Finding relevance in the evolving consumer environment

(BPT) – You could call this a story of dreamers. Of taking chances, tempting fate and daring to take a blind leap of faith. The first chapter began because Bob Page found himself stuck in a job he hated.

“I lived for my weekend hobby, going to flea markets searching for vintage china and crystal,” says Replacements, Ltd. Founder and CEO Bob Page. “As friends heard what I was doing, they would ask me to look for their patterns. I had a little recipe box that I kept index cards in and I would take notes of things that people were looking to find. That went so well I ran ads in some magazines, and I started getting calls from people looking for those older, hard-to-find patterns. And I began to think, there’s a real need here no one is meeting.”

From small beginnings

Early on, Page climbed through dumpsters looking for boxes to repurpose for shipping. As the requests grew, Page knew he had to make a move. He quit his job as a state auditor, hired a part-time assistant and refused to look back.

“I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, so my family was really upset and thought I was crazy, trying to sell used dishes for a living,” says Page. “I had to take this chance because I really felt like if I could devote myself to my hobby full time, I could make it work. I didn’t think I would as a CPA, but if I’m doing something I really enjoy, I’ll be better off.”

Page’s gamble hit a sentimental spot with customers who would rather replace the patterns they loved rather than buy new ones. And so began dinnerware giant Replacements, Ltd.

Fast forward 36 years, and Page’s weekend hobby has grown into the world’s largest retailer of vintage and current dinnerware, crystal, silver and collectibles. The numbers alone are astounding. Replacements’ facilities cover an area larger than eight football fields. Inventory includes more than 11 million pieces from nearly 450,000 patterns. With nearly 400 employees, the company’s global reach includes millions of customers spanning six continents.

On the human side of the business, as a gay man, Page knew discrimination firsthand, which drove him to create a company known for inclusion, innovative workplace practices (such as on-site health care), and an emphasis on taking a stand to protect all people. Many national magazines have also recognized Replacements as one of the top pet-friendly companies in the country.

Writing the next chapter

Despite Replacements’ success on so many levels, in recent years the company had to face the same reality dogging so many businesses: It wasn’t attracting younger buyers.

In this changing customer landscape, with millennials strongly influencing buying habits, leadership recognized Replacements needed to reinvent itself in this new world of consumers.

“Customers had pretty much pigeonholed us as a company used to replace broken pieces, which was frustrating because Replacements is so much more than a matching service,” says Chief Marketing Officer Linh Calhoun. “Our challenge became figuring out how to stay true to our current customer base, while at the same time establishing relevance as a lifestyle business with a new audience. We realized that regardless of their stage in life, we needed to show each generation how Replacements can play a part in helping them create experiences they’ll never forget, whether they’re hosting their very first cocktail party or their 20th Thanksgiving. Like so many other brands, we truly have to be relevant with all ages.”

To tackle this dilemma, Calhoun’s team began identifying what their current customer looked like, then created buyer personas of new customers they wanted to reach. Through this exercise, they developed the company’s new tagline, “There’s a place for you,” alluding to both the company’s impact on customers and its inclusive stand for social justice. The team stepped up its social media efforts, redefined its mission statement and leveraged the company’s recent 36th anniversary to create another milestone by launching the retailer’s first flagship video.

So far, Replacements is seeing overwhelmingly positive responses both from its longtime customer base and those just learning about the company. While it’s too early to tell how well the refreshed focus will resonate with consumers, Page’s advice for would-be entrepreneurs is also timely for companies looking to evolve to the next level.

“Settling for comfortable is the easy way out,” says Page. “Don’t be afraid to take risks – you’ll never know what you might achieve if you aren’t willing to take a chance and step out of your comfort zone.”

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