As well as celebrating 20 years in business in 2023, U.S. retailer A. Dodson’s became a Global Innovation Awards (gia) Global Honoree in Chicago, and showed the world how you don’t have to be big retail chain to be a winner.
Dodson’s matriarch Alice Dodson always told her family and staff that you can say almost anything if you start with “Suuuuuuuugaaaaar,” and the team today still believes that what connects A. Dodson’s across the generations is honesty softened with slow-cooked, honey-glazed American Southern charm.
Today, Alice’s daughter Alison is the face of the business, but her mother’s approach to retail is as strong as ever. “A. Dodson’s is not just a store – it’s a destination” is the company’s catchcry, and all of the loyal customers see the staff at A. Dodson’s as friends that they can rely on.
As they say: “The one who, when you’re in need, will show up with a box of tissues and a bottle of bourbon, and a hit list. Or a pie. It depends on the situation. It’s a friendship built on a solid foundation of style, wit and love. Lots of love.”
Not sounding like a typical retailer, is it?
That’s because it’s not. Dodson’s became a gia Global Honoree because of the care, love and passion that the team has been putting into retail for two decades. In their own words, the store is “a little bit funny, a little bit smart and a little bit hip.” They don’t take themselves too seriously, but they take caring for their customers very seriously.
In fact, one of the main pillars in this quirky retailer’s approach is a system that all staff work with, and it’s based on understanding their customers’ needs.
At A. Dodson’s they believe that every customer has a story to tell. They use a 1-10 system that evaluates and manages the customer experience upon entering the store and allows them to provide consistent, customised service, with the goal of every customer leaving the store as a 10.
This might sound like a simple approach, but it’s actually quite complex when you consider that every person who walks into a store is different, and that the staff member who serves them does not know what they might be going through.
“If they are a 10, then they are already buying from you,” says Alison. “1 is where the new sales are. For instance, we had a young woman come into the store looking for an outfit. We helped her and she left pleased with her purchase, and a 10. Three days later, she sent a message to us thanking us for the service, attention and the outfit. Her father had died and she needed something to wear to his funeral. She said we really helped her to cope with that.”
“I always say to my staff: Everybody has a story to tell and if you know what it is, then you will know where to take them.”
This approach is something that comes naturally to Alison, as she grew up playing in the aisles of her grandfather’s general store. “Retail is in my blood,” she says. “I have always had a passion for it, and I knew I would have my own store. And I always say that in our store there is nothing you ‘need.’ We sell things that people want, not need. Things that make them happy.”
The gia judges loved this about the store, and that its merchandising is not strictly organized. “It’s a little gem providing the unexpected,” one judge said. “The store is full of heart, warm, approachable and reliable – with a personal touch. There is also an intentional feeling and look of disorganization that gives customers the feeling of a treasure hunt.”
However, the store is actually very well considered, as A. Dodson’s employs a creative director who works full time, five days a week, creating displays that are like little movie sets.
“We want customers to have a transformative experience,” Alison says. “Much like you scroll through your Instagram feeds, to enjoy and search for content and products, we believe that a retail store should be the same. If the display has content (i.e. products) that isn’t getting traction, then it needs to be re-evaluated on all levels – price, quality, packaging, perhaps moving it to give it a new life.”
Innovation and working with the community are also things that come naturally to Alison, and in 2011 she developed the store’s Roundup program. At every checkout, a staff member asks the customer if they’d like to round up their purchase to the nearest dollar, and then A. Dodson’s matches that amount. To date, more than $200,000 has been donated to local charities.
Alison has also created a community on Facebook of more than 100 retailers so they can support one another by “talking shop” and sharing their experiences.
“I find that one of the problems in our industry is that many retailers see one another as competition,” says Alison. “But there is so much you can learn from one another, and my attitude is more like we are all in this together. So we all get together and chat, and talk about what we’re doing and what we can improve on.”
Alison and her staff are continually rewarded for this approach. When the company celebrated 20 years in business, the love and support on Instagram and Facebook from other retailers, suppliers and customers was extraordinary, and testimony to the strength of the community that they have created.
Winning the gia award in Chicago and becoming a Global Honoree was another accomplishment that was celebrated by their community.
“It blew us away that we won, but it is not like a crown that I wear,” says Alison. “It’s about sharing it with my team, as it’s not just me who won. They did it. It’s everything we do every day, and it’s also for our customers, who believe in us.”
Sponsored and organised by The Inspired Home Show and the International Housewares Association (IHA), gia (IHA Global Innovation Awards) is the world’s leading awards program honoring overall excellence, business innovation and creative merchandising in homegoods retailing. For more information about the gia retail program, the co-sponsors or participating in gia, contact Piritta Törrö at email@example.com. Additional information on gia is also available online at TheInspiredHomeShow.com/Awards/gia-Retailing.
For more information about The Inspired Home Show 2024 and to pre-register for a free Show entrance badge, please visit TheInspiredHomeShow.com.