Luxury is how you want to feel when you're experiencing something.
I never got the concept of Crumbs, the cupcake chain that closed down all of its shops in July. Its core product was a four-inch cupcake covered with frosting. Cookie Dough and Red Velvet with Cream Cheese Topping were just two of the flavor options. The cost? Between $3.50 and $4.50. Even if you became a consistent customer of these obvious sugar shots, your loyalty couldn’t last after you noticed that first eight or nine extra pounds catching up with you.
I passed a shuttered Crumbs shop on Lexington Avenue in New York recently and heard a young man comment, “I don’t get it. Why would anyone ever want to eat an 800-calorie cupcake?”
Someone would want to eat it because they considered it an absolute indulgence, well earned and well deserved. They’d want to eat it because to them, that cupcake defined “luxury”, even though it was so, so fattening.
And that defines luxury today, doesn’t it? We live in a world where luxury is whatever we all decide it is. There’s no common culture; our pleasures are found in an infinite number of sources, most of which will never intersect. You might listen to obscure music streamed-in via Spotify, I might only read e-books that have been self-published on Amazon. My newspaper of choice could be the London Telegraph that I read online because I’m an Anglophile; someone else might use Twitter as their newsfeed.
Cultural influences also shape us. In our roundtable discussion in this issue, Christian Malcher of Design Hotels reports that a Future Laboratory study dissects how various markets approach luxury. The “nouveau riche” in emerging markets want the world to see what they can afford; others prefer to be more understated, enjoying a secret pleasure that they’re wearing a well hand-crafted garment. To others, luxury is the chance to withdraw from it all, to live for just one week as a normal person, not as a manic road warrior.
Luxury is how you want to feel when you’re experiencing something. The New Yorker recently published an article called “The Value of Luxury Poseurs,” which revealed that Tiffany & Co. in some locales has private viewing rooms for “elite” customers who don’t want to stand in the main showroom next to someone who’s walked off the street to buy a $75 charm featured in the glass case. If that sounds sort of awful, it’s not really. Most of us want exclusivity, to feel we’re getting something others can’t have. Perhaps that’s one common cultural trait that most of us still do share.
As a luxury travel advisor, you can tap into this human idiosyncrasy by upselling a product that’s already considered quite special to make your client feel even more elite. As our cover subject, Wendy Burk, CEO and founder of Cadence put it: “This is really how the advisor can excel. If the client is just buying a cruise, then ultimately it is a commodity. The value we bring to the table is not the onboard credit; it’s about the private car and driver. It is about the special experience and the wow they get when there’s a sign with their name on it as they get off the ship. To have their own ‘private something’ is so important, and always has been.”
Well said! For more on Wendy, see pages 66-70; for our luxury roundtable, go to 60-64.