Mitchells Meets Forbes

Mitchells of Westport counts  over 500 CEOs and company presidents as clients.  Harvard Business School uses the store as a case study. 

So it’s no surprise that Forbes — “the capitalist tool” — featured the store’s own CEO, Jack Mitchell, in yesterday’s “CEO Show” Q-and-A on its website.

Here’s a sample:

Describe the Mitchell model for building customer loyalty.

Jack Mitchell

Customer loyalty is about making the customer the center of the universe.  We do that through famly 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.

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.

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.

(Click here for the full interview.)

19 responses to “Mitchells Meets Forbes

  1. I was a very early customer in the 50s, when Ed opened the store. The commitment to customer service has never wavered. I was light years away from being a CEO, but Ed’s small staff made me feel like one.

  2. In Jack Mitchell’s life, “hugging” goes way beyond the sales floor. Several years ago, at the Staples Scholar Athlete dinner, Jack Mitchell spent a couple of moments speaking with my son Henry, then a high school senior. While I don’t remember the content of the conversation, my impression was that Jack’s warm personality made Henry feel like he (Henry) was the most important person in the room at that moment.
    No doubt about it, Jack Mitchell is a mensch.

  3. The Dude Abides

    To repeat myself, I worked at Mitchell’s in the mid-60’s while in high school and then college holidays. I started as a stock boy and worked the sales floor by the time I left. As Mr. Singer mentioned, there was a hometown-community-minded friendliness that was very much apparent the minute you walked in to the store. Ed Mitchell was the driving force back then with a constant energy that was almost contagious. “Need a couple of coffee” was the most common question when you walked in to the store. Most of the emloyees were family friends and the tailor is still employed there (45 years later). Shows how they treat their employees. But between you and I, Billy Mitchell is the driving force behind the store. He can be seen at 6:00 a.m. at Calise’s picking up newspapers for the store and inherited that friendly personality of his father along with a driving energy. The store is a tribute to the town of Westport and a wonderful family. Now, if I could only afford to buy anything in the store . . .

  4. Painted lady

    Bill Mitchell is a gem–a kind-hearted, benevolent soul. The Mitchell family has given much to the community, yet never flaunt their wealth. And they have been successful in keeping a family-owned business running past the first two generations, when most similar businesses fall apart. They have re-invented themselves as the market has changed. Brilliant combo of moving ahead but staying true to their neighborly roots that got them where they are today.

    Just heard that they aquired/bought/started or something two new stores in California. Chances are that I can’t afford to shop in those either. Glad Tina Dragone wasn’t successful in skewing Goodwill’s move because that’s more my speed.

    • They are indeed rejuvenating two Wilkes Bashford stores — one in Union Square (San Francisco), the other in Palo Alto. Tyler Mitchell — Bill’s third son — is running the show out there.

      And — after 3 generations of nearly all males (Norma and Linda Mitchell excepted) — the 4th generation will start learning the ropes soon. Many girls are ready to step up!

      • The Dude Abides

        It should be remembered that Norma Mitchell (Ed’s wife) was much the co-ordinator and overseer of everything that went on in the original store. A very kind and friendly person and sharp wit. Thus, the female grand/great grandchildren have a good role model as well.

    • What a Fool Believes

      I got a Mitchell’s shirt at Goodwill for ten bucks. Pinstrip and sharp. My kind of discount shopping.

  5. My shirts say “Ed Mitchell.” Bought them there on sale…now even the sales are too expensive, so it’s off to Goodwill I go.

    • I agree with you, Curious. The sales are too rich for my blood. The last time I there many years ago, a simple sleeveless top with a motive of pink bulldogs was ON SALE for $325. Glad there are others who are not in my boat and can keep Mitchell’s a successful store. They are a real asset to Westport.

      • The Dude Abides

        Back when, anybody could walk into Ed Mitchell’s and get quality clothes for a decent price. They are certainly upscale now and attract the folks who would normally go into NYC to shop. Seemingly comparable prices to the city but way out of my league. 90 bucks for a pair of socks. Forget about it!

  6. What a Fool Believes

    If it says “Ed Mitchell’s”, it might be time for a new shirt. No offense. The Patroits’ coach is my idol in clothes.

  7. I used to work there

    • Katie Hacala

      Dear Mr. Royce,

      I’m sorry that I am not contacting you in a more direct manner, but I’m afraid I couldn’t find an email address for you any other place that I looked.
      I am currently in the process of making a documentary about the history of the Westport Arts Center and the controversy over its occupation of the Greens Farms School in the 1980s and early 90s. As you wrote multiple editorials in the local papers during that time expressing your view of the Westport Arts Center, and since you still today write “Letters to the Editors” in community papers and website forums, I would love to interview you for the film in order to capture a broad range of Westport perspectives on the topic.

      If you are interested in discussing this opportunity further, I can be reached by email–my address is katie@westportartscenter.org.

      Thank you so much, and I look forward to hearing from you!

      Best,

      Katie Hacala

    • Katie Hacala

      Dear Mr. Royce,

      I’m sorry that I am not contacting you in a more direct manner, but I’m afraid I couldn’t find an email address for you any other place that I looked.
      I am currently in the process of making a documentary about the history of the Westport Arts Center and the controversy over its occupation of the Greens Farms School in the 1980s and early 90s. As you wrote multiple editorials in the local papers during that time expressing your view of the Westport Arts Center, and since you still today write “Letters to the Editors” in community papers and website forums, I would love to interview you for the film in order to capture a broad range of Westport perspectives on the topic.

      If you are interested in discussing this opportunity further, I can be reached by email–my address is katie@westportartscenter.org.

      Thank you so much, and I look forward to hearing from you!

      Best,

      Katie Hacala

  8. You get the discount?

  9. Years back, the battery in my car died in the Ed Mitchell’s parking lot. Mr. Mitchell (he still always tells me to call him “Bill”) overheard my telephone call for road assistance and he personally grabbed jumper cables and went out to my car with me to get my car started.

  10. The Dude Abides

    “Billy” is priceless. Figuratively and literally.