If Jenny Murphy has learned anything in the 33 years she’s owned Sound Styles, it’s that building relationships—be it with customers, her team, or anyone else—is a long game and that the stamina and the will to keep doing it comes from respecting and treating people like family. In Jenny’s case, it all started with family – literally.
Retail has been Jenny’s passion and only profession since high school. After cutting her teeth at Nordstrom for several years, Jenny co-founded Sound Styles with her mother (they even ran the business with Jenny’s brother and father for some time!). With her mother working by her side to this day, the idea of a family is still very appropriate because, as many of you would probably agree, being an entrepreneur often means blurring the line between work and life. As such, Jenny created Sound Styles to be a place where customers would feel welcome, which is not always the case these days.
“I hardly ever get greeted when I walk into a store anymore,” says Jenny, who thinks of her store as her home, which should be clean and inviting. “The first thing I teach anybody who works here is how to greet a customer. We feel like we’re welcoming them into the home. You don’t have someone come to your house and not greet them.”
Thinking about a someone else’s needs—especially their need to feel acknowledged—is at the very core of customer service. It’s also one of those things that, when done well, makes for a seamless and happy experience for the customer. It makes them comfortable enough to ask for help when they need it and luckily, problem-solving is something that Jenny relishes in. For example, not long ago, Jenny got a call from two people who needed advice on how to style recent purchases for a wedding. Without thinking of the fact that she was giving advice for free, she jumped in with questions about the event and put together a set of suggestions for how they could style their purchases.
“[Sales] is about suggesting and servicing, but it’s also about problem solving, too… It’s solving people’s issues and inviting them in[to] a comfortable place to do that with the clothing… We want to make clothing fun and approachable.”
I was so impressed that I need to state the obvious: this type of service—the type that happens aside from a transactional visit—can often create loyalty more than when it happens during a sale. Of course, part of the skill involved in suggesting and servicing is understanding your customers, and Jenny has that dialed in. Sound Styles is located in Edmonds, WA, a suburb of Seattle that’s in the middle of a tech boom. The once mostly-retired community now has an influx of young consumers of the techie and millennial variety. Having been in the business so long, however, Jenny takes it in stride and is adjusting.
“I am changing my products. I let go of a couple of lines that were a little bit more missy than my new vision allowed. Then I picked up a couple of younger feeling lines – a little more contemporary. But I can’t to it too fast simply because I do have a very, very established older clientele that loves to have a place to come and shop and get help.”
How does one accomplish such a change that includes retaining established customers and attracting new ones? With focus. Jenny focuses on her customers and their needs. She doesn’t make decisions on clothes because she likes them. As she keeps an eye out for trends, she thinks about her customers’ lifestyle and how she can bring her customers to the trend. Not the other way around. One tool that Jenny uses at market is a color card and storyboards. She’s the only buyer I’ve ever seen do this!
“It keeps me intentional,” she says
The story boards remind her of her customers while she shops so that when she returns to her store, she knows how to bring her customers to the trends she saw at market. Jenny told me a perfect example of a story about a woman who didn’t think that the tunic/legging look was right for her despite having seen it online.
“She said to me: ‘No, I need everyday clothes.’ And that is our tagline. Washable, comfortable, affordable, and packable. We’ve had that tagline for a long time. And that’s another way I buy, too. The internet is not going to say ‘You can wear this every day. Just ask me what to do with it. What shoes to wear …’. I, as a human being, can look at her, I can smile at her, I can care about her and I can say: ‘You could do this if you wanted to. Here’s how you do it.’ That’s the missing part of buying online… How do you know what to do with that item unless you’ve had it before? But that’s what I tell my customers, too: We’re not here to give you old ideas. We’re here to give you new ideas.”
While most store owners talk about building a community, Jenny has created a family with Sound Styles. Not just with her staff, but her customers as well. That’s why they turn to her for help or, as is the case with a couple of 80-year-old ladies, come to her store to shop and socialize.
That’s not to say that Jenny’s community-mindedness doesn’t extend beyond her store walls. She regularly participates in community events to reach out to new people and she does so in such a way that they get the essence of her personal brand: positivity. In last year’s summer parade, they had a float and invited customers to march with them and carry picket signs in favor of positivity. They had signs that said “Capris Rule!” and “Make Fashion, Not War” and “Be Clothes Minded”!
In fact, they plan a year’s worth of monthly events and publicize them on a bookmark that they give out prior to a new year. In this way, with her long-game mentality, Jenny progressively built a strong, loyal family even before the advent of social media. This proves that social media is a TOOL for supporting relationships, but you have to build them first.
Even though details about Sound Styles events and other interesting articles about the store and fashion are also published online in social media (Facebook) and at https://soundstylesnewsletter.com, Jenny (like many of her contemporaries) wasn’t as immediately tech savvy when the internet and social media exploded, but she was more than happy… no, I should say she was dedicated to surrounding herself with people who were better than her.
“It’s [something] I learned a long time ago. I have to keep people who are better than me around me so that I have somebody to learn from and somebody to help me with the things I’m not strong at.”
More than that, however, she was also dedicated to continuingly educate herself so that she could understand what she was hiring people for. I think this is a crucial aspect of hiring. Even though you may not be the master of something like website maintenance, for example, you should at least understand the basics so that you can judge for yourself the amount of time, talent, and investment it needs. This is part of the advice she would give to someone starting a retail store today, but I’d say it’s sound advice for even us veterans.
The other part of her advice, of course, is to be of service to your customers.
“What clothes can I pick that my customers will be able to use in their life? Can I provide a warm and wonderful atmosphere that they can do that in? It’s about how you can help your customer and how you create an experience for them.”
Part of that mode of thinking includes her mission to give women the confidence to trust their instinct about when they look nice. Her tip: they feel good when they look nice.
Her store means a lot to a lot of people, but it has also meant a lot to her—more than just as a business to make money. She acknowledges her small town locale and her customers for having taught her how to communicate and pinpoint what she values.
“The honesty, the loyalty, the friendship, the service part of it… all of those things [are] what I want in my life. I’m not a corporate girl. I need to touch. I need to feel. I need to help. I need to be intimate… I do what I love, where I love, with who I love. What more can I want?”