All the World’s a Stage: Simon Burstein Talks Shop Floor Theater
“SHOPS ARE A THEATER AND A STAGE, THE CLOTHES ARE THE PROPS AND THE STAFF ARE THE ACTORS,” BURSTEIN SAID.
BRICKS-AND-MORTAR STORES have a lot going against them, especially in the U.K. where shopkeepers can be locked into onerous leases and battles with landlords, but retailers can rise up and make a change, said Simon Burstein, who’s spent his career close to the shop floor.
Burstein is a British retail blue-blood: His family founded the luxury designer haven Browns and eventually sold it to Farfetch, and for more than two decades he served as vice president of Soniia Rykiel in Paris. He has gone on to open The Place London, a group of luxury multibrand retailers in central London. He is also the owner of Leathersmith of London, purveyor of leather-bound books and accessories.
He believes retailers need to polish their shop floor acts in order to keep the customer returning for more. “Shops are a theater and a stage, the clothes are the props and the staff are the actors,” he said, adding that the performances have to be five- star every day.
Salespeople are key and need to be talented, motivated — and valued: “I think good customer service is timeless, and staff is the most important thing. They have to know everything about the products, and it’s really important that they are engaged and they know what’s online and in-store. They have to be trained, and valued more, and I think this is one of the areas that is definitely worth investing in.”
Retailers also need to ensure that sales and markdowns don’t spin out of control. “We know that sales hurt the bottom line and set a precedent for the customer. If you know that a shop is going to go on sale in two weeks’ time, then why should we go shopping?”
Burstein called for more pricing transparency, and said that brands need to protect local retailers worldwide. “Geopricing is a price structure the brands should be enforcing. The problem is this: If a client can buy a designer product online, from another country, for less than the local retailers are selling it, the chances are they will. And you can be sure that you’ve lost a sale. Brands need to protect the local retailer, and set the parameters for online players by ensuring they respect those prices.”
Keeping the shop floor seasonal is also key, Burstein said, adding that he’s introduced two African designers in July, “because it’s summer, it’s boiling hot, and I don’t want fur coats introduced in the shops.”
It’s crucial that retailers think about differentiation, bringing in novelty, maximizing opportunities to gain insights and anticipating trends.
“I think having a unique product is very important, and we all know the first thing that you look at when you go to a shop is usually the window. Make sure that it’s attractive and grabs people’s attention.” He added that music and lighting are key, too, because “they really create a party ambience.”
Spoiling the customer never fails — although Burstein is not keen on discounts. Instead, he added, gifts work a treat. “They say that most people who shop in luxury stores don’t need discounts, they just want to be pampered. So we say: ‘We’ll give you a Leathersmith of London diary. Do you want your initials on it?’ Usually, that does the trick.”