Carmina Albaladejo Ochagavía: “Make a client”

Make a client, do not sell a product. Often people walk into a store and immediately feel pressured to purchase, as if it is expected. Instead, I find it important to connect with our clients, ask about their preferences, past purchase choices, and their lives, so later you can really know each client and please […]

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Make a client, do not sell a product. Often people walk into a store and immediately feel pressured to purchase, as if it is expected. Instead, I find it important to connect with our clients, ask about their preferences, past purchase choices, and their lives, so later you can really know each client and please them individually.

You can “make a client” by demonstrating your own knowledge of the product. In educating your customer, you teach them about your product and this results in added value for them, and a deeper connection to the brand and their purchase.

As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carmina Albaladejo Ochagavía. She oversees the execution of the brand’s operational strategy for Carmina USA, division of Carmina Shoemaker. In her current role Ms. Albaladejo-Ochogavía is primarily responsible for overseeing the company’s US expansion initiative and evaluating existing store performance and practices.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Thank you for letting me join you today. As much as I would love to give you an incredible backstory, the real story comes from growing up inside a shoe factory. From collecting candies & chocolates from our artisans when I was 4 years old to spending my afternoons there after high school. The addicting smell of a freshly-produced pair of shoes is what encouraged me to join the family business. Officially, I started at our Palma de Mallorca store during summer holidays at the age of 16, and then on to study at Cambridge, UK, and then in London. Being out of my comfort zone became so pleasant that I decided to move to New York City to grow, personally and professionally, in a different market and culture. As a young professional, it all started with keeping my eyes and ears open, listening to my family, analyzing and understanding others’ behaviors so as to learn how to professionally present myself, interact with others and ultimately, to learn what was expected of me. I am aware that as a family member here at Carmina Shoemaker I have a great opportunity within the company, but it was always made very clear to me that I had to be up to the task of carrying on this long family legacy, and I had to be able to maintain it. So here I am, back in New York where I got started, still learning from everything and from everyone. In full transparency, this should never change, as we only grow when we learn and there is always room for improvement.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

When I first started at Carmina in NYC, I was doing a little bit of everything. I could be selling shoes on the sales floor, doing some PR, or supporting the customer service department. It is important to understand the business from the bottom up, from all angles. I remember providing my name to clients who, especially in customer service or on the sales floor, were expecting me to bend the rules, given the fact that I share a name with the business. I used to believe that I would disappoint a customer in the name of the brand if I didn’t make an exception for him/her — even when I was certain that the situation did not warrant it. I realized that, although most of the time I love my name and it is a great strength, other times it can become my biggest weakness too. I started saying that my name was Maria, my middle name, and, funny enough, I immediately felt relieved. It was the store’s joke. My colleagues and I saw a positive change in my professional personality. In my opinion and from my experience, most of the time you are your own worst enemy, and focusing on critically analyzing yourself will lead you to overcome your weaknesses by boosting your strengths.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

What if I told you that every single family member helps me grow on a daily basis? That is the beauty of Carmina Shoemaker, of a long-standing family business. We are passing down knowledge from generation to generation. All the roles here are critical. From my grandfather Pepe, to my grandmother Carmina, to my aunts and uncles, to my father, with whom I share a special bond. He has always pushed me to do better, to be open minded, to fight for things, and to never give up.

In our company, everything relates back to the concept of passing down as much information as possible to ensure the continuity of what we have created: the tradition and history that this shoe brand and our family represents. I am blessed to work in a place where the importance of continuity is what brings us together. And together, we go farther.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Definitely, Dale Carnegie wins in here. I know I am not surprising anyone with this title, yet I felt like it was a life changing book when I first read it. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” showed me how some people care so much about achieving their own goal that they forget how important it is to help, respect and genuinely appreciate people. You will only receive back what you give.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

For those who are new to the brand, Carmina sits in the “Handcrafted and Goodyear-welted Shoe” sector. The techniques we fought to maintain and therefore, we use, go back to 1866. Our pioneer, Mateo Pujadas, made sure they were passed down to the next generation, and we are on the fifth generation now.

As you can imagine, our sector can be perceived as quite old fashioned, yet what makes the company stand out is the marvelous combination of tradition blended with the modern world. For instance, a few years ago we pioneered the customization tool in such a complicated sector, where nothing is automated and everything is handcrafted. Now, we are one, if not the only, World’s Goodyear-welted Factory that can deliver a customized pair of handcrafted shoes within 45 days. Additionally, we’re launching a new tridimensional customization tool, where our patrons can customize every single stage of production. I understand this is widely available for the majority of brands in the fashion industry, yet it is quite unusual in the artisanal, handmade sector.

Another aspect, and this is merely my humble opinion, is the emphasis on passing down our family values into our products. We continuously hear the feedback that our products are very modestly priced given the quality of our raw materials and craftsmanship. We could charge more for our products but we believe the company reflects us and we want to be honest.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

I have been present in many conversations in which I have strongly disagreed with the so-called “Retail Apocalypse.” I understand that the supposed decreasing retail demand comes from an e-commerce intervention. In my opinion, e-commerce is another tool for companies to reach out to clients who can’t, or don’t want to, physically go to a store. E-commerce is just another player in the market. Before, retail was a monopoly system of selling while now, there are two players. Furthermore, let’s not forget that any company can benefit from both retail and e-commerce, it is not exactly a competition. They are two selling channels focused on two different types of buyers and it is a matter of managing each accordingly.

I personally find myself wanting to go into a store, I like to ask about the brand, learn about what that brand represents, and I prefer to feel the product and try on the wares. Forging a relationship by talking about the weather with the sales associate and then departing full of satisfaction (and physically carrying my purchase). I understand this is not how everyone prefers to shop. Retail, in my opinion, is the best way a company can connect with their customer, the best way to tangibly convey their spirit and values. Therefore, retail focuses on service, and this cannot be replicated online.

It is true that retail sales have/will decrease but we must think about what really gives strength to online sales. Would you purchase a $500 — $2,000 pair of shoes from a company that has no sign of physical existence with the same security than if the brand has a store on Fifth ave, Madison, Spring St, etc? I would, personally, be more reluctant.

Hence, my lesson is that they complement each other and my recommendation is to believe in both selling channels, and to support them equally.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

In a peculiar way, I truly believe this will enhance and enlighten those brands who do invest in quality. It is widely known that Amazon has a brilliant business modelfocusedonprice strategy — but let’s not forget that this is not every retailer’s business model. When in action, I foresee a shift in consumer trends and retail survival will be based on quality and specialization, with fine craftsmanship being preferred and more appreciated by the consumer. Only those who truly offer it will maintain their clientele.

Don‘t get me wrong, I am not saying Amazon does not offer quality goods. Instead, I am saying that because Amazon is unlikely to specialize in one product only, and combined with their pricing strategy, they can never yield the same quality and craftsmanship that a brand like Carmina offers on their shoes, or Hermes on their handbags, for instance. The quality comes from a certain know-how that is only achieved through true specialization.

In conclusion, every brand has an essence, and the futures of those who don’t bend to compete against Amazon, but instead remain loyal to their clientele and their own business principles, look much brighter.

This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?

The customer experience is how we can most effectively communicate the brand’s message and spirit not only to the consumer, but to anyone they know by extension. This message, and the way you treat your clients, needs to demonstrate the brand’s loyalty to the client, given the customer is the key to success. The ultimate goal is for the client to happily walk out of the door, hopefully having completed a transaction, so they associate the brand with a positive experience and vibe, and in turn they tell their friends.

A great customer experience shows gratitude on behalf of the company to the client for choosing to shop with us.When someone feels valued, they will most likely come back.

The service and experience are part of the product, especially in the luxury sector. The service represents the product for the new shopper and ensures a long-term relationship with others.

This creates an understanding about who you serve and who you should keep happy, which ensures continuity.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

Definitely, we have all had a poor experience at some point but if I’m being transparent, I do not believe it is the company’s intention. I believe every entrepreneur desires to provide an excellent service. We all want a happy client.

With that said, it is very hard to please everyone. Normally, undesirable situations arise when expectations are not met, but… Can we ever fully manage everyone’s expectations? You can try your hardest yet nothing is guaranteed.

Poor service also results when the previous argument is combined with a company’s lack of organization and/or a lack of training from the top down. If you think about it, the success of many business relays on a happy clientele, who will enjoy and recommend the brand. If it was that easy, everyone would be excelling at it.

There are many aspects to consider when looking for a great experience/service and I want to believe that companies who don’t offer excellent service are still learning from their own mistakes through their clients’ experiences.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

Of course! When I was at the store, I liked answering the phone (emails can be impersonal sometimes). About 5 months after I arrived in NYC, a very nice gentleman from California called — he had never heard of the brand before but had recently discovered us online.

While we stayed on the line for a good half an hour talking about the brand, the conversation took an interesting turn. It turned out he lived alone and was as interested in the shoes as he was in finding friends in the US. I could tell he really wanted to find a brand he could trust. He started calling us every two-to-three days! Needless to say, he quickly became a Carmina friend. Every call with that shoe aficionado would result in one or two pairs sold, either custom or from the collection.

This gentleman has now become one of the top 10 clients in the US because he, beyond the brand, was looking for someone to understand his peculiarities, essentially, someone he could trust. We still chat from time to time and talk about our lives, just like friends, and he sends me movies he has on DVD, just like the old times.

A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?

Definitely, an exquisite retail experience occurs when all the subtle elements, from the store design, to the product presentation, to the associate’s image and charisma come together and form a pleasant environment in which the client feels comfortable.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

Make a client, do not sell a product. Often people walk into a store and immediately feel pressured to purchase, as if it is expected. Instead, I find it important to connect with our clients, ask about their preferences, past purchase choices, and their lives, so later you can really know each client and please them individually.

You can “make a client” by demonstrating your own knowledge of the product. In educating your customer, you teach them about your product and this results in added value for them, and a deeper connection to the brand and their purchase.

This way, you create a sense of community, somewhere to feel comfortable, and want to return. In our industry, for instance, shoe connoisseurs are truly admirable, they know every leather supplier we use, they talk about stitching density and are able to distinguish minute differences. Many times new shoe-aficionados walk into the store only to learn, not to buy, and which can be fun for both parties.

Besides a happy customer, you also get an educated clientele who is aware of your product’s strengths and weaknesses and truly recognizes and appreciates when you solve problems, given that they understand the brand as a whole and its products.

When possible, go the extra mile to help your clients, nothing goes unnoticed in the retail environment.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As of now, (2021) it would be selfish to think of any movement other than one that would promote vaccination acceleration and eradication of this virus.

In normal conditions, I would want to claim back the power of physical interaction, given that a non-interactive society scares me and it seems like we are slowly heading in that direction. People are in need of interaction, we feed off of the energy of one another.

Even with a deep admiration for technology and where it can drive us, I am not convinced that we are using it at its maximum potential, which should be for the wellbeing of the population. In today’s world, companies are allowed to, honestly or not, adopt trends as a part of their marketing strategy and pass them off as if these are their core values. They do this simply because it sells more in the moment, or because it is socially accepted and makes them look good. For instance, the topic of environmentalism, sustainability, and ,in our sector, the word “handmade.” I would like the next decade to celebrate the triumphs of honest companies who focus on their true strengths and core values, and I would also ask consumers to deepen their knowledge on the brands they patronize, especially because brands can easily and inexpensively pivot their branding based on what sells.

Everyday, at Carmina, we try to better understand ourselves as a team and as a company, and that is what we are trying to convey, without duping customers. We have flaws and make mistakes. We are not perfect but we try to improve every day.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can find us online at, or on Instagram @CarminaShoemaker. You can also visit us at the factory in Mallorca or at any of the stores on this link . If you’re in New York, I hope you’ll stop by our newest store at 509 Madison Avenue

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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