OP-ED: Apparel Retailing>Uniformly Shortsighted

JMS-INSIDE FASHION OP-ED  

SECTION: A Community of Quality – Visions

TITLE: UNIFORMLY SHORTSIGHTED

WORDS: 588

Note to Reader, September 2017: This Op-Ed was originally published in 2013, in Hong Kong’s Inside Fashion magazine. It’s interesing to note it was included in a section of the magazine called ‘Visions’; we see what’s happening now in 2017 with robotics and artificial intelligence, and what’s addressed here, by me, remains in full effect in the United States. As Donald Trump would say, “Sad!”

#

Polo/Ralph Lauren does it. So do Canali, Prada, Tom Ford, Zegna, Etro and Church Shoes. Soon, a store near you will do it too. What is “it”? It’s dressing sales staff in corporate-assigned uniforms. Personally, I don’t care for this growing practice.

One family-owned Italian menswear manufacturer, with a massive wholesale trade and growing retail empire, began assigning, as recently as fall 2011, two specific outfits to be worn by sales staff—on specific days. When did homogenization become synonymous with style?

In August of 2011, the U.S director of stores for this company sent an email to all U.S store staff. It read, in part, “…our UPTs were down last quarter over previous. We cannot allow this. Managers: Please coach staff selling below plan to focus on total wardrobe selling as presented by Italy in your store look books.” This company shackles its sellers in colorless uniforms, neutering creativity and expression, and then wonders why they’re not seeing sales results that reflect “total wardrobe” selling.

The infamous, and genius General George S. Patton, Jr. once said of menswear retail—I mean of war—“If everyone is thinking the same thing, then someone isn’t thinking.”
Stores need their sellers to reflect brand compliance; this is understandable. But by dressing staffs identically, store executives strip individuality right off their sellers’ backs and with it, their ability to cultivate and nurture a clientele receptive to creative inspiration. The stores are effectively “dumbing down” their sellers by preventing them from engaging fully with all product classifications. In turn, they are dumbing down their client’s ability to understand, interpret and discover a unique personal style within the framework of that brand’s product aesthetic. It’s lazy, it’s shameful and it should stop. But it won’t. It will only get worse.

This is next: A vending machine able to store, dispense and exchange for an alternate size, trousers, shoes, suits, shirts, ties and sportswear. Wait for it. It’s coming. We’re halfway there now. Salespeople are being turned into simple, faceless delivery devices for product. Soon, there won’t be salespeople anymore. In their place will be machines that will only ever require some glass cleaner, but never a dry cleaner, and certainly never a paycheck.

Shopping for, coordinating, selecting and procuring apparel in a retail environment should be an exercise steeped in creativity, originality and product knowledge. If a store sends a directive that its sellers are only allowed to wear uniform “A” on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and uniform “B” on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, they’re also sending a message that says, “Do as we say, not as you aspire to do, even though your aspirations could prove to be in our best interests. We know what’s best for us, and for you, even if your suit, shirt, tie and shoes are uninspiring, not to mention decomposing from excessive wear.”

Bottom line: It’s been well documented that men who are likely to put together creative, handsome, classically rooted clothing combinations on their own—daily—are men who have been consistently exposed to creative, handsome and classically rooted menswear influences. In other words: Men buy handsome when they see handsome. Let your sellers dress creatively, using all your product offerings, and spend as much time nurturing their style as you spend nurturing your windows, and catalogs and marketing, and watch the magic. The more your customers learn to love the art of dressing from your staff, the more they’ll shop, the more you’ll sell, and the more they’ll inspire other men to do the same.