Retail Confessions: Prada with a Side of Tom Ford
"The attention seeker is the hardest customer. They’re like wild horses because you cannot tame them."
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“Retail Confessions” began in Back Row as a way to understand the mindset and shopping habits of luxury fashion customers. Earlier columns have covered Hermès (part two is here), Chanel (part two is here), and Harrods. Today’s London-based interviewee has worked in luxury retail for decades. They decided to enter the field because they loved fashion but couldn’t afford fashion school. Our discussion focused on Prada, where this person worked beginning in the late 2010s, but other jobs naturally came up.
If you have luxury fashion retail experience (or know someone who does) and want to confess in a future column, please reply to one of these emails or DM me on Instagram. (I am always open to non-Confessions tips as well.) Interviews are anonymous to allow sources to speak freely. This interview has been edited and condensed.
You’ve had a lot of luxury retail experience. How did Prada compare to your other jobs?
Tom Ford was very fun because we had a direct access to Mr. Ford himself. He was very present in the store on a weekly basis. I'm still in love with him. He's such a nice person.
At Prada, I focused on accessories, which is handbags. It's that what pays for the ready-to-wear shows. Say the handbag is £5,000 ($6,000), you sell one or two [in a day] and you're done, you make the [sales] target. Every single brand I've worked for, they really count on you on the floor to drive the accessory business.
Did you have any tactics to get people to buy?
You have to romance everything. Say, this bag is called the Galleria, it’s named after the first store that Prada opened. How can you embellish that? You really have to spend time with your clients and listen to them, try to grab what fascinates them about the brand and use it to your advantage. For instance, if they say, “Oh my God, I love Milan,” maybe we can talk about when Fratelli Prada [what Prada was called in 1913] opened the first store.
This is a double-edged sword, because the better you do, the more they want from you. If you do £5,000 one day, tomorrow it's gonna be £6,000, the day after £7,000. But you can’t force it. You don't want to call Amy every day, “Oh, Amy, we have, we have the bag today.” “Hi, Amy. How are you? How is your dog? Oh, every single new jacket…” During the pandemic, I was on my phone from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening with tons of clients. But happiness is not measured in money, in my opinion, so I left.
What are the clients like?
Pre-covid, a lot of tourists. Some of them are very respectful, they will come in, they will ask a precise question. You need to show exactly what they ask, maybe give one or two alternatives, but don't overwhelm them because if you confuse them, they will run away.
The Americans are the loudest. They will come in guns blazing and then give you a lot of trouble because the way that customer service is in the U.S. is way different from here in the U.K. They expect silver service when they're purchasing a card holder for 100 pounds ($120). But you have to do it with grace and a smile, especially with the Americans, because they will complain.
Do they ask for Champagne and stuff like that?
Oh, yeah. They literally snap fingers. “Where's my Champagne? I always get Champagne in Rodeo Drive.” They love name-dropping. On a positive note, if you get the non-aggressive Americans, they're the best. But if you get the rich Americans, good luck to you.
Sometimes you, as the sales associate, snap. I once told this lady, “If you want me to help you, I will help you, otherwise there’s the door.” She was treating me like I was a servant, snapping fingers and being totally obnoxious.
One person was adamant on asking for fresh macarons from Lauduree and seasonal fresh fruits every time he visited so we had to prepare the fruit and all that, in a private area. He would never touch these things. The guy was amazing — lovely, super down-to-earth. But his assistant was asking for these things.
How do you handle all these personalities?
A client comes into a store for three reasons: they want something, they want attention, or they’re just curious. We are psychologists. The attention seekers for me is the hardest of the categories. They’re like wild horses because you cannot tame them.
In the past I worked with celebrities, another subcategory of client.
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