By Collin McCullough | Photo by Jessica McCafferty
Issue: May 2022
Supply chain issues, a global pandemic, online retailers with advanced logistical capacity – these are just a few of the challenges facing traditional retailers in our time. And while most of us in the North Country do our best to shop locally and support our neighbors, none of us are immune to the temptation and convenience of overnight delivery or an online catalog that spans the majority of the world’s available goods.
At a time when customer loyalty extends only so far, and new online services continue to cut into market share and profits, customer-facing retail stores are being forced to adapt to a changing marketplace and rising customer expectations. Some business owners may meet these changes with scorn, while others – like Todd McCarthy, co-owner at Lenny’s Shoe and Apparel – see an opportunity. The secret is in treating the company’s online platform as a direct extension of its brick-and-mortar retail stores.
The first Lenny’s was opened by Lenny McCarthy in Barre, Vermont in 1990. Ownership has since passed to his two sons, Todd and Mark. The company’s most recent physical location was added in 2013 in the Town of Plattsburgh.
Succession in a family business can be stressful, but in the case of Lenny’s, the transfer was smooth. ‘It was pretty easy,” Todd said. “We were taught soup to nuts on everything from buying and pricing
merchandise to customer service.”
Todd remembers Lenny’s first point of sale (POS) system and no, it did not offer tap to pay. ‘It was just a manual cash register with only a few buttons,’ he joked. The business has since updated its POS system (a few times) and built a new website equipped with in-store pickup and online ordering capabilities that deliver customers’ favorite Lenny’s products right to their front door.
While Todd humbly admitted he is not a tech person, he was happy to give credit to Ryan Sogge, Lenny’s E-Commerce Specialist, for the new site’s sharp look and user-friendly interface. When Sogge joined the team in 2019, he was tasked with updating the website platform, adding capabilities and driving revenue through the online store.
In the past, Lenny’s used a drop ship model, meaning merchandise was shipped directly from distribution warehouses to consumers without Lenny’s staff handling the product. In addition to
creating more work on the back end, that model did not meet Lenny’s customer service standards. A subsequent need to handle more of the process in-house was created when Sogge came aboard.
A key piece of the overhaul, which officially launched in October 2021, allows all orders to be filled from Lenny’s own inventory. The positive results of this new approach are already flowing to the bottom line.
When you think of Lenny’s, you may think of a local store. The truth is that Lenny’s is beginning to serve a much larger geographic footprint. Its reach is growing with orders coming in from as far away as California, Texas and Puerto Rico.
While the company is enjoying a boom driven by its new website sales, Lenny’s is still very much committed to serving the North Country. “During COVID, we had a customer who ordered a pair of work boots through our website to be shipped to a location within five miles of the store. I returned the shipping costs and delivered the order to the customer,” Todd explained. “He wasn’t sure if we were open or if he could do an in-store pickup. I wanted to be sure he wasn’t paying more than necessary to do business with us.” Understanding that the e-commerce part of the business is a necessity to keep Lenny’s growing, Todd is adamant that it shouldn’t come at the expense of the personalized touch that has built brand loyalty with so many in the North Country.
As I talked with Todd it was clear that he is proud of how the company has embraced technology. It is also clear that he is immensely proud of the team that makes the business run. Whether it is employee presence on the website, their input on creative projects or the friendly atmosphere that one experiences during a store visit, Lenny’s positive work culture is evident in all they do.
The adage “Your technology is only as good as your people” came to mind as I talked with Todd. A big part of Lenny’s website rebrand was making sure its emphasis was on positive customer experiences. Pride in what they do and commitment to community comes through on its digital platform. That is why Todd refers to the website as Store #7, because the online store has the same look and feel – and carries the same weight and importance – as the company’s six physical locations. This is confirmed in Sogge’s experience, “While it is Lenny’s website, I feel like I have ownership, and that really speaks to the freedom I have to be creative and care about what I do.” While it is unusual to talk about personal relationships in an article about transaction innovations, the Lenny’s example clearly shows that the ease of doing business online directly hinges on the human element. “It’s the same thing I talk about with our staff,” Todd said. “The truth is our products can be obtained elsewhere. We can only do a better job by providing stellar customer service, building relationships and making you want to come here first before shopping somewhere else,” Todd concluded.
That sentiment rings true. In Lenny’s we have a core North Country retail business whose foundation was built on serving local customers’ needs. In addition, it has adapted, creating an online store and inventory systems that meet the convenience standards of the modern customer. It is difficult to imagine a better option. And as transaction innovations continue to evolve, it is stores like Lenny’s that make us believe that convenience, customer service and supporting the local economy can align perfectly.
Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel
285 Tom Miller Road
Plattsburgh, NY 12901