Brand, Loyal Customer Base Keep Country Curtains Relevant

Country Curtains was “woefully unprepared” for the recent recession, according to its president Phil McAvoy. The housing depression struck after home sales peaked in 2006, and “then stuck at lower levels. Our business was getting hit from all sides,” McAvoy said during his keynote at the NEMOA Fall Conference in Quincy, MA.

The Stockbridge, MA-based domestics cataloger/retailer saw about a 15% decline in sales from 2008 to 2010. Worse yet, the price of cotton rose 300%—after holding steady for about 20 years.

But the founders’ commitment to the company and to its customers “carried us through the decline,” McAvoy says.

Country Curtains was founded by Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick in 1956. (Jack Fitzpatrick died in July at the age of 88.) Today it includes 26 stores, a catalog and web business.

(Fun fact: The renown artist Norman Rockwell used to have a studio across the street from Country Curtains, McAvoy said, and the Fitzpatricks were subjects of a few of his paintings.)

Since McAvoy arrived at Country Curtains in 2008, “we’ve been fine-tuning the brand,” he noted. “We had to make sure our brands were on target all the time because tweaking the brand can be tricky.”

A huge advantage for the merchant is that “we capture almost all retail transactions with a name and address,” McAvoy said. Country Curtains boasts a 99% capture rate.

How does it manage this? Store managers receive incentives based on capture rates, McAvoy said.

While Country Curtains had “tons of data, it needed a strong partner to turn it into an actionable database. (It found one in digital marketing agency SolutionSet.) “We try to learn more about our customers every week and every month,” McAvoy said.

Establish the right tools and track the right metrics to show cause and effect, McAvoy said. If you don’t have the right measurement system in place, “you’re really flying blind. You can’t just wing it. These tools help us make better decisions.”

Product and lifestyle targeting is a recent focus for Country Curtains, McAvoy said. “We reviewed 10 years’ worth of purchasing history, along with unique product and style preferences.”

The merchant tracks strategy, people and process all the time, focusing a great deal on process, he said. “You have to address these and fix them and move on. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes.”

No matter how well the business is doing, multichannel merchants should always have five or six new business initiatives “in the hopper,” McAvoy said. Because if just one of them works, it can help invigorate the brand.

“Our biggest benefit is our equity in the brand and customer loyalty that has built up,” he said. If you want to succeed, “continue to make your brand relevant.”

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