Mitchells … Built and Growing on Hugs
An Interview with Jack Mitchell, CEO, The Mitchell Family of Stores Jan. 3 2011 - 4:01 pm By ROBERT REISS
In 1958, 53 year old Ed Mitchell and his wife Norma, founded a high-end men’s clothing store in Westport Ct., that was build on a different approach to business — later dubbed, ‘Hugging Your Customer’. Today, Ed’s two sons Jack and Bill and their combined 7 sons lead the third generation family business. Mitchells is truly the clothier to the CEO, with well over 500 CEO and company president clients, as well as being a featured Harvard Business School case study. The company has recently grown through an acquisition model of leading high-end clothing stores with great brands experiencing challenging times and marrying them into the Mitchell philosophy … these include: Richards of Greenwich CT. in 1995, Marsh’s of Long Island NY in 2005 Wilkes Bashford of San Francisco and Palo Alto in 2009 and Thomas Miller of Long Island in 2010.
CEO Jack Mitchell codified the concept of Hugs in 2003, when he wrote ‘Hug your Customers’ a best-seller with over 200,000 copies in print. Jack and I recently sat down and talked about the business. Describe the Mitchell model for building customer loyalty?
Customer loyalty is about making the customer the center of the universe. We do that through family values from Mom and Dad, something we call ‘Hugging’. I define a ‘hug’ as any large or small deed that shows you genuinely care about someone as a real person. Everyone in our stores tries to understand every customer as a complete individual. Where they work and play; what they like and don’t like, their anniversary their favorite food, wine, restaurant, sports team and hobby … and if they have kids, their kids’ birthdays and sports or instrument. If someone loves wine send them the right bottle; of course not to a recovering alcoholic. Once we know someone genuinely, we connect with them genuinely by delivering what’s important to them. It could be a handwritten note – of course with a real ink pen – congratulating them on their son being part of a championship junior high football team. Or perhaps they’re going to an important wedding, so we’ll come over and personally tie their bow tie. Anything that makes them know we understand how special they are. As a business, we are completely data driven and the computer remembers everything … and that’s our how we build loyalty, through a hugging culture.
How do you build the hugging culture? Total 100% commitment to personalized customer service. When starting, it’s all about the hiring process. We want people who are honest …which includes being open, caring and transparent. Then they must be nice. They must be passionate to listen learn and grow. And finally, they must be competent and open to new ideas. Which comes first, the employee or the customer? It’s a tough question, as the two are weaved into one and are very synergistic. We’re all here to have fun and service our customers. We know our business is about personalizing customer service. And happy associates make happy customers … but of course I did write Hug your Customers before I wrote Hug your People.
What advice do you have on family business? If it is working well through a set of guidelines or rules; stick to it. For the Mitchell family the most important thing is viewing it 1st as a business and 2nd as a family business. So family members often are entitled to equity, but not to a job. That’s why all of our 7 sons had to work for 5 years outside the family business. This enabled them to develop a specific business skill. Once they have a business skill we try to match that skill to our business needs. We give annual reviews including a modified 360. When you put the right people in the right place on the bus, you get where you’re going faster, and everyone can enjoy the ride. How about merging with other companies
When we went into Wilkes Bashford, we knew they had a leading brand and that our role would be educating them about our hugging culture and letting them understand both strategically and tactically how we do things. So at Wilkes, as with all other acquisitions, we interviewed every person and learned about them as an individual both how they liked to conduct business and what their personal interests were. There is no cookie cutter … you want people to be themselves. We then shared with our new associates our philosophy of how to bring customers back, through Hugs. We discussed how we operate … by focusing on one person at a time and that when you have the personal relationship you build loyal customers for life.
Your culture is all about being customer centric. There must be other elements responsible for your significant success? Of course, as our Mission Statement points out, we are a family-owned high-end men’s and women’s specialty store committed to providing exceptional customer service and high quality merchandise in an exciting, friendly, and visually dynamic atmosphere. I often say we are about C’s…commitment, Customer, Community and Cash. We learned that (C)ash is the only meaningful addition to our hugging culture (since the recession of 1989-1991). I am proud that we consistently deliver on our hugging culture.
Robert Reiss is Host of The CEO Show, which features leaders who have reinvented industry through exceptional customer experience models. The show is nationally syndicated by Business TalkRadio Network. Click to hear podcasts of this and other CEO Interviews www.ceoshow.com