn't have real meaning to our customer, then it's a sale that does not wear well for us. So, our intent always is to make sure we find the right item or items that our customers are going to love, not just now, but for the long haul.
W&E: Did you face any challenges during the 2020 push for digital presence? What are your key strategies now?
Lorenz: It's very difficult because you're competing against monster companies like Amazon, for instance, for market share and people’s expendable income. It's so easy for people to sit at home now, which is what they've been doing, and surf through page after page after page of ads and options. It’s so much easier to look at a store when you're in person in a brick and mortar than it is online, because you're seeing individual [pieces of] what that store has to offer but not in collective concise imaging. To bring that across in your website or in your digital marketing is one of the challenges. The second challenge, I think, is definitely. ‘Who are you competing with?’ People say ask me, ‘who's your biggest competitor?’ I can easily say it’s ‘Amazon.’ You're not going to see our product [on Amazon], because a lot of it is one of a kind, but what we are competing for is the money being spent. That's part of the challenge for us.
[Going digital] was seamless. We were lucky when the pandemic hit, we already had a lot of those bases in place. Our website was up, our Facebook was rolling, we already knew how to go live on Facebook. At that point we were doing live Facebook once or twice a week anyway. We launched an auction site on our website a little over a year and a half ago. We run an auction pretty much every week, and it wraps up on Sunday nights with 30 items from jewelry, to home décor, to leather accessories and gift items. That's been a sustainable presence, a consistent marketing plan that we work out each week and kind of covers the expenses. Then we also started doing what we call Back Road Treasure shows, which is another live show that's promotional in nature but really showcases brand new, gorgeous jewelry pieces, and we'll get a very nice pop from that once or twice a month.
The game in a lot of ways, is continuing to evolve. We just can't stay happy and satisfied with any particular business model right now, because it's changing all the time. One of the things that we're doing is the first venture for us into magazine marketing and ad buying, and we made the decision to launch our text messaging marketing approach. If somebody signs up to our text messaging, we can then send them a message when we do something - It's another way for us to reach our client base. Our database via email we use quite consistently, probably three to four times a month we’ll email our clients. And so, not everybody participates in all of the media platforms. Somebody might be an Instagram person. Somebody might be a Facebook person. Somebody may have nothing to do with any of that, but they will take a look at an email.
W&E: How have your digital strategies changed throughout the last year?
Lorenz: We already had a presence online, but I would say it was a soft presence. It wasn't consistent. It wasn't quite the image that we wanted, and so we started to work on that. And then as the year progressed, when we finally got through October, we were holding our own online through Facebook, Instagram, and through our website, then of course in store when we started opening up. We were fortunate because Iowa didn't completely close down. We were open for business, although we converted a lot of our time to shipping, and doing live videos. We opened up our store on Fridays and Saturdays and concentrated from Monday through Thursday hitting it hard in the other part of our marketing strategy, which was just trying to reach all the customers that we had already touched over the years at shows and through anywhere else we might have met them.
We decided to do a large photo shoot, so we selected our five models, and we went for 10 hours on a very cold day in October, and we created from that many small video vignettes that we can use for marketing purposes. It's more lifestyle-driven, bridging people to us - whether it's a promotional part of our website, or to outerwear, or belts, or brand new boots – we are leading our fans to the pieces that we have available. We shot with a great photographer who was with us all day, and then we shot with a videographer team of three people with a drone in the sky, and at four different locations. And so, the product that came out of that day is a two-minute video that's purely branding that tells our Stone Feather Road story.
I've always believed that the stories that are behind our brand, behind a particular coat or behind a belt, when we share that with people, that creates that real value. It’s intrinsic value, but it's real value, and why this piece is important to our customer.
W&E: What is your best tip for online growth/engaging with your audience?
Lorenz: You’ve got to be very flexible in your approach when you're looking at how to maximize your marketing coverage. Beyond that, you've got to have great service. You’ve got to take care of your people, and you’ve got to have a communication link and a consistency in how you treat the people when you have them on the phone or when you're writing a note. Show up, even in your packaging. We have a gourmet popcorn store next to us, and [when the pandemic hit] we knew everybody was at home just like most of us were. But when they received a package from us, we wanted it to be a surprise, so [the popcorn store] started packaging popcorn for us, and we called it Rocky Road Treats. So they get a free popcorn mix, and it has our logo on it. The popcorn goes in with many of our packages that go out to clients. So it's somewhat ‘under promising, over delivering’ and giving that extra punch. When they open the box, they go ‘wow!!’
We haven't missed a beat with our core clients. I will say they have sustained us this year, and we are incredibly grateful for their loyalty and their support. The challenge for a lot of retailers is securing new clients that don't know us, so all the ones that we don't get to meet in person. I would say if we get to meet a client in person, we have a really good shot at landing them as an ongoing customer, because they end up really enjoying the experience of meeting us, playing with us in the store, trying stuff, learning some of our tips that we have been privileged to learn over decades of being in this business. So they already know our word is our word when we put something out on the internet that they can't touch and see. [They know] that when they get it, it is exactly what we've said it would be. To do that with a brand new client [is] much, much harder. The internet is very challenging...It's not easy, those sales don't convert as quickly as what you might think they would. Part of that, I think, is we're in a little bit of what would be a more moderate upper-priced [category]. [A lower priced item] comes in a lower quality, and we're unwilling to compromise that quality for that lower realm of pricing. So, we have to work a little harder to create the value, and make sure we can help our customers make that connection. It's a solid investment versus a quick trend that in a very short amount of time will either wear out, or you'll be tired of it.
W&E: Did you attend WESA market in Dallas? If so, what styles did you see and love?
Lorenz: We did go to WESA, absolutely, and we actually added two days on to it. Given it shifted from Denver to Dallas we didn't know the Dallas market. We knew that there was way more there, and we wanted to have a little bit of extra time. The vendors that we have bought from before - we re-ordered again. We picked up some new vendors, and we started to pick up fun [accessories]. We picked up a fragrance line. We found a very novel way that this particular company was doing [cologne], and we found great sunglasses. That's not normally our buy, but it gives a little bit more interest to our customer. We can throw it into a photo shoot, and it further cements that imaging in that field that we're looking for. So we added in layers to our mix. We stepped up a price point in some of the leather goods. We jumped into some fur for fall. So we're gradually adding layers, and I would say we didn't back off at all in our buy. If anything we amped it up and went forward based on what was selling last year but also based on what we saw. We found it was really fun and interesting.
We were actually pretty inspired by a lot of the menswear. We were loving the colors and the textures. There was a lot of that Southwestern interest that was flowing through the menswear. One of the shirt brands we bought is already being tested. It's done very well. The nice part for us is we get a ton of men at the shows that we go to, so there's a crossover potential sale for us, and we've experienced it already at San Antonio. We started to see that 20-something age group in males coming into our store buying cowhide rugs, buying our jackets, buying this new shirt we have, and we’re really excited about what they're finding with us. Our hats we bought have not the total Western feel but more of this lifestyle mountain-West-[feel]. We're transforming Iowa as well in our little downtown Cedar Falls. You're starting to see more boots or hats, and more of that southwestern [look]...We love that we can introduce something new and bring our local market into the lifestyle brand that we're developing.
W&E: Tell us about your brand/store style – what does style mean to you?
Lorenz: Classic items, timeless pieces, individual items that are really based on longevity, within [a customer’s] wardrobe or within their lifestyle, that's worked very, very well for us. We have a big following that loves that part of how we work with them. So, given that we weren't working with people in person a lot last year we did a lot of FaceTime calls with people. We did a lot of video and showed them looks. If we can help people to see the difference between volumes of things that are trendy for the moment, and in a year they're gone. For the most part we stay away from that. I won't say we won't pop a color or a flared-leg jean, or something like that into the collection, we will, but we're not diving into there. I'd rather dive into a classic Southwestern-inspired blazer that's American made. Even though it's pricier, I'd rather do that and load our store with that kind of product than that quick velocity cheaper imported kind of a brand. And so while we do have a little bit of imported product in our store it's a very small percentage. All of our jewelry is American made. We do a lot in house ourselves, and outside is mostly done by Native American designers. Those are one of a kind items that we really value them as investment pieces for our clients and customers.
W&E: Give us your best style tip!
Lorenz: The thing is, we tell people, ‘you do you.’ Don't let others define who you are. You define you. And with that statement comes that potential to try something that's out of your comfort zone. Whether you've always worn just a short jacket, try a short jacket and a long shirt underneath it for a different look, or if you've never worn a belt, let us show you how to wear the belt. A lot of women say ‘I can't wear a belt,’ and I go, ‘yeah you can, come here. Let me show you.’ That whole idea of busting out of your comfort zone and trying something different is really valid, and I think by long and far most people don't know how to do that, and that's why we still exist. That's why we are here doing what we're doing is to help people discover that look that will take them from ‘whoa’ to ‘wow.’ That's the fun for us. That's what is the exclamation point in what we do and why we keep a brick and mortar store, why we keep traveling, because we still get to see that wow factor that comes out of looking in the mirror and loving what you see!
This interview is part of an ongoing series that W&E is conducting with retailers. Click here to peruse more stories and interviews from the retail industry.