Putting an emphasis on creating a great customer experience while also giving back to the world is common practice for retailers today, but Kendra Scott has been taking this approach since it was created two decades ago. CEO Tom Nolan reveals how the retailer’s drive to keep Founder Kendra Scott’s social and entrepreneurial vision alive has helped the organization by:
- Enabling the company to maintain double-digit growth throughout the pandemic despite the economic and social uncertainty of the past two years;
- Embedding the appreciation for agility that helped the company reimagine its supply chain to navigate the industrywide crunch without facing any disruptions;
- Achieving truly authentic philanthropy through a combination of events and investments in causes ranging from helping women become leaders to bringing cheer to children’s hospitals; and
- Continuing to build on its foundational principles as the retailer evolves with new product offerings, initiatives and experience.
RTP: Kendra Scott saw double-digit growth from 2020 to 2021 and is on track for its biggest year to date. What is your strategy for maintaining high levels of growth despite the uncertainty of the past several years?
Tom Nolan: I think overall our success always starts with the same thing: we keep the customer at the forefront of every decision that we make. Everything that we do is from an experiential point of view and we have a value-centric approach. We’re now in our 21st year, which is also remarkable, and we continue to stay steadfast in our core pillars of Family, Fashion and Philanthropy.
In addition to that, we’ve always been really bullish on retail to drive the experience for us. We did close to 15,000 events last year in our 130 locations, and in the last two years we’ve opened almost 30 stores. Every time we open a store we connect even closer to our local community — allowing us to give back to those communities and impact our customer in a really, really meaningful way.
We’ve been able to do this in a very sustained, consistent, profitable way by creating these purpose-led connections with our customers. That’s what Kendra set out to do from the very beginning, and we’ve been really steadfast in that from the start.
RTP: Kendra Scott is an omnichannel company at heart, with a strong presence across digital and physical channels. What is your goal for each aspect of the business, and how do you bring them together into a coherent whole?
Nolan: Retail is critically important to us. I like to think that our retail team is kind of the tip of the spear, if you will, on customer engagement and customer connection, and how they really impact customers in a very different way than you can in a wholesale or ecommerce relationship. It’s always going to be really important to us, and we do the best that we can to tie in the digital and physical channels.
It keeps boiling down to the same thing. I’m going to be repetitive about this, but it’s meeting the customer wherever they are. If the customer is at a retail store, we want them to have the absolute best experience imaginable. We want people to have fun when they’re shopping in one of our stores.
When Kendra started the business 21 years ago it was about creating an amazing experience. There was a lot more white space at the time, because there was less of a focus on the retail experience, but today we still hold that true. So when you walk into one of our stores, you’re going to be greeted by somebody with a smile. Hopefully you’re going to be offered something to eat or drink when you’re in there — we want to create connections, right? That ultimately leads to conversions.
Online is no different. So for people that can’t get to a store, or the store of one of our great wholesale partners might not be near, you want the website to operate as close in experience as possible. It’s harder to replicate, as I’ve mentioned, but the team’s done a really nice job of connecting that.
RTP: Supply chain and inventory problems have been a challenge across the retail space for the past year-plus. How has Kendra Scott managed these issues, and how do you expect your strategies to evolve in the future?
Nolan: One of the things I’m really proud about is how nimble we are, and that the entrepreneurial spirit that Kendra had when she started the company is alive and very strong here. What that means is it allows us to just move quickly because, again, we’re reacting to where the customer is — knowing that if we ever don’t have product on time at the right price we’d be letting her down.
We very proactively, two years ago now, diversified our supply chain to ensure that we didn’t have any challenges. We knew that COVID was going to be a catalyst to potentially change that industry — which it has. Ultimately there were trickle-down effects, whether it’s shipping or anything else, and we went from a one-country solution for our supply chains to several. We diversified not just into different regions but also continents.
It’s served us really well. It’s sped up our supply chain overall. We released orders proactively several months earlier to ensure that stuff was on time, and we had literally zero disruptions.
We’re also fortunate because of the nature of our business. I have some experience and history working in the apparel industry and with the larger things you have to put on a boat. We had the luxury to put most of our stuff in an airplane, which just makes it a lot easier to get around.
RTP: Kendra Scott has a history of involvement with philanthropy. How has the company built its practices on this front as retailers’ involvement in social issues has become both more important to shoppers and more common among retailers of all sizes?
Nolan: I’m a big believer in being authentic in everything you do in your life. I think to your point a lot of companies, rightfully so, have pivoted and reacted to the world to make philanthropy, and ESG [environmental, social and governance] in general, more topical and relevant and important to their business models — which is the right thing to do for sure.
We’ve been doing this for two decades. From the very beginning, Kendra put a stake in the ground and said everything that we do is going to be focused on doing good in the world and giving back. Philanthropy has been one of our pillars from day one, not since it became relevant in society. I think that’s served us really well.
Number one, it’s created really great connections with our customers in every market, and every aspect of it touches lives of people in ways that most brands could never imagine doing. It’s created a great culture in our organization because for the people who work here, that’s their why, and it’s certainly my why. I love the fact that I get to have an impact in people’s lives outside of selling them jewelry. It’s made an impact and it’s definitely changed how people perceive us. I like to think it’s somehow helped other companies recognize the importance of this, because there are a lot of people out there that need help.
I think that those pillars have been really important and they’re going to continue to be important. Every single event that we have done — every one of them — has had a philanthropic skew and angle and given back, such as what Kendra’s done with the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Institute here at the University of Texas at Austin to help empower female entrepreneurs.
All of it is powerful and important for what we do. There’s our Shop for Good collection an always-on suite [of products] where a portion of all proceeds helps women and youth. Our Kendra Gives Back community giving program, allowing anyone to host events for causes they care about. Our Kendra Cares program, which is where we take our mobile Color Bar into pediatric hospitals. It’s who we are as an organization and who Kendra is as a human being. It’s pervasive here and I think it’s what people have come to know us for, in addition to making very high quality, affordable jewelry and accessories, which is great.
RTP: Can you share any other thoughts about Kendra Scott and where you see the company heading in the coming year?
Nolan: The beauty of our business is we don’t have to reinvent ourselves to be successful. Our national brand awareness across the country is somewhere around 5% — so as large an organization as we are right now, we still have so much runway and ramp ahead just by doing the things that we’ve been doing the last 21 years to continue to be really successful.
It’s exciting to be in my position and say we’ve got a lot more growth ahead just by doing what we’re doing. But in addition to that, we’re going to continue to launch new categories and continue to launch new ideas in new markets with the same principles of Family, Fashion and Philanthropy we’ve had from the very beginning. I know we will continue to have success because of that mentality and the team that we have here, and how much we care about the customer and are focused on over-delivering to her an experience that she’s never had before while also doing our best to improve people’s lives.