Curacao’s Ariela Nerubay: “We Embrace the Reality of New Consumers, Which is ‘We Buy Because We Aspire to a Better Life'”

What: Ariela Nerubay, CMO of Curacao, talked to Portada about the evolution of the company and how its new services will cater to Hispanics' every need in a more effective way.
Why it matters: Hispanic communities have trusted Curacao for decades; the new initiatives will engage the newer generations and the company's humanitarian efforts will continue helping Latinos aspire to a better life in the U.S.

Curacao, the Hispanic-centric retailer that has been serving diverse communities the West Coast for over 35 years, is about to announce a series of initiatives to attract Hispanic millennials and reposition the company as the first choice for the new generation of Hispanic Americans.

The company shift encompasses internal and external initiatives tailored to modernize, engage and advance the customer experience. This will be accomplished through the promotion of aggressive competitive pricing and interest beat guarantees, implementation of progressive store policies and enhancement of the stores’ interiors with contemporary features and technology. Ariela Nerubay, who entered the company in February as CMO, talked to Portada about how Hispanics and other multicultural audiences will benefit from the initiatives she is leading.

Did you know Ariela Nerubay is a Portada Award Finalist in the category of Top Marketer Driven by Multicultural Insights? Don't miss the chance to see her win at #PortadaNY and get tickets for the award ceremony!

Portada: What would you say were the priorities of Hispanics when Curacao first opened?

Curacao's Ariela Nerubay

Ariela Nerubay: "As we continue to ask our clients what their priorities are and learn every single day about the constant evolution of Hispanic Americans, we realize that, 35 years ago when we went out with our offers and we really extended credit to the Hispanic community that was just settling into the United States, our philosophy was to make them feel comfortable that they’ve come to a store where they speak their language and have products and services that are relevant to their countries of origin… It was kind of a home away from home.

The first generation would come to our store and speak to our customer services in Spanish, they would send wire transfers or have products shipped to Latin America, so if they had family back home and it was, let's say, mother’s day, you could come to Curacao and process on a payment basis a nice gift that you could send to grandma. So all of your needs were taken care of; if you needed to travel to Mexico or to Nicaragua and you didn’t have the money to do that, you could come to Curacao and use your credit card and then on small payments you could travel today without having to pay until tomorrow."

Portada: And how are things different for the second and third generations?

A.N: "Half of our customers are still a big representation of that generation, Spanish-dominant Latinos, but I would say half of our customers are second and third generation Latinos who were already born into the U.S., whose dominant language is English. Because of that, we have updated all of our training and our associates to become bilingual, and something else we have done is renovate our stores so that people can be exposed to the new technology. We buy products that we don’t necessarily sell at the store, but we created an entire innovation center where we feature a showcase of about 10 products that are completely innovative; just to highlight one of them, there’s a pancake machine that literally you put the pancake dough into it and you can create 3d sculptures. Really fascinating stuff that we want our digital-savvy customers to experience."

Portada: What else are you doing in terms of innovation?

A.N.: "We also have virtual reality games. These games are located throughout different places in the store and just by having your Curacao credit card you can come in without paying any money and ride the rides. It’s a very innovative, different way to experience virtual reality in a store environment. Another way in which we’re evolving with our customers is that families have been coming in with their children for years, but we know that nowadays the shopping experience is very important, it’s not just about coming, getting your item and leaving, but it’s about having a memorable experience. We’ve created 'kid zones', where parents can leave their children with our trained attendants so that they can not only take care of them, but also engage them in educational activities and expose them to the latest trends in technology that we have to offer, so that the parents can go out and explore the store at their leisure. At the end of the day, we really want to establish and position Curacao not only as a store of choice, but as a spot for innovation, discovery, and entertainment."

Portada: How have things changed with the new administration? Has it been reflected in the business and the way you do marketing?

A.N.: "The rhetoric has been changing, but our position has always been in favor of our community, we always put ourselves out there with programs to educate our community regarding their rights and the things that they need to know in order to operate in America. We don’t see our business changing, people still come to us as a source of trust because we have been in the community for 35 years, a lot of the people that come to us were able to get their first credit card with us, build their credit and then over time be able to get their first house or their first car."

Portada: What does Curacao do to serve the community?

A.N.: "We have a foundation that’s been around for 20 years, which provides Latino families with access to all the things they need, such as free refrigerators, free beds, free mattresses. We send our staff out on a weekly basis to evaluate the hundreds of requests we get from non-profit organizations, social services, and schools that could benefit from charitable donations, we assess their needs and then provide them with the first furniture that they need in order to have a dignified life because we don’t want any child to sleep on the floor. That is really at the core of what we do."

We want to make sure the community evolves, hold their hands and make sure they grow.

"We’re also giving away a whole bunch of scholarships; the foundation conducts these 30,000-people events annually in celebration of children in April and we give away between 5 and 10 scholarships to preschool children so that they can continue supporting their education and go towards a higher education. For many years we partnered as well with USC to put children in college and make sure Latinos increase their rate of graduations when it comes to university degrees. All those things have an impact with the community that’s growing and we are at the core because we want to benefit them and make sure the community evolves, hold their hands and make sure they grow."

Portada: What could be the most important new service you're leading?

A.N.: "I joined the company in February and led the way with two major initiatives in addition to the new remodels and the products and services that we’re bringing from an inside store perspective, there are pricing guarantees that we just rolled out some months ago, and these are at the core of securing customers and reassure them that when they come to Curacao they will never pay more than on Amazon or Walmart or any other place. We have a department that checks our prices every single day, so when a customer comes and happens to see the one or two items that are a little bit more expensive, we have this pricing guarantee that tells them that if you show us the link to the same item, same SKU on Amazon, Walmart or any other, we will not only drop the price to that competitor’s price but we will add an additional discount."

Portada: What is the other initiative you're leading, and what does your marketing strategy look like?

A.N.: "The same thing applies with interest; if you have a credit card with us and then you get offered a solicitation from a different store, we will not only match the interest rate they’re offering but will add an additional discount so that you can be assured that your interest rate will also be lower. This year I started an adjustment in our media; traditionally we used to lead very heavily Spanish-language broadcast and radio, but this year we rolled out the introduction of a massive digital campaign, we certainly do a lot of mobile efforts because we have a database of hundreds and thousands of customers that we reach out to through mobile and e-blasts. And we have seen a major shift in the interactions that we have with our customer relationship management towards digital platforms. So we are at the forefront of technology not only on the way that we offer products and services, but also from a marketing perspective by reaching out to our audiences in a major way on digital and mobile platforms."

Portada: Now that we’re on the back-to-school season, how much of a big deal is it for Curacao?

A.N.: "Very. We are a technology-driven company; computers, laptops and cellphones are our bread and butter together with televisions. On the back-to-school season, we focus on making people know that not only can you get the best prices in terms of technology here, every single line of computer they might need we carry it because we carry the top premium brands. Something that is very unique to the Hispanic culture in the way that we have positioned our store, and something you will never find on BestBuy or anywhere else, is that when you come and make a purchase, you get a gift.

For example right now if you spend US $555 on a computer or a phone, we give you a free tablet with PantaYA pre-loaded on it, which is a streaming service of Spanish language films. We know it’s the time of the year when students need to be prepared and parents need to find a way to finance the computers that their children need. Now they can come to Curacao and not only leave the store with a computer in hand, but also have a tablet with a free service of movies that they can enjoy, or if you come and make a US $100 purchase or more you can get a free backpack loaded with utensils. Yeah, back to school is very important for us."

Portada: Do you have non-Hispanic clients? How do you make them feel welcome?

A.N.: "Absolutely. In fact, part of the initiatives that I’m leading is to open it up, because traditionally and for the longest time we’ve been serving the Hispanic community, but as you know, neighborhoods change. Our headquarters are in downtown Los Angeles, that in the beginning was mostly a Hispanic neighborhood, but now Koreatown has expanded. So at this point, our stores welcome Koreans and African Americans and all kinds of multicultural audiences.

Our doors are open to everybody; part of our new policies is to ensure that we have a bilingual staff that is available and ready to service any customer.

We are, in fact, starting to advertise in English and this is something that we’d never done before, all our advertising efforts used to be in Spanish on Telemundo and Univision. Right now we’re expanding to English-dominant Latinos and others that live within a five-mile radius of our stores, because we know that generally speaking, if you’re within a five-mile radius of our store it’s convenient and you’re likely to come and shop with us. Our doors are open to everybody; part of our new policies is to ensure that we have a bilingual staff that is available and ready to service any customer with any language proficiency from an English language perspective."

Portada: What does it mean that Curacao is reinventing itself?

A.N.: "For a long time, Curacao used to be very hard-sale driven like any other retailer, and the way that we have evolved and started to serve our younger communities is very content-driven, we actually just recently unveiled our in-house studio where we’re gonna be doing unboxing of new products from all our vendors. If you look at our social media platform, we have instituted a new philosophy of content-driven. It’s not about specifically selling price-points, it’s about selling a lifestyle and it’s aspirational; it’s about showing people how products and services for us Latinos signify the achievement of the American dream. Curacao provides them with this accessibility. You can buy today, live today, enjoy today, travel today, and then not have to worry because you’re gonna pay it slowly without affecting your pocket too hard. Now it’s a soft-sell that’s about embracing the new reality of the consumer today, which is 'we buy because we want to aspire to a better life'”.

We should all stand united together. That's the message we're gonna give.

Portada: Anything you'd like to add?

A.N.: "Going back to the foundation again, the foundation is very dear and important to me personally because it’s all about supporting the community. In Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re gonna be leading the way with an initiative that is a massive unifier. We’re still finalizing the details, but it’s a unifying Latino effort that’s gonna be focused on fundraising to elevate the efforts of our foundation to a completely new level, and all that money that we’re gonna be raising is going directly to supporting the communities that we serve. So, it will be about celebrating the union of the community, especially because Hispanic heritage month is gonna be a pivotal month this year with elections. We want to make sure that we tap into the space and the psyche of being united as one community instead of being Salvadoreans, Guatemalans or Mexicans. We’re ultimately all Latinos, we’re made from people who come from third to fourth generations, people that speak Spanish or English and everything in between, and we should all stand united together. That’s the message we’re gonna give."


Janet Grynberg @grynberg_janet

Janet has worked as editor and translator since 2013. After graduating with honors when receiving her Bachelor's Degree in English literature, she began working as a book reviewer for Expansión, the leading business magazine in Mexico. She has also worked as editor of young adult literature for publishing houses like Planeta and Penguin, and she's the author of a book of short stories. She's in the process of getting her MA in English at McGill University. Her interests include arts, good food, and her 8 pets.

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