Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of women and men from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight unspoken, real-life insights on how they have been able to turn weakness into strength. A naked soul point of view of how their breakdowns were really a preparation for breakthroughs. They are your quintessential paradigm shifters; internal shifts converted into genuine change.
Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because, "What we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do." Hence, why Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction and redirected that energy as a tool of empowerment.
I hope from these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens. At the very least you will be more equipped with real life tools to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day, we are our own Alchemist turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.
Charlie Chanaratsopon - Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Charming Charlie
How has coming from an immigrant family and the tenacity that you've had to endure as a child been parlayed into your business?
I'm a first generation citizen in the US, coming from Thailand. In 1984, my parents started their own business here from the ground up and worked tirelessly every day. I remember seeing their passion, drive and commitment as a great example for me to follow. I think of that often. I believe this is an amazing country that gives opportunities to those that pursue their dreams. I'm grateful to have been born in the United States. Otherwise, I don't think I would have had the same opportunities today.
How do you see yourself staying ahead of the curve, connecting with your large-ranging audience and advancing with the future of retail?
In 2016, we have to stay ahead and run beside the customer. Shopping and consumer trends have evolved so fast and so much that we can't win just following the customer. We're either moving forward or we're moving backward. That's the nature of the game these days. A summary of all touch points and interactions our customers have with our brand is what defines it. Today, on average, 50 percent of our customers use mobile phones while they're in a Charming Charlie store. That's a significant change from five years ago. We believe the mobile experience is part of the entire customer service experience. It's another way of interacting and being a part of her day-to-day life. Are we there yet? No, though we're working toward this and investing to make sure we do it and do it well.
Do you see yourself as a lifestyle brand?
A lifestyle brand means different things to different people. What are we? We aim, as a brand, to make women happier, more self-confident, and try to add a lot of color to their already colorful lives. We are the most colorful fashion jewelry and accessories brand in the world with the most selection by multiples. Our customers often describe us as the candy store for women, and we love that.
You have so many different female customers providing feedback. A woman from Dallas is going to be totally different from a woman in New York. What is it that you want to learn from her or know about her?
We want to give her what she wants. It's a never-ending journey learning about our customers. Consumer preferences and profiles evolve quickly. In 2007, iPhones and iPads didn't exist, so that's completely changed the backdrop of how people shop and experience brands. The amount of information available to us about our customers has grown exponentially. We look at everything from conversations happening on social media channels to focus groups to shopalongs and customer surveys. We take the summary of all our insights, which helps us reinforce our brand strategy. I think now more than ever agility is an important attribute for brand success. For example, we know that artisan and boho-chic is a more sought after product on the west coast than in the south. The south prefers bold, statement aesthetic compared to the rest of the country. We have multiple ranges of product aesthetics in the stores for every woman. The quantities and varieties are tailored to the specific preferences of the region.
Some of our biggest breakthroughs come from our biggest breakdowns. Have you experienced a breakdown moment in your life as an entrepreneur that eventually ended up being a big breakthrough?
In December 2006, we had three locations, which we merchandised similar to small department stores, not by color. Our stores didn't have their own DNA at the time. I remember watching this customer shop and she said, "You know what, this would be a lot easier if you put all this jewelry together by color, by table!" I said, "Well, why?" and she said, simply, "Well, don't you see that it's easier to shop that way?" Since we only had three stores, we could do things quickly, so we pulled the products and built a color table. We noticed that customers started liking it at the test store, so we brought the color concept to two other locations. As customers responded to it even more, we converted all our stores to merchandise by color. So if you asked 99 out of 100 of our customers, they would tell you we're the store that has everything laid out by color. That's our equity, that's our DNA.
When your eulogy is given, nobody talks about how much your company made, they talk about the type of person you were. What do you want your legacy to be?
I want to be known as the type of person who took a lot of risks, committed to following my bliss, and poured myself into everything. That I loved what I did and my passion for my family, friends and work was unrivaled. That's what I hope for now. But as I think about this pertaining to business, in one word, it's leadership. My definition is pretty simple. It's about making others better as a result of your presence and having it last with your absence.
If your life were a book, what would each of the titles be for 2015 and 2016?
For 2015, "Win or Learn." The reason I say that is most people say you win or you lose. In my eleven years, since the inception of Charming Charlie, I have had hundreds of lessons under my belt, at least. I've learned more from the mistakes than I have from the wins. For 2016, the title would be "Play to Win." What I mean by that is when you look at successful, growing companies, they mostly, play to win. They're playing offense. Some people have a different mindset and I call that playing not to lose. These are subtle adjustments, but they're very different in mindset. As we continue to learn, I hold myself accountable to thinking about that slight difference, always playing to win.
At the intersection of tenacity and passion is Charlie. His colorful path has created unparalleled synergy that doesn't just show, but rather gleams! This story is a testament to how simply listening to your consumer can create an entire innovative business model. Charlie is a quintessential Paradigm Shifter whose minor shift in mind and in product assortment has had a transformative impact.