Saturday, October 31, 2015

Beautiful Halloween, Happy Fashion

Happy Halloween, y'all!  I never realized how much Halloween and fashion both have in common.  They're a creative outlet for you to express yourself.  They allow you to escape your everyday and live a moment of fantasy.  The best are made by hand, planned for weeks, and made exactly to measure.  The more you invest, in both time and resources, the more secure you'll be in uniqueness, messaging, and happiness. 

Halloween is the chance to make a mockery of all things scary, frightening, and taboo, and literally laugh, love, and relish in your strength, humor, and delight.  Just as the same with fashion for many, using your creative genius to intensify your persona, maximize your messaging, and smile with a dash of style + class.

I love Halloween and I definitely love fashion.  Wishing you a lifetime of great tricks and beautiful treats.

service, not selection

Terrible service in the retail marketplace is like a virus. Rude waitstaff.  Uneducated "beauty advisers" who know nothing about their brands.  Salespeople who know nothing about the products or services they're representing. Untrained "professionals" who are merely glorified stock keepers and dust mopers.

Considering today's technology and on-demand consumer trends, anyone can get anything at any time from anywhere.  Customer service should be about the experience and interaction; otherwise, we'd simply order everything we ever wanted to purchase online or over the telephone.

Case en pointe, I've visited several different Ulta Beauty stores recently.  Each location, no matter how large or small the market, includes "stylists" in uniform smoking cigarettes near the front entrance.  This was at every single location I visited!  What a way to welcome customers?  Once inside, other than a drone like welcome shouted from the cashier, there has been virtually no interaction from employees.  I've been researching new skincare products over the past few weeks, and wanted to learn about and actually try some items.  In four separate trips, only one associate asked if I had any questions or offered any assistance.  Over the last two weeks at Ulta, I've noticed the same disgusting, crusted tester, as seen below. And it's too bad, because I love Murad products.

Then, I stopped at the local Sephora.  Many of the same items are stocked at both Ulta and Sephora.  But the experience at Sephora - hands down, far and above.  Each department was staffed with employees who were "experts" and trained in their respective categories.  Armed with product knowledge, vast understanding of virtually every ingredient included in their products, and actual tips and tricks for application and achieving desired effects, it's no wonder the number of customers shopping Sephora was at least triple that of the busiest Ulta store.  Self-serve tester units at Ulta were dusty, dirty, oxidized, and disgusting.  Not only was I offered samples to take home from Sephora, I was given detailed product sheets for each item, so I knew not only how to use it, but the active ingredients, and could easily identify later what I want to purchase.  Even the brands' YouTube channels are strikingly different.  This was only intensified at another Sephora location, where a trainer from a particular brand was on the sales floor with the regular associates providing in depth product knowledge training and demonstration techniques.

I'm sure there are some good employees and well trained staffs for Ulta somewhere, but I haven't seen one for myself.  Ulta isn't alone.  I heard a friend's horror story last week about ordering kitchen appliances from Sears.  After multiple failed deliveries and erroneous charges to their account, Sears ultimately lost another valued customer, along with the lackluster experience being told to hundreds of her close friends.  And rightfully so!  Circuit City was never Best Buy.  It's not enough to just stock the right products, in the right place, at the right time, at the right price.  Learn something about the goods and services you're selling!  Sephora isn't the only captain of their industry - I've had similarly positive experiences at space.nk and Douglas.  Dazzle your customers with product knowledge, create an atmosphere of education, stimulation, and dialogue!  Shopping should be fun, not frustrating.  Shopping should be a pleasure, not a pain; enticing, not enraging. 

Particularly in skincare and cosmetics, there are so many specific products, application tips and tricks, and trends to discover, customer service is paramount.  Take a look at a wonderful example from space.nk: 

On the flip side, there is a room for many different types of retailers in the marketplace.  Some "minimal service" or "no service" stores will always be in business, driven by price, quick opportunity for self-service, and selection.  You can walk into a Wal-Mart, spend an hour gathering bargains, typically items you've predetermined to purchase, ring yourself up at the self-checkout lines, and never speak to an employee.  Other than keeping the shelves stocked and toilets from overflowing, it seems there's not much need for employees there.  And that's ok.  Same with Ulta - if you know what you're getting, require minimal assistance, and don't mind a dressed up version of a drugstore.  With that being said - some consumer categories are service oriented, and always will be.

Product selection should never replace customer service. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

tea time

I love tea - hot tea, iced tea, tea in my skincare, tea in my candles, and the tradition of "high tea".  Here's just a few of the many reasons why:

In high school and college, I worked for Origins, a division of the Estee Lauder Companies.  One of the products we launched was called A Perfect World - a skin guardian made from, among other miracle workers, silver tip white tea.  The silver tip white tea was the star ingredient - harvested in China just a few weeks each year, the leaves protect the skin from dehydration, deterioration, and oxidation by minimizing damage from free radicals, environmental stress, and harmful ultraviolet light rays.  The skin guardian was so popular and gave such proven results, that additional products have been added to the range throughout the years, including body cream, face wash, moisturizers, and balancing tonics.  I can't say enough good things for what this product has done for my skin - literally stopping the clock on aging.  (Not kidding - a study in the UK by Professor Declan Naughton, from the School of Life Sciences at Kingston University in South West London, said the research showed white tea had anti-aging potential and high levels of anti-oxidants which could prevent cancer and heart disease. “We’ve carried out tests to identify plant extracts that protected the structural proteins of the skin, specifically elastin and collagen,” he explained. “Elastin supports the body’s natural elasticity which helps lungs, arteries, ligaments and skin to function. It also helps body tissue to repair when you suffer wounds and stops skin from sagging.” Collagen is a protein found in connective tissues in the body and is important for skin, strength and elasticity, he added.
Results showed white tea prevented the activities of the enzymes which breakdown elastin and collagen which can lead to wrinkles that accompany ageing. These enzymes, along with oxidants, are associated with inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Professor Naughton said: “These enzymes and oxidants are key components of normal body processes. However, in inflammatory conditions, suppressing the activities of these excess components has been the subject of decades of research. We were surprised to find such high activity for the white tea extracts in all five tests that were conducted.”)

Drinking tea is incredibly good for you, too.  Many studies have shown that drinking tea may help minimize the effects and progress of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; encourage weight loss and manage cholesterol; possesses natural antimicrobial properties; and improves mental focus.  Speaking to WebMD, American Dietic Association spokeswoman Katherine Tallmadga, MA, RD, LD, said, “There doesn’t seem to be a downside to tea.  I think it’s a great alternative to coffee drinking. First, tea has less caffeine.  It’s pretty well established that the compounds in tea – their flavonoids – are good for the heart and may reduce cancer."  Subsequently, white tea contains antimicrobial properties that kill the germs in your mouth often associated with plaque, tooth decay, and bad breath.  Tea experts suggest choosing loose leaf tea, often less processed than the bagged varieties, and avoiding bottled, often sugary quick-serve options.

I don't know why, but I love how tea smells.  Maybe it's the calming nature, or the ideas of relaxation and sharing time with others that I automatically associate with the fragrance.  Diptyque offers Thé, while Nest's Ocean Mist & Sea Salt is rounded out with both coconut and white tea.  White Tea is so calming and inviting that Starwood's Westin Hotel chain features the fragrance in every property - from the scent in their lobbies to the bath amenities en suite.

Lastly, I love the time honored tradition of high tea - taking care to add an extra dash of style + class to your appearance, spending leisurely time with those you care about, enjoying carefully prepared snacks and treats, while sipping on piping hot brews.

When you look good, you feel better.  When you feel better, you look your best.  Tea time is more than just an afternoon delight - it's a lifestyle we can all incorporate and celebrate.

Monday, October 26, 2015

fatto in Italia, made with love

When you think "made in Italy", chances are you associate Italian luxury - the likes of Ferrari and Maserati, Gucci and Prada.  The quality, craftsmanship, and superior materials and ingredients aren't just limited to the exclusive high-end spectrum.  Artisan methods are passed down from general to generation like closely guarded family secrets, where the utmost beauty and care are priority.  Skincare like Proraso, mouth care like Marvis toothpaste, pasta and foods from Barilla, and chocolate treats from Perugina.  Not the most expensive in their categories, made with care, authenticity, and tradition.

This same thought can be applied to many other brands, not made in Italy.  Maybe there's a multi-generational family near your city, who are sustainably and responsibly farming the land.  Or your dental hygienist who is living her dream by designing one-of-a-kind bathing suits from her own studio.  You don't have to be from Italia to master your craft. Use their mark as inspiration in your own quest for excellence.

Focus on quality, prioritize making all things beautifully, and make the product you yourself would purchase. As consumers, you can always put your money where your mouth is - if something doesn't meet your standards, don't buy it!  Send a message to retailers that demands product integrity, quality, and value.  After all, money talks. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

condition the goods

I know we're all busy.  It seems like there's no time for anything.  We're working hard and hardly working, all at the same time.  We want to protect our investments and extend their longevity as much as possible.  Here are a few reminders of things to do:

-- if you have any leather furniture, I recommend cleaning and conditioning the hides at least quarterly.  I use Restoration Hardware's Leather CPR that both cleans and conditions the leather.  Cleaning and conditioning the leather removes dirt and stuck-on debris, and prevents cracking and fading.  I massage a generous amount of product and massage it into the leather, allowing it to dry for an hour or so.  I love how soft the leather feels after application, and try to do so every 3-4 months.

-- if you have any wood products in your kitchen, it's so important to condition and clean them at least quarterly with a good wood cleaner / cream.  When wood dries out, it chips, cracks, and stains easily.  I use John Boos' board cream.  It's a mixture of natural bees wax + food grade mineral oil.  I treat my wooden cutting boards, butch block counter tops, spatula handles, and dining table and chairs quarterly.  Make sure your wood products are free of any debris, and then slather the board cream all over, allowing it to soak in for at least an hour or two.  Using the board cream will leave a silky, glossy barrier and lock in the wood's natural moisture and prevent chipping, cracking, and unwanted bleaching.  If you have any surface scratches, chances are the board cream will drastically minimize their appearance, especially when treated quickly after damage.

-- if you have an electric toothbrush, take it apart at least once a month and give the parts a thorough cleaning.  I know I gag every time I dismantle my Sonicare toothbrush for cleaning, and can't imagine how foul and malodorous it would be if I didn't regularly clean it.  Do yourself a favor - and clean the cracks and crevices of your dental appliances regularly.

-- caring for your kitchen cutlery will not only extend their life, but will also optimize their regular use.  Here are a few tips:

  • always hand wash and dry your cutlery straight away.  Never put them in the dishwasher - the constant heating and cooling of the dishwasher will cause the metal to constantly expand and contract, cracking the handles and compromising the integrity of the blades.  
  • hone your knifes.  If cutting your finger nails is like sharpening your knives, filing your nails is like honing your knives; it creates a smooth edge and makes for effortless cutting.  most knife sets come with a honing steel.  I recommend honing regularly.  If you're not comfortable, or need more information, take a look at Master Bladesmith Bob Kramer giving some tips and tricks: 
  • sharpen your knives.  Most better knife manufacturers offer complimentary professional sharpening.  I love Shun's cutlery, and love their complimentary sharpening services.  It's also important to care for other cutting devices - sewing scissors, lawn mowing blades, etc.  Sharp tools make for efficient, longer lasting tools.

When you invest in great things, it's important to care for them.  What're some tips and tricks you have discovered? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

more than a breath of fresh air

Oxygen is vital to life; imagine what it can do for your skin, too!  I've admired Bliss for years - their super hydrating body butters, never-ending streams of soapy suds, effective skincare, and tongue-in-chic take on life are all simply beyond.

Recently, they revamped and recharged their Triple Oxygen collection.  CPR is so much more than a life saving medical technique - it's the recipe for serious skin results.  The new Triple Oxygen energizing serum is perfect for all skin types - formulated with oxygen boosters and advanced Vitamin C to Clarify, Protect, and Revitalize.  Ultimately, the skin's natural defenses to combat environmental stressors and restore that radiant youthfulness are jolted into gear. Work this serum into your regular skincare routine - after cleansing and underneath your moisturizer.

If you're really needing to rescue your skin, or want the ultimate spa experience, visit a Bliss Spa and treat yourself to the Triple Oxygen Facial.  Absolutely beyond.

Save 25% on the Triple Oxygen collection now with promotional code "save25" at checkout

I was not compensated or asked to write this review - I simply love the line and wanted to share the bliss. 

slow down

Dear Starbucks,

Thank you for still making "in a for here cup" an option.


Our society is "on demand" - everything must be "when I want it, just how I want it, and fast!"  But sometimes our quest to hurry up and wait makes us miss the point or goal.  It's not necessarily where we're going, but the journey in itself.  Pick one day each month, or even one hour each day, to purposefully slow down.  Take the long way home.  Park as far from the door of your destination as possible.  Order your coffee "for here" and actually sit to enjoy the flavors.  When you're not rushed, you can taste like you've never tasted, you can think like you've never thought, and you can truly be your best self.

Maybe it's the deep rooted nostalgic bit talking, but I love that "old fashioned" way of doing things some times.  Investing the time, the resources, and the thought show your concern, your care, and your love.  Treat yourself and those around you, and try something from yesterday.  Prepare a wholesome meal from scratch; send a handwritten note or card to a friend; walk, don't drive, to your destination.

"Coffee culture" is a big deal, especially in Europe and South America.  Espresso in the all day long at the bar, always standing up, prepared methodically and lovingly served in a ceramic cup.  You might spend only 20-30 seconds drinking the actual coffee, but the trip, the conversation, and the experience are just as energizing as the caffeinated brew.   In the morning, with more time to spend pondering life and planning the day, it's cappuccino: the perfect portion of steamed, frothy milk and bold, beautiful espresso.  (Side bar / travel tip: when you're traveling throughout Italia, or are experiencing any proper caffe, don't order a cappuccino after breakfast time.  Definitely faux pas.) After all, time is the ultimate currency. 

Speaking of slowing down, you can slow down your appearance and the aging process by focusing your skincare, not just on your face, but on your hands.  The hands take so much abuse - from being in the sun whilst driving, from the countless washings, dryings, and exposure to every element.  Just as you exfoliate, moisturize, treat, and protect your face, you should do the same for your hands.  You can always get a "face lift" later in life, but a "hand lift" is a bit more out of reach.   

When you slow down, you minimize distractions and maximize your thoughts, your hopes, and your intentions.  And thus, slowing down might actually speed you up.

Monday, October 19, 2015

fall favorities, and other things you shouldn't live without

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we're all connected to nature and Mother Earth.  When the seasons change, it's easy to implement other changes in your life as well.  Wash away the winter blues and prepare to blossom with spring cleaning.  Shed those unwanted pounds and dull skin in the spring with a fresh outlook and lifestyle for summer.  Now that it's all, we're bundling up more, enjoying time outside as much as possible, and preparing ourselves for holidays, family gatherings, and other traditions.  Here are a few things I love, that just may help you get in the spirit, add a little dash of style + class to your day, and optimize your time so you can ultimately be your best self.

I've talked about the many benefits of candles multiple times, but it's always worth mentioning again.  Candles are the easiest way to add ambiance and festive cheer to any space.  As autumn's crisp nights creep upon us, I love the warmth, soft glow, and pleasant scents that great candles provide.  Choose candles that are as natural as possible, so they don't leave soot or irritate allergies.  In the fall months, I love fragrances that are a little spicier, like amber, cinnamon, and clove, with dashes of brightness, like citrus or herbs, and deeper woods, like sandalwood, teakwood, and oud.  Agraria Home has a fabulous bitter orange, Nest offers Hearth, Diptyque Paris now features Oud, and Firefood from Henri Bendel are all sure wins.

You've spent the summer outside, holidayed as much as possible, and exposed virtually every inch of your body to the summer sun - it's time now to prepare for the cooler, drier months ahead and refocus your skincare routine.

Exfoliating is very important.  Once or twice weekly, gently slough away dead skin cells and other icky irritants.  You can either physically exfoliate, by using a textured masque or scrub, mechanically exfoliate, with a sonic brush that literally polishes the skin, or chemically exfoliate, with powerful acidic solutions and serums.  Choose a natural product, free from fillers and other harsh ingredients, and always consult your dermatologist if you're going to try something drastic.  I love Origins' Never a Dull Moment.  It's made with ground mango and apricot seeds, crushed walnut shells, and powerful papaya and grapefruit extracts, dissolving lackluster dead skin, revealing more radiant, fresh, and renewed skin.  It's good for all skin types, smells delicious, and is gentle and effective enough to use a few times per week.    My skincare maven and friend for life Linda F. recommends Peter Thomas Roth's firmX peeling gel - a potent potion of multi-action enzymes from pineapple, pomegranate, and keratinase, with cellulose that effectively peel and help uncover a smooth, fresh, new complexion without drying, irritating or causing undue stress to skin. Also excellent at removing impurities and decongests clogged pores for a youthful, radiant look. 

Cleanse the skin, preferably both morning and night.  Look for a wash that leaves the skin feeling crisp and cool, without over drying.  Face washes don't have to be complicated or overly fragrant - I look for one that foams, leaving behind no residue for that squeaky clean feel.  In the summer, I find my skin is a bit more oily, so I'll look for a wash containing a bit of salicylic acids and fruit enzymes, to cut down on the shine.  Intended for acne, Philosophy's Clear Days Ahead is frequently in my rotation - this gel packs a powerful punch on bothersome breakouts.  Plus the orange extract leaves skin feeling fresh and radiant - and smells incredibly refreshing.  Because Philosophy's Clear Days Ahead  can be a bit too drying, I limit its use to the summertime or for troublesome times only.  Year round, I love Biotherm Homme's Aquapower Cleanser, This powerful double-action daily cleanser, which also includes a small dose of exfoliating power, effectively removes impurities while refreshing the skin. Its ultra-cleansing fresh gel formula contains a combination of oligo-elements and potent cleansing agents that leave the skin soft, comfortable and exceptionally fresh.

Moisturize and Protect - after you've exfoliated and cleansed the skin, it's time to moisturize and protect.  I look for products that protect against dehydration, deterioration, and oxidation, like Origins' A Perfect World serum,  Just one tiny drop of this workhorse literally stops the clock on aging, protecting the skin from damaging environmental factors like smog, stress, and other oxidizers and keeps skin looking fresh, toned, and radiant.  I also love Murad's Invisiblur Perfecting Shield - a one-stop-shop for anti-aging, flawless looking skin and protection from the sun's harmful rays (and is really great for both men and women).

And I'm absolutely adoring Tom Ford's oil free daily moisturizer for men.  This lightweight, quick-absorbing, skin-mattifying moisturize urses the Tom Ford Skin Calming and Infusing Complexes with a combination of luxurious butters to hydrate your skin, help reverse dullness and help reduce the look of fine lines and pores. It leaves your face looking toned, polished and re energized, without looking primped or too done.  

Spot treat with masques: sometimes all you need is a quick "rescue" - whether sudden dryness, breakouts, or too much oil and shine, a quick masque will often steer your skin back on track in no time.  Exfoliate and cleanse as normal, then apply a thick layer of the masque to face, neck, and decollete.  Let the masque work its magic for 10-15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly and continue with your regimen.   For dry skin or a quick moisture surge, I love Fresh's Black Tea Firming Overnight Mask  - their special blend of black tea ferment and extracts of blackberry leaf, black tea, and lychee seed pump the breaks on free radicals and restore skin's elasticity, while Belle de Nuit extract soothes and rebalances the skin to optimal condition, peptides firm the skin and visibly defy the signs of gravity, and hyaluronic acid attracts and maintains moisture for smooth, sheer suppleness. Origins' Out of Trouble is a just what the doctor ordered to fix over productive pores, prevent pesky pimples, and put the kibosh on shine.  It packs a one-two punch with super absorbent zinc oxide and sulfur.  (Side note: If you didn't already know, products with zinc oxide naturally block harmful UVA and UVB rays from the sun and light sources, has natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties,  is a natural astringent, and reduces pore size.  If you suffer from Rosacea, Psoriasis, Eczema, diaper rash, or dandruff, products and foods with zinc may be your answer.) It also contains Camphor, which naturally calms the skin.  You'll notice a smoother texture and clearer skin in no time.   

If you travel frequently, or want to make sure you're prepared without breaking the bank, Origins offers the perfect dose of masks in convenient travel or "just in case" sizes.

If you're like me, you can't live without your iDevices - whether iPhone, iPod, iPad, or iWhatever, they're an essential part to our everyday function.  And that means one thing - we must always have power.  My favorite chords and charging accessories are from Blue Flame.  The cables are brilliantly braided and secured, preventing the dreaded "cable split" so typical of the basic white bits provided by the fruits at Apple.  I had a Blue Flame cable last several years with my last iPhone, and immediately went out when I updated last.  Especially handy if you travel or are frequently on the go, I've had no problems whatsoever.
Makes a great stocking stuffer or Secret Santa gift at the office holiday party, too.

Don't get me wrong - espresso has a place in my life, regardless of the temperature outside or season we're celebrating, but it's nice to finally enjoy hot beverages now that the temperatures and leaves are falling.  I'm loving hot beverages, especially piping hot coffee.  Williams-Sonoma stocks a delicious concentrate of five different apple varieties, making for a quick and easy pot of mulled cider.  I can't get enough of Teavana's Pineapple Kona Pop herbal tea, either.  When I was growing up, my Mom would make a delicious "percolator punch" - a marvelous mix of equal parts pineapple juice and cranberry juice, with cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and ginger in the percolator basket.  I think it'd be really nice to mix this Pineapple Kona Pop with Mom's "percolator punch" for an added layer of tasty treat.  And for a boozy punch, a mighty measure of Solerno Blood Orange liqueur will make mouths happy. 

My favorite activity during fall: spending time with family + friends.  Get outside.  Throw a cocktail party.  Just because.  Take a hike.  Literally!  Keep a soccer ball in the trunk (boot) of your car for a random pickup game in the park.  Open the windows, feel the fresh air, and remember why you're alive.  Be spontaneous.  While it's important to look to the future, don't forget to see your now. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

thanks + giving

As we get closer to holidays, I was thinking about cool host(ess) gifts.  These are great items to stock up on year-round, for those "just in case" multipurpose gift-giving occasions.  They don't have to be complicated or costly, just of really great quality.

-- tea towels.  You can never have enough kitchen towels.  They can be festive, inspirational, humorous, or purely functional - but you can always use more tea towels.  Flour-sack style towels are especially great for people who're big drinkers or entertainers, as they don't leave lint on glassware. I also love the intricate patterns and delicate weave of traditional European linens, like those from Garnier-Thiebaut.  Their vibrant pops of color are sure to brighten any kitchen or space, and are of amazing quality and durability.

-- candles.  Just like tea towels, you can never have "too many" candles.  Their light, warmth, and fragrance turn a sterile space into the most romantic room.  If you know your host(ess) well, pick a fragrance that you know they'll enjoy or invokes their personality. If you don't, standard wins are always balsam, cinnamon, lavender, and vanilla.  One of my favorite candle companies is Nest.  Once Laura Slatkin had sold her home wildly successful fragrance line to Bath & Body Works, she started the more luxurious, incredibly special Nest.  Better fragrances, less junk ingredients and fillers, and a lot more love, I'm always so impressed with the quality and longevity of their products.  For fall, I'm especially loving their "winter fireplace" inspired Hearth, and know it'd make the most wonderful way to show thanks and giving.
-- Caveat: my next suggestion is far from inexpensive.  But the experience, the product, and the scent-sation is worth it, 100%. Santa Maria Novella's soap, or anything for that matter.  How can three simple words conjure up such time-tested techniques for making the most exquisite products for bath, body, and home?  Melograno (Pomegranate) is my favorite, hands down.  Once you have tried Santa Maria Novella's Pomegranate soap, it is impossible to imagine wanting to use anything else. Triple milled, each exquisite bar is hand molded one by one using 19th century equipment, aged for 60 days in ventilated cabinets, and then hand-wrapped. The all-natural whole milk formula is infused with the classic Florentine scent of pomegranate oil for a lather that is rich, gentle and softly moisturizing. And because each soap is hand pressed, all Santa Maria Novella soaps will last about three times longer than ordinary soaps while maintaining their shape and scent. Suitable for all skin types.

 -- wonderful, seasonal ingredients.  If your host(ess) is a foodie, consider a small assortment of beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables.  Maybe present them in a sweet basket, or a reusable grocery bag.  I'd also recommend a small collection of herbs, seasonings, and spices.  If your recipient is a drinker or entertains frequently, a great bottle of wine or small batch bitters makes a lovely gesture of appreciation.

The gifts need not be expensive, either.  If you're being hosted by a family, one of my favorite gifts is a "movie night in a bowl" - take a large bowl, add a box of microwave popcorn, some sweet treats, and a family friendly / audience appropriate movie.  Wrap in cellophane, tie with a bow, and voila - instant gift, less than $20, that also encourages the family to spend time together (often a gift within itself).

-- I love gifts that keep on giving, like a subscription to Kinfolk or Saveur.  It's no secret that I love to cook, to eat, to entertain, and to travel. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I opened the letterbox about a year ago and discovered Saveur. My best friend ordered it as a gift, and I'm still thankful. Both Kinfolk and Saveur are simply beyond. Travel. Food. Drink. Beautiful photography. Compelling writing. Fabulous recipes.

Come se dice "delicious subscriptions" in Italiano?  "Kinfolk" and "Saveur" obviously.  

The most important thing to remember is this: your gift should not offend.  I try to refrain from bringing wine unannounced.  When I'm planning a party, I take great care in selecting the food and drink on offer, making sure everything is in perfect harmony.  I'd hate to bring a bottle of my favorite wine as a gift but give the unintended impression that I didn't trust the host(ess)'s ability to properly pair, let alone bring something that wouldn't compliment the other menu items.  This is why I also refrain from bringing flowers - the host(ess) probably has decorated accordingly, so I try and avoid this option, unless you know the recipients well or have established past precedence.  (Don't get me wrong - sending flowers in the days following the event is always a wonderful gesture of thanks and praise.)

But then I got to thinking about the ultimate gift - that of sharing time and talent.  Kinfolk, one of the coolest communities of creative people on the planet, posts a little video section.  Here's one of my favorite: a flower potluck!


Next time you're planning a cocktail party or small gathering to sip and snack on all things delicious, consider throwing your own "flower potluck" as well.  I'm sure we all have a small collection of vases from previous arrangements.  Set out a few vessels, sharp sheers, flower food, and other ribbon / accouterments, then invite your friends to bring some of their favorites - whether from the garden or yard, or their favorite florist or market.  You could be specific and assign categories, like greenery, fill, centerpiece, etc., or just keep it open and free.

Once you've had the "flower exchange", continue on savoring the refreshments and company.  Everyone gets a personalized take-home gift!

Gifts don't have to be expensive, but they should always come from the heart.  Remember, the ultimate gifts to give are that of time, love, and friendship.  What's the best host(ess) gift you've ever received? 

Friday, October 16, 2015

a warm welcome

First impressions are everything: they set the tone, establish a framework of what to expect for your clients or guests, and introduce what's to come.  You only get one chance to greet someone; there are no do-overs.  You must be spot-on every time.

When you're working in a small boutique or office, the most logical time for greeting is upon immediate entry to the space - whether a quick hello, a smile or wave, you physically acknowledge your clients' presence.  As the employee, remove all barriers.  Walk to meet your clients on the same plane, introduce yourself, and welcome them to your business.  It's at that time that "discovery" begins - learning what brings the client in, what goods and services you can suggest, and execute those plans.

In a larger store or office, sometimes there are layers - multiple floors, departments and private areas.  If you're assigned a particular zone, welcome your clients when they enter your space, just as you would as if the space was it's only building.  Speaking of space within spaces - it's important to always treat your zone like it's in a building of its own - how does your space look to the outside?  Do your fixtures and displays tell a "story" from all sides?  Is your cash wrap / desk space organized and free from clutter from all angles?  Ensuring your area maximizes space and impression will ensure strong profits and successes.

Never assume your clients have been greeted.  Maybe they slipped in unnoticed.  Or they were engaged in conversation and the other associates / greeter / security guard didn't want to interrupt.  Regardless, start from the beginning.  And remember, body language is everything.  Tall posture, not slouching or leaning.  Never fold your arms.  If your body is physically open, you'll be professionally ready to receive your clients.  You want to be as approachable and available as possible.

Especially in a luxury setting, keep the "clutter" to a minimum.  Other than the store telephone, your client book, and maybe an iPad or store issued device, there shouldn't be much else on the salesfloor but your products and props.  This allows your "look" to be in harmony with the vision of the brand, and allow you to be even more ready to serve the client.  If you've "set up shop" on top of a display case, you're not only blocking the view, but you're sending the message to your clients that you're not available to offer assistance.  In luxury, and any segment for that matter, you must be ready for your customers as much as possible.  Ready to serve.  Ready to please.

Think about external factors that assist in welcoming warmly.  Lit candles or room fragrances, music, lighting, even wall colors or treatments and textured flooring all add to the ambiance.  Attention to detail will not be lost on your discerning clientele.

A warm welcome is genuine.  A warm welcome is your physical body language, the words that you speak, and the added attention from the space you're working in.  Make it happen and all will be well. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

a toast to you

Don't get me wrong - I love those long, lazy brunches that seem to have a never-ending bottle of champagne and menus so extensive they should require a table of contents to guide you through the plethora of plates and options.  But sometimes, I just like a wonderful piece of toasted bread, with butter or jam, and an espresso to drink.

A few years ago I was the sales and clientele manager for Williams-Sonoma.   While there, we had the opportunity to participate in various contests. And if you know me, you know I'm incredibly competitive, especially for my teams.  We must win.  One of the prizes I was gifted was a beautiful see-through toaster from Magimix. And of course, the first thing I wanted to do was celebrate and have a "toast party" with The Nana and The Grandfather.  So with a little coordination, we somehow ended up with nothing short of a feast - beautiful breads, fresh fruits, jams and spreads, juice and various vini, and even a super special 20 year aged balsamic vinegar with white truffles. 

I'm sure the last words you'd associate together are "toaster" and "party" - but it was a celebration indeed, and had really nothing to do with the toast.  

This was a party for life.  For spending time with those you love, doing things you love.  Abbondanza in Italian means more than just abundance - it implies a richness, an overwhelming sense of love and comfort.

This festa con brindisi fuels part of my passion and thoughts for retail.  If we minimize the options, but maximize the quality, integrity, and emotional connection of whatever goods and services we're selling, we've guaranteed clients for life.

At first glance, a trip to Billy Reid  might give the impression of a very limited selection.  If you're looking for an orange polo shirt, you may scan the store quickly, not seeing what you had hoped for, and quickly exit.  But if you're looking for the most incredible quality, where no detail is too great, and everything has, not just a purpose, but a story -- you've found the right place.  Each Billy Reid store oozes authenticity, from vintage books and artwork as props, to fresh flowers and candles for ambiance.  There's nothing manufactured or sterile feeling.  A polo style shirt from Billy Reid might cost around US$125, but the quality, durability, and attention to fit and feel far outweigh the competition.  And over time, that more expensive shirt will last much longer than their cheaper, mass produced cousins, realizing a beautiful return on investment.

I'm not a minimalist when it comes to fashion.  While I appreciate the clean lines and aesthetic of Jil Sander and Theory, sometimes you need the opulence and over-the-top ornate detail peppered in your life.  While not a minimalist, I am definitely in favor of minimizing distractions, wasted resources, and meaningless action.  And this is exactly my approach to building a strong clientele.  Your relationships should always be genuine, coming from a place of love, quality, and inspiration.  I know this sounds counterproductive to business, but I'd much rather a client come visit the boutique 20 times and buy one small leather good they're in love with, than amassing a wardrobe of products they'll never wear or use, purchased out of obligation and not because they loved them.  These purchases on a whim aren't purchases at all, but soon-to-be returns.  Part of building a strong clientele is establishing trust, leaving your clients with an air of elegance and education for the brand. 

Every time I eat toast, I think of that incredible moment I shared a few years ago.  There's so much meaning, so much inspiration, so many overwhelmingly positive emotions kneaded into every piece of toasted bread.  In a business setting, especially within the luxury industry, the exchange of time is the ultimate luxury.  It's my hope to encourage other business leaders to define their expectations, establish a corporate culture that creates a dynamic environment to clientele, holding their associates accountable by constant feedback and coaching-in-the-moment, celebrating successes, overcoming opportunities creatively, and ultimately realizing better-than-expected results while using less resources.  Together, we can break bread.  Find your own toast. Make your own party.  And always remember that moment. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

no one cares what you're selling

Do you value shock?  A single event that stops you in your tracks, paralyzing your ability to comprehend, to breathe, to process.  Nothing else matters.

I think it's safe to understand that no business values shock, save electricians and power providers.  However, some businesses' response to shock seems to promote the ensuing behavior.  This can be easily avoided with consistent training, coaching-in-the-moment, and not only establishing expectations, but holding those expectations accountable.

For example, Starbucks has a very simple policy: if the customer doesn't like their beverage, with no questions asked, the Barista will remake the drink or offer a refund.  Plain and simple.  I can't tell you how many times I've witnessed customers react so angrily, so hastily.  Over coffee!  We're not talking about an event so detrimental to your health, let alone your existence, to merit such a heinous response.  Regardless, customers still go overboard, reacting unnecessarily.  What's so incredible is that Starbucks trains their employees on how to react; relationships are a priority.

Just yesterday, I witnessed a customer berating the Barista because she received the "wrong sandwich".  Now you must understand, I heard the Barista myself seek clarity and repeat the customer's order.  Which is exactly what she received, but not what she was hoping for.  After spewing anger and hate, demanding to speak to the manager (which the Barista involved was actually the shift manager to start with), the Barista apologized, remade the not-requested-but-hoped-for panino, and even thanked the customer for their business.  I was so impressed with her ability to hold control of the situation and demonstrate kindness, in addition to the very ethos of the brand, when the customer displayed the exact opposite.

This type of professional behavior can be replicated in any business.  Treat everyone like a "guest", and you won't get lost.

G: Greet.  You must greet your customers. A quick "hello" or "welcome to ____" sets the tone. Make sure your tone is sprite and springlike, as a disingenuous welcome instantly detracts from the business.  If the client is on the telephone or in conversation, a simple smile and wave will announce your attention and signal you're availabilty.

U: Understand.  Why are your clients there? Are they taking a stroll through your boutique, gathering ideas and enjoying the day?  Are they comparison shopping, looking to gather education and data?  Maybe they'll just "know it when they see it".  Whatever their intentions - as the salesperson, it's your job to find out what exactly the client is hoping to accomplish, and make that happen.  And then some.

E: Explain.  What can you do for them? Once you've identified what exactly they're hoping to accomplish, explain what you can do for them, both immediately and longterm.  This can be as simple as helping the client find the perfect dress to wear to for a special occasion, or as complex as executing customer business enterprise solutions.

S: Suggest and sell.  You've identified the clients' needs and explained what you can do for them.  Now it's time to hit the ball out of the park and set the wheels in motion. Suggest solutions to meet their needs and ask for the sale.  All too often, employees will identify the needs of the customer, present a solution, but never ask for the close.  To me, that's like creating a menu, shopping for the groceries, spending all day preparing a beautiful meal, but then never serving the dishes.  You must ask for the sale!

I understand you're looking for a new vehicle.  You want something classy, with great power, loaded with every amenity and safety feature available, that will last you the better part of a decade and grow with both you and your lifestyle to come.  I suggest the 2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE Coupe.  Shall we place the order for your new car?

I recognize selling a car usually brings a much lengthier process and requires infinite more resources, but you get the gist. Ask for the sale.

 T: Thank.  What was the original goal of the customer? To purchase goods or services?  To gain education and insight? To try something new?  Whatever the reason, thank your customer. Invite them to return.  Tell them you want to stay in touch, ask for their contact information, and do something with it. Within a week, send a quick thank you note. It must be hand written. Short, sweet, and to the point.

Hello Mrs. Thompson,
I hope this message finds you well.  I want to thank you for stopping in to the boutique today. I know you're going to love your new Lady Dior bag. Remember, the bag is made of luxurious lambskin, so be sure to keep it away from your dark denims.  I hope to see you soon!   à bientôt, Joseph
                                                                                                                                                                              Within two weeks of sending the note, follow up with a phone call.  Your reason for calling: securing future business.  Your approach,  making sure you had the right address on file, that they received the note, and that they're loving their purchase.  This will massively decrease product returns and ensure happiness with the customer. It also allows for even more understanding about your client.  In the example above, where did Mrs. Thompson first take her new Lady Dior bag? Was she celebrating a special occasion (that you should be notating in her client file for future acknowledgement), or was it "just because..."  Learning why clients buy, understanding their motivation and spending abilities, will help you with future business engagements.

You've now officially started clienteleing - or leveraging your professional relationships to drive the business.  With consistency and practice, you'll grow your network of customers and clients beyond measure.  And once you're at the next level, it will never matter again what good or service you're selling - you'll always have a strong customer base loyal to you.

Treating your clients like GUESTs every time is only enhanced by your attitude.  Find your voice.  In the car example above, if I worked for the very storied Mercedes-Benz, I'd learn about German culture.  Maybe offer clients' children a small bag of  Haribo gummy bears or sign every thank you note with a simple and easily translated danke.  The simple gestures can exceed your clients' expectations, setting you above and beyond the competition, and ultimately benefit the sales probability and outcome.

A friend asked if this method is applicable to more than just traditional retail situations.  The answer: absolutely.

Imagine for a moment that you're an insurance salesman.  Of course, you'll follow an established sales tactic: become well versed in your products and services, identify potential clients, pitch your solutions, ask for the sale, and close the transaction.  But it doesn't stop there.  Clients want to know that you're going to grow with them, not just sell them one product and move along.  Regardless of what you're selling, you must include the promise of future growth and commitment between you (or your company) and the client.  If you're selling software, will you offer regular check-ins to train new employees?  Will you reassess the clients' business needs on a consistent schedule, ensuring the right solutions for the right needs?  Do you offer a discount or incentive to purchase additional products/services/solutions in the future?

It's not always what product or service you're selling, but the access to your expertise and assistance in the future. In the world of computers and telecommunications, Apple not only sells wonderful products, they also push solutions and prioritizes the customer relationship.  Senior Vice President of Retail Angela Ahrendts doesn't just bring the style and class of Burberry to the table, but a commitment to building trust and longevity with their very valuable customers.

Sometimes, unconventional leaders are the way to drive the business to unexpected heights.  Many might have questioned why the fruitful technology giant would have lured a luxury fashion executive, but for those who know Ms. Ahrendts' critical thinking abilities, quest for excellence in customer experience, and remarkable methods to not only capture clients' attention but their loyalty and lifelong business, it was no surprise.  Subsequently, her realigning of the eCommerce department with the traditional brick-and-mortar retail department has already increased profits, minimized expenditures, and maximized customers' opinions.

In short, treat your customers like you want to be treated.  Maximize each opportunity to strengthen the relationship, further your brand's awareness, and be honest.  After all, the answer is no...until you ask.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Footwear: for the soul, for the sole

Chiudi gli occhi é imagina. Close your eyes and imagine. 

Peter Nappi's grandson was born in America, but his heart and vision are purely Italiano. Since 2011, Peter Nappi has lived at the most unassuming studio on Nashville's Adams Street in what was an industrial boiler room. 

Imagine old world Firenze, where cobblers hand carved custom foot molds, freezing in time and space the exact curvature, measurements, and every nuance of your feet to make the perfect footwear every time. 

Now imagine that same craftsmanship, that same quest for perfection, created in the warmest, most welcoming studio. There's nothing industrial about the service, the products, or the experience at Peter Nappi, a far cry from the building's previous life. 

Take a look at the beautiful leather gymnasium mats: 

To anyone else, they'd serve exactly their purpose. But to Peter Nappi, they become the most beautifully crafted footwear: 

I'd venture to describe Peter Nappi as intrinsically curated, but everyone associates "curated" with "museums" - and "edited" implies a strict regime, and I don't want those connotations. Imagine the most exquisite footwear, small leather goods and handbags all expertly crafted from luxurious leathers by hand in Italy. Belts, cuffs, wine totes, and key fobs are mixed with clutches, backpacks, and handbags, all to compliment the heart and sole / soul of the company. Peppered into the mix, you'll find the most brilliant collection of European home decor and gifts, including one of my favorite bath and body collections: the coveted Santa Maria Novella and eyewear by Persol

Stay long enough, ask the right questions, and you might even be offered an espresso or Peroni. 

I've never actually considered bringing a Kinfolk, bottle of wine, and the best antipasti available to just relax and enjoy in a store until stepping foot in Peter Nappi. 

Imagine a group of people so committed to their vision that they literally live the brand. Imagine a level of concern and specificity so great that no detail is too small. Imagine a welcome so warm that the front doors are literally always open. See something you like, but not quite? They can make it for you. Have your Nonna's old crocodile coat you're not sure what to do with? They'll imagine for you the most beautiful shoes, and accessories with the leftovers. 

Close your eyes and imagine the best. Now you're imagining Peter Nappi. 

Ti voglio bene per tutti. To care deeply and love, but not in a romantic way. Reserved for family, friends, and to those you're familiar. Intimacy without being sexual. 

Peter Nappi cares deeply for your heart, for your soul / sole.  

Big shout out to JJ for her time, her insight, and the incredible service. Ci vediamo a presto!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Everyday Elegance

I know, I know.  It's been way too long.  And the last time I posted, I promised I would try to post more often.  It's not for a lack of trying.  I hate to sound cliche, but time really does fly by when you're having fun.

Regardless, we're back together and I love this moment.

I wanted to start this post with "I was thinking about retail the other day..." but I think about retail all the time.  When you work in retail, regardless of what goods or services you're selling, you're always thinking about retail.  A trip to the local Target or Sainsbury's isn't just a quick trip, but an absorption of best practices.  You're constantly looking at what others are looking at, what're they buying or not buying, the level of service, what are others doing. 

Competition in the retail marketplace has never been more intense - when it comes down to it, anyone can get anything at any time.  Whether online or in your local retailer, nothing is out of touch or off limits.  This is where the brand loyalty and customer experience separate the professionals from the amateurs.  Everyday elegance is key.

What is everyday elegance?  That feeling you get when you know you're being paid attention to, with the right amount of care, where you accomplish your tasks, possibly more, and leave appreciated and excited.

As a retailer, I understand how frustrating it can be when customers are shopping by themselves and have a Bluetooth earpiece - they may be engrossed on a phone call, or listening to an important podcast or their favorite song.  You want to greet them and offer your services, but don't want to interrupt - so when I'm shopping solo, I make sure to take the most obvious headphones I have, so it's clear to the associate I'm focused on something else.  With eye contact, a quick wave or smile, and a motion of the phone, the associate will get the message you don't want to be bothered.  When you've wrapped up your business, you can get to business wherever you may be.

The other day I was visiting the local Nordstrom department store.  I was shopping by myself, really just enjoying the day.  I had nothing particular on my shopping list, and was happy to be enjoying the moment.  Since I was by myself, I made sure my iPhone was fully charged and my headphones in hand.  I was so pleased to wander - both mentally with the music, and physically in the store.  Watching what people were gravitating towards, how the merchandise was displayed, traffic patterns, and how customers and associates interacted.  The approach is most important to me - you want to be friendly, engaging, and offer your services, without being too pushy or persistent.  You want to be genuine and professional, friendly and casual, good and poised.  In "the rail" department, I believe her name was Caroline - such a fabulous interaction.  She saw I was on the phone, made eye contact, waved a hello, and then went about her business.  Once I concluded my conversation, she reapproached, introduced herself, and let me know she didn't want to interrupt while I was on the phone.  She told me about some new products that I "just had to see" and offered her name, for any requests or assistance needed.

I was so impressed. 

I went upstairs to the second floor and began to navigate the hustle and bustle of the cosmetics and fragrance department.  I felt like I was in a train station - people everywhere, loud music, women getting primped, slathered, and pampered with the latest potions, lotions, and perfumes.  I made my way to the Tom Ford Beauty counter, and casually smelled a few of the fragrances.  Tonya, like Caroline, was spot-on.  The most welcoming smile, genuine love of her brand, and passion for her craft - I was absolutely blown away.  Product knowledge, tips and tricks, and ability to drive the business were so very obvious.  The best part - Tonya's sales presentation and interaction appeared effortless. 

It didn't stop there.  I wanted to pass along the positive compliments to management.  In less than the blink of an eye, Alyssa was there to tend my needs.  Kind, compassionate, and concerned, I shared my thanks and praise.  The look on her face was absolutely priceless.  You could tell instantly that everyday elegance was a corporate culture prioritized at Nordstrom.  It takes a lot of work, but very clearly pays off.  I told her I wouldn't mind putting my thoughts onto paper, so she shared the details of her supervisor.  The very next day, director Trevor phoned me to thank me in person, and invited me to say hello in person on my next visit.  From the top down, this is everyday elegance in action.  

That's exactly what everyday elegance is - the ability to meet and exceed your clients' expectations, while gifting them with an experience like none other.  You're confident.  You're competent.  You're an expert in your products and services, friendly and approachable in demeanor, and value the client more than the immediate sale.  It's not what you sell, but how you sell it. It's the relationships that matter most.

You don't have to be in a traditional brick-and-mortar store to experience this everyday eleganceB.Brooks is my floral authority - and I've only ever ordered online or over the phone.  The customer service is beyond.  Once you've created a profile, you're greeted by name every time you phone.  They remember who you send flowers to, your preferences, billing/paying details, and important dates.  Imagine a consortium of the best florists worldwide, all linked by one best friend.  This best friend ensures the best quality, design, and service every single time, no matter where you may be sending flowers to.  Want to send Dutch tulips to Tokyo?  No problem.  On a budget, but still expect a wonderful bouquet?  No problem.  The friends on the phone at B.Brooks will make it happen, with the freshest, most fragrant flowers you could ever imagine. 


Everyday elegance can't be manufactured.  It must be genuine, practiced at all levels of the organization, and be a priority.  This culture is in the DNA at Christian Dior.  Each boutique leaves you not just with a shopping trip, but instills in clients an air of elegance and passion for craftsmanship and iconic codes.  Even the fashion shows present this culture - like an unexpected mountain of flowers.  Monsieur Dior adored flowers, especially the lily of the valley, so to see Raf Simons honor this at his most recent Parisian presentation, not only gives nod to the fashion founder, but thrusts the brand even more into the state of everyday elegance, a floral fantasy for all.  

For me, it's all about that experience.  As a customer, you want to know that your places of business prioritize this focus.  Show care in the way you display merchandise; provide the right amount of attention and service to your clients; listen; respond accordingly and react with fervor.  Smile, say thank you, and follow up. 

Everyday elegance isn't reserved for exclusive boutiques and high end shops.  You can be warmly greeted anywhere.  Happy employees make for happy customers.  As a manager, constant coaching and communication in-the-moment are the name of the game.  Do you have any upcoming special events?  New product launches?  Limited releases?  Arming your associates with a timely hook, something new and exciting to share, are the perfect ice-breakers.  Imagine walking around your local general store and being greeted mid-aisle by an employee.  They ensure you're finding everything alright, welcome you again to the store, and point your attention to an end-cap display of seasonal products.  That is everyday elegance.  Something a little extra, showing you're valued and appreciated.  Or at the checkout counter, having the associate look you in the eye and telling you "thank you for shopping here; we really appreciate your business" and concluding with a smile.  Those little touches, that extra effort, that is everyday elegance