From left to right: Elaine B., Jillian C., Deb G., Megan M.
There is something so comfortable about a Vera Bradley Store. Maybe it’s the plush couches with beautiful fabric inviting guests to relax, or the warm hues in the bold wallpaper, or the familiarity of those white cabinets brimming with popular styles. For many, it’s the faces they see when they stop by their neighborhood retail location. Browsing often turns to bonding when our customers meet our amazing associates.
For more on how these friendships unfold, we turned to the team at Vera Bradley at Jefferson Pointe, our Fort Wayne, IN, store. We invited them (and one special visitor) to gather – before official store hours – for a bit of coffee, pastries and chitchat about their favorite styles, seasons and our unique customer experience.
On the guest list:
Deb G. – Store Manager at Jefferson Pointe | 2006
Favorite style: “Any crossbody. I love being able to shop and pick up a sweater and not think about where my handbag is. With travel, I feel so secure with it being across my body. And with the Tablet Hipster, my all-time favorite feature is that I can put my Kindle or iPad in here with all my other items!”
Elaine B. – Sales Associate at Jefferson Pointe | 2011
Favorite style: “The Weekender. I’m very organized and when there is a pocket in every spot, I think that’s great. And my favorite color right now is Sun Valley; I have everything in Sun Valley!”
Megan M. – Acting Key | 2011
Favorite style: “The Vera in Black because it goes with everything. I am so back and forth from work to school, and I live in that bag! I have designated pockets for everything.”
Jillian C. – Store Manager at Chandler Fashion Center (Chandler, AZ) | 2012
Favorite style: “I absolutely adore the Leather Trim Caroline. I love the vintage, doctor-style bags, with that rolled shape. The color for me is the absolute best. I feel like it works all year, especially with the off-white leather. In Arizona we can do white whenever!”
Q. When a customer comes in to the store, what do you hope to achieve?
Elaine: We definitely want to make them feel welcome, which is why our store looks like a home. We want to be a girl’s best friend and have them come back because they had an awesome experience.
Jillian: In Arizona, our store has been open for about a year and every day there are guests that come in and see Vera Bradley for the first time. It’s so exciting because we get to share the story with them from the beginning and expose them to who we are and what we do, and they’re so excited and amazed by the initial experience. Sometimes they’ll get as far as our first window and they’ll turn around and come back into the store for something else. They just don’t want to leave!
Deb: it’s just spending time with friends, whether it’s getting reacquainted with someone who’s been in before, or making a new friend. One of my favorite things is when someone walks in for the first time and pauses, takes it all in, and says, “This is so beautiful! It’s like someone’s home … I want to live here!” And they always comment on what a fabulous place it would be to work. Absolutely! Sometimes I wonder if this is really my job, because it doesn’t feel like a job.
Megan: And I’m not just a salesperson, it doesn’t feel that way. You feel like you are hanging out with girlfriends, and that includes our guests that come in and the people we work with. I never feel like, “Ugh, I have to go to work today.” It’s like, “I get to go hang out with awesome women who love Vera Bradley!”
Deb: Not only do we connect and make that relationship with our guests, it’s just as important that we connect with our internal guests, each other! We are a very tight group.
Elaine: We know everything about each other.
Megan: We really mesh. I think it’s because everyone who works for Vera Bradley embodies our set of Core Values and we’re all just nice people and enjoy each other’s company and the company of our guests.
Deb: I love the statement, “We don’t hire people and tell them to be nice. We hire nice people.”
Elaine: You can definitely tell. With Deb training the managers, we get to visit with them – like Jillian visiting us this week – and it’s the same all the way around!
Q. Jillian, are you from Arizona originally?
Jillian: I’m not. I’m from New Jersey. So, I am a Jersey girl through and through. Big hair, lots of color, lots of jewelry, all the time!
Q. What was your first experience with Vera Bradley?
Deb: I was introduced to the brand with a gift. It was a coin purse and it had a Gift Card in it. This will tell you how long ago it was … It was a Holiday print.
Elaine: I’ve had it since I was little. I had a pink dance bag, and I carried it for years. And I’ve had duffels and bags that have been passed on from my mom. I think it’s a family thing for a lot of people.
Deb: Which is so unique to a retail store. That a grandmother, a mother and a granddaughter can come in and there is something for everyone.
Megan: My first was a duffel. My mom got it from the Outlet Sale. I think it was called Blue Coin? She had it and I would always steal it from her when I would go to a friend’s house. She would get so mad at me! Finally, when I went to college she said, “Oh, just take it!” And I had it up until I started working here and then the strap broke and I was so sad. It is the first one I ever had.
Deb: There are memories in bags.
Megan: There are! I used it for sports, when I came home from school. I still have it.
Jillian: It’s well loved! Being from the East Coast, I grew up going to a private, all-girls school and every one had a duffel and took them into gym class. And everybody had a different color because no one could ever have the same color! Those are my very first memories of Vera Bradley.
Deb: Speaking to the generational thing, I am expecting my first grandchild in October …
Jillian: Is it a girl?
Deb: Well, they don’t know the gender yet, but if it happens to be a girl, she has already received her first gift prior to being born. I purchased a pair of Mary Jane Soft Shoes.
Jillian: And if it’s not, he will have been familiar with Vera Bradley from the very beginning and make someone very happy someday!
Q. How do you pick and choose what to add to your collection?
Elaine: You are staring at it all day! And you see someone pick something up and put it on, and you think, “Oh wow, that is really cute!”
Jillian: I joke and say it’s the most expensive place I have ever worked, but I love every minute of it.
Elaine: We try to be supportive and talk each other out of it sometimes.
Deb: You have to be very disciplined. Elaine, we can talk each other into it, too.
Elaine: I think I talked you into that one. [Points to Tablet Hipster]
Deb: Yes, I think you did. Thanks, I love it!
Q. How do you incorporate our colors into your wardrobe?
Elaine: I buy my clothing for my bags.
Deb: We look at the trends and what’s coming up, too. I know mint was predicted to be the color of the summer, so we keep that in mind. I always call it a “backdrop” to the bag.
Megan: I tend to gravitate towards patterns that I know will go with a lot of things I already have in my wardrobe. I was a big fan of Go Wild this spring because it had the neutral colors in it, the off-white and black.
Deb: And I think it’s important that we help the customer understand how we coordinate colors with outfits. And for the guests who say, “I don’t want to have to think about that,” we have a choice, Classic Black.
Elaine: Now that we’re getting into the summer months, I don’t care as much if my bag matches my outfit since it’s something bright. I think I’m more conscious of it in the winter.
Jillian: In my store, we have a lot of artists and creative people, and it’s funny, we tend to be a little bit more eclectic with mixing color and pattern. Everybody in Phoenix has caught the bohemian bug, and everything is layer after layer and tons of texture and color. There are times when a guest will come in – a girl who has been wearing Vera for years – and they are very coordinated, and we tend to branch them out a little bit. We talk about layering patterns and mixing it up, and they get really excited. They say, “It’s okay if I don’t match everything?” It’s like a light bulb comes on.
Megan: It’s such a fun time in fashion, where you can mix and match everything. There are no more color rules. You can wear black and navy, chocolate brown and black, it’s on-trend to mix and match.
Q. You experience all of the seasons in the stores, which is your favorite and why?
Deb: Mine would be the Summer release. I love the Beach Towels and Flip Flops, and the special beach collections.
Elaine: I think that’s my favorite, too. It’s getting warmer, people are coming in and they are happy and want their bright colors.
Megan: I think mine is Back to Campus and Fall. I love the girls going away to college. Last year we had bedding, which was so fun and new and everyone was so excited. I’m personally a big boots and sweaters and scarves person, and we always have new scarves.
Jillian: Back to Campus for me, hands down. I’ve always been the kid who was really excited to go back to school. I’ve always been such a sucker for school supplies. Even now, I buy school supplies, and I don’t know why! My entire team knows, when the Flexi Folders come in, Jillian needs them.
Q. What do you hope the experience is like for our customer?
Deb: I’ve often said, my hope is, 6 months from now, if I asked a customer what she purchased when she was in the store, she would say, “I have no idea what I purchased, but I do remember how they made me feel.”
Megan: We’re relational, not transactional. Because we build the relationships. She’ll remember that we talked about her family or upcoming trip to Europe.
Elaine: And she’ll come back and show us pictures!
Jillian: There’s a family of sisters – 5 of them – and they come into my store. The oldest just got married and she happened to win a Weekender for her honeymoon and was so excited. She came in and showed me all of her wedding pictures, because we had been talking about it. I felt like I had been planning her wedding with her!
Q. So, as we open new stores, how do we ensure everyone has the same experience?
Jillian: I can tell you the team that helps open stores is wonderful. They came to Phoenix to introduce our team to the experience, and the fact that we’re part of an organization that takes time to do that is extraordinary. In past lives, I’ve been part of new store openings where it was all about the operations. Get the product in and get the transactions going. And we don’t do that. We take the time to ensure our team understands the experience and that they’re passionate about it. That way, when the stores do open, it’s open house, not opening day.
Deb: Right. So the first piece of opening a new store is introducing the staff to our culture, the experience, and to the mission statement. And it doesn’t have anything to do with sales. Day one of training a store manager is about our culture; what does caring look like, what does creativity look like, what does honesty, respect, fun, fussy, what does that look like? We take great detail in our mission statement, “To be a girl’s best friend,” and what that looks like at the store level.
Q. As new employees, what surprised you most about working with Vera Bradley?
Elaine: I think just the environment. Everyone wants to get to know you and they want you to love your job.
Megan: I think our relationship with customers. I’ve been in retail through high school and college, and it’s unlike any other company. You feel at home, and we’re so happy to do whatever we can to help our customers! And what company is like that anymore? In past jobs, returns were such a hassle, but here, we don’t treat them any differently.
Elaine: I’m kind of a customer service snob now. I expect the best because we give the best! And I think people realize that when they come here, they’re going to get the best level of customer service possible.
Jillian: The most refreshing thing for me is that the word “No” is not in my vocabulary anymore. It’s so refreshing to empower everyone and remove that word from their vocabulary. It’s so liberating to make it all about her, in whatever capacity that has to be.
Deb: I’ve had two associates that were in college and switched majors to allow them to fit into the Vera Bradley corporate world. That’s how impressed they were with the culture.
Elaine: I couldn’t imagine working for anyone else!
Q. Could you speak to the new look of the store?
Jillian: We’re celebrating the silhouettes of the handbags more now. My store has a lot of room, so we’ve streamlined. It’s about the shape of everything, and organized by genre. It’s easier for our guest to navigate and you can really see what we have.
Deb: Our crossbodies are now in one area, and a couple are displayed how they’d look if they were on your body. It’s very customer friendly. I think the display lends to people picking it up, taking out the stuffing, and checking out the features and benefits of each bag.
Elaine: Our travel bags are right next to the packing cubes and Luggage Tags; everything makes more sense. I think it’s much more convenient, especially if you’re in a time crunch.
Q. What’s one of your favorite customer stories?
Megan: We have a lot of breast cancer survivors come in, and we love to do “girl’s best friend” things for them. We talk to them and a lot of times, we’ll find something in a Breast Cancer Awareness color and gift them. And you wouldn’t believe the impact that has. I’ve had at least 2 or 3 women cry and hug me. I mean, we’re strangers to them, but before they leave, we’re not strangers anymore. It gives me chills every time I do it.
Jillian: I had an experience with a guest. She’s an East Coast girl as well, so we immediately connected. She was so excited that we were there and we bonded over scrapbooking. Then I didn’t see her for a while. She came in with a friend and was very different. She was looking for an agenda because her husband was diagnosed with cancer, and she wanted a Vera Bradley agenda because she had to keep track of all of his treatments and wanted to have the happiest agenda she could find. I gifted a pen to her and sent her on her way. Her husband actually came in a few weeks later to thank me. It was wonderful to be able to meet him, and for him, who has so many other things going on, to take the time to come in. Still, I get choked up thinking about it. That’s what it’s all about!
Deb: For me, it’s when a guest will ask to speak with the manager to talk about the fabulous customer service that one of my staff gave them. I had that recently happen with Elaine. A guest asked if she could speak to the manager, and all she wanted to say was, “Your young gal was incredibly wonderful to me and gave my exceptional customer service.” Those are my favorite stories.
We’re always looking for friendly new team members. Check our Careers page for openings in your area.