Napier-based women’s clothing company KILT is a big brand with local charm. Josie Adams finds out how they’ve adapted their boutique strategy to work on a national level.
Having grown up in the internet era New Zealand fashion label KILT has developed a unique relationship with its customers via an online connection. Founded in 2003, KILT now has 16 stores in New Zealand, but it’s still considered boutique. Scattered from Takapuna as far south as Invercargill, the women’s clothing store fosters a sense of community, uniqueness, and connectedness even though it’s a nationwide brand.
From their first store in Palmerston North, Kiwi women have helped shape the brand and its values; it’s designed for them, and in many ways by them. The clothes and concepts all integrate a smart Kiwi sensibility with a feminine sense of community. Business Manager Lauren Hart believes KILT’s enduring appeal is a result of its network: between stores, customers, and everyone in between.
“It’s really important for us to be able to connect with our boutiques and for them to connect and share,” she says.
KILT’s success in turning that connection and relationship with its clients into a successful business has been achieved through the power of ultra-fast broadband. “This has been essential to us growing as a business,” Hart explains. “It means that at any time we can get a snapshot of how our boutiques are going.”
After the business’s first store took off, it wasn’t long before the brand spread across the country. The team knew each store’s success would be reliant on the group’s; KILT is a community, not a franchise. This meant establishing an online presence that was authentic to the original brand.
“Broadband helps us to get our images uploaded to our website much faster than before,” says Hart, emphasising how the quality of an internet connection can affect the business even on a micro-level. At a higher level, it means KILTies – what the business calls its customers – can buy online from anywhere in the world, and KILT staff can monitor the process simultaneously.
The business holds online group conferences that they call “huddles”. KILT ladies from boutiques across the country all Skype in at the same time to share insights, inspiration, and customer feedback. “Before having ultra-fast broadband, we’d often have connections dropping out or stuttered during the video calls.”
Customer feedback has been the cornerstone of KILT’s business practice since its inception in 2003. Founder Melissa Williams worked out of a loft above the first boutique, where she could hear customers’ requests and feedback in real time. If a cut needed to be a little more fitted, or a coat needed a different kind of lining, she could tell by the voices coming through the floor.
Today, KILT designs its garments using the same principles. “KILT has always grown from our customers’ feedback and we really appreciate hearing from them,” says Hart. The website now has an online survey available to its customers, as well as live web chat with stylists. Customers also give feedback and stay in touch with the designers and stylists at KILT via social media.
The business relies on long term connectedness as well as short term, and its customers help define the business’s future direction. “We do a health check survey every three years, which is more in depth, to make sure we’re doing exactly what our customers want us to be doing.”
It’s meant the brand has created a line of clothing that’s reflective of the community’s realities. Instead of collections, the KILT prefers to create individual pieces that mix and match into existing wardrobes. The average Kiwi woman isn’t investing in an entire capsule collection with each change of season, and thanks to feedback and communication KILT’s network offers, it can cater to this. Hart says that KILT’s pieces can be worn and loved throughout the years, “so our customers can keep their own unique style”.
This longevity wouldn’t be possible without the business’s investment in communication; both at an individual level and on a wider scale.
Today, with 16 stores nationwide, KILT remains a fan favourite. It’s small and local at the same time as being an internationally-selling brand. None of this would be possible without the broadband that powers its online sales and keeps the community in touch and empowered.
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