By  on May 4, 2007

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Luxury's hot, and it's only going to get hotter.

That was the message delivered to 300 attendees at the sixth annual Luxury Summit, the largest to date, presented by American Express Publishing this week at The Breakers Palm Beach.

Confident that luxury is here to stay, keynote speaker Burt Tansky, president and chief executive officer of the Neiman Marcus Group, said its magical hold has seeped into every segment — from retailing to hospitality to transportation — and failure to comply with the luxury consumer's whims and high service standards results in loss of business.

He added that nothing, including stock market slumps or a terrorist attack even on the level of 9/11, could rattle consumption for long. His proof? Store sales recovered within a year of 9/11 and have been strong since, because Neiman's never wavered from its founding mission as a purveyor of quality goods and provider of an excellent shopping experience, and because once someone acquires a taste for luxury, he or she won't relinquish it.

&"Our greatest enemy is the husbands who tell their wives, 'Enough!' But she will accept this mandate only for some time before resuming consumption," said Tansky.

Once the consumer is secured, challenges lie in bringing new, advanced and more luxurious products to market, and in competing against what Tansky calls &"luxury counterfeiters" through impeccable service.

Since salespeople accomplish this task, Tansky said retailers must be heavily invested in intensive training programs, have an open-floor sales policy that allows salespeople to float among departments gathering merchandise on behalf of customers and continue education about trends, products, telephone sales and relationship development.

&"We have one of the lowest turnovers in the industry, and many of our salespeople earn in excess of six figures annually," he said.

But he believes business must change through subtle refinements. One example is the company's booming e-commerce, which Tansky reported garners the highest single volume store sales since it was launched seven years ago. Online media such as blogs, podcasts and e-mail correspondence are also at the forefront, though he emphasized they mustn't depersonalize the experience.Kicking off his speech, Robert Polet, president and ceo of Gucci Group, said he looks to the front line — stores — where brands come alive and a point of sale is made or lost. The outcome teeters on what he summarized as &"the I need it factor," much stronger than &"I want."

&"This concept came to me watching a woman in one of our stores say, 'I must have that bag.' She wasn't concerned about price, but that it wouldn't be in stock," said Polet.

China, India and Russia are approaching this state, according to Polet. He reported China was home to 400 shopping malls, 200 more were under construction and another 300 were in development. Come year's end, there will be 16 Gucci stores there, where the company operates at an 80 percent growth rate.

&"By 2014, China will replace Japan in luxury buyers," he said.

The company also plans to open two Gucci stores in India this year, though Polet said the country lagged behind China by five to 10 years. He considers Russia an exciting market, too, since 13 percent of the nation's household income is spent on clothing and shoes, and Russian women are among the remaining few who purchase total looks.

&"We estimate Russian operations at a 70 percent growth rate," said Polet.

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