In August, I attended the opening of A. Lange & Söhne’s sleek new watch factory in Glashu?tte, a village in the heart of Germany’s Saxony region. I didn’t want to schlep all the way from Los Angeles to Europe for a mere two days, so I decided to turn the factory visit into a 10-day vacation, packing in four days in Berlin on the front end and four days in London on the back.
If you haven’t been to Berlin, get thee to the Lufthansa website and book your tickets, stat. Between the city’s cruel yet fascinating history (the Stasi Museum’s exhaustive look at the East German security state is not to be missed), beguiling mix of historic and contemporary architecture, and hipper-than-thou bar and club scene, the German capital is every bit as cool and compelling as it’s reputed to be. But one thing my friends and I didn’t appreciate about our experience there: We were constantly scolded! For picking up our own menus at an outdoor schnitzel restaurant in Mitte, Berlin’s answer to Greenwich Village. For trying on Birkenstocks without first putting on a pair of stockings (huh?!). For asking politely about using a hotel’s bathroom. Everything we did seemed to be verboten. It was a far cry from how we are accustomed to being treated in America, where the customer is always right (even when he/she isn’t).
Our experience was a good reminder of why service is the cornerstone of a great retail experience. The merchandise might boast excellent craftsmanship, the atmosphere may be upbeat and deluxe, but if the service is sour, your customers will leave feeling much the same way. And given that the fourth quarter is upon us, I don’t have to remind you why it’s more important than ever to maintain your kindness and composure even when faced with “entitled” and frustrating clientele. Speaking of the fourth quarter, contributor Danny Smith does a fantastic job of setting you up for your best holiday ever with a tip-filled feature on maximizing traffic and sales this season. The piece anchors our fifth annual Holiday Survival Guide, an 11-page bonanza chock-full of products destined to fly off shelves, as it were, in the months to come. Don’t believe me? Check out the jewelry you cannot live without.
A great complement to Danny’s sales-oriented feature is senior editor Emili Vesilind’s easy-to-follow guide to planning your media commitments for the coming year.
As for our annual spotlight on cultured pearls, prepare to be dismayed, then delighted, by our back-to-back features on the sea-born gems. Senior editor Jennifer Heebner’s enlightening article on sky-high pricing in the pearl market reveals that demand for pearls—white freshwaters, in particular—is through the roof, while our gorgeous still life makes it easy to understand why.
When it comes to my own holiday gift-buying spree, pricing will almost certainly matter less than service. I’m looking forward to busy stores, smiling sales associates, and, most of all, scold-free shopping experiences. Happy selling!
The belles of Berlin: Anna, Jeannie, and I fell in love with the German capital’s art, food, and shopping scenes—but customer service, we learned, isn’t a strong suit.
(Gomelsky: Photograph by Steven Simko)