Creating Friends In Business – Erica Castner

Erica rc



“I never dreamed about success I worked for it"



Who is Erica Castner? [3:02]

What are the biggest differences that you saw between the online aspect and the actual bricks and mortar? [5:12]

What do you suggest for building the connection? [6:55]

If you have an online business, how you can take that offline? [18:41]

Who is going to say no to free advertising? [26:57]

Erica squARE


Salena: Hey there and welcome to this week's episode of The bringing business to retail podcast. We could all do with more customers and we could always do with friends in business. And I use the word friends with some quotes around them because growing your retail business is not about doing this on your own. So I have brought Erica on to talk about how you can grow your business and improve your customer experience just by putting yourself out there and creating some partnerships and maybe even some streamlining some systems along the way. Welcome to the show Erica.

Erica: Hi Sal thank you so much for having me on. I'm super excited about our chat today.

Salena:I'm so glad that you are here some tell us a little bit about yourself.

Erica: Yeah thank you. Well you know my heart my introduction into the online space wasn't always on the online space. My background actually stems back. I can't believe I'm saying this but over 20 years ago I started my career in the corporate retail space and I always joke about this. I tell people you know back in the day my destiny was working behind the clinic cosmetic counter and today, that's the further thing that I'm doing although I spent the first 11 years of my career climbing the corporate ladder working in retail giants of Victoria's Secret, long com cosmetics. I did mention Clonaid and I was really helping build and build like the trust factor on the ground and you know there were these multimillion dollar budgets you know came marketing campaigns that were bringing customers into the door. And my job was really to help train the associates inside of the stores help them create that client experience. And then in 2005 shifted gears moved from my Midwestern town in Illinois to southwest Florida where I reside today and it really shifted gears. I went from working in retail space and then all of a sudden I found myself working in the professional service forum.

Erica: And I really just kind of got intrigued by how different that space is with the retail space right. It's just a way different you know in retail you're selling those tangible thing where people can touch and experience that right there in the store. And all of a sudden I found myself in this like oh what am I doing now. I'm now talking about a professional service which is very you know intangible and you have to almost sell the experience as opposed to selling a widget or a product. So today hopefully this conversation is really going to help our listeners really identify with some best practices to really cater to that service element.  But also to help bring foot traffic into the store because you know a lot of your listeners are probably thinking about how do we bring more peeps into our e-commerce space or into our brick and mortar space? So I'm going to; I'm excited with lots of stuff to talk about today.

Salena:You were talking about professional services and how you kind of have to bring the experience to life. And essentially that equals exactly what an e-commerce store is. You have a product and while someone can you maybe see it to peek T-shirt. They don't know how it fits. They don't know what the fabric feels like. They don't know if the cut is going to look good on them. So what are the biggest differences that you saw between like the online aspect and the actual bricks and mortar?

Erica: That's a great question. I mean I think it all boils down to you know communication. So if we're in the online space and you're trying the e-commerce space and you're really trying to create that; it's not so much about the transaction it's really about engaging with your clientele making them feel something. Like really getting to the core of it and again you know you're thinking oh gosh I'm selling this pink T-shirt or I'm selling this scarf, I'm selling this widget.  But it's really about, at the core what you're trying to do drive business is all about building that rapport building that relationship telling that story.

Erica: So inside of a brick and mortar you know you can create that experience through; because people can see you-you know they can see one person that they can touch and feel the product but you still have to be a really wonderful communicator and you still have to pour on the charm and you know the customer service element. And so I think at the end of the day regardless of where you're driving sales it's all about that at the core it's all about the communication.

Salena: Ok. So the people who are listening going that's fine Erica have the freaking do I do that. What does it look easier in store. Because in store you can create that environment and you can if you've got really great sales assistants, you can just engage with the person, you can get feedback.  And I know a lot of people have difficulty with this online. I personally think that you can absolutely do these online, especially when you've got a lot of brand cohesiveness. But I would love to be and I'm sure everybody listening would love to hear. What do you suggest for building that connection? For building that experience especially if you are online. And then I guess my next follow-up question to that would be, and how does that translate to offline?

Erica: Yeah. So can I. Is it okay if I use like a brand example? Okay. So you know the one that I really see doing a phenomenal job right now is Bark box. Are you familiar with that company?

Salena: No but I have my dog subscription.

Erica: Yes is a dog subscription company and it's called Bark box. I love love love love love their marketing.  Everything that they do. So again you know they're catering to the pet lover. I've got a pet. You know it's pretty simple concept. You know treats and toys come to your door for your dog right. But the moment that box gets to my doorstep it's like when I open it, it is literally a story that they're telling inside of that box. So I think number one I mean they're catering to dog fanatics right. And they understand the market so much they understand that you know like I don't have like you know physical. I have stepchildren but you know that's a way different thing.

Erica: I mean this is my baby and so they're catering to that person. So I think number one you know regardless of where you're at in the retail space or you know whether you're doing that in a brick and mortar space or whether you're doing that online is know your customer or get feedback from your customer and really try.  Try things on and social. I mean we're going to go with the online gig for a moment. You know there's a lot of things you can do to tell that story through social media. A lot of it's is going to require us and your listeners to really think about OK it is not necessarily doing things static. You know it's not like just putting up a cute picture and typing text. It might be showing a video 30 second or 15 second video on what your product is doing.  And really engaging or talking using your customers, for instance, to really talk and play out what you're all about. And bark box, I mean to the listeners who are tuning into the show today. They've got that really brilliant. They tell that story online. It shows up on my doorstep. It shows up in the way that they like even the packaging looks like they're telling a story. So that's one example of doing that. And I think in the brick and mortar space one of the things I found to be really successful especially since I represented you know, for instance, I'll just talk about my cosmetic experiences. Because that was like a spiritual experience that I had prior to me launching my company.

Erica: What we did was different than any other long Konkona out there. We partnered with organizations like Women in Business. I mean hello we're selling real lipsticks and skincare. So we partnered with our local initiatives that we're catering to women in business and I wanted to attract professional women who valued a more elite skincare line. So I did whatever I could to partner with Chambers of Commerce, local civic organizations to really add value to what they were doing. Sharing tips, sharing resources inviting them into my store, going to them like I literally go to people's businesses with my dog and pony show with my products. And I would do what we would call an outsourcing event. So I would bring up like a few things and do demos in people's offices and get sales right on the spot which I would take back to the store and ring up for the day. That was stuff that wouldn't have happened if I didn't think outside of the box and go to my clients. And really ask them what it is about my product, my service if we're going to talk about service for instance. What is it about my product or service that really speaks to them and how can I deliver that.

Salena:That is gold. I just wrote down like five things to ask you.

Erica: There was a lot in there so I'm so sorry I went on that whole tangent but just yeah, I mean it's truly about diving into that and really creating that experience. So those are a couple of tips that I could share with you. We can I'm sure continuing the conversation.

Salena:Okay, So my first one is let's get back to pocketbooks, and I have to say have you; are you familiar with the branch Chubby?

Erica: I've heard of him but I'm not really familiar with him.

Salena:You have to go and check out their Website. They do kind of rich or short shorts for men but their whole brand is about chubby for the weekend. So they're all about the weekend so they send their newsletter out on a Friday and they have you know great tips about what's going on and you know things you could do this weekend and grilling guides and all these kind of stuff they do. They do that branding experience. Like you said they know what's different about them. They know that not everybody who looks good in pesto short shorts.

Erica: Are you serious. No, I'm kidding.

Salena:And they have just embraced it, and as a result, I always love using them as an example. So check those out even if it's just for the branding experience and sign up to their newsletter. Because I imagine it's something like the bark box as well where they've just embodied what the customer wants. So you were saying with the bark box you know this is your baby and this is not about money guys. This is where you have to appreciate that; one of my clients actually said to me the other day.  I would never make my customers pay for something that I wouldn't pay for. And it was like a slap across the back of the head. You are not your customer. You have no right to say how much someone else is prepared to pay for something.

Erica: Exactly. Exactly.


Salena:And it's that experience, people want that experience. You get excited about that box turning up every month then that means you get to play with the dog. The joy that comes with buying the subscription. It's kind of not even about the thing right. It's about the experience that it invokes before it comes and it provokes after it's arrived.

Erica: Yeah, absolutely. I will definitely check out Chubbies because that sounds intriguing now. Maybe I'll have to get some shorts from my husband. I'm just kidding. OK, we can get matching ones perhaps.

Salena:And they like. I always look at them and they're like you know if you have what polish it looks like you're playing 70s tennis. Those kinds of shorts. The other thing I was going to say there about you talked about how you can really bring that story to life on social media. And you said something I can't remember exactly what it was but you said something about sharing the customer. And it just made me think for the people who are listening who are struggling to think about what to post on social media. You don't have to post on social media you can get your customers to be doing this for you. And you said that the bark box people you know, are tagging them on social media and they're showing what they got and how their dogs are playing with it and things like that. So thinking outside the box what I'm trying to take away from this is exactly what you just said at the end. It's time to think outside the box and stop thinking that you have to do all the work.

Erica: Yeah because at the end of the day I mean especially if you're stuck inside your storefront like you have more flexibility if you have an online store or e-commerce brand. But if you're inside of your brick and mortar I remember what it was like being the only one or you know maybe there were two or three people depending on what store I was working. Victoria's Secret required a lot of people but you know I literally had to stay within the store and so sometimes it can be really challenging to think outside of the box when you're stuck inside of the store. One of the things that I used to do for another retail that I worked for.  We literally would host weekend events every weekend was a different themed event. And I would think this is way before social media like social media did not even exist at the time that I worked for this retailer. So everything was you know our existing client base and because we made it the event focused and we always asked our repeat customers, hey you know we're going to be doing this thing coming up and we love to hear your feedback. What would you like to see what would be exciting for you to bring your girlfriend? Because it was at a women's clothing store. What would you like to see? And generally, they wanted you know sometimes they wanted pampering sessions. So we would literally bring in you know for instance we would bring in the makeup counters and the department store down the street from the mall that I was working at the time.  We would bring in you know like if they were designer persons, we didn't carry handbag.

Erica: So that was a good partnership. Hey you know we sell we sell clothes. You sell these really cool handbags and they are unique and special to this area. Why don't we bring you in and you could do a trunk show kind of a thing. So if you can't leave the store that's another way to kind of think about OK what am I clients into asking for that feedback while you're getting clients coming into the store picking up the phone. That's another thing. I mean so often we're so afraid to even pick up the phone and talk to our clients. I mean how phenomenal would it be if you already have a guest registry in your store. To literally call up your clients and say hey we have a special unique event going on this week and thought of you.  We would love to see you and your girlfriend or you and your kids you know make it unique and special to them you know if you know your customer. But try to really get feedback from your clients and then go create those experiences inside the store

Salena:That is so true. One of my retailers in my mastermind she just did that recently. She has a home ware store. And in the middle of the store, she has these great be long table and she said what this table you know to sell Stooby. So she brought a local Artist in on a Saturday to do a watercolor workshop.  And not only did they obviously use that bit of space but there's something about when things are going on, even if there's nobody around.  I don't know the energy just draws people in.  And the minute that something is going on she said all these people turned up. Obviously, she got sales from the people who turned up for the workshop. But she was promoting the artist and it actually got picked up by the paper as well, the local paper. I am not a full print media but if somebody is going to give it to you then...

Erica: Oh my gosh. Yeah absolutely. Because again you know sometimes you've got you know a lot of times you have to pay for that stuff right. But if there is a way that your partner, you know we're talking about strategic partners. If they're saying Oh look I get to be an X Y Z store this weekend come out see me. Absolutely jump all over that. And then you know find other ways that you can piggyback on that media. Right. You know so you could probably; I've done this before in the past more in the service based world.  But this typically applies to anybody that's listening. You know you can take a picture of that print media and say hey guess what. We were featured in X Y Z publication. You know because for instance, I write all the time for one of my local business journals and so they don't actually have an online. They're very strictly local based but my international and my national clients know that I'm a guest columnist for this publication because every time I get featured on there I take a picture of it. I put it up on social media and I give them kind of the formal manner of where they can get more information about the article or whatever. But yeah it's a cool way for you to leverage things on or offline for sure.

Salena:No I knew that. It's rewarding the customer like this, I think this eventually was free. I'm not 100% sure but even if it was it was if it was paid it was only a token amount. But at the end of the day her customers were so excited about this opportunity that; 1 they didn't even know existed but2, It was you know it's watercolor. These are home wares. You know people who are buying home wares. And it was just the opportunity to get their creativity and you were saying about the trunk shows. Yes, we used to do that in our store. We would get other brands in that we didn't stock.  So we didn't stock, we had baby products. We didn't stock baby furniture. So we would bring somebody in with like car seats or furniture or even more grownup kids clothes.  And we would have these, little sort of fashion parades and little events. Those things go gangbusters. But what I think people forget is if you're an online business you can team up with someone who has another business, a physical or physical space, a physical product.  And you could be doing this in reverse. You could be the person we're talking about. You could be doing the trunk show at a local hair salon or at a local real estate agent. If you've got products that they could use for their clients. So you said earlier on, think about why you're different and kind of leverage that and thinking outside the box.  You are giving many loads of ideas. So I guess one of my other questions then is, do you have any suggestions for how if you have an online business, how you can take that offline?

Erica: Oh yeah. How much time do we have left?

Erica: Yeah I mean that was, you know so you know reverse engineering. Because again my background started in the offline space and then even when I moved into the service based space.  This is you know 2005/ 2006 social media was just a baby right. I mean there was really not a lot of; it was still pretty foreign to a lot of people so a lot of these techniques I guess I should say not tactics that's probably a more appropriate word. But yeah you know so you're an online provider, you know so if you've got an e-commerce store.  I think a lot of missed opportunity, a lot of opportunities, a lot of dollars are left on the table the metaphor table if you will.  Because people think OK I'm a national brand or I'm an international brand and they won't do anything in the local market. So you know local people are especially if you're an established brand or if you've got this presence that you know you're at your national or your international.  Local people want to create partnerships with you. There's some sort of mystery and intrigue about what you do. So I always suggest to people that on the other side of it, if they have an online you know e-commerce space or an online service based business and they're trying to reach out to the local market. You know one of the things that they can do is partner with organizations that make, that are already taking to their target market. So you know back in the day like I've reached out to women in business organizations that fit the line of product that I was doing.

Erica: If you are selling baby things you know or children's clothes you could partner with pediatricians or you know children's dentist or you know for a child photographer. There's a lot of things like family photographers for that case. So there's a lot of ways that you can partner with local peeps in your own backyard. It just requires you to make the ask because I think a lot of people I mean I know in my experience it always seemed rather intimidating to reach out to somebody that seemed to establish online.  Because it looks like oh they have this, you know you automatically think that because they're online they have a bigger presence and they probably do. So if you just reach out and say hey we're looking to do X Y Z and you know I'm speaking kind of general. We could get into specifics but you know think about your industry, think about the people that are already talking to your client and reach out and say you know what I'm thinking about this idea. I love to see how they could connect and partner and create a win-win opportunity for both of us to grow. But definitely dip into your local roots. I mean it'll really surprise you how much you can accomplish and then you know of course you can get your local people to talk about it on their social media platform. So it's like the circle but it's a beneficial circle. It's not like you're spinning. It's not like you're spending your wheels. You know it's really moving things into motion.

Salena:I have two comments about that. The first one is when we open that store we actually had a family photographer purchase and say Hey can I give you a bunch of 50 dollar vouchers and you choose how you give them out. You know like the gift we've purchased but it ended up being so successful. She was literally giving him hundreds of these cards and we would just give them if you purchased over 100 dollars you'd get one of these 50 gift cards with her. And we became one of her best sources, lead generation because it was the perfect partnership. It cost nothing for us and for her fifty dollars. I think it alternated between sort of fifty dollars and then a free photo session. I think we tested a few different things in the free seating was the one that got everybody in. But for her giving up that, you know that a family is going to buy photos. No one goes and does a portrait seating if they don't want the photos. So she knew that she was going to make money. And I think we were at one point the average package that people purchase was something like fifteen hundred dollars. So for her just getting those cards printed and aligning with us, 1 our customers thought they got a fantastic gift especially when we moved into the portrait session which was valued at five hundred dollars. Wow. We get people saying I want the gift card. I only have $89 so let me just grab something else.

Erica: Oh yeah that's like that's the best right. Especially when you have that you know in the service based world. It's almost like that limiter you know it's almost like that. Oh you know if you buy it today you're going to get this. You only can do in this Yeah it's the opposite of that you know because they think oh I have to spend at least a hundred and fifty dollars or 100 dollars or whatever so I got to get more because I'm so close. So that works out really great for and that could translate in the e-commerce space too. I mean I've seen that work. You know that sometimes works on more of an affiliate. And that, of course, I try to stay away from affiliates it's not really my sweet spot to talk about. But I've seen that work in the online space too where you know hey you buy this and you spend X, you get this thing or you get you know like something else that's not from our company it's from another provider so that works all across the board.

Salena:You just said that. And that reminded me of a parcel. I can't for the life of me think of what it was but it came the other day and inside was like a 50 dollar voucher for Hillary Frisch which is one of those new delivery services. And then you know free something with something I just remember the Hillary Frisch thing because I swear I just attract those people it's like do you realize I can cook. Ok I can cook.

Erica: But it's a really;  it's an interesting marketing gimmick right because what does that cost them. You know like if they redeem it, great, they just got you know a new sale they got a new customer. That's more of a subscription thing. I mean it although you know you can generate when you get that subscription.  But that marketing cost you know a little bit on a piece of paper so it never gets turned down like they're not out anything. And it's brilliant.

Salena:And the business you put it into the parcel. I don't know if they were they may have had some sort of affiliate relationship. They may have just agreed to put it in there because of the customer experience. You get your parcel and then hey we're giving you a hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of vouchers for other businesses. You know three lots of 50 to go somewhere else. So it's one of those things that you may think putting somebody else's fliers in your package is beneath. But in actual fact, how are your customers going to react. This is where I think we get a little bit caught up in. Oh but I need to protect my brand. There's a local skincare business here that whenever you purchase from them there is always samples sachets from different brands in there. And one of my clients actually sold into that company. Her products are stocked by that company. And one of the deals was she had to supply x number of sample sachets if she wanted to be included. And who's going to say no to that?

Erica: Right, Yeah.

Salena:Who is going to say no to free advertising?

Erica: Exactly. And you know you said something earlier and I want to bring it up because I think it's an important part. You know talking I guess going back to you know online businesses or even brick and mortar businesses and how they can expand how can they get out into other audiences. I know a photographer in my local market that has done a beautiful job at partnering with all the old beat black tie event. So all of the charity events in town.  Most of them have a high ticket black tie event. Some sort of gala was some sort of silent auction or a live auction you know saying to raise money for the charity.  And what she does is you know and I am seeing retailers do this too when are smart about it instead of donating product you know. So instead of donating that purse you know and then never seeing that client potentially come back into your store, donate a gift certificate. You know make it a higher value make it a 250 dollar, make it sexy. But you know what are you out like that person; we're going to pay for that gift certificate.  Those proceeds go to the charity. Yes, you're giving her your "air quote" given go away a 250 dollar gift certificate. That clientele's more than a lead client. So you're going to get them into this store, you are going to build that relationship with them. Who knows who they know. So it's another really cool way for you to get that marketing out there without having to give away product. You can create a gift certificate, create paper, create a lot of value and then build an experience around it once they come in to redeem it.

Salena:The getting out there is really something, I think a lot of people forget myself included. I've actually given myself a little bit of a goal to go to eight events in the next two months. Now those events using a very broad category of events here. Like it could be anything from a made up to going and seeing one of my retailers in these stores anything.  I just need to get out eight times in the next two months to actually get a book. This is an e-commerce thing and I guess it's probably the same thing if you're in retail and you're set behind, whether you sat behind a computer or sat behind a counter. It doesn't really matter. But sometimes we forget we just have to go out and meet new people and that you could do it at your local Chamber of Commerce. You could do it at a meet up. It could just be a hobby thing. But we get so entrenched with sitting behind the desk or the counter, that we forget that there's a world out there. And I'll just give you a quick example of what happened to me when I did this last week.  I went to an online retailer conference and I was just sitting at the charging station, flicking through my phone while I was waiting for it to charge. Got chatting to the guy next to me who happened to also be a podcaster, turned out to be quite a famous podcaster.  And then he invited me to co-host two shows with him.

Erica: Yeah

Salena: Sure. Fantastic so an opportunity just from chatting to the person next to you. And so if you happen to be thinking about this invention is your podcast. Thank you so much for that opportunity. We'll be airing that one soon, those two. But in the process, I also did get to meet the general manager of two very very big organizations in the marketing manager for shoes of prey and the general manager for the So just this one little conversation put me into a whole sphere of different people that whether they work with me or not. That's sort of not the point. The fact is you just kind of made people aware that you are out there and who you are and what it is you do. And I think that in itself gives you a lot of confidence, it reminds you that you're actually doing this thing and it's worthwhile and this is your business that you've built.

Erica: Yeah absolutely. And you know you're absolutely spot on. You know when you strike up a conversation with one person you don't know who they know. I mean and I always attribute it to this. You know when you're out there when you're positioning your brand in front of your ideal client.  If for one thing, you know the listeners could take away from this show today is this. You know if you start treating everybody as if they are influencers as if they're your Pied Piper. And you know you obviously want to you know poor on the client experience but not everybody you know even walking into your store is not necessarily going to convert into a sale right away. Right. But if you can treat everybody that you encounter as if they are going to be your next influencer or your next Pied Piper. I really hope you talk about your brand from that experiential standpoint. You'll win a lot of raving fans just by positioning yourself in front of those opportunities.  So you know extending yourself at your local Chamber of Commerce thing or going to National Trade Show opportunities regardless of where on the scale you know building relationships with people. That's what drives sales. At the end of the day that's what drives sales. Even in the online spaces, you've got an e-commerce store, you're getting more air quotes or traffic your way because somebody is probably said Oh my gosh you've got to go. I tell people about Bark box all the time. You know and I'm not even, I don't even I don't even get anything for it.  I just love their brand so much and I talk about it with anybody that has a dog. And so you know if you if you start treating people as if they could be your windpipe you know that that referral source for you.


For over two decades, Erica Castner has helped business owners and service providers improve their communication skills to find, connect, and convert their ideal clients. In addition to working with small business owners, Erica has had the privilege of working with (and for) nationally recognized brands such as: Lancome Cosmetics, Victoria's Secret, Northwestern Mutual and a local preliminary to the Miss America Organization, just to name a few.
The creator of the DREAM Business Growth Formula, Erica teaches a proven system to enhance productivity, presence and partnerships in business. Her strategies are designed to help business professionals attract quality referral partners which ultimately leads to more quality clients.
Whether you are a service provider who is building your book of business or a seasoned business owner, who's ready for the next level of growth, amplify your success with a proven system that will skyrocket your success.

“Each week I interview industry and thought leaders for their take on business and life. Subscribe and leave as a review”