Editor's Letter: Lessons From An Ultra-Luxury Retailer

Embark Beyond’s annual Immersion conference pulled in an impressive array of luxury retail executives who provided perspective on how they engage with their top-tier customers. One of the more memorable examples came from Robert Chavez, managing director of Hermès Americas, who described a couple that had been shopping with Hermès for many years.

“The sales associate in New York City found out that it was going to be their 20th anniversary,” Chavez told the audience of 200 Embark advisors and 200 luxury suppliers. “They were coming in that day for a shopping appointment. The sales associate set up a room and walked them into it; they were expecting to see product laid out, and instead there was a beautiful cake with Champagne, that just said, “Happy 20th Anniversary.”

Ruthanne Terrero
Ruthanne Terrero, VP, Questex Travel + Meetings Group (Photo by Nashan Photographers)

What a simple way to engage with one’s client, who is expected to be “sold” on something, rather than celebrated. It’s an example that could easily be adapted by luxury travel advisors, who have quite a bit of access to clients’ special dates.

“These are the things that people remember,” said Chavez, who was artfully interviewed by Embark’s founder and managing partner, Jack Ezon. Ezon’s point of bringing in luxury retailers was to show advisors how they can compete with artificial intelligence through the use of personal touch and extremely high levels of service. As always, it comes down to the human relationships advisors can forge with their clients, that can’t be replaced by a bot.

Hermès’ Chavez also shared that those in charge of Hermès stores are directors, responsible for their bottom line. They also know their clients better than anyone else, said Chavez, and for that reason, they will select items specifically for their top customers on a quarterly basis, rather than just enticing these high-net-worth folks to come into the store to see what a merchandising manager in New York has decided they’ll like. This technique, of selling from the bottom up rather than the top down, has a high success rate. “When that dress comes in, the sales associate will call the client and say, ‘I have a beautiful dress in your size, it just came in and you just have to see it.’ More than 90 percent of the time client is thrilled because they feel like we personally bought the dress for her,” said Chavez.

Chavez says Hermès asks its teams to be curious about their clients, but to be gentle in terms of how much they ask them. “You have to feel people out, whether they want to give you the information or not. We respect their privacy, and we absolutely have to with the client base that we have. If the client is very willing to offer up information, then you know you can go a little bit further. You can find out more about their family, you find out about their birthdays, you find out about their anniversaries, and then you can surprise them,” he said.

Reading the client goes both ways. “We also teach our associates to ‘read the silent language.’ That’s when somebody comes in and immediately lets you know that they have five minutes,” said Chavez. “They have to be in, they have to be out. You can’t stop and say, ‘Would you like to be on our guest list?’ You respect their time and, guess what, they’ll come back, because you got them out the fastest. It’s finding that balance with all your clients. The more you do that, the more they’re going to return to you, again and again.”

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