Training in the luxury business

Those luxury brand stores look glamourous and chic. But when you go inside, you are met with some non-interested sales people who just blurt out the price like an automated machine. Is that the image you want for your store? Here's why you should take the matter in hand...

By: Jean-Claude Roustant, Consultant-training expert and coach in the luxury business

Posted on: January 10, 2011

luxury brands shopping storeWhat is different in the luxury retail business?
The client is volatile and versatile - like a butterfly - buying luxury products in a very emotional way, and going from one brand to the other.

In the luxury business, customers’ expectations are higher than in a premium or mass market store. The affluent travel the world and know the difference between good and bad service, and their expectations are increasing along with their new desires. Today they not only want to buy a product, but they want a real experience. They want their stay in the store to be a moment of pleasure and friendliness. They expect the staff to be nice, polite, listening to their deepest desires, and help them discover the brand, while keeping an aura of mystery and a little bit of distance to keep the magic of the brand.

The competition is fierce in this market, not only in between luxury brands but also with premium and mass market brands. Think about the number of leather goods brands today as compared to 10 years ago. Think about the numerous product diversification in the watch business (LV, Versace, Chanel, Ferragamo), or in children clothes (Ralph Lauren, Kenzo, Rykiel, Chloé, Marc Jacobs)

Luxury stores have exclusive locations with their display and visual merchandising demanding a huge investment. Some luxury stores have a huge staff (example: LV in Champs-Elysées, Paris has more than 330 staff) and require true leaders to manage the operations. The running costs are very high and these luxury stores are windows of the brand. They represent the brand, its culture and its product range. But the main role of these stores is to ensure customers’ loyalty through interaction with the staff.

The role of the staff in a luxury store is not just to sell. Their job is to make sure that the customer will become loyal to the brand. For this he/she will have to explain the brand, the designer, the history of the brand, the different creations, the quality of materials and the quality of the manufacture, so that the customer will understand the dynamics behind the high price of the product.

But too often, the staff hasn’t received a good basic education level, and their attitude is not at par with luxury standards. How many times have you been welcomed by a lazy or tired “Good morning Madam” with no eye contact, no smile? How often do you have an urge to shake up and disturb the sleep of the sales associate? Poorly trained staff can cause not only a loss of a sale, but also cause customers to look at stores that offer a better service.

luxury shopping store designThe situation in some markets
Sometimes I indulge in ‘mystery shopping’ in luxury brand stores in France, Switzerland and China, and the results are very average. There is poor product knowledge, a lack of courtesy, a forgotten welcome, staff either aggressive or not knowing the right way to initiate the first contact with the customer, and they follow the customer around the store like a pet dog.

Fortunately we also see staff that has obviously received good training and know how to handle a customer. Often, the situation varies between different sectors as well (ready-to-wear, shoes, watches, jewellery, leather goods, perfume and beauty products, automobile and so on). Each sector is specific and requires a different approach, a different way to deal with the customer.

I have heard some ‘top managers’ saying that it is not necessary to train the staff because when they are well trained they leave the company for better opportunities. I have also heard the same people saying that if they need good staff, they just have to hire experienced staff from brands that are training them.

Sometimes the sales personnel receive very little training (just a few hours!) and are then thrown out on the floor to sink or to survive and swim…

What the best retail executives should understand clearly
1. Training is essential: Proper retail training is vital to ensure the growth and success of the store. The many benefits of retail training are consistency in performance, employee confidence, better team spirit, and real customer experience that ensures the customer’s loyalty.

2. Training has to use different methods: Many types of training should be used. Induction training is essential. Outside the store trainings will help in improving sales techniques and customer service training. On the job training should be used for product knowledge and for constant improvement. Sales techniques coaching should also be used by managers.

A ‘store learning system’ should also be developed. I have, for instance, developed an on-going system of checking the staff in the watch business to ensure that they always keep updating their knowledge of the trade.

Chanel packaging3. Sales training is only a part of the success - a process is necessary: In the Luxury business, attention must be paid to certain aspects:

a. Defining the vision for your store and the customer experience you want to provide: Before training, it is essential to hire the right people for your business. I have, for instance, seen some hotel directors hiring young actors to serve at a bar and at the restaurant. It was easier to train them on the basic job’s tasks, and they were excellent in customer relationship because they had the right behavior for a five-star hotel.

Before hiring the staff, you have to define the experience you want them to deliver to the customer. What will make your store experience unique, wonderful, and better than your competition? What will wow your customers?

b. Defining where we are starting from: It is important to define with the managers what are the existing performance standards, what are the Key Performance Indicators that they use or not, and what are the performance standards to set up if we want to reach the right customer experience.

c. Design customized training sessions for managers (store management, people management, how to coach), assistant managers and for sales associates. Develop interactive sessions in which the staff can learn by doing and role playing. For instance, I have developed specific training for a store network, and then trained the trainers of the company to lead these sessions everywhere in the world.

d. Performance standards and evaluation: It is important to set up an assessment system, and to train the managers to set up objectives and to lead performance appraisal interview. The performance is linked to qualitative and quantitative aspects of the job, and we help the staff to improve by setting higher and higher performance levels.

Training and managing a team takes a lot of energy and time, and sometimes we feel like there is not enough time during the day to devote to training. But training is a good investment, one that makes your staff happy, better, and that ensures you customer loyalty. Never underestimate its importance. It will create the difference you need from the competition.

My next columns will talk about how to implement training in a luxury retail business. Like me, when you enter a store, you should have a feeling of being welcomed, listened to and pampered. And this is the effect that an efficient staff management by the store manager should have on customers…

Jean-Claude Roustant luxury business trainingJean-Claude Roustant is a consultant on training in the luxury business – probably one of the very few providing this expertise. He has worked as the retail training director at Louis Vuitton for 13 years. Today he provides expertise to luxury brands like Caran d’Ache, Relais et Chateaux, Sofitel Worldwide, Maurice Lacroix and fine watchmaking businesses in Switzerland.

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