Chikashi Miyamoto

philosopher by training, gentleman by accident, pervert by nature, glutton by choice

Category: accessories

A Perennial Challenge in Retail, Part 2

In the 1970s, a woman and her partner opened a Louis Vuitton Malletier franchise boutique in Munich and introduced the brand to Germany when LV was still owned and managed by the Vuitton family. Unsurprisingly, she still has several LV pieces from the 70s, one of which is a well-used Keepall bag.

Several years ago in the south of France, decades after her affiliation with LV had become a distant memory, she visited a Louis Vuitton boutique, owned and operated by LV, now a subsidiary of LVMH Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton, to have a repair job done on the Keepall.

After listening to her requirement, the LV sales associate took a quick glance at the bag and pronounced that it is fake.

Priceless.

Now, imagine if that sales associate told the same thing to someone who doesn’t really know the origin of the bag because it was a present from a thoughtful and generous person, or, so awkward to mention in this age of throwaway culture, it was handed down from a previous generation.

What can one say after receiving a divine revelation like that? My experience at Bottega Veneta in Paris was, I must say, a lot more subtle, if that’s the appropriate word.

With 1 1/2 times as many shops as Ikea, it’s no small undertaking for LV to train and manage all the front-of-house staff in all those retail locations. And, by training, I don’t mean just product knowledge but also conduct.

I know, it’s hard.

What bemuses me is the current trend (more like a mad rush) amongst product brands to have an army of ‘brand ambassadors’. They hand out products to these ‘ambassadors’ so that they can be seen in the wild and on social media using their products. The tactic itself has been used for ages, even before the advent of the Internet, but the practice of giving these people a formal designation is, I believe, a more recent phenomenon.

Some are famous people. Some are ordinary people.

With due respect to these people and without undermining the contribution that some are making in increasing awareness of the respective brands, none are ambassadors of the brand.

The real ambassadors, or rather, the people who should be the real ambassadors, are the brand’s members of staff, particularly those that come in direct contact with existing and potential end users and influence how they form a view about their relationship with the brand. That is not a revolutionary or innovative concept. Rather, it’s a very old one that has not lost one bit of its relevance.

However, it can be difficult to remember the important things when there is so much focus on gimmicks, buzz words, page views and likes.

Or, call me a dinosaur.

So Busted, Again


I don’t usually wear prescription glasses unless I’m driving at night. If you walk by several metres away from me, for example, across the road, and I do not greet you, it’s because I don’t recognise your face in a blur, not because I am ignoring you.

When I put on eyewear and am not driving, it’s usually a pair of non-prescription sunglasses. Therefore, I automatically assume that whenever there is something resting on my nose, my eyes are masked by a pair of coloured lenses, enabling me to observe others with some level of discretion.

So, I forget that, on the rare occasion that I’m wearing colourless lenses, other people can see exactly what my eyeballs are doing.

Like staring straight at them.

Only to realise that I’m not wearing sunglasses because they are staring right back at me.

Oh, feck. I’m so busted…

Of course, whenever I’m wearing proper glasses, I see more of the world, more details with depth of field, so I notice more things… More things that tempt me to stare. So I get busted again.

And again.

Somehow, I never learn.

A Perennial Challenge in Retail

A bizarre encounter that the Little Brunette had when she recently visited Harrods with her aunt reminded me of a perennial challenge faced by retailers: how to select and train the front of house staff. With the notoriously high employee turnover in retail, it is difficult enough to recruit, train and retain good staff. Training often focusses on things like consultative selling and product knowledge, but what about tact? I suppose the more fundamental question is whether people can actually be trained in tactfulness at all in the short period prior to sending them onto the shop floor if they have not had acquired the basics prior to coming to the job interview.

Or, is it a case of ‘a pig with a lipstick is still a pig’?

The Little Brunette and her aunt were browsing the Saint Laurent concession when a young sales associate approached her and informed the Little Brunette that the Maharishi trousers she was wearing are fake. Immediately following the declaration, the sales associate dove down to physically examine the trousers and in the process stuck a few fingers inside the trouser waist. Both the Little Brunette and my sister were too deep in a WTF moment to do or say anything.

I am an ex-Harrodian from Mohamed Al Fayed’s days. I like Mo for reasons that the media never mentions. It was never dull to be summoned to his office; it must be said that it helps to take one’s job, but not oneself, seriously when dealing with a personality like Mo. When Mo was chairman, it would have been extremely unlikely that the above episode would have occurred. If it did, he would have found out about it in no time and would have immediately and permanently removed the sales associate from the premises, regardless of whether the sales associate was actually on the concessionaire’s payroll. However, I do not know how the place works these days.

Was it tactlessness or an overwhelming, puerile desire to appear knowledgeable about a product, a product that had nothing to do with YSL? Even if she had been right, what would have been the point of her remark? Did she think that it might lead to her making a sale of Saint Laurent products? Do I hear Yves spinning in his grave, Pierre sneezing?

The Saint Laurent, Harrods episode reminded me of an experience few years ago.

I brought in my briefcase to the Bottega Veneta boutique in Paris to have a repair done. With nearly 2 decades of abuse, one of the handle loops was falling apart and needed a replacement. Considering the abuse it endured for a long period of time, I was actually surprised that it held up so long, having done well over a million air miles with me and being subjected to unreasonable load, dust, dirt, heat, cold, extreme humidity, downpours as well as acute aridity. This was in contrast to their soft-sided suitcase and garment bag that fell apart beyond repair much earlier.

I was attended to by a young sales associate of Chinese extraction who listened to what I wanted. He proceeded to give a thorough examination of my briefcase, clearly in search of a clue of some sort, perhaps for that rather pointless paper ‘certificate of authenticity’ that had been sewn into the seam inside the interior pocket but fell off shortly after I started using it. Perhaps he was searching for some sort of feature that BV implemented after the company was sold to the Gucci Group, now Kering.

‘Where did you buy this briefcase?’

‘In New York, from the Bottega Veneta boutique.’

‘In New York?’

‘Yes, Madison Avenue and 59th Street.’ [Not Canal Street, mind.]

‘When did you buy it?’

‘About 18 years ago.’ [My dear squirt, that’s 1991 or 1992. The Chinese counterfeiters had not even heard of BV yet. Before the Gucci Group. When you were still wearing nappies.]

Still looking into every gusset and pocket, ‘So you bought it in New York about 18 years ago?’

‘Yes.’ [Is that a drop of breast milk behind your ear?]

He shuffled off to consult with his manager, returned, filled out a work order form and took in my briefcase. Needless to say, I did not spend any more time in the shop than I needed to.

Bottega Veneta briefcase

The briefcase came back a few weeks later looking mint, with new handle loops, handle and serrure, the original of which was actually looking a bit tatty from being banged up numerous times. I forget what the repair cost was, but it was a nominal amount, with very little operating margin, if any. It was a happy ending with the briefcase getting a new lease on life, but the episode had an unfortunate start, thanks to some sprout who fancied himself an expert but didn’t know how to handle himself.

The feedback in consumer suverys that come up time after time in various countries is a reason why many consumers prefer to shop online: not having to deal with sales people. Retailers have had this personnel challenge for as long as the trade has existed. The only difference in modern times is that consumers have the alternative of not dealing directly with another human being in order to complete a transaction. The opportunities to build and nurture customer relationship and loyalty are not as abundant despite all that is being said about benefits arising from good online shopping experience.

Ironically, because it is a human problem, it is more difficult to address than overhauling a web site. Commerce has become much more transactional than in the past. Many retailers and brands moan about consumers’ declining sense of loyalty. However, experiences like the above will only serve to accelerate the evolution. There are market segments where this is actually desirable even from the retailer’s standpoint. Whether a venerable maison belongs to one of those segments is a different question.

It’s Only a Key Ring, I Promise

image

I have this key ring made from a trimmed Campagnolo alloy toe clip.

I realised recently that it has a shape very similar to a utensil frequently seen at parties in the roaring 1980s.

It’s just a key ring that says ‘cycling geek’. It serves no other purpose.

Campagnolo 80th Anniversary Edition iPhone 5

iPhone by Campagnolo
The Campagnolo 80th anniversary edition iPhone 5 features a PVD-coated titanium body that makes it 22% lighter and 78% stronger. It comes preloaded with apps for calculating gear inches and optimal tyre pressure, for analysing power output and heart rate, and a comprehensive archive of the entire Campagnolo products and manuals for the last 80 years.

The best part is that the fruit logo is gone. I don’t even like fruits. Instead, it has the old shield with wings logo, still the best Campagnolo logo ever.

And, it cleans your bike. 😉

Lubricating Zippers with Elemis

When spending a bit of time on aeroplanes getting dehydrated, my lips get chapped and uncomfortable.  A few years ago British Airways switched their in-flight amenities suppliers from Molton Brown to Elemis.  I really liked the lip thingies from Molton Brown.  They were initally of the solid stick type, and then they were replaced by a cream type in a little tube.  I preferred the stick but liked the cream as well.  And then, one fine day BA dumped Molton Brown for Elemis.

I have no sense of loyalty to the Molton Brown brand, so the change in suppliers did not bother me per se.  The problem is that I do not like the lip thingy from Elemis.  It just does not do the job for me.  Actually, it dries out my lips.  I teased Andrew, BA’s marketing director, that I now have to actually buy lip thingies because I’ve run out of all the Molton Brown ones and the Elemis stuff doesn’t do the job.  However, I recently found an alternative application for the Elemis Lip Revive.

After about 20 years of use, the zipper on my suit carrier had become very sticky.  Opening and closing the bag became a mildly annoying ordeal.  Therefore, I recently applied Elemis Lip Revive on the zipper, et voilà!  It turns out to be an effective Fastener Revive.  The zipper runs like a dream now.   Delightful.

Eyewear or Eyesore?

Cycling-specific kit is a bit like golf kit:  it can be very difficult to understand or appreciate for non-practitioners and even for some practitioners.  It can even deter potential entrants from taking up the sport since it does beg the question, ‘If I partake in it, then do I have to dress like that?’  Propriety of dress is, after all, something not to be taken too lightly although I admit that I happily ignore conventions at times.

Popular eyewear designs for cycling tend to co-ordinate very well with the oft favoured, garish cycling apparel in glossy Lycra and equally hideous helmets.  They look like they were borrowed from the costume department of Star Wars or from the pages of a Marvel Comics edition.  Of course, its obvious strength is that they do work rather well with the rest of the visually offensive ensemble.  Therefore, its popularity is not surprising.  I bet that the sight of a pair like the one pictured above makes many a Mamil’s geeky bollocks tingle.

However, what if you don’t want to look like an extraterrestrial warrior or a superhero?  Something practical but a bit stylish, not puerile?  There must be a market for such cycling eyewear, something that looks good both on and off the bike.  No?

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