“From a philosophical perspective, we’re continuing to focus our messaging on deepening our relationships with customers. We are listening to her to understand what is appropriate in terms of tone, what she is doing and how she is spending her time.”
~ Lizanne Kindler, CEO, Talbots & Chairman, Coldwater Creek
LG: Your retail experience started at Ann Taylor. What inspired you to pursue a career in the fashion business?
LK: When I was 11 years old, I came to the US from Denmark to visit my aunt, Hanne Merriman, in Washington, DC. She was the president of a department store called Garfinckel’s and she took me to work with her. Aunt Hanne walked me through their offices, the store, the buying department. I got to see designers working, felt the general ‘buzz’ in the office, and customers reacting to products in the store. It was during this time that I absolutely fell in love with the business of fashion.
LG: Share your insight on this quote “My experience at Talbots defines both the breakdown moment and the breakthrough moment.”
LK: There are really two of those defining Talbots moments for me – one during my first time with the business and the second when I returned in 2012.
When I left the business in 2010, it was the most difficult decision I had made to date in my career. I loved Talbots, the customers, the people I worked with and the rich history of the iconic Talbots brand. Unfortunately, I could not get my head around where the brand was heading, which involved a fundamental shift away from our core customer. I was not able to impact the change I believe was needed, so I left and accepted a position as the Executive Vice President of Product Development at Kohls. There I learned so much more about the design, product development and manufacturing sides of the business. I honed my skills as a merchant and more importantly as a leader.
When I got the call about coming back to Talbots in 2012 as President, I was ready and excited about the opportunity ahead. Not surprisingly, the Talbots I left in 2010 was not the Talbots I found upon my return. The business was on the verge of bankruptcy, which would have been a tragic course of events for a brand with such an incredible legacy. We restructured the executive team and I was able to pick up where I left off with an excited and reinvigorated organization. We put our heads down, remained focus, prioritized and made tough decisions, ultimately turning the business around in 24 months. Eight years later, Talbots continues to evolve and get stronger.
LG: The retail landscape, in general, is off-the-charts competitive. How are you modifying your marketing and merchandising plans as a result of COVID-19?
LK: We are fundamentally a customer-centric brand and that continues to drive how we think about our marketing and merchandising strategies.
From a philosophical perspective, we’re continuing to focus our messaging on deepening our relationships with customers. We are listening to her to understand what is appropriate in terms of tone, what she is doing and how she is spending her time. People are really struggling with the gravity of what they’re having to deal with at home, at work, or both. We are focusing on ways to engage with her in the moment, which right now means home and comfort.
LG: Talbots has made significant investments in technology and backend operations over the last several years to support its Omnichannel operations. How has that worked in your favor in the current retail environment?
LK: Those investments have allowed Talbots to evolve into a strong and dynamic Omnichannel retailer. The things that have successfully sustained our business in these last few months – curbside pick-up, fulfillment from stores, more robust communication with customers – are a direct result of recognizing the importance of new technology and infrastructure to take the brand into the future.
In addition, I would say that our strong pivot to the eCommerce channel would not have been possible without the investments and changes we made to support the backend of the business. We have been able to create a far more engaging experience online, we repositioned and have continued to leverage our loyalty program, and so much more.
LG: Share with us your strategic partnership with Dress for Success.
LK: Our partnership with Dress for Success gives Talbots purpose beyond selling clothes through an unprecedented collaboration to support women trying to get back on their feet and take control of their lives. Giving back is at the core of the Talbots brand and we are committed to helping every woman achieve her goals in work and life.
Over the years, this relationship has been further strengthened through our partnership with O, The Oprah Magazine to design an exclusive capsule collection where 30% of the net proceeds go to Dress for Success.
I am incredibly proud of the work that has been done over the past six years. The devotion and commitment from our customers and associates is inspiring. To date, we have raised more than $7.2 million, collected over 30,000 boxes of clothing, and helped more than 150,000 Dress for Success clients.
LG: If you had the opportunity to have dinner with an iconic entrepreneur who you haven’t met, who would that be?
LK: I am asked questions like this a lot – entrepreneurs, leaders, notable figures living and gone. What I always say is that I cannot name just one. There are a lot of people, directly in my life and some I have admired from afar, who have influenced or taught me about what it means to be a good leader and good human. I hope that I am a good mix of all of the life experiences I have had and the people I have met. It is important to read a lot, network a lot, listen even more.
LG: You shared with me that your parents were hard of hearing, were your backbone, and instilled in you that life is good and you make the best of it regardless of the hand you’re dealt with. How did growing up with that circumstance mold and enhance your life?
LK: It didn’t just mold and enhance my life. It is the reason I am who I am today. It would never have occurred to me growing up to offer an excuse for not being able to do something or for walking away because I was afraid or it was hard. My parents continue to go through life with this incredible sense of joy and adventure. They have never shied away from something they wanted because of their impairment. And whatever adversity they faced, they have never held back. Their perseverance is remarkable. Never have those lessons been more important than they are today.