Strong customer service, merchandising put Saybrook Home in Connecticut on growth track

Strong customer service, merchandising put Saybrook Home in Connecticut on growth track

Saybrook Home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, has gotten where it is through a strong focus on providing both exemplary customer service and a well-merchandised showroom.

Keith A. Bolles, president and third-generation owner, oversees a fast-growing retailer now in its 47th year of business.

The business was founded by his grandmother Clara and father Keith, and for virtually all of its time in business, it has focused on growing its flagship store, now at 45,000 square feet. Last year, it opened up a satellite showroom in Glastonbury, with plans to open a third location next year. More satellite locations and expansion of its e-commerce site are on the horizon.

The mix of merchandise and manpower is working, Bolles says.

Keith A. Bolles

“So far, our 2024 sales are outpacing our 2023 sales,” he says. “We are hoping this trend continues through the second half of the year. If the economy slows down, we will adjust by reducing expenses and increasing sales offerings in order to spur demand.”

Like all retailers, Saybrook Home has its challenges.

“Staffing has always been a challenge and it remains one,” says Bolles. “We’ve made adjustments in recent years to our compensation structure that provides a lot more upside to our sales team. In addition, we have invested heavily in retaining our key talent.”

The store has also upgraded its sales strategy by studying its existing customer base and targeted specific and personalized promotions to increase sales — which has worked well.

“It’s very important for us to stay relevant and constantly assess which styles our customers gravitate towards at any given time,” says Bolles. “We look for manufacturers whose values align with ours. The quality of their products is very important and their customer service is even more important. We want to align ourselves with vendors who we feel confident will support us when things inevitably go wrong.”

To get the word out on the marketing front, Saybrook Home combines direct mail with customer analytics. Specific direct-mail marketing pieces are being sent to target customers based on spending habits to learn more about how to best market to the store’s different customer levels.

“Past that, our focus is on providing an unparalleled shopping experience where we go above and beyond for our customers,” he says. “We have seen that our best customers don’t become our customers because of a TV or Instagram ad, but because they were told by their friends or family that they needed to come and shop our showroom.”

The brand, said Bolles, is dependent on the history.

“What sets Saybrook Home apart from similar businesses in the area is its rich history of providing quality products and services at reasonable prices and fantastic customer service,” says Bolles. “Our family-owned and -operated business has a strong reputation along the Connecticut shoreline. As we now take the first step in expanding beyond Old Saybrook, maintaining our brand integrity and upholding the standards that have been the cornerstone of our business from day one is of the utmost importance.”

It is that idea that helps Saybrook Home do battle against online brands.

“The one area where online retailers will never be able to compete with brick-and-mortar retailers is human interaction,” says Bolles. “People like interacting with other people; it’s human nature. They like being with someone with knowledge reassuring them that they are making the right decision before they purchase. They love knowing that they have someone to call if something is not right.”

Any advice for a struggling casual retailer?

“Try to take a step back and look at everything from an outsider’s point of view,” says Bolles. “Is your showroom up to standards? Are your product offerings the right ones? Is your sales team providing the proper experience and information? Take to heart the feedback your salespeople receive; they are on the front lines speaking with customers and often know better than you what is or is not working.”

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