Kate Fratalia of Loggerhead Marinelife Center: “Be observant”

Be observant. From the minute a customer walks into your store, until the minute they leave, make sure to anticipate their customer needs before they even know them. If a customer is carrying items in their arms, offer them a basket so they easily carry their items and browse for more products. If a customer […]

Thrive Global invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Be observant. From the minute a customer walks into your store, until the minute they leave, make sure to anticipate their customer needs before they even know them. If a customer is carrying items in their arms, offer them a basket so they easily carry their items and browse for more products. If a customer looks unsure about something, walk over to them and ask them if you can assist them. Don’t treat a customer as a single sale, instead treat them extremely well so they become a loyal and returning customer.

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 Kate Fratalia, Director of Retail Operations for Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC), a South Florida-based sea turtle and ocean conservation center.

Over the last 21 years, Fratalia has predicted retail trends and launched an environmentally and socially conscious product program, helping expand the Center’s retail portfolio from one to five retail operations, including an ecommerce platform. To assure the Center remains free-admission, Fratalia has helped create a unique retail model to drive funds for the Center’s mission of education, conservation, rehabilitation and research. With more than 10 years of sales and management experience prior to joining LMC, Fratalia applies an aggressive sales model to LMC’s retail operations. As e-commerce and rapid-delivery platforms increase in popularity, Fratalia stays at the forefront of retail and continues to increase the Center’s retail operations. Fratalia disrupts the traditional gift store landscape by implementing corporate sales strategies and focusing on the customer experience. Moving forward, Fratalia plans to continue to increase the sustainability of LMC’s retail operations and explore eco-conscious product development.

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?

If you had asked me 25 years ago where I would be in my career down the road, I would not have predicted working at a sea turtle and ocean conservation center for more than two decades. Originally, I am from upstate New York, which is land locked in nature. Because of this, I did not have much knowledge of sea turtles or marine life prior to living in Florida. However, I moved to South Florida in 1995 and a few years later visited Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s (LMC) original campus. At the time, the Center was a small, grassroots nonprofit operating from the goodwill of community members and volunteers. From the moment I visited LMC and witnessed the hospital team rehabilitating sea turtles, I knew it was where I wanted to be long-term. It’s awe-inspiring to see a majestic sea creature up-close and learn about their natural habitat and the threats they face. At first, I began volunteering in the Center’s gift store, which operated out of a closet within a trailer, then later joined as an employee. Since then, I’ve helped the Center navigate a capital expansion, takeover and expand its retail operations, and successfully open an expanded gift store during a pandemic.

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?

As we all know, paying attention to detail is crucial, especially in retail. In my early days of buying products, I made a mistake that makes me laugh now, but was not so funny at the time. I was placing an order for plush sea turtles and wanted to purchase 24 total pieces. I misread the fine print stating that the items were bundled in packs of 12. Instead of ordering two packs of 12, I ordered 24 packs of 12 resulting in a shipment of 288 plush sea turtles not 24. This would have been a big pill to swallow, but fortunately the vendor understood my mistake and accepted the return. Although this mistake occurred 20 years ago, I still remember how I felt when all of those plush sea turtles arrived at LMC. I pride myself on being detail oriented, and was surprised I made this mistake, but it was a lesson to always read the fine print, place orders with care, and always pay attention to the details.

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?

I am constantly inspired by my husband, Chris Fratalia, who is an amazing business man with a strong work ethic and moral character. He leads by example, supports others, and invests in his local community. Since knowing him, he’s always been supportive of any project I am involved in and believes in my ability to accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I honor his perspective and am grateful to have him as my partner. Most recently, he’s been my confidant and cheerleader as I’ve navigated meeting lofty retail goals, launched an expanded gift store, and launched LMC’s Choice Matters program during a pandemic. It’s because of his support and guidance that I am able to balance and achieve work, life, and personal goals.

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?

For the past 15 years, I’ve commuted 45 minutes to and from work each day. I’ve always tried to use this time effectively by listening to podcasts and expanding my knowledge. One of my favorite podcasts I have listened to is Simon Sinek’s TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” In this TED Talk, Sinek discusses examples of great leaders and how they effectively inspired action or change. This talk resonates with my belief that we all have the power to inspire and influence others by taking action and doing something. At LMC, we try to implement this belief by striving to inspire others to improve the health of marine life, our oceans, and ultimately ourselves. Specifically, I’ve applied this notion to our retail operations to select and use eco-friendly shipping materials and encouraging retail vendors to reduce the amount of plastic waste they use in their efforts. By taking action, we are able to inspire other retailers to follow suit and work towards LMC’s mission of sea turtle and ocean conservation.

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

Unique in its kind, Loggerhead Marinelife Center serves as a sea turtle and ocean conservation hub in South Florida. At first, the Center seems like a small nonprofit, but upon learning more guests unover that LMC’s efforts touch all corners of the world. Because of the Center’s close proximity to the Gulfstream, we are able to monitor and protect one of the world’s most densely populated sea turtle nesting beaches in the world. For more than 40 years, LMC has collected data on nesting and hatching sea turtle populations, providing critical information for policy makers and coastal managers. In addition, the Center hosts a state-of-the-art sea turtle hospital, which treats more than 100 sea turtles and 1,000 hatchlings a year. Guests from around the world travel to our Center to visit our sea turtle patients and learn about threats endangered and threatened sea turtles face. LMC extends past a research and rehabilitation center into an education and conservation platform by immersing guests in programming and initiatives. Guests are able to participate in once-in-a-life-time experiences, such as watching hatchlings return to the ocean, watching sea turtle patients return to the wild, and observe nesting sea turtles lay eggs on our local beaches. Our organization takes a holistic approach to conservation, where our rehabilitation and research data inform our educational programs and conservation initiatives to help improve the health of our planet and save species. Our retail component enables guests to become brand ambassadors for sea turtle and ocean conservation and spread our mission by introducing others to our cause. All proceeds from our retail operations directly support the rehabilitation of our sea turtle patients and allows us to provide free-admission to all guests.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Working in retail, especially during a pandemic, can leave you feeling burnt out if you don’t properly manage your self, staff and projects. If you are feeling on the fringe of burning out, make sure to take a hard look at what may be draining you. Once you’ve assessed your problems, determine how you can delegate more task-based work to enable you to have more time for creativity, strategy and planning. In your assessment, evaluate if your process for dealing with wholesale vendors is effective and efficient. If not, construct and implement a more efficient process to help you manage your time. Over the years, I’ve had “a hah” moments, which have led to improving my processes and helping me thrive. Several years ago, I had a vendor bring several suitcases of items to LMC for me to review. The suitcases were overflowing with unorganized merchandise, all of which the vendor planned to show me. From this experience, I have become a lot more clear and precise with my expectations of vendors. In order to thrive, you must value your time and allow yourself to have designated time in your work day to explore, create and innovate.

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?

The pandemic of 2020 presented many challenges and changes that forced people around the world to reinvent their lifestyles to comply with stay at home orders and adhered to increased health and safety measures. During the height of the pandemic, Lululemon offered comfort wear at consistent pricing, and Kroger and Costco increased supplies of their products to accommodate the increased demand for food purchased in one shopping trip and PPE supplies. In the last year, large retailers have found success by investing more in digital marketing, expanding their e-commerce and cultivating customers through social media. Other retailers, even small ones, can learn from these larger retailers who found success amidst the pandemic, by adjusting their product and delivery offerings and focusing on customer engagement and retention.

At LMC, we quickly strategized with our marketing department to increase traffic to our online store, change our messaging, and attract and engage new customers through our marketing efforts. Swiftly, we added more items to our e-commerce platform and focused on generating traffic to it through digital advertising. Simultaneously, we began offering curb-side pick-up as an additional shopping option and assuring our customers that their health and safety is our priority. To help customers stay busy during the pandemic, we began marketing “experiences” on our online store by promoting games, puzzles, and books as well as branded leisurewear. As we continued to adapt to the pandemic, we worked on boosting our social media and media presence. Throughout 2020, we reassured our customers that we were thinking of them and would offer special items for holidays, birthdays or care packages.

Despite the pandemic and the rise of fast-commerce sites like Amazon, our retail operations at LMC continue to meet their goals — both in-store and online. This is because we market our products appropriately, increase our inventory, and select items that fit our brand. While fast-commerce sites like Amazon will continue to grow in popularity, smaller retailers can compete by offering unique items and strengthening their relationships with their customers. Every year, there will be events and shifts in time and culture that will affect retailers. It’s vital to embrace these moments and adjust to these changes by altering your buying plan to meet the demand and focusing on marketing your products accordingly to the situation. In 2021, we plan to continue to enhance our retail and e-tail experience to reach new audiences and further engage our current customers.

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?

DTC companies and large retailers like Amazon typically have a large variety of products met with low prices, and often, free shipping. For other retailers, it’s difficult to compete with these types of offerings, but success can be found by creating a brand synonymous with excellent customer service and quality products. A retailers’ brand reputation, product quality, and customer service makes or breaks them. It’s vital to provide service that exceeds customer expectations. Demonstrating superior customer service that is personalized and humanized is hard for large retailers, such as Amazon to compete with. Retailers can continue to compete by creating a community around their brand and using their social media to connect with customers. This can create an intimate relationship with a customer, cultivating a lifelong relationship with them. Routinely, we have customers who visit our campus specifically to shop rather than visit our sea turtle patients. Our customers understand that we value them and are committed to providing them with a quality experience. We strive to be their go to for casual shopping and special occasions. In 2021, we plan to offer more customized virtual shopping experiences to create a stronger relationship with remote customers.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Most importantly, a CEO and/or Founder must have a passion for the project and believe in what they are doing. If they don’t have this passion, it often negatively impacts the business. If they have this passion and belief in their business, this energy will fuel the pace needed to successfully start and maintain a business. Creating a mission and vision statement is important as well because it guides the organizational strategy of the business; it is a blueprint for success. Making decisions that align with the mission, vision and brand will help propel the business forward, but not adhering to these factors can cause a business to flop. Additionally, it’s important to set both incremental and long-term goals for the business and pay attention to routine tasks, such as taking inventory.

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?

As noted before, excellent customer service and customer experience can make a business. Customers deserve this level of service, it’s as if you are inviting them into your home. When creating a customer experience, you want to make sure the customer feels comfortable, welcomed, and excited to shop. A retail atmosphere should be inviting and organized so browsing the store is easy. As a retailer, you want to make sure your customer has everything they need when they are in your store and you are able to accommodate their requests and wishes. When a customer feels excited to shop and has a positive experience, they are more likely to return and promote your store via word of mouth. This results in a higher customer retention rate and helps bring in new customers.

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?

Since excellent customer service is known to make a business, I assume most companies make this a priority, but may have the wrong people in positions of customer service. It’s important to have passionate people, who are trained in providing excellent customer service in a customer service role. When selecting employees for customer service positions, make sure they like what they are selling and understand the brand, this will go a long way. Another issue may be that fast-commerce is being made popular by large retailers like Amazon, which may cause the inability to provide excellent customer service. It’s important to remember that we live in a review and rating culture, where customers will make sure they review/rate their shopping experience. If they have a negative experience, they will make it known resulting in negative exposure for your business. But, if they have a positive experience, they will also make it known, resulting in potentially more business.

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

For our brick and mortar LMC store, I have a larger vision for the customer service experience than helping a customer find the right size tee shirt. Customer service is about being aware of what is going on with your customers and responding to it. On one particular occasion, a mother had two very small children with her. One of the children was having a difficult time, and pretty much screaming at the top of their lungs, while the other was on the verge of a breakdown too. This situation was clearly disrupting the experience of other shoppers in a negative way as well as preventing the mom from being able to check out. Out of respect for the other shoppers and the mom, I was able to quickly offer a remote check out station just for her. I then offered to help her to her car as I noticed it was getting difficult to handle the turmoil of two toddlers having meltdowns. She took me up on it, I walked her to her car with the kiddos, and off she went with her Loggerhead Marinelife Center merchandise. These moments can truly enhance a customers’ opinion of your brand, as well as improve your brand’s reputation.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

Yes, the mom I helped was so grateful that she wrote a letter to the CEO of our company expressing her gratitude for the wonderful experience we provided in our store. It reinforced for me and showed our staff that you can’t have tunnel vision while working in a store. It’s critical to always be aware of your surroundings and how people may need your help. Because of this, LMC has longtime customers who regularly shop at our store and stop by just to say hello.

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”?

First and most importantly, you have to hire the right person for the job — someone that can own it and want it. A sales associate has only a few minutes to show a customer that they are the most important person in the store. We train our employees to be aware of our customers and anticipate any needs they may have prior to them asking. It’s important to address the customer by name if you know it already, and if not ask them. By using their name, you can make them feel valued and respected. While speaking with the customer, build a rapport with them so they feel comfortable and welcomed in the store. Further, create an inviting store atmosphere by making sure it’s clean and the aisles are clear, playing appropriate music, and using a light fragrance to make it smell good. To improve the retail experience, create inviting and visually appealing displays and switch them out regularly. To go the extra mile, you can walk your customer to the door with their bag. Building a great atmosphere and fantastic retail experience will result in repeat customers and strengthen your brand reputation.

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.

Based on my experience and success, the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more are:

  1. Be consistent. When creating a retail experience, own your brand so customers know what to expect. Selecting items that fit your brand will ensure success. If you make a major change to your brand, make an announcement to customers so they are aware of it. When choosing vendors and items to sell for LMC, I choose items that reflect a passion for sea turtles and the oceans. Our store offers items that are coastal and ocean inspired, as well as align with our mission of environmental conservation. I carefully select items that are socially and environmentally conscious as well as fit a lifestyle image of being a beach lover.
  2. Be unique. When choosing vendors and items, opts for unique selections. It’s common to find the same items in gift shops across the country, but we try extremely hard to select items that are different to make us stand out. Instead of appearing to be a gift store, we aim to appear as we are a boutique. At LMC, we offer a wide range of items from home decor to clothes and we create items specifically for our brand.
  3. Be observant. From the minute a customer walks into your store, until the minute they leave, make sure to anticipate their customer needs before they even know them. If a customer is carrying items in their arms, offer them a basket so they easily carry their items and browse for more products. If a customer looks unsure about something, walk over to them and ask them if you can assist them. Don’t treat a customer as a single sale, instead treat them extremely well so they become a loyal and returning customer.
  4. Exceed expectations. All customers should be treated as if they are a guest in your home. Exceed their expectations with the items you offer and the service you provide them. If the opportunity presents itself, go the extra mile to make them feel valued and welcomed. For example, a customer called our store to ask if we still carried a small hatchling sculpture we carried the year before because he was looking for an anniversary present for his wife. While we regularly switch out our products and add new inventory, we’ve carried this hatchling sculpture for awhile because it’s an ultimate fan favorite. He mentioned that over the years, he had purchased two of the three hatchlings for her for their anniversaries and was looking to complete the set with the third hatchling species that we carried. Normally, he and his wife would make an annual trip to our Center, but were not able to this particular year. To cheer her up, he wanted to surprise her with the third hatchling and asked if we could browse our store. We agreed to assist him, and email him pictures of all of the statues (each one is unique) and let him browse them virtually. Once he had selected the statue he wanted, we worked with him to make sure the package arrived a few days before his anniversary. This customer expressed that he was overwhelmed with joy and couldn’t be more grateful for our experience.
  5. Hire well. Your employees should fit your store’s brand and have a passion for retail. They should be excited about various products that you carry and understand the type of customer that might want to purchase them. Your employees should take ownership of the brand and feel invested in the success of the store. It’s critical to train your employees in customer service and sales. Employees that take pride in their work and value the brand will naturally find ways to improve and enhance your store, such as even finding items that might sell well in your store.

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. 🙂

In 1971, a commercial debuted showing a depiction of a Native American with a tear rolling down his face as he observed the landscape full of trash. The message was “people start pollution, people can stop pollution.” The term “ people” in this commercial insinuated that individual’s were to blame for pollution, which I feel deflected the responsibility of corporations for their role in polluting practices. Corporations and retailers are responsible for selecting the materials they use to create their items and can alter culture by utilizing eco-friendly materials and options. As a retailer and a buyer, I encourage vendors to re-examine the materials they use to ship their products. Too often, items are over packaged using plastic and styrofoam as buffers between the products. These shipping materials are not environmentally friendly and end up on earth for a very long time littering the landscape. Furthermore, these materials often end up in our oceans posing a hazard for marine life. My responsibility as a retailer is to continuously educate vendors on responsible shipping practices and encourage them to use alternatives to harmful packing materials. Through utilizing eco-friendly shipping materials in our store and launching our environmentally and socially conscious labeling initiative, Choice Matters, I hope to inspire other retailers to make conscious choices to reduce the amount of waste produced by the commerce industry. At LMC, in Q2, 2021, we plan to launch a program that recognizes vendors that adhere to responsible packaging practices and recognize them as “Blue Vendors.”

How can our readers further follow your work?

I encourage those interested in networking or becoming a corporate partner with Loggerhead Marinelife Center to connect with me on LinkedIn. For those interested in Loggerhead Marinelife Center and its mission, please visit the Center’s website and social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube). To support the Center’s mission and become a brand ambassador for sea turtle and ocean conservation, please explore LMC’s retail operations by visiting our online store and social media channels (Facebook and Instagram). As our Center completes its second campus expansion, we look for ways to forge new partnerships to further our mission and vision.

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

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...


    Kendall and Libby Glazer of Stoney Clover Lane: “The guest experience is incredibly important to us”

    by Orlando Zayas

    Kathryn Blackwell of The Open Dør: “Pop-up shops and “retail trucks” “

    by Jilea Hemmings

    Joe Jensen: “Creative ways to meet customer expectations”

    by Orlando Zayas
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.