I have the inconvenient habit of analysing retail environments. Sometimes an inspiring joy which stimulates creative inspiration and offering new insights to an ever-changing and permanently dynamic business.
Unfortunately, often my habit frustrates me.
Every now and then, I take a trip to a city of my liking to soak up some refreshing views on retail and end up poisoning myself with the unavoidable truth that there is no passion for the art of retail nowadays.
Over the years, I have had the luck to be mentored and trained by a few highly inspirational individuals at both international retailers and small, independent retailers. These people blessed me with insights on why and how to connect with consumers, brands and retail in general. I learnt lessons which I still apply to date, lessons which I can fortunately share with committed colleagues, industry-professionals and anyone brave enough to hear me speak continuously about the work I love ever so dearly.
I recently went on short trips to the cities of Berlin and Antwerp, and I frequently wander around in The Hague and Amsterdam.
And even though all these cities have very different retail environments, their own fashion history and a wide diversity of both chain-stores and boutiques, their retail environments all share one common element:
Lack of passion for retail.
2017 marks my 17th year in retail, starting at the youthful and curious age of 16. I have been fortunate to be offered the chance to climb up the ladder at various companies, not because I had a bag full of diplomas but due to the fact that I showed passion, commitment and vision. I actually don’t have any diplomas besides high school and vocational college…
Ever since I started honing my skills in fashion retail, I had a clear focus on why I wanted to achieve the highest goals possible: To become a respected authority in my profession.
My reasons were very simple. Each and every day I would want to be able to deliver the utmost service to my customers, explaining them the benefits of our garments, showing them the perfect fit and delivering after-sales care on all aspects.
I became motivated to grow in retail as, when I first started out in sales, I wasn’t even allowed to advise customers coming in for suits. I had to call my manager, who was simply sitting in his office to wait for a big customer to come in and steal him away from me.
Over a period of time it started to annoy me that I wasn’t being trained in certain fields of the retail game, and it became even more frustrating when customers would ask me the question:
“Do you really know what you’re doing?”
I decided that, if I’ve ever wanted to achieve more and become better at my job, I would have to invest in myself. I started to read industry magazines, iconic books such as Gentleman by Bernhard Roetzel and with the dawn of the WorldWide Web upon us, the internet opened a whole new information playground. I committed myself to absorbing knowledge, discussing content with colleagues and friends, and applying my newly obtained wisdom at work when advising customers.
And it worked.
Customers started to become regulars, appreciating my skills and knowledge and the way of interacting between salesman and consumer.
Year by year, day by day, I started growing and growing in my profession. I taught myself the necessary skills wherever I worked, and absorbed all the knowledge which was handed to me by experienced mentors and trainers. I developed my own methods, creating a flow in which knowledge blended with fun and passion for retail, and thus offering a continuously relaxed atmosphere for the customers.
Having just returned from some short city trips, most recently Antwerp, I can honestly say retail smells.
Visiting fashion stores abroad, you always hope to discover people that talk with passion about their brand, the products, their city and their job. I find that there is a considerate lack of all of this, in pretty much any city I visit and almost every store I enter.
What I mainly discover is a self-absorbedness and arrogant attitude which truly destroys any customer journey that begins upon entering a store. How can it be that in a setting of human vs. human, the one supposed to offer the service just walks away in the middle of a fitting session by the one seeking service? I find it incredible, in the most negative meaning of the word.
Year in, year out, I witness negative change at many brands which, coincidence or not, are often “global” brands in the high/premium segment. Brands of which I know for a fact that they actually have training programmes for their staff and actually have committed trainers focused on sharing the brand DNA to enhance the customer experience.
But for some reason it just doesn’t connect to the so-called retail professionals in the shops. I think this is one key reason that boutiques run by passionate entrepreneurs start to gain more marketshare in the cities. They are committed to their cause, believe in their mission and in themselves and coach their staff daily. They connect, they are like-minded and they are truly passionate about why they work in retail.
In my current position, I have the wonderful joy of coaching and training staff at both local and national level. It is truly rewarding when you can share knowledge, discuss experiences and explain methods to colleagues that are willing to grow in their role.
It creates commitment, not only to the company but also to their team and their focus on personal growth. They want to achieve more, become better and stronger.
Thus, I hope that soon we will see changes in retail on an overall level. I want to be able to walk out a store carrying not only a bag of clothes but also carrying a great customer experience.
Retailers and brands alike, on every level, should look into the mirror and ask themselves:
“Are we passionate about retail?”
If the answer is no, then I’m sorry my friend… Your business stinks!