First published on Linkedin February 19, 2019
Throwback to 2016 and a big job interview I had. I was asked to name a local brand that I was impressed with and to explain why I chose that brand. I didn’t think twice at the time. My answer was Harmony, a small clothing retail store in the capital Bridgetown. I think my ex pat interviewer had expected to hear something else, so I had to give him the low down on my pick. It gets big points for knowing its target market and treating its clients like queens.
Shopping big on a budget
Living in Barbados, you have to be thrifty but stylish. Neither the cost of living nor your sense of pride will allow otherwise, so shopping is one of those things not to be taken lightly. And when shopping for ladies wear especially for church and formal outings only the finest will do, but only the best prices will make the sale. So Harmony located on Swan Street was always an option for working class ladies to shop for themselves and their ‘girl-children’, but I never paid attention to it until the store did a major overhaul to its look many years ago.
The Swan Street x-factor
Swan Street shopping equals affordable shopping for the working class. My mum used to get the best deals at a store obliquely opposite to the one I later recognised as Harmony for many years. One day while in my mum’s favourite store I happened to look across the small street and saw a very attractive storefront. A decade ago Swan Street was still not about looks but price, so this stood out. I had to go inside.
When I stepped in, I was surprised by the walkable layout, an obvious attention to store design, a carpeted dressing room area and sales reps who looked very attractively uniformed. It was almost like high street retail that didn’t yet really exist on the ‘high street’ in Barbados at the time. Swan Street was known for ‘one-door’ stores. This was a boutique of another standard. Ladies were being assisted to the dressing area, others were being asked about their specific tastes and what they hoped to find, we were all being encouraged to try things on and being helped to take several selections off the rack. Hmmm… it was a little piece of heaven at the time and, totally not Swan Street.
The Harmony Girl card and email marketing
When I made my first purchase at Harmony sometime later - it had by then become my mum’s new favourite store on Swan Street - I was issued with the Harmony Girl loyalty card in exchange for my contact details. To my delight, even if I didn’t take advantage of them, I knew about sales, special offers and new arrivals by email before they went to general advertising.
While other businesses were trying to figure out email marketing and digital marketing, Harmony was out of the blocks, building their email lists and getting people engaged.
I later learned about exclusive showings where Harmony’s long-standing customers could view new arrivals fashion show style, in the store on special evenings, refreshments and all.
Local models - all shapes and sizes
Never before had I seen in print advertising, in Barbados a retail clothing store serving any demographic, using high quality photos of local models of all shapes and sizes. It hadn’t been done, not in any consistent way - surprising but true. This became quintessentially Harmony. For graduation season, wedding season, Valentines, Mother’s Day, you name it, they had the photos and the models and we Bajan women could relate to them.
Trailblazer in local online shopping
Prior to 2014 or so, I heard the woes of several Barbadian businesses who complained how costly, time-consuming, complicated etc. it was to start an online shopping platform. Well Harmony had every reason to go for it and go for it they did. The store already had a sizeable customer base, email subscriber list and popularity, why not? I can shop online at www.harmonygirl.com, order and purchase any new style that comes in my size and so can others from the region.
Small but big
Having the e-commerce platform has allowed Harmony to retain a small store space and the associated overheads, while doing big business, expanding its sales channel and reaching new customers. It also allows the brand image to take hold in a more dynamic way overtime. Harmony has used digital channels to great advantage.
If you think I’ve missed anything and you know Harmony well, I’d love to hear why you think it’s a Barbadian power brand. It’s certainly one of my favourites.
More on the podcast
Hear how Shyam and Varsha Mahtani of Harmony Store make customer delight a reality for their brand.