Any author would kill to sell 225,000 copies of a book in North America — and another 50,000 globally.
Jack Mitchell did that. And “author” is his 2nd career. For the 1st 40 years of his working life, he was best known as the co-owner of Mitchells of Westport.
Of course, without his phenomenal success there — and his hands-on, very personal approach — he would not have found his other calling: best-selling writer.
Now his book sales will skyrocket again. Hug Your Customers — first published a dozen years ago, and a wild success through 18 printings — has been updated. The revised edition (on sale April 14) includes an updated history of the company (which bought Marshs on Long Island in 2005, and Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco and Palo Alto in 2009), and improved customer service techniques with the surge of the digital age.
But one thing never changed, from the 1958 day Jack’s parents Ed and Norma Mitchell opened an 800-square-foot men’s clothing store on the Post Road/North Compo corner, with little more than 3 suits and free coffee*: Hugging customers works.
Some of the hugs — given freely by Jack; his brother Bill (to whom the book is dedicated); the 7 third-generation sons, who now run the business, and their super-loyal staff — are literal.
Many more are figurative. But all — from free M&Ms and coffee, to sending a suit to Japan so a customer’s son can attend a funeral (the solution: find another customer flying there on a private plane) — help make Mitchells’ stores legendary, in the often impersonal world of retail.
They also make for very entertaining reading.
My favorite stories describe:
- Tying bow ties for formal events for people who did not purchase their apparel at Mitchells — and altering a dress for a woman who’d bought it at Bergdorf’s
- Opening the store on Sunday for complete strangers, thanks to an answering system that routes “emergency” calls to owners’ homes (you’d be surprised how many “clothing emergencies” there can be)
- Going to customers’ offices to fit them, then returning to deliver the tailored goods — even if those offices are in New York or New Jersey
- Giving their long-time, Italian-born head tailor a gift worth more than gold: tickets and plane trips to World Cup soccer matches
- Allowing a great customer who loves Mitchells to work as an associate on the floor one Saturday. The man called many friends and clients, sold nearly $10,000 worth of merchandise — and Mitchells made a donation to his favorite charity, in his name, as thanks.
“Hugging is universal,” Jack says. “And it still works.”
The book’s success led to a 3rd career for Jack: motivational speaker. He’s spoken around the globe.
Literally. Business groups in Estonia and South Africa have hired Jack to help them understand the Mitchells way.
Now an updated edition of Hug Your Customers is being shipped. It includes new anecdotes, and an instructive section on how Mitchells weathered, then roared back from, the Great Recession.
But the heart of the book is the same. The focus on great customer service has not changed.
Just as, in the Mitchells stores themselves, it never will.
(Hug Your Customers is available April 14 online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble — and of course at Mitchells of Westport.)
*Because that courtesy can lead to sales of $2,000 or more, it’s been called “the world’s most expensive free cup of coffee.”