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Five years ago Jack Mitchell, CEO, put down his tape measure for a while and picked up a pen. The result was a business book called Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results, which chronicles the growth of the Mitchell chain and lays out the primary reason for its success: hugging the customers, or Mitchell’s metaphor for “showering them with attention.” From literally giving a customer the Hickey
Freeman blue cashmere coat off his back, to the phone that rings after-hours in a Mitchell family member’s home when a customer has a crisis, the Mitchell clan will do anything it can to please its shoppers.
This story first appeared in the July 21, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Jack took it one step further earlier this year with the publication of the sequel: Hug Your People: The Proven Way to Hire, Inspire and Recognize Your Employees and Achieve Remarkable Results, an ode to the company’s sales associates. That book provides the tools that companies need to create engaged and enthusiastic employees. For Jack, this boils down to five key doctrines: “My guiding principles are to be nice to them, trust them, instill pride in them, include them and generously recognize them,” he writes. “People spend more time at the office than at home and want to feel personal and professional satisfaction. They want the opportunity to grow to improve themselves.
They want to be recognized and to feel they have a sense of purpose at work.”
Saying that the books have “re-energized me,” Jack still feels like an “important piece” of what makes Mitchells tick.
“I really see a link between the books and the business,” he says. When he’s not on TV or traveling to promote the books, Jack can still be found on the sales floor. “My brother Bill is Mr. Westport, so I’m more at Richards. I’m the team captain of the sales team there. I have the best job in the world. Mondays I’m at Mitchells, Tuesday through
Friday I write or give speeches, but Saturday is sacrosanct. I want to be on the floor.”
Although ownership of the stores was recently transferred to the third generation, Jack doesn’t feel out of the loop. “With today’s technology, I’m able to stay informed.”
The older Mitchells don’t regret for a moment passing their stake in the business to their sons. “I was 30 or so when my father transferred control to us,” Jack says. “We desire the business to go forward, so we’re responsible for passing on the principles. Dad was a great role model. He passed the mantle and we kept him informed. I may not own any of the business anymore, but I still feel like an owner.” Looking ahead, Jack says he plans to continue selling and writing. “I’m definitely going to write the family business book, ‘Hugging for Life.’ I think it could be commercially good.”