If you’re a fan of Hermès, you know that there is always something new to obsess over. Sure, we all love and crave the Birkin/Kelly/Constance bag trifecta, but there is inevitably something more: the elusive rodeo (preferably in the PM “petit modele” size); the scarf in that magical colorway; the perfect-for-three-seasons twillaine cardigan; the exotic Collier de Chien bracelet; and so on. There are pieces that require a certain amount of work to obtain, and there are pieces that just require a little luck and timing. The key to all of this – as with so many things in life – is your relationship, in this case with a Sales Associate (“SA”).
The SA relationship, though not mandatory, makes almost everything about dealing with Hermès easier. If you are looking for something, your SA can keep an eye out for it for you, can request a transfer from another boutique, or can suggest similar items that you may be interested in. They can put items on hold for you. In the US, they can electronically search item inventory to find something located at another boutique. If you have a really good relationship with a wonderful SA, very magical things may even be produced from the stockroom.
Of course, this relationship takes some time, luck and a bit of work. Most boutiques have many loyal clients already, so unless you meet an SA who is a new hire to the boutique, you will be one of many.
Starting A Relationship
So, then, how do you start? The best way is really to toss any preconceived notions you may have out the window. This is not to say that the dreaded Pretty-Woman-on-Rodeo-Drive moment never happens anywhere, but it’s incredibly rare nowadays, and with the power of communication via social media, any such behavior is guaranteed to hurt a business’ bottom line (and since everyone is wearing athleisure nowadays, who can tell what anyone can afford to spend, anyway?). Generally the worst you may encounter will be less like “Pretty Woman” and more like “Waiting For Godot”, especially when the boutique is busy.
Over the past 20 years or so the “old guard”-style stereotype of the Hermès Sales Associate has generally given way to a younger, hipper, more accessible generation, which makes it easier to start these relationships. Many SAs realize that the key to a successful career is also due to the relationships they build – a loyal clientele that sustains interest in the products (and can be enticed to spend their money across departments) is at least as beneficial for them as it is for their clients. Some SAs are very knowledgeable, and some are less so, but most truly appreciate discussing the products and both teaching and learning new things about the merchandise. This give-and-take of information between SA and client tends to strengthen the relationship.
Some clients do like and prefer that old guard style, and many of those SAs tend to be incredibly knowledgeable, having been with the company for many years. Although in the US many of the legacy Hermès SAs are generally quite warm and welcoming (despite the few, ahem, holdovers), there may be a bit more of this old guard type elsewhere around the world, so it’s best to just be prepared. No matter what type of SA you encounter, the best advice is, if you can manage it, to try to be confident and enthusiastic. Even the most “Frau Farbissina”-type SA cannot deny a customer who clearly loves the brand and the products.
You might not click with the first SA that you meet, and that’s really something you need to be honest with yourself about. Often that first SA was just the first one available to help you when you entered the boutique, so if you find you work well together, great; if not, especially early in the relationship, it is neither difficult nor unusual to find someone else to work with. You might feel awkward, but that really isn’t necessary (YOU are the customer!), and if you are honest and clear it can be easily done, either by you simply approaching and working with a different SA or by briefly discussing the matter with the Store Manager (SM) as simply as possible. This is key if you live in an area where there is only one boutique and you want to enjoy going for many years.
Once you have an SA you like, let them know the sorts of items (or colors, leathers, patterns, styles, etc.) you are interested in. Again, honesty is always the best policy – if and when there is time, you can look across the different departments you are interested in, to also give the SA a feel of what your style is. You don’t need to buy anything, and you can just tell the SA that you are interested in learning. Ask for the SA’s input, even if you don’t necessarily want or follow their suggestions; not only does it make the SA feel more personally invested in whatever your selection is, you can get a feel for how truthful they will be in giving their opinion, and also whether their tastes mesh well with yours. Additionally, the SA has likely seen many items on various clients and may have a feel for how well a given item has worked for others (this is particularly helpful when you are looking at the scarves and shawls) so they can offer useful and practical advice.
Other suggestions, to take or discard as you wish:
- As mentioned above, it’s completely fine to go to the boutique, spend time looking around, and not buy anything. Sometimes you have to go in and look and try things a few times before you settle on something that works for you. Browsing is fun!
- Especially if you are new, and if you really do want to have the time to work with an SA without feeling rushed, it’s always helpful to visit at quieter times when the SAs aren’t very distracted by many other waiting customers (hint: weekend afternoons and Mother’s Day are best avoided). Some SAs prefer that you make an appointment with them (this may depend on how busy a boutique usually is), so its always best to ask if that is preferred or needed.
- If you’re a brand new customer, don’t immediately ask for a Birkin. Most SAs are given this request many times every day, and it suggests that you’re not really interested in anything else, even if you are. It’s ok to let them know that you do want one, just perhaps not immediately. Of course, this advice does not apply if you are at the Paris flagship!
- If you have found a wonderful SA, it is expected that you will continue to shop with them when you are at that boutique; however, that does not mean that you could or should only shop at that one location. It’s fine to regularly work with different boutiques, considering that different stores place different orders and receive different inventory. If you feel a loyalty to one SA and find a desired item somewhere else, you can let your SA know and give them the opportunity to bring it in, but generally it’s really ok to buy what you find where you find it. If you prefer you can tell your SA about this, such as letting them know you will be traveling or that you occasionally shop elsewhere.
- If you desire to give your SA a gift, it is generally recommended that you bring something edible that can be enjoyed by all of the staff. That is the sort of thing that is really noticed and appreciated by everyone.
- It’s always good to stay in contact with your SA if you can’t visit often. Emails are usually the best way to keep in touch, especially if you want to send photos of items you are interested in. Do not be concerned if your SA does not get back to you immediately, but rest assured that they do receive and read the emails. If you don’t hear back you can always call the boutique to quickly touch base with your SA.
When it comes down to it, your SA is human, too, and your relationship with them is just as important to them as it is to you. While it can absolutely be intimidating and sometimes frustrating, just being honest and practical, and treating it like any other business-type relationship can make it very enjoyable and beneficial for everyone involved.