Jack Mitchell

Hugging pays dividends — just ask Jack Mitchell. The chairman and chief executive officer of Mitchells and Richards, two of the country’s most successful independent specialty retailers, has taken the concept of hugging his customers to...

Hugging pays dividends — just ask Jack Mitchell. The chairman and chief executive officer of Mitchells and Richards, two of the country’s most successful independent specialty retailers, has taken the concept of hugging his customers to new heights.

This story first appeared in the November 17, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

He has also completed a transformation into a bona fide author. His first book, appropriately titled “Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results,” is now in its sixth printing and has sold more than 800,000 copies since it hit bookstores in June.

Founded by his father, Ed Mitchell, in 1958 in Westport, the Mitchells added substantially to the company’s coffers by acquiring Richards in Greenwich in 1995. Since then, Richards has built an impressive new home on tony Greenwich Avenue and Mitchells recently completed a renovation of its Post Oak Road store.

“I never dreamt [these stores] would be a business model,” Jack Mitchell told a luncheon gathering at the WWD/DNR CEO Summit.

Mitchell said the stores’ survival is assured by the simple notion of focusing on the customer. “They’re the center of the universe to us,” he said.

The Mitchell family — and all the associates at the two stores — can recite sizes, style and color preferences, and more personal information such as birthdays, spouses’ names and pets’ names for each of their customers. In Mitchell vernacular, that’s hugging. “It’s a metaphor for a simple deed or act on a personal level,” he explained. “It means being caring and thoughtful and making people feel special.”

He related a story of one sales associate who bent over backward to get a customer a new business suit before a trip to Zurich. The suit was tailored, pressed and delivered before his departure and when he arrived in Switzerland to make his presentation, he stuck his hand in the suit pocket and found a birthday card from the saleswoman. “That’s a hug,” he said.

In the stores and in the book, Mitchell said, are “reminders of what is essential — a move from reactive to proactive.” And all this hugging pays off on the bottom line.

“Does it work?” Mitchell asked. “I’m proud to say we’re profitable, and when you have a personal relationship with a customer, they generally buy at regular price.”

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