Taking the Plunge

On one of our first cold, blustery winter mornings in December, I brushed the new fallen snow off my car before heading to my interview for this month’s profile. After shivering on my cold, leather seats, I arrived at my destination: Offshores, a boutique owned by sisters Maggie and Dorothy Kozina.

As I entered their store at 109th Street and 102nd Avenue, I left winter behind and was transported to what could have been a chic, beachfront shop in LA. I was dazzled by the showcases of jewelry, piles of purses, and exclusive high-end brands of sunglasses perched between rows of hard-to-find/ never-before-seen this far north swimwear lines. Well, we can see them if we read the tabloids at the grocery store check out. In fact, some of these very pages are posted in the store—I spotted Kate Hudson, Britney Spears, Cameron Diaz and other stars wearing the brands found at Offshores.

The children of Polish immigrants, Dorothy and Maggie came to Canada in 1981. Their parents worked hard to ensure they had every opportunity for a better life. Both women mention they would be nowhere without their parents’ work ethic and continuous moral support.

Dorothy is the younger of the two. At 31, she is the strategist and looks after the financial, distribution and supplier sides of the business. She began in retail in her early 20s, working part-time at Below the Belt before joining her husband in real-estate and managing their rental properties. She knew, however, that she wanted to return to retail and work with her sister.

Maggie is the fashionista. She watches for high-quality brands and does the research on how and what to bring into the store. She has a keen eye for what Offshores’ clientele is seeking and what the local swimwear market is missing. Maggie has considerable retail experience, having also worked for Below the Belt where she discovered her passion for merchandising. It’s where she met the man she considers her “business dad” who offered her the guidance and business sense that she craved.

With all this experience and the desire to work together, it was only a matter of time before the sisters got their vision off the ground. On a trip to Bali a few years ago, Dorothy met some suppliers of purses and other Balinese goods that she saw a niche for in Edmonton. The sisters took a leap of faith and ordered three shipments before they had even secured their first customer. Then, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for Dorothy’s destination wedding, they became convinced their interest, knowledge and passion could fill a void in our market. Two years later—after many fears, tears and concerns—they took the plunge and invested in a storefront.

From a marketing perspective, the Offshores duo is doing a number of things right. They have post cards offering a discount so they can measure how many people pick up and use the cards. They also have a couple of different messages with consistent design: one card is for the destination wedding client and another for those going on a sunny get-a-way. They’ve tried a variety of initiatives in the short time they’ve been open, choosing not to stick to one campaign alone. They’ve had a wine and cheese fashion show in conjunction with a few other area retailers, they have had an ad on the 24K truck (moving billboard) and bought commercials on 91.7 The Bounce. They even developed a cooperative agreement with a travel agency that offers confirmed clients a discount on Offshores’ products.

The only thing it seems they are missing is a plan. Like many business owners, Dorothy and Maggie go with their contacts rather than creating a strategic and timed plan for marketing. I hear it all the time from clients: “I have a friend who does design who will do my cards… and another friend who knows how to program my website… and then I’ll put up some billboards.” I’m not saying it is bad to work with your friends; just make sure what they offer is the right fit for your business and your marketing plan.

In Offshores’ case, they mentioned a foray into television advertising on City TV. When asked why they chose this medium, it was because they have a connection at the station and the cost fit their budget. Luckily, it worked out very well for them and they want to continue, but this unstructured approach—albeit popular with entrepreneurs— is not the best way to get the word out.

Marketing is about building relationships. Relationships need defined, consistent nurturing. A friend who is rarely called upon or rarely calls won’t be a friend for long. This is similar in the case of a client. Although your business may succeed in spite of unplanned marketing, customers who aren’t contacted regularly and consistently will not be customers for long. Shotgun marketing initiatives are incredibly hard to measure for effectiveness. It’s too difficult to pinpoint what went wrong: Timing? Target audience? Message? Placement?

Lewis Carrol once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” To get the best results from your marketing initiatives, know where you are going and plan the most direct route to get you there.

Check the Kozina’s Top 3 suppliers at wwww.edmontonians.com

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