7 Secrets of Selling to the Superrich

On May 28, as part of the JCK Talks sessions that took place a day before the JCK Las Vegas show started, retailers gathered to hear about how to sell luxury to the mega-rich. “Secrets of Selling to the Superrich” was moderated by Doug Gollan, cofounder private in-flight magazine Elite Traveler and cochairman of Source Prive, a service provider for the luxury industry. The panel included Stacy Small, president of Elite Travel International, a company that organizes travel and vacations for high-level business and leisure travelers; Henry Kim, the executive vice president of Wheels Up, the membership-based private aviation company; and Randy Brandoff, the founder and CEO of Eleven James, the private membership club that lets members borrow and test out luxury watches.

Here are seven important takeaways from the panel:  

1. No matter where you are, there are ultra-high-net-worth families—that is, households with a net worth of at least $30 million—in your area.

Gollan opened the panel with a news flash: There are 211,275 ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) families in the world, and most of them live in the U.S., according to data in the 2014 World Ultra Wealth Report. But even if you break out the numbers, comparing U.S. states as if they were countries, the U.S. has 23 of the top 50 states/countries with the most UHNW families. The top 10 are:

  1. Germany
  2. Japan
  3. California
  4. United Kingdom
  5. China
  6. New York
  7. India
  8. Switzerland
  9. Texas
  10. Canada 

The other U.S. states in the top 50: Florida (12th), Illinois (17th), Michigan (19th), Pennsylvania (21st), Ohio (23rd), Massachusetts (27th), Wisconsin (28th), Connecticut (31st), Maryland (32nd), Virginia (34th), Minnesota (35th), New Jersey (36th), Washington (39th), North Carolina (41st), Georgia (43rd), Tennessee (44th), Colorado (45th), Indiana (47th), Arizona (48th), and Oklahoma (49th). 

“What this means is, there are more UHNW families in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Minnesota—not combined—than there are in Russia,” said Gollan. “There are more in Ohio than in Saudi Arabia. Even if you’re in the middle of the country, there are UHNW families in your area.” 

2. Love and know what you do.

Everyone agreed that it’s especially important with UHNW customers to have passion and knowledge for what you are selling. “With new money especially, a meaningful percentage didn’t get lucky,” said Randy Brandoff. “They are smart. They know what they don’t know, and they want to be educated. It’s important to take a collaborative mind-set with these consumers.” 

“Every one of these guys is being hit with solicitation after solicitation all the time,” said Henry Kim. “If you can’t establish trust and credibility and convey your passion, it ain’t gonna happen.”

3. Be on social media.

One surprising insight from the panel: Even the ultrarich are going to be looking at your Twitter, so it better be good. “You really need to brand yourself,” said Stacy Small. She grabbed the handle @EliteTravelGal on Twitter and Instagram and shares updates and pictures from her own travels, which are extensive as she tests resorts and hotels for her clients. “But I never try to sell online. I never say, ‘Call me to book your honeymoon now.’ But it works anyway. I’ll get a message, ‘I have to stay in that hotel you just posted.’”

4. Sometimes money doesn’t look like money.

It’s customer service 101, but never judge a book by its cover—or a customer by his clothes. “Be respectful. Money can be jeans and a T-shirt,” said Small.

5. Respect the team.

With UHNW customers, you may have all or most of your interactions with assistants, and everyone emphasized how important it is to treat them well. “Treat everyone on the team as if they are as important as the client,” said Small. “Because they are.”  

6. Remember that everyone knows everyone.

“Everyone has heard of six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” said Kim. “It’s like, one degree of UHNW individuals. Everybody knows everybody. Word-of-mouth referrals are so important in this business.” He said that it’s important to remember it’s the thought that counts. Offering a discount may (or may not) be tantalizing to a UHNW individual, but a handwritten note to thank someone for a referral is always welcome—and important. “If someone refers someone, we like to thank them within 24 hours,” he said.

7. Seek out partnerships with other luxury brands.

All members of the panel suggested seeking out other local and regional luxury brands and retailers to implement collaborations. New members of Wheels Up receive a member packet with $10,000 in gift cards, including a $3,000 gift card from Kwiat jewelers in New York. “It’s not a coupon or a spend x, get y situation,” said Kim. “It’s a gift card. But I can tell you, a UHNW individual isn’t going to spend $3,000 with a $3,000 gift card. He’s spending $23,000. The $3,000 gets him in the store. It’s more effective than advertising.”

Small said charity partnerships can be a wonderful way to give back to the community and connect with luxury consumers. This fall, she is helping to organize a weekend-long event at Maui’s Kapalua Resort to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Fund. “This is a nonprofit venture for us,” she said. “But the cause is important to me, and the people attending the event—who are spending a lot of money to attend it—will come out of it knowing our name.”