Back to basics - Issue 127 - Magazine | Monocle

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Next time you take a trip to see what’s happening in the world of retail you’ll probably check in on a dependable shop or two, grab a bite and who knows, if you’re in a good mood, maybe even buy something. Or will you? First things first, you should check to see whether that dependable shop is still in business. Second, brace yourself for what you may find on the shelves and rails. And third, have a back-up plan as you might need to take your business elsewhere.

As you pack yourself off for your little retail safari, ask yourself when you last had a truly remarkable retail experience. If you manage to dredge this “moment” up, can you pinpoint what made it so great? Was it the shop design? The lighting and music? Was it the glass of champagne that was offered when it looked like you might spend? Or was it the quality of staff and how you were treated? Go away and have a little think and we’ll come back to this in a moment.

A couple of months ago a friend asked me for assistance on the topic of future retail and gently pleaded for me to take an hour or two to speak to the management consultancy firm he was working with. “You know how I feel about management consultants and this topic,” I said. “Yes I do. That’s why I want you to be very candid with them and challenge their thinking,” he said.

Soon after, an email arrived from the firm with a barrage of questions about how we would structure the session. “Can we come to Zürich and film the interview?” No. “Can we do a video conference or Skype and record you in your office?” No. “Would it be possible to have a Skype conference call and invite all of our partners to do a rapid-fire roundtable session?” Absolutely not.

“How about this?” I said. “You call me on my office number at 10.00 Swiss time next Tuesday. Good old-fashioned phone calls can work wonders.”

The following week I answered my phone a little after 10.00 and we started the conversation. I was prepared for a volley of clever questions and had laced up my best trainers for the match – but needn’t have bothered. Rather than a perky set of queries from a sparky consultant, our conversation started with a meandering ramble about the history of the brand and its various successes and past challenges, but little in the way of what might be a bother or opportunity over the horizon. My mind wandered to the office garden beyond. Would the yuzu trees deliver a bumper harvest of fruit this autumn? Was it time to trim the hedge? Should I have the window cleaner swing by with his bucket and squeegee? After a few minutes I zoned back in when I heard what I thought were some provocations about the type of store the company was proposing to the client. It turns out they were questions aimed squarely at me.

“We have a lot of belief in both the offline and online experience,” said the consultant. “Would you agree we’re in a hybrid landscape of experiences?”

“Uhhhhhhhhh?” I said. What was I to do with this? “I think we need to get back to basics. I believe your client should stop worrying about digital versus traditional shops and focus on the quality of people they hire,” I said. “Instead of spending a lot of time with consultants, they need to get back to the art of service and selling. Maybe a school of salesmanship?”

“What would that look like?” she asked. “Where would it be? Would it be run by a business school?” At this point I considered her question and thought about how I would staff the school: “You need a Linda.”

“A Linda?” she said, puzzled. “Is this a type of degree?” “It could be a type of degree. In fact it should be a retail degree,” I said. “Linda is a type of person who understands the art of hospitality, salesmanship and attention to detail. They’re rather hard to come by because they’re often found high up in the mountains but when you do meet a Linda you want to hold on to them for life.”

I could tell the consultant was lost by all of this and she swiftly made moves to wrap up the call. Thank goodness.

Now, back to your little shopping tour. If you don’t already have your own Linda who takes care of your sartorial needs and keeps you looking sharp, I can recommend a little visit to our very own Ms Linda Egger at our shop in Merano (she also makes occasional appearances in Zürich, London and our new outpost in Milan). We have a series of autumn and pre-Christmas shopping events in the works and we look forward to seeing you soon.

All of your comments and thoughts can be sent to me at – or my colleague Hannah, who’s on Thank you for your support.

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