Okabashi Brands

www.okabashi.com

Sara Irvani (CEO) | Buford, Georgia | Retail

Okabashi Brands

“The digital side of the business was important for making sure sales could continue during quarantine and proved essential for communicating with our customers.”

Sara Irvani, Okabashi Brands | Buford, Georgia

Sara Irvani, the CEO of Okabashi, is a third-generation shoemaker. The company she leads has been manufacturing shoes in Georgia since her family founded it in 1984. When Okabashi first opened, about 60% of all shoes sold in the U.S. were made in the U.S., according to Sara. Today, she says that number is closer to 1% and she’s proud of Okabashi’s tradition of making shoes in the U.S. and in an environmentally sustainable and socially conscious way. Sara’s also proud of the improvements the company has made to usher itself into the digital age. These tools, which include automating operations with G Suite to selling directly to customers with a Shopifyenhanced website, are what’s helping it emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic in a strong economic position.

In the opening months of 2020, the business was in a solid position. “We were heading toward our best year ever,” Sara recalls. “And then this pandemic just completely took everyone by surprise. It was scary.” There were immediate impacts on the company’s sales as well as on its supply chain. Sara decided to start sending workers home to learn how to work remotely as a team. The Okabashi team swapped daily stand-up meetings for daily cross-departmental calls where they focused on all initiatives, including the company’s digital priorities.

76%

of Retail industry used digital payments pre-crisis, on average

This pre-crisis digital readiness also included use of websites (71%), and social media (72%), and a majority (64%) increased use of these tools during the crisis.

Okabashi had been selling directly to customers online for years. The company’s Shopify-enabled site was strengthened by a variety of additional tools ranging from CRM software to G Suite. Google tools have always been important for Okabashi, thanks to Sara’s love of their ease of use and potential for scalability. Google Shopping campaigns have helped Okabashi sell its products to people searching for sandals or “made in USA” footwear. The team also uses Google Analytics to monitor web traffic. And it relies on Business Profile on Google to ask customers for reviews. Paired with Google Ads, these tools help inform product development and help Sara’s team to gain key insights into their customer’s needs. Okabashi also uses Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest to advertise and interact with customers.

85%

of SMBs say COVID-19 made them rethink their approach to digital tools

For example, 54% of Arts, Education, and Entertainment SMBs increased video conferencing to deliver what are traditionally in-person services.

All this has proved critical during the pandemic. “The digital side of the business was important for making sure sales could continue during quarantine and proved essential for communicating with our customers,” Sara recalls. She describes the ability to connect with customers via social media as “invaluable.” Digital tools, she says, “allowed us to connect in a whole new, more intimate way, showing who we really are.” The family business is important to Sara. Okabashi was founded by her grandfather, an Iranian expatriate, and Sara grew up shadowing her father when he ran the factory. “I was determined to find a way to make sure that Okabashi could become a fourth-generation company,” Sara says. “That’s why I was particularly grateful to have digital tools that allowed us to not only survive a pandemic but also come out so well positioned afterwards.”

Although Okabashi was affected by the pandemic, Sara says that it’s nothing compared to what the company could have expected in the pre-digital age.

Okabashi

Although Okabashi was affected by the pandemic, Sara says that it’s nothing compared to what the company could have expected in the pre-digital age. Now, this digitally driven company is positioned for strong growth. For other business owners who might find themselves in Sara’s position, her advice is simple. “Positivity is critical in any situation, and effective communication is paramount — whether with your customers or your team,” Sara says. “And don’t forget about these great digital tools. The thing I like about them, especially the Google tools, is that they’re often simple enough for the average person to understand but powerful enough to drive scalable impact.”

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