Jack Mitchell Hugs JCK Invitational Attendees

Hug your customers and your employees and fun and profit will follow was the message Sunday from Jack Mitchell, owner of three family owned luxury clothing stores, during a keynote presentation at the JCK Invitational.

Mitchell, the chief executive officer of Mitchells, Westport, Conn., Richards, Greenwich, Conn., and the recently acquired Marsh’s, Long Island, N.Y., has recently expanded into jewelry. He discussed his philosophy of providing exceptional customer service through hugging, literally and metaphorically.

Hugs are given by store owners and employees in a number of ways, he said. It includes gift wrapping, personal phone calls, and knowing as much as possible as your customers.

“A hug is a metaphor for any caring single act or deed that makes a customer say ‘Wow,’ he said. “It’s a way to show the customer that you care about them as a real person.”

And the result, he said, is that “these customers become clients—loyal clients forever.”

Mitchell, author of Hug Your Customers, told a story about a client in banking who called a Mitchell’s sales associate in a panic because he desperately needed formal business suits for a quickly scheduled trip to Switzerland. The sales associate looked up his personal preferences for his clothes and had suits, shirts, jackets, and slacks ready for him when he arrived at the store. He bought them all on sight, and the tailor, who also personally knew the client and how he liked his clothes, did the tailoring on the spot.

In Switzerland, during a board meeting, the banker told his associates how Mitchells was able to meet his needs so quickly. At the end of his story, he opened up his jacket to show the Mitchells label. He felt something inside the pocket, pulled it out, and it was card wishing him a happy birthday.

“That,” Mitchell said, “is a hug.”

He also talked about how he tries to memorize all the information he can on his top 100, 200, even 500 customers. It’s one thing that he urged attendees to do.

“It’s not about transactions, he said. “It’s about personalized relationships. … In our store, we’re in the people business.”

Mitchell noted that a big part of providing extraordinary service is to hire the right people, but more importantly, pay them well for their performance and treat them well everyday. “Hug your huggers,” he said. “Appreciate them everyday.”

And while many would describe Mitchell’s business philosophy in a nostalgic way, he stressed that he is all for using technology to achieve exceptional customer service.

“Technology helps you with hugs,” he said. “It is the backbone of our business.”

Mitchell said he uses technology to get as much information as they can about their clients buying habits and then use that information to order product.

“Today we know every single sale for every single customer by SKU,” he said. “We don’t screw our customers, we SKU our customers.”

The result of exceptional customer service is that the store is “very profitable,” he said. In fact, 73 percent of his business is based on regular priced sales.

In response to questions, he said that his most effective marketing is done one-on-one, mostly through calls to customers, direct mail, and, more recently, e-mails. He also is involved in large print advertising vehicles, like brochures. He and many of his associates personally know some of the world’s best designers and he likes to use his brochures to impress those relationships to his clients.

He said that less than 2 percent of his business is spent in marketing and advertising, including gifts.

“You don’t have to spend a lot on gifts,” he said. “It’s the thought that counts.”