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Where can you find decent help in 2020???

Matt and Bob White of Hubert White on the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.  The firm has sold menswear to the more discerning since 1916.  Highly knowledgeable, very pleasant sales staff in my experience.

I cannot recall the last time I have encountered a genuinely helpful retail salesperson (for a litany of reasons).  It is rare to stumble across someone who is actually trained to assist rather than virtually untrained, knows his or her stock, or who does not attempt a hard sell.  As the saying goes, you can't find good help anymore, and that has certainly applied to retail clothing stores for many years.  Once in a while, however, there are places that stand out when it comes to true customer service.  In late 2003 or early '04, not long after grad school and in my first teaching job at a small area college, which has since closed, I visited Hubert White (men's clothier) on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis for a couple of new neckties and some other accessories to expand my wardrobe a bit.

In the store, after browsing the wares for a good long while, I was assisted by a much older gentleman (Late 60s or possibly in his 70s.  A member of the White family perhaps?), who embodied 'ideal' sales help: not pushy, not obsequious, actually exhibited tasteful restraint, knew what he was talking about, and left me alone until I sought help.  Oh, and he was genuinely interesting to talk to.  I actually stuck around for about 15 minutes, talking classic menswear with him, after he rang up my purchases and placed them in a bag. 

I'm sure the man in questions is long retired at this point.  Anyway, based on that initial interaction, I returned to Hubert White a few more times for other items before leaving Minnesota in late 2004.   The establishment stood in stark contrast to the local outlet of Men's Warehouse across and up the street a block or two.  I ventured in once, looked around quickly, and never returned based on the poor quality merchandise displayed and the totally clueless sales help.  About the level of expertise, for clothing or anything else besides computer games, that you might find in one of the few remaining DVD rental stores.

Likewise, compare the very favorable shopping experiences I describe at Hubert White with a more recent trip to purchase some new white undershirts at our local mall just outside East Lansing, Michigan in September 2018.  When did shopping malls and even their more expensive anchor stores become so unpleasant?  Jeeze Louise!  I eventually found the Stafford crew neck undershirts I prefer after digging for them through a shelf piled high with mismatched brands and sizes (really).  No thanks to the few sullen sales staff I approached. 

If they weren't cognitively challenged, the senses of the two or three different sales "associates" I spoke to were certainly dulled by either recreational drug use, or the booming, hip-hop inflected music that bombards the senses in retail establishments just about everywhere in the U.S.  No, being assertive enough to say that does not automatically mean I'm somehow a racist.  The unavoidable genre simply neither speaks, nor appeals to me.  Save all of that barely contained rage and righteous indignation for more important things. 

Returning to my car outside, I vowed to purchase all attire and accessories online in future and forever after -- I know my measurements and have a physique that's still relatively easy to fit -- unless I ever have a suit made bespoke and must venture in for fittings.  Otherwise, my tailor can make any minor alterations to jacket sleeves, bodies, and trouser inseams.

Parenthetically, the constant hovering of wait staff in many eateries in the U.S. is obnoxious in the extremeI realize it's the way so many corporate chains train their staff now, and the practice has bled over into some independent restaurants, but I don't want to be friends, so skip the long-winded, canned introduction when you finally show up to take our order.  Don't tell me, "I'll be taking care of you this evening."   No, thank you.  I don't want my water glass refilled again after two sips (I once had a waiter argue with me when I quietly put my hand over the glass as he approached for yet another refill).  Just serve the meal when it's ready, check once that everything is to our liking, and go away.  No, I don't need more bread or rolls with which to scrub my plate clean, thanks.  Yes, I know what a French press is.  You don't need to explain.  I use one daily.  Oh, and don't argue with me in a passive-aggressive way when I decline a doggie bag for the few remaining scraps of food on the side of my plate. 



Charlottesville said…
Heinz-Ulrich - You are so right about the decline of knowledgeable sales staff, although there are a handful of exceptions. Eljo's in Charlottesville, Ben Silver in Charleston, and J. Press in Washington, New York and New Haven, come to mind, and there are surely many more. I have never visited in person, but I expect that O'Connell's in Buffalo and Sid Mashburn in Atlanta and other cities have good staff on site. The Andover Shop recently changed ownership, but it may be another good bet for knowledgeable service. Sadly, I note that all of these are in the south or on the east coast, so not exactly handy for you.

Brooks Brothers used to offer top level service, but only few old-timers in the older stores remain with the company, and the new crop seem to know no more, and often less than their customers. I had to explain the difference between a darted coat and a sack to a very nice salesman in their Georgetown store. He had a few 3/2 sack sport coats on the rack, but had no idea what they were until I showed him and explained that this had been a Brooks mainstay throughout the 20th Century and was still alive, if gasping a bit for air, in the 21st. To his credit, he seemed genuinely interested and thanked me.

I suppose the general decline in service at most retailers goes hand-in-hand with the broader decline in decorum, dress and other standards. I am doubly heartened, therefore, that you and the Young Master are setting an example for the slovens so that, hopefully, at least a few might notice that there is something better to which they can aspire. Please carry on!
Thank you, Charlottesville. We're trying. God knows. We're trying.

Best Regards,

Anonymous said…
I have been in retail for many years. It is exceedingly rare to be able to hire experienced sales people with a "top of mind" awareness of good customer relations. If an owner wants it they need a proven training program that provides these standards. Training provides the best ROI of any other investment he can make. It reduces turnover, provides measurable standards for employee reviews, justifies higher pay, gives the employee a sense of achievement and pride. Plus, customers see it, appreciate's it and they are likely to return.

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