Luxury retailer Santa Eulalia has done business on Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia for 171 years. Luis Sans, the store’s fourth-generation owner, tells BoF about how the store has stood the test of time and retained lifelong customers.
BARCELONA, Spain — On Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia, home to the city’s most luxurious stores, Santa Eulalia still makes an impact. Today, the high-end store, founded in 1843, is situated once again in a location that it first occupied in 1944. The street-facing cladding is all that remains of the original building. But many of the lessons that the family-owned business has learnt over its 171-year history are as true today as they ever were. BoF sat down with Luis Sans, the fourth generation of his family to be involved in the business, to learn how Santa Eulalia has continued to thrive.
BoF: What differentiates Santa Eulalia from its competition?
LS: Our competition in Barcelona is mainly the stand-alone stores of the big luxury brands: Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Hermès, Prada. They have a designer, they have collections of really high quality, but they don’t believe in state-of-the-art specialists for trousers, shirts, ties, or even for underwear and socks. They don’t believe in dressing the man from the dinner jacket to the underwear, to fully cover all of his needs, as we do.
BoF: How would you describe your menswear product mix?
LS: We have the best international designers: Valentino, Maison Martin Margiela, Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Christian Louboutin, but we believe not only in high fashion, but also in classic, high quality garments from small manufacturers that do things very well: a very nice handkerchief made in France by a little shop that has been in business for more that 200 years, or someone that does a belt perfectly. We have a truly bespoke section of tailoring and shirt-making and we are the largest tailor shop in Spain. We stock the highest numbers of shoes and jackets. A lot of stores have made-to-measure through the brands, but not straight from a tailor in their own tailor shop.
BoF: How does the Santa Eulalia customer base break down?
LS: In one sense we have the establishment of Barcelona, where more or less everybody knows each other. Barcelona is not such large city, so we have all these very good customers from over the years. Then we also have the new customers who are interested in fashion and in discovering new designers. When new designers come to the market, until they have their own store on the Passeig de Gràcia — which takes a long time because they don’t have the capital to open stores all over the world — we are the first store that has them. So in the way, they come here to see the trends and to see new things. So we have this kind of duality, two worlds mixed in one. In one sense we have this classical, bespoke customer that looks for quality, for service, to have always the same sales assistant helping them. Then we have this other customer, looking for new designers, looking for new things, new experiences and they also shop with us. Seventy percent of our customer base is local, from all over Spain, and 30 percent are foreigners.
BoF: How does that unique combination and your hundred-year-old history factor into the service?
LS: In my opinion, a store has to have three pillars. One of them is the clothing, the quality of what you offer, and what you sell. Another is the quality of service. We have been in business for 171 years. Not many retailers can say that they have been going for so long. We have some customers who have been customers of ours for decades – for their whole lives, in some cases. We have a family that is the fifth generation that we are dressing. They trust us, they trust our sales people and they trust our service. For us, customer service is key. We hate to have rotation; we have the same associates for a long period of time and they are very skilled, very well-informed, and willing to serve and make the customer happy. The third pillar is the quality of the store environment.
BoF: Tell me about Santa Eulalia’s store layout and atmosphere.
LS: The architect William Sofield from New York designed the store; he also did Bottega Veneta, Tom Ford, Harry Winston and many other stores. It is very important for the customer, the atmosphere you feel in a store, and when you enter. Our fitting rooms are very big, with three mirrors, with very good lighting, and they’re very comfortable. Luxury is about space; you cannot be a luxury store if you are small and everything is next to the other. We have a lot of different rooms – why? To give the customer more privacy, when they are talking to the sales person they are almost alone in that room, instead of everybody watching them. We paid a lot of attention to the feelings of our customers. They do not just go in, shop and get out. They want to spend some time here. There is a relationship there with the salesman and there is a special feeling of going to a place that is almost an extension of your own home.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Santa Eulalia is one of 30 leading menswear retailers recently recognised by The Business of Fashion and Pitti Immagine. To explore the full list, visit BoF’s new Menswear Hub, where you will also find menswear news and analysis from BoF correspondents and around the web, as well as a live index of the most influential people shaping the global menswear market.