Business Type:Multichannel Retailer
Industry:Clothing & Fashion
“You need to choose a program that gives you inventory visibility, and I have found no other program that supports inventory so seamlessly, or so simply, as DEAR”
This business is empowering and employing women during a global crisis — all thanks to DEAR, Shopify and Xero
Liza Clifford’s boutique lingerie business finds DEAR the perfect fit
The world of women’s fashion is extraordinarily complex, and, many might say, anti-consumer. From clothes without pockets, to an arbitrary sizing system that literally doesn’t make sense: women all over the world find themselves struggling to buy clothes that have utility and look good. And nowhere is this apparel problem more apparent than in women’s underwear.
The humble bra is in fact a complex garment that requires a good understanding of all the different variations available, and careful, individualized fitting. Without this, wearers can experience everything from discomfort to serious injury. Unfortunately, this isn’t a widely known fact, and many people who wear bras have resigned themselves to having their underwear cause them pain or discomfort, without knowing there’s a better way.
That’s where Liza Clifford, owner and founder of Liza Clifford Professional Bra Fitting Studio, comes in.
“I started a very small business ten years ago, because there was a need for better bras in our community, and they weren’t easy to find,” Liza says. She was inspired to take action by her own life experience, finding the fashion world actively hostile to young women.
“When I was a teen, my mom took me to get a bra fitted in this tucked-away shop, and it was almost sleazy. Buying a bra can make you feel quite vulnerable – choosing a bra in front of everyone, and then making the assumption that it’s the correct size based on no advice. It just sets you up for failure.”
Later, Liza worked in a lingerie shop, and found very little had changed.
“I got very frustrated with the fact I couldn’t spend time with clients. I had one woman come in who had lost her husband, and she was going on her first date in five years – she burst into tears in the changing room, because this was a life-changing experience for her, and I had my manager outside saying ‘We need the changing room.’ That was a key moment for me,” Liza says. “I thought, women need to feel safe, cared for, and get the right information.”
Liza’s mission was simple: empower her customers by creating the best bespoke bra-fitting experience possible. In a world increasingly dominated by one-size-fits all fast fashion, it’s a refreshing approach. “What we do is, we have a one-on-one consultation with every client. The idea is to empower them with information about making better bra choices so they can buy remotely and don’t necessarily have to go into a shop. We give them the option of buying online, or from our consultants – whatever they’d prefer.”
Part of this mission is the desire to create a genuine relationship with each and every customer who uses the service. “We spend an hour with all our clients. I always wanted our customers to be a person – not just a sale. A lot of women are very confused because they’ve had so much different advice. I wanted them to come to us and feel like we were giving them the best solution to their problem.“
For this in-depth, high-quality service to work, Liza Clifford needs to carefully collect sensitive data on each of their customers. “We needed a system that captured everything about the clients – their address, their contact details, their sizes, and what they’d purchased in the past so everything could be repeated. I wanted it so a user could type in a size, and it’d show all the products that were available.”
There was only one problem: as far as Liza could tell, the service she needed didn’t actually exist – and the one she was currently using definitely didn’t fit the bill. Of course, what Liza needed was DEAR. She just didn’t know it yet.
Finding a creative inventory management solution
Like many fledgling businesses, Liza started off using a handwritten invoicing and inventory system. However, the business quickly outgrew that system, so Liza moved the business to an inventory program called Sage Pastel. Unfortunately, the inflexibility inherent to server-based, legacy inventory management systems began to take its toll on the business.
“We were on Pastel for about eight years, and we just saw huge gaps that needed filling,” Liza says. “Also, it wasn’t an online program, so whenever we needed an upgrade, we had to do a massive download, and it always cost so much. I wanted something that was up-to-date, all the time.”
The hunt was on for a new inventory management system. Liza spoke to multiple providers, but nothing quite seemed to fit, until she found DEAR online. Once she’d spoken to a DEAR salesperson online, “the whole process was so easy and helpful that I felt I got more out of that online experience than with any of the people I met face-to-face.”
DEAR recommended a consulting company called Creative CFO. They offered a carefully curated step-by-step fact-finding and implementation process, starting with a full analysis of Liza’s business.
“Whenever anyone comes to us looking for new systems, we follow a three step process – people, process, tools,” says Ian Meaker, director and founder of Creative CFO. “What it means is, when we walk into a business, we first want to understand the team. Who’s here? Who’s running this business? And then what we need to understand is, what is the process that you’re following? We can compare that to what we know best practice to be, and then we can go, ‘Right, what is the best tool to make this as efficient as possible?”
For Liza, DEAR and Creative CFO had arrived at the best possible moment – but that was only clear in hindsight. At the time, the business wasn’t growing, and Liza was worried about the financial impact implementing a new system might have on the business. “We were struggling to make ends meet, so I needed to know DEAR was going to make things better.”
Liza Clifford sees the effects of more inventory visibility
Happily, DEAR did make things much better – and many of the effects could be seen immediately.
Fittingly, one of the first big wins for many DEAR clients, Ian explains, is simply having more inventory visibility.
“Just understanding all your stock is a quick win,” Ian says. “Looking after your stock is like looking after cash. So the better you can do that, the better handle you’ll have on your business.”
Businesses implementing DEAR for the first time also gain the ability to easily understand their margins, which is vital for a growing business.
“Being able to understand the cost of products is something which business owners really, really need a hand with as they scale,” Ian says. “I think the margins are often very, very insightful – and with DEAR, you can run reports that give you that insight.”
For Liza Clifford, having more visibility into inventory and margins was a huge win. “If you sell products, you need to know exactly what’s coming in, what’s going out, you need to know what your best sellers are, you need to know what isn’t selling well,“ Liza says. ”If you don’t have that, your business will fail. You need to choose a program that gives you inventory visibility, and I have found no other program that supports inventory so seamlessly, or so simply, as DEAR.“
But visibility and margins were just the starting point. Soon, DEAR’s flexibility and multi-channel functionality enabled her to transform her business into the service she’d always dreamed of – even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A boutique buying experience both instore and online
Liza always wanted to provide women with the best-possible buying experience. Customers pay in advance for a 1-hour consultation, which is entered in DEAR as a store credit. Once they’ve had their consultation, they are free to use the credit to purchase anything they like. It means Liza is able to give her customers the help they need, without anyone’s time being wasted. All the information from the consultation is entered into DEAR, which means customers can buy in-store or online seamlessly – and that Liza Clifford’s staff are always equipped with everything they need to provide incredible service.
“Putting that in was an absolute game-changer,” Liza says. “DEAR has made us incredibly innovative. There aren’t any businesses like ours in South Africa that run such a tight ship. Customers are always so surprised that we can just type in their name and see all the sales they’ve ever had, know what they returned, and what they did or didn’t enjoy.”
The business is also making great use of DEAR’s Point of Sale (POS) functionality. “We were using Vend before, but it wasn’t able to handle all the SKUs that DEAR could, and there were delays, and sometimes malfunctions. Going on to the DEAR Point of Sale just made so much sense.” Sales now go through instantly, and because SKUs are the same right across the sales and inventory system, there’s no need to make any adjustments.
With four stores as well as online inventory to keep track of, it’s vital that stock counts stay consistent. Here, too, DEAR has everything covered. “Being able to see all our stock has been a dream. That was one of the biggest wins for us – being able to see what’s at other stores, and being able to sell out of any store, instead of needing to do stock transfers.”
Essentially, DEAR means that Liza Clifford can sell any stocked item from any store to any customer, regardless of location. What’s more, in-store customers can buy direct from the catalog, allowing them to purchase what they love the most, not just what’s in stock. “Not having to have items sent to a central office for dispatch has saved us so much money. And that’s very unique to DEAR – I’ve looked at other programs, and they don’t allow you to actually sell within the store. DEAR’s Point of Sale is just a really smooth process for us.”
Having DEAR as the single source of truth also enables an optimal customer experience, whether they’re shopping in-store or online. Once a customer has had their in-person consultation and their details are loaded in DEAR, they’re able to log in to the Liza Clifford website and order according to their specific size records and requirements. “DEAR works with our Shopify store really well. Customers don’t ever have to come into our store again if they don’t want to, because the system supports servicing them remotely.”
Fulfillment and shipping have also been hugely improved, allowing Liza Clifford to keep track of customer orders, all the way from pre-purchase right up to the moment they’re delivered. “The fulfillment system is wonderful — at any given time, we can see exactly where our product is, or where our customer is, in the sales process. Whether they’ve ordered, whether they’re in a quote phase, whether it’s picked, packed, or sent.”
Liza says DEAR is enabling this high-touch model to stay sustainable into the future, even as the business grows – after all, it’s almost always cheaper to retain a customer than to acquire a new customer. But it’s also helped them absorb shocks that wreaked havoc on many service-based businesses, including the Covid-19 pandemic.
“DEAR gives you that confidence and courage”
“We grew during Covid, which was unheard of,” Liza says. “I mean, people were so surprised that we didn’t need to close our doors. We’ve opened up two new studios since Covid, and that’s because having your systems in place with DEAR gives you that confidence and courage.”
DEAR has also had an impact on staffing and other high-cost overheads, in more ways than one. Liza says that the system has saved the equivalent of multiple highly-paid, full-time, back-office employees – or more. “DEAR is like having another three people who oversee everything – but with all it does, you’d need to have someone working 24 hours a day, and checking every single process, which is impossible.”
Of course, it’s not Liza’s aim to put people out of work in the middle of a global pandemic that’s destroyed lives and jobs. In fact, the efficiency and growth enabled by DEAR has meant Liza Clifford can employ more people than they could before. “In South Africa, we have a huge job shortage, and my vision for business has always been that we needed to employ women, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Liza says.
“DEAR allows us to employ people who don’t have a great education, accounting, or even tech background. Instead, they can just rely on the system, and it’s so easy to teach. It’s just incredible, and it allows us to employ more women who haven’t been given the same opportunities as more privileged women in South Africa.”
With DEAR, unreliable paper trails and technological barriers have been all but taken out of the business equation. DEAR’s rock-solid systems and seamless POS integration mean that in-store accountability is high. Mistakes are picked up immediately, instead of at the end of the month, and cashflow is visible day-to-day in one of DEAR’s dashboard.
“For me, point of sale was a game-changer,” Liza says. “I think it’s one of those things where you don’t really know how valuable it is until you have it. And cash is king, and if you don’t manage your cash properly, you end up losing your business.”
DEAR saves the business – and enables growth
Ian Meaker of Creative CFO is adamant that DEAR is more than just a nice-to-have for businesses like Liza Clifford. “If you have multi-location inventory with bill of materials, you have to go onto DEAR,” Ian says. “Without that step, you’re not going to be able to manage your growth and scale effectively. That’s it. End of story.”
It’s certainly been true for Liza Clifford. DEAR has enabled them to grow despite the Covid-19 pandemic, but more importantly, it’s helping Liza fulfil her life’s mission of helping women.
“DEAR is like our mothership. It is like our hive where the queen bee sits. Everything ties into that,“ Liza says. ”What’s so nice about DEAR, is that there are so many things that I didn’t know you could do in business, that I’ve now learned in DEAR.“
While DEAR initially seemed more expensive than the server-based Pastel system it replaced, it might end up being the best decision the business ever made. In fact, Liza’s only regret is that she didn’t implement it sooner. “DEAR more than pays for itself,“ Liza says. I wish I had been introduced to DEAR when I started. I think I would be far further along – I would have had more confidence to open up more studios, and essentially that then employs more people because we have a system that will back the people.“
She says that she’ll be sticking with DEAR for the foreseeable future, as despite everything the business has accomplished, it’s not yet using the system to anything like its full capacity.
“For me to look at anything else, they would need to show me how they can improve on a system that has saved us so much time, and so much money,” Liza says. “There are just so many aspects to DEAR that make us a more efficient company.”
In fact, DEAR was what enabled the business to keep going in an extraordinarily challenging environment, including the COVID pandemic, the employment crisis, and even riots close to Liza Clifford’s home and stores.
“I can tell you hands-down, if we didn’t have DEAR, we would have closed like many other businesses out there,” Liza says. “DEAR was life-changing for us. It made everyone feel safer.“
For a business that’s all about helping the world by empowering women, this seems particularly fitting.
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