A Consult is a Difference Maker

 

Robert Gaymer-Jones, Ruthanne Terrero
Luxury in the making: I caught up with Robert Gaymer-Jones, Sofitel Worldwide’s COO, recently at Virtuoso Travel Mart, where he told me that Sofitel has actually pruned its portfolio from 206 properties to 120 and is now putting a strong focus on its Sofitel Legends luxury brand. As defined by Gaymer-Jones, “these are long-remembered properties with legendary suites, fine dining, legendary bars, iconic spas and a luxury class of service.” I suspect as this brand grows, there will be some grand dame hotels that get snapped up and will soon be undergoing some fabulous renovations. Can’t wait to see it all evolve.

 

The other day I had a revelation: I’m at a point in my life where Ikea terrifies me. If you’ve been to the store, you know the concept: loads of little furniture that fit into small spaces and practical items for low prices, such as a huge bag of tea candles for $4.99. Because the store’s roots are in Sweden, the design of almost everything is different from what you would find in the U.S.

My revelation really surprised me, since who the heck isn’t an Ikea fan? When they open in a region it’s a big deal. Everyone flocks there to walk through their showroom and to dine in their cafeteria, which specializes in serving, yes, Swedish meatballs.

But here’s what got me: to navigate Ikea’s furniture showroom of petite and cute furniture, you have to follow the giant arrows on the floor. If you decide to turn around and look at the displays your own way, you usually startle the people behind you, since they’re faithfully following those arrows. I found these big one-way directives charming once upon a time, as I did the fact that because of its origins, Ikea highlights the Swedish name of its products prominently on its product’s labeling. This can be sort of cloying when you just want to buy something and aren’t interested in how one would describe an item if you’re in Scandinavia.

Now, up until now, I’ll admit I’m just stating my personal preferences. Millions of others find all of the above dynamics really interesting and engaging. But here’s what got me at the end of my visit. We were searching for CD shelving because we’ve suddenly become the owners of about 1,000 more CDs than we had before. Do you know how tough it is to find CD shelving in stores anymore? It’s like trying to purchase a replacement part for your Betamax videocassette player. We thought if anyone would have it, it would be Ikea, since CD shelving tends to be cute and petite.

And indeed they did have it, in the do-it-yourself section of the store, which requires you to look up what you’re searching for on a store computer. When you find your item, it tells you which aisle and bin area of the store you’ll find it in. This is where you’ll find stacks of flat boxes, filled with ready-to-assemble items that will eventually become the piece of furniture you hope it will be.

Let me tell you, trying to purchase a piece of furniture that’s in a heavy, long and flat box that will not fit in your car unless you’ve got a Ford Expedition on steroids isn’t the most enticing shopping experience.

We stood looking at the packaged shelving for a while, and then left without it even though we really needed to get our 1,000 CDs out of the blue plastic bins sitting on our back porch. We just didn’t feel up to the task.

I’m still a do-it-yourself sort, mind you. I like purchasing simple items quickly, without a fuss. The fewer people I can involve in the process the better. But sometimes, I need physical proof of what I’m buying (hello, whatever happened to floor models?) and at other times I need a real live person to assist me in my buying. Perhaps they could even suggest alternatives.

It occurs to me that this is where the luxury travel advisor can really shine. If you can find, and focus on, those folks who enjoy autonomy in the retail arena to a certain degree, but who really desire a consultation when it’s finally time to put down their credit cards, you’ll profit. People want to be sold, not on the little things (like the big bag of tea candles I purchased for $4.99), but on those purchases that will impact their lives dramatically, like a piece of furniture they have to live with, or perhaps even that annual vacation they want to spend with their family.