Friday, August 28, 2009

Musings on J. Crew...

I get a new J. Crew catalog every week in the mail. I won't lie. I love it. Every page is exciting, different, fresh and amazing. There's a coolness to J. Crew, once a company whose purpose was to provide moms everywhere with classic essentials, it has morphed into the definition of "street chic" and "effortless cool." We haven't seen a transformation of this magnitude since Christopher Bailey took the reigns at Burberry in 2002 taking it from uptight British countryside wardrobe staples to an international symbol of luxury and style. They tell us that it's ok to wear Chuck Taylor's and Jack Purcell's with business suits. They encourage us to wear argyle socks with peep toe heels (one of my favorites!) and destroyed denim.

The men are attainable and ubercool. The perfect mix of handsome: a little scruffy yet impeccably put together. Every woman wants to wake up, throw on her Boyfriend jeans and a tissue tee and walk into her breezy white kitchen to find him making scrambled eggs in a cast iron skillet. The women have that perfect look: effortless and comfortable, yet fabulous and chic. She takes fashion risks, but never goes too far. She's a real girl, too, often having crow's feet or a gap between her two front teeth. She always looks pulled together, but never looks as though she tries too hard.

So why does this feeling go away when I open those glass double doors and walk into the giant cedar closet that is a J. Crew store? I started thinking about this recently because I need to buy a dress for a wedding and, as usual, I hate everything that I was considering wearing. I don't actually hate it, I just hate it for this particular event. I yearn to look like one of those women in the catalog: Audrey Hepburn-esque, but with an edge.

Every time, I tear through the store like a hurricane, desperately seeking the fabulousness that gets delivered to my home weekly, but my heart drops. I don't see it. It's not there. It's never there. Sure, almost everything I see in the catalog is there...but it's not there. The catalog is fantasy and the store is reality. The catalog is the amazing appetizer that leads up to a mediocre dinner, the hilarious trailer at the movies before the C- film I just paid thirteen dollars (plus Sour Patch Kids) to see, the first date, the best book in a series, a discontinued lipstick whose replacement color is never as good.

It's so disappointing to me that a company whose product, styling, sense of humor and uniqueness fails to capture my heart, my attention and my dollars in the same way that their catalog does. Have merchants become so lazy in their roles that they have lost the ability to create or is it the corporate side of retail that puts so much value on a perfectly folded stack of sweaters that there is no time left for creativity. I wonder...

Anyway, I'm off to order the same dress in three sizes, five different jewelry options and two pairs of shoes from my fabulous J. Crew catalog. This would be so much easier if I was as inspired inside the store...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My life would be perfect if...

I had a job that I found fulfilling and rewarding; I had gotten accepted to Northwestern for grad school; I knew what I really wanted to do for a living; I was motivated enough to run every day; I weren't prone to sinus infections; the city of Chicago actually functioned; I was able to see friends who live elsewhere more often; I didn't procrastinate; I didn't care what others thought of me; I could cook; I could get my wardrobe consulting business up and running; I could keep my mouth shut; I was six inches taller; I didn't feel like Miranda on Sex and the City; I had a bigger bed; I could shop for home decor and actually buy what I love; I could get a blowout every week; I made time for yoga every morning; I went to bed before midnight; I made time to read every day; I committed to volunteering; my hair was wavy; my dog didn't snore; my teeth were whiter; I truly had an interest in art (I love museums, but I never feel like I understand the art); I could implant my blackberry in the palm of my hand; I could have closure with my first love; I had my own boat; I didn't have an addiction to over-priced but fabulous shoes; I could play the piano (well); I could write (and finish!) my memoir, get it published and become famous.

Just a little to-do list.  I love lists.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

If chivalry is dead, customer service must be six feet under, getting eaten by worms.

Ever since I walked away from the retail world, I find that I have a heightened feeling of frustration with stores, sales associates and a general decline in something that I am very passionate about: customer service.  I find myself thinking, if I had behaved this way, I would have been fired!

So what's the cause for this rapid decline?  Has it really been a rapid decline or a slow decent into a consumer acceptance of poor service that I was too wrapped up in to notice?  After much thought, I realized that, although there are companies that do not prioritize great customer service, it has only just recently become "the norm."

It seems that every store that I walk in to, from my neighborhood Jewel to Barney's, is constantly reaching a new low.  I was at Jewel just the other day (grocery shopping for those of you non-Chicagoans) picking up a few pantry essentials.  I hopped into the express lane (15 items or less) hoping to avoid what is normally a hideously long wait at any time of the day. Annoyance set in after about ten minutes, as the cashier lazily scanned items while carrying on a conversation with the cashier manning the lane next to hers.  Realizing that it was too late to switch lanes, I continued to wait.  When I finally reached the checkout and pulled my debit card out of my wallet to pay, she rudely informed me that she was only accepting cash because she was having a problem with her "credit card thingy."  Excuse me?  Wouldn't this information have been helpful before I had gotten in this line?

Now, this situation really made me examine who and what is responsible for this kind of behavior.  Granted, the girl was rude, but really, this situation had little to do with her.  She wasn't the most poised or elegant messenger, but she was, simply, the messenger. There were at least ten customers in line and until I freaked out and passed the disturbing information I had just received on to the woman behind me and so on, nothing had been done to inform customers of the situation, remedy the problem or appease frustrated patrons.

This leads us to my theory:  You get back what you put out there.  There wasn't a manager, a supervisor, or even an employee who gave a damn about anything anywhere to be found.  The cashier clearly had no one to reach out to for help and most likely had received little if any instruction or training in customer service.  What a shame.  It's sad to see this decline and even worse to be slapped in the face by it every time you need to make a purchase.

Back to my theory.  The retail world, like most other professional arenas, is a cold, harsh place. Many retailers fail to explore what really hurts their business by playing what I call "the blame game."  The point is to find someone, anyone, to blame.  The sad thing is that the people who most often take the blame are the ones at the bottom of the totem pole, the ones who get paid the least, have the highest expectations and most often, receive the lowest quality training.  You get back what you put out there.  If you fail to properly train your staff, whose fault is it when they fail to live up to company standards?  When you pay your employees pennies above minimum wage, do they really feel valued and inspired to go above and beyond?  When the head honcho plays the blame game, does it set an acceptable standard for those running the daily operations?  

The disturbing decline in high customer service standards, or  any customer service standards as of late is due to a trickle down effect set in motion by a culture of people constantly seeking out opportunities to find someone else to blame, from the CEO, to the regional director, to the district manager, to the management team all the way down to the part time associates.  

I don't necessarily believe the mantra "the customer is always right," because in seven years of retail management, I have witnessed and experienced first hand more than a couple of situations where the customer was most definitely not right, but was still able to manage the situation and in most cases, resolve any issues while maintaining a positive relationship with those customers going forward.  My mantra is "treat challenging customers as you would wish to be treated if the shoe were on the other foot."

People wonder why retailers (even Target!) that sell necessities like groceries are struggling in these rough times.  It all comes down to CUSTOMER SERVICE.  Why should I pay to be disrespected?  My expendable income is not what it once was and I, like many, refuse to hand over my hard-earned dollars to some snotty sales associate, undoubtedly a product of low pay, poor training and a complete lack of leadership in the work environment.

Good customer service is the key.  This is so simple.  During a recession, the companies that are not only surviving, but growing and thriving are those who recognize the value of treating people with respect, both external and internal (employees) customers.  I know I'm not the only person out there who feels this way and hopefully, my next job with value customer service as much as I do. That is a place where I want to work!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Can we talk about Bravo TV for a minute?

OK, so I'm pretty much a late-night, just because I'm bored TV watcher.  I invest the fifteen bucks a month for DVR service because, although I do enjoy some television, I pity people whose lives revolve around watching it.  Sure, I partake in a weekly Bachelorette night with girlfriends, but that's much more about cocktails and bitching than the actual show.  I like to get out there and indulge in a little human interaction and then come home and see if I missed anything good. Ninety percent of the time, I wind up watching five minutes of a show and then deleting it.  This has been a pattern ever since I convinced my parents about four years ago that life was not livable without TiVo, and I must demand that they purchase one for me as a Christmas gift.  It was only recently that I found that the only things worth watching are on Bravo, and everything on the channel is amazing, and by amazing, I mean completely over the top, ridiculous and addictive.

I love it.  All of it.  From The Real Housewives franchise, to Top Chef, to my new favorite, NYC Prep.  I even watched The Fashion Show, and Isaac Mizrahi makes my stomach churn.  I do, however, like Kelly Rowland.  She seems nice.  Anyway, my point is, I've realized that aside from 30 Rock and The Office, both on hiatus for the summer and my favorite HBO  and Showtime series (which I Netflix), there's nothing on TV.  Nothing but theses fabulously juicy, completely unrealistic "reality shows" that much to my dismay, are the only thing keeping my attention as of late.  I even put down this month's Vogue last week in favor of catching up with my favorite spoiled, Upper East Side Manhattan teenagers.  What's wrong with me?

This recent obsession has forced me to question my own life, and I've decided that I am desperately in need of an escape from my reality.  I'm not saying that I want to be an over-indulged yet mildly vacant reality TV character, but there's something really fun about snuggling up on my couch and watching George and Lina fight on Miami Social or PC try to convince everyone watching that he's heterosexual on NYC Prep.  I used to scoff at these silly shows, but now I realize, they serve a purpose.  They're not supposed to be "real," or even funny, although they are funny in an uncomfortable, painful sort of way.  They're supposed to offer us a sneak peek into lives very different than the ones that most of us lead and show us that the grass isn't always greener.  

For me, my late-night Bravo TV rendezvous had made me cherish my life, my friends, my family, everthing, because,'s real. 


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