Season 2 Episode 4: How a Mom-and-Pop Clothing Store Sparked a Bestselling Book

Derek: Ladies and gentlemen welcome to another episode of The Business Book Show, and I have on the show today one of my, I guess professional heroes, Jack. Now for anyone who is in the sales you should have come across the book Hug Your Customers the Wall Street Journal Best Seller, Best Seller on the couple of other different lists and then there was Jack’s follow up book Hug Your People, and it’s based on Jack’s experience as the, as the (laughing) my words fail me, it’s always bad for a word spin to leave this language

Jack: (laughing)

Derek: 3rd generation retailer in Connecticut is where I was going with that, excuse me 3 generations of a retailer in Connecticut and Mitchell’s has they’ve clothed US presidents, senators, celebrities, people from all of the fortune 500, everybody who’s anybody knows that if you want to get, you wanna do your clothes right you go to a, you go to Mitchell’s and so he took all those years of experience, turned them into two wonderful books which are how I came to a, to meet him. But Jack, thank you for taking the time today to talk to us about your book.

Jack: You are controlled to do that for all to share a, about my book and also to have the pleasure of doing it with you

Derek: Well so what, what was the entities for the book, what made you one day get up and decide, ah I wanna write a book about a clothing store?

Jack: You know I guess I always have in the back of my mind or in my heart that I wanted to share how my brother and I and my family and my mom and dad you know started or family business and how we’ve grown the family business over the years and what happened actually was back in 2001 it was at the CEO summit in our industry at the Boulders a nice place to have a conference and I was asked to be a panelist not a keynote speaker in those days to describe our fam- to describe businesses and I was one of 6. Before our panel went on at about 8:30 in the morning, where are the Lewis’, where are the Gary’s in our industries and were in the men’s we sew men’s and women’s clothing that’s our, the products that we sell, upper end and of luxury space. Higi jumps up and down and it was a dark time era through all of that so I’m gonna for whatever to remember that, that time when, when he got up and said if you didn’t have a sexy website you know pricks or motors were all over in a decade yeah everybody was gonna be buying every bit of merchandise on the internet, whether it be a tie, a sock, a blouse, a skirt, or a piece of jewelry, everything is gonna be done on the internet and the pricks and motors were over and everybody cheered you know, they say everybody agreed with that the, we’re 300 plus more minus CEO’s that are in the room, then our panel came up and we all had 5 or 6 minutes to talk about our businesses and, and the first CEO she said essentially the same thing, next to him and he  said the same thing, and I got up and I before the stage is jerk we either sort of walk down in the middle of it and in the middle of you know, I said you know well so we’re gonna thrive, not only survive we’re gonna thrive over the next decade cause we’re all about something I’ve never heard anybody talk about yet, we’re about customers. Customers for us are the absolute center of the universe, had- and we believe that there’s a place for customers to have experiences in our stores, and had they come in one customer a time then we know their names, and their nicknames, and their birthdays, and their anniversary dates, and their kid’s names, and the name of their dog’s and their cat’s, and we know their- we know absolutely with our technology do have and we use it to record all the sales you know every skill to everything of the customer that we’ve, that we’ve sold stuff to, what they buy, what they don’t buy, but better than that we try to get to not, it’s not just myself and my family it’s our sales associates that are on the selling floor. Everybody’s in the store welcoming, like you’re welcoming someone into your home, and we have coffee which my mom and dad started in 800 square feet in you know over 50 years ago I said, and they were in 800 square feet then mom brought a coffee pot from home to serve coffee and welcome our friends or of course our first customer, and we’re still doing that today. We just make people feel comfortable and make them feel great when they’re shopping with us on our stores and you know it’s sans our tailors they (stuttering) build relationships with the costumers, our buyers, well how do you know what the buyer unless the buyers are on the selling floor meeting and greeting and listening to what customers are buying and why they’re buying, or if we have a, if we have a new, somebody has a new collection what kind of collections we should be buying cause our customers travel the world so I just emphasized this  over and  over again these personal relationships, one customer at a time, and center of the universe, and then we sat down in our pal finished and I walked off the stage and there were this round tables being just figurative and this gentleman was head of Bergdorf Goodman at the time, a great store in New York City owned by Neiman Marcus, he put his finger on my face and he said, Jack, next thing you’re gonna tell me is you and your employees are actually hug your customers and I closed my eyes and I saw my brother Bill who is actually the next officer and then as a gift came off the selling floor had I can hear but you know I, he, my brother came out of the woo backing usually there are I saw a German who just retired after almost 50 years of working at Richard’s Hard Store in Greenwich, Connecticut which was our 2nd store Frank Alongi who was hugging. Back today over the of, I had somebody told me Matt Lauer today at the Today’s Show was talking about Richard’s and Frank and all the people that he’s been with and clothing him over the years so we worked for with there- Matt Lauer, I worked her before I was all that wait and I said, I said doesn’t everybody hug their customer and I realized just like that sure that not everybody does hug their customers. And I said what’s a hug you know a hug is any it’s a metaphor yes it can be a bear hug but it’s a metaphor- for any tiny act or deed, you know that actually, that actually touches a customer. I began to think that way and then by 8 minutes or 6 minutes or whatever was on my reaction to this gentleman, I said to myself um gee maybe I can be a speaker cause at the time I was 64 years old and I was saying to myself, my brother Bill and I had always wanted to and we had, we were in the process of completing it gifting the equity in the business and the real estate we on building here in Westford we ought to build, building a drainage and then we subsequently you know have stores in San Francisco, we have a store there in the real estate and we, we gift all of this to our sons we have four sons, my brother has three, and they were, they were in the family business all of them running the, helping run the family business and so I thought well what was I gonna be doing you know ten years hence? And I said maybe I could be a speaker, and that sounded great so because he asked me almost a week later when I be a keynote speaker at the next meeting which was on the men’s wear and I said sure, I’d love to and that I began to say what was I gonna talk about then one of my sons said dad remember you’ve mentioned what Ron said about hugging your customers and I said yes, that’s what you should do, you should focus on how we do that, why we  do it, what motivates us to do it all these years, and how we’ve built it into the whole process of strategically of what we do. And so I did that and that turned out to be a very, everybody loved my speech candidly without sounding any in it was some humility and then all the sudden I’ve contacted OIC in Speakers Bureau and I said I’d like to be speaking on, on this hug your customer idea personalizing customer service the mutual way and Tony Tamileon he was actually a customer even though he was OIC in Speakers Bureau he said Jack you need a book, you can’t, nobody’s gonna listen to you unless you know, no one’s gonna pay you  and while the money was secondary even it wasn’t my high priority at all, for me it was just putting it down in a keep, just sharing our ideas at, from our family with others and, and so I said okay well I’ll think about that and then 3 weeks later in walls to Jack Romanos who at the time was the CEO of ish- yeah I love it sexy title say well, what do you think he said give me an hour of my time get your blast together think of it as a city call my assistant, so that’s what I did and I called and I’ve made my little presentation I’m dyslexic so it’s hard for me to write it all up and I put some notes down and he brought up Fred Hills who was his Editor in Chief at the time and they both loved it. And so that’s what happened and then in the while he didn’t buy the book I eventually, eventually he said to me Jack you’re not gonna write this book yourself you need help so in choices of course I do I said I’m a retailer, not an author and a writer but you know I, I went to graduate school, I but of course my Degree equitably was in Chinese History, I have Master’s Degree in Chinese HistoryBerkeley so I, you know I can write, I can you know yeah but, but

Derek: (laughing)

Jack: but he said. And he said you know I’m sorry (crosstalk)

Derek: That’s an experience far from an, far from home (laughing)

Jack: Right I, he said you know I can find your collaborator or ghost writer and I said great, and he’s um Sonny Kleinfield who has been my, I call him collaborator on my 2 books and I’ve written a couple more that hopefully would be published someday and he’s, I have the ideas he, I dictate them up, I write them up, and then he makes, he’s captured my voice and he makes them sing, and it became a second career for me. I’ve done the book as you well know sold you know several hundred thousand copies you know and then the second book came along because everybody asked me how do you find these people that you talk about cause one of the paragrams on my book which is that you remember I’m sure it’s very simple, most clothing stores like us which are great Nieman’s, Barney’s, Sack’s, you know Nordstrom’s they (stuttering) even know our some, their best they’re really product oriented more than they are service oriented and they very rarely talk about people while  I flip it around and I say it’s all about great people we have to have good people that we could educate and train and then they become really excellent in whatever they do, whether it be tailors, or seamstresses or sellers, or buyers, and then they deliver this personalized service and then by the way we  have the finest products in the world, we try to for our customers. But if you wake up in your Claire of Nordstrom’s part of Neiman Marcus you’re, you wake up thinking products, what’s selling today, what’s fashionable for them, and then you think I mean well Nieman’s gives personal service but that’s not their not their driving force not their not in their DNA first; that’s my opinion anyway and then of course they very rarely talk about their great people where we’re all about great people personally who cause you don’t get personal service in a bad camp there obviously you give it with great people and so I wrote about all that and the book sold a lot of copies as I said I’ve done over 200 motivational speeches throughout the country and the world on my first- on my book with companies like

Jack: I could go on; I don’t know what else would, what else you’d like to, to ask me on it, to me it’s been a wonderful journey. It’s changed my life and I, you know, I still wake up thinking what I’m gonna be writing and doing you know I’ve written a book on even on more of an in sync book on selling the whole process of selling, that I’m negotiating now with publishers but I still love my day job, you know I’m on the selling floor you know I’ve busy times and on weekends, Saturdays, here in Connecticut in 1 week you know the stores have grown from this little 800 square feet foot store in 1958 when my parents were on their mid-50s to now we have 8 stores plus 4 Connecticut, Greenwich Connecticut, Richards, Huntington, Long Island, Mitchell’s of Huntington, San Francisco Wilkes Bashfordthen just a year and a half ago we put a partnership together with Mario Bizio in Seattle Washington and Portland Oregon so now we have 8 stores, he has 2 in Portland so we have 8 stores and again this whole hugging idea, this hugging culture of hugging your customers of having little act or deed that makes them feel great, and we I tell hugging stories you know, and then the next phase is I’m actually

Derek: Go ahead I’m sorry

Jack: No I’m open up for our comments and your you know, you’ve heard probably read my stories but what do you think?

Derek: Well talking about stories one of the things that I love about Hug Your Customers is that I mean Jack you could have written a book that was quite you know prescriptive, this is how you do this, this is how you do that, this and that, the computer systems that you have in place is, but you didn’t. Your whole book is this wonderful collection of, of relevant stories and anecdote and you put together quite, quite well but I why love is just the in those stories you’re reader is able to connect with you so it’s not just reading this book that has this information on how to sell better, how to give the customer a better experience but you tell a story and in that story they see they get the inspiration for having that as a goal but in doing so they get to connect with you as an author so I imagine, I mean just like you know for us this is the first time that you and I have ever spoken

Jack: Oh yes (laughing)

Derek: Over the phone but yet I feel like I know you, I’ve read about your sons I mean I remember the story about your parents and you’re talking about your mom and the coffee pot I remember that out of the book those little details, that’s what makes your book so rich, so memorable.

Jack: Thank you, thank you that makes- it always makes me feel great when I hear that. Because (stuttering) you know, I believe stories in life from the very beginning of time I think people can tell stories they relate after it have to be genuine this is a big part and you pick up, every story I have is for real I mean like my opening story actually in my Hug Your People Book was generated because every time I do one of these speeches most, before I wrote Hug Your People they would say even though I put it in my Hug Your Customer Book this idea of it was called a big secret and was a whole part or chapter that part that I had because that was about people but they would say to me how do you find these people you know, how do you hire them? How do you do this and I was thinking about maybe doing, emphasizing that in a second book and my assistant at the time you know but very rarely these days do we get letters right I mean everything’s email or texting even on 2008 and 2009 but my assistant put some (stuttering) 8 page calligraphy letter, in green calligraphy from a woman named Sarah Butterfeels where I changed her name in the book and she said in this letter to me. I read it on a Sunday well she put this in my mail together on a Saturday night and I read on Sundays it said you know if everything you say in your book just so that your book Hug Your Customers and she said if everything you say in the book I wanna work for you and your family, because where I am, I sell a million two hundred thousand dollars’ worth of shirts and bags, but they won’t let me it’s against the rules, cause you know from my book where values these companies we’re not a rules and regulations based company we have guidelines and high standards and anyway she said they won’t let me sell you know suits and fur coats and shoes, a whole wardrobe because I’m building these relationships but they’re all around shirts and bags, I wanna build them around people, and she said then there’s this when some men are married and it most of it is very

Derek: (laughing)

Jack: Or I call her and then she came up the next week she lived to our Greenwich Store, Richard’s in Greenwich, which by the way started you know we bought in 1995 you know it was across the street in at 8,000 square feet, it was doing about 9 million dollars in 8,000 square feet which a, as we learn about you and we put it into the computer and then we find out who you are. If we haven’t found that in conversations, you know we can obviously Google you, we find out who you are and the rest is history. Anyway she’s become one of the most prolific sellers we’ve ever had and she moved eventually to the community and became part of the community so those are the kind of things that, that was my second book are their people of the various parts of, various elements of being and reckon where the principles of that particular book but again the same thing happened, I just felt I had to write it because it was something that people were asking me about had I look you know, I don’t know about you but I’ve other authors that you’ve talked with but I learn every time I write something. I learn about myself and other people. That’s the most of me I pull, I don’t try to push, I try to pull, pull information and things out of people and then when that happens I pull a lot of a, I mean I have to question as you said why didn’t I write a book, what was the purpose of it, and I came to a conclusion, clearly it wasn’t I mean I like to make money but the money of the books where I’m- I’ve made some money is on my stages. But I get again I learned as a consultant you know with speaking if you don’t charge people don’t show up. And

Derek: (laughing) (crosstalk) it work

Jack: And when they show up- (crosstalk) isn’t it I mean consultants have been, if you don’t pay a consultant you don’t, you may not think it’s valuable. And then they buy a book, I mean I’ve done, I made speeches where they story books run on about 3 or 4 thousand when I did part of the leadership speeches in 2004 and like sold a couple at the same, so you know and that’s what’s gonna be happening now in the workshops, so if this workshop I do which I believe I will but when it does if I have a big company which I can’t tell you I’m plugging with that but it’s a do arts company that want to know how to do personalized service better than they’re doing and the book and  other ideas will generate a lot of people reading the book and a lot of people going to the workshops and it could be financially like one of these startup companies that, that we sell to those leaders and sell like of value I mean I strive very well too I can’t even tell you the people, I wouldn’t tell you the people that we have it, well you can imagine with Apple and Facebook and Instagram and you know Google all of this you know we have someone of, we have leaders of Silicon Valley cause they don’t know anything about clothes but they know everything about technology and they respect us. I mean Steve Jobs put in his, in his book which is a great book I’m sure you know that and you’ve probably read it and promoted it I mean he put in there that he shouts at Wilkes Bashford before we bought it and after we bought it which was very nice of him and that sort of I think helped plus the fact that we weren’t just investors but we really were retailers that were on the selling floor and were working one on one with the customers and try to sell them or have them buy rather than we sell have them buy things, clothing that they like, and that they need and why they need it and to this day I (coughing)

Derek: Jack could we rewind for just a little bit earlier you were talking about whenever your publisher asked if you’re willing to write the book or if you wanted to work with a collaborator and you’d said yes and then he connected you to Sonny Kleinfield would you mind talking about your relationship, how did it work with you having feed the ideas back and forth and shaping the book.

Jack: dictation, or now I can use my iPhone with the Blackberry now it’s an iPad- iPhone or iPad and I write in either talk in to it or write in to my stories about what’s happening, about whatever we’re talking about, first I have an outline in my head at where we’re going and then Sonny then takes them and he takes a lot of these stories that you say are that you’ve been work- you know real stories and then he puts them in an order that shapes the entire book. So it’s a, it’s really a partnership between the two of us, so he really is, he’s learned my DNA in terms of where I’m coming from, he’s gifted in the sense of that’s why that he does feature stories primarily, he’s I think doing it to full of surprises, when he did all of the leaves stories for 9-11 he lived down at downtown in New York and so he’s, that’s the kind of, he loves the kind of human interest stories that’s why we connected so well, cause he’s a real hugger he’s a quietly introverted hugger but he, he just relates to what I have to say. So if even today if I have something I really want to do with for an article or something I just call in and say here’s what I wanna say and I will write it down or I’ll send here’s my for you some bullet points and I give them, I just talk to him and then he sends it back and sounds like me.

Derek: Jack on behalf of the ghost writers everywhere can I just tell you how much I appreciate you being the forthright about that relationship, I think that too many people have a, whenever they hear a ghost writer they think of one person writing the book then someone else getting all the credit and that’s not really professional ghost writing, that’s really just being a fraud.

Jack: Right

Derek: What you’ve described is what professional ghost writing is rated A collaboration. Where someone who has the skills, someone who is a professional writer, comes together with someone who has the ideas, and the experience, and the expertise, a person who is the author and captures their ideas and their voice in the unique medium that is a book; (crosstalk) that’s ghost writing.

Jack: (crosstalk) there. Exactly. Thank you, thank you I appreciate that and but again I am a storyteller, in fact, you know I like you with my wife candidly, my wife and I have been married 57 years and it’s worked out pretty well

Derek: Congratulations wow.

Jack: And so we have 7 grandchildren you know 5 and 4 in college, 1 just graduated cause we’re working on the 4th generation for our family business but anyway she says Jack tell me the end of the story, tell me, don’t tell me the whole story.

Derek: (laughing) Just tell me the punch line

Jack: Cause she’s very analytical, very data driven, very detail oriented and I’m, and she’s an introverted thinker, she’s not introvert but she’s an introverted thinker. I’m an extraverted thinker, I get my energy by talking and then by writing, I talk if I talk it out then I write it down then I, something comes up that maybe new or different or that I really believe in strongly then I write it down, and I’m blessed now with an assistant that watches and takes verbatim dictation if I talk just sits at the computer and write and types it out and we were working now for 5 years she’s probably even listening to part of this, she’s in the next office, she’s just, she knows me and I know her and she’s she’ll face time out and then she can also like funny, she can clean we call it clean it up a little bit. Just put it a little bit better, phrase- not phrasing it differently but making sure that well she knows me well enough that what I really mean by this story or that article that were working on or if I’m, by the way I do a hug of the week story, but this isn’t you like the stories because of how the book has influenced people here you can imagine we have to live up to the hugging culture so if we make, when we make everybody makes mistakes you know from my book I say I love mistakes that we all make mistakes but when I wrote the book now all of a sudden if wefor a CNBC or losing a very important that he wanted to do but asking to do and it came through but he has no suit, he has no fur coat, he has these casual clothes so we have this measurements, this kind of person doesn’t live like to come in to the store, we go to his office to fit clothes and sew for them and but we have his measurements and its at 42 long I think something like that and he buys any clothing so we tried to, and he wanted to well he always likes this basic clothes so we had either blue suit or blue stripes and we didn’t have one in Connecticut but he needed this for an interview it was like 2 o clock and yet I needed it for (stuttering) the next morning in Los Angeles, anyway long story short, we found one, we had one in Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco we did the you know the tailor Antonello who has been there for 20 years just he did up the alterations based on our cut the shoes, cut the shirt, the tie, the whole 9 yards. Jeff Carrilac who’s in charge of our stores in California headed an airplane flew down to Los Angeles at 10 o’clock at the suite ready the clubs here the man got on with you know CNBC and made the was pleases to go pink and I can’t even tell you who he was but you can imagine, but it doesn’t really matter who he was we would do it for anyone, that’s always the point of the stories.

Derek: Yeah

Jack: You know and I mean we did one thing yesterday it was on my last sort of a week until Sunday, Mario’s somehow they forgot to put a polo shirt into one of their top customers who was headed to I think Hawaii or somewhere, somewhere near Mexico south anyway, I had to lay over in San Francisco and just went again after all I got in this car drove through the airport and gave him this dollar shirt that we had we have a similar one in San Francisco so he could take this polo shirt, for some reason it was very very important to him and so we do, we just, we do those things that’s hugging your customers, that’s who we are. But for me it’s you know the, I get the response, but everybody sees that I send it to the 400 inside people that work with us through emails.

Derek: So I mean this book the first book that you wrote its then this catalyst for, maybe not for change, but maybe it’s been the accelerator for a for launching this second career of yours, for having you know it’s one thing to have a culture inside of one store or in one job per se but whenever you start having geography, whenever you start working in geography having multiple stores and people in multiple geographies it having that adhesive culture gets a little bit harder so that’s a between the book and then the things that the book has, has launched it sounds like it has been as the I don’t wanna say unifier but it’s been an incredible tool for you to spread this idea not only with other companies but within your own company as it growing from coast to coast.

Jack: Yup, thank you, you know we’re (stuttering), it’s been a great journey, and well I don’t think the journey’s so I think the best place in the years are to come as we’re having fun you know even into (stuttering) you have to return everything well we just

Derek: Right, well Jack before I let you get back to any of your many endeavors plus keeping up with the 4

Jack: (laughing)

Derek: And 7 grandchildren is there any parting words of wisdom or advice that you’d give to people who are thinking about or trying to write a business book?

Jack: I would just, I would (unintelligible) every and I think there’s a book in a lot of people and I would urge them to really do it. It’s a wonderful experience to write a book and it isn’t as difficult as a lot of people think, if you find like I did a collaborator, I mean you need help, I mean I’ve always needed help and everything that we’ve done we’ve got a business family consultant, we have an advisory board so you need help to do it, it should read your book and you should get final help there are various ways to do it but get it out, put it down on a piece of paper, write it down, I, it’s a, I mean don’t hesitate, it might take longer than you think, maybe it doesn’t, maybe you could  just sit down and write it up, and I have this one son who just, who has this unbelievable skill Derek, he just he did it junior high school and did it in college he just sits down, thinks about it, and just does it right up, very rarely changes one of the few words that’s not I am I, but once, once you finished it yeah that’s it, you can’t always make edits cause you’ll be editing forever, but I would just urge anyone that’s you have a book and you’ve got it out.

Derek: That’s a great advice

Jack: And do it, do it like Nike says, go for it, and have fun

Derek: Yeah it is, it’s always a different experience than the, than I think anybody anticipated being that it’s, I’ve never heard someone who finished a book who said that it wasn’t worth it

Jack:  Right, exactly. Exactly. And in my book I mean it’s I had a, people said to me and I think it’s true, I mean I had to hug myself first, that sounds you know chauvinistic or too self-absorbed but you have to have confidence that you can do it. And once you started and it just flows out and it’s really magical when you something pop up that you’ve written. And if people like it it’s even nicer like yourself I’ve people appreciate your kind words about my book and how it’s moved you and others too

Derek: I think it’s a wonderful example of what business books should be

Jack: Thank you very much (laughing)

Derek: It has been my pleasure but um so everyone listeninga, of course, I recommend reading the Hug Your Customers and then there’s a, andvideos on there and some other resources and ideas and you get a real sense of the business that’s behind these books. And if you read the book and you get to know you at the stores you can get a great idea of how the book helps the stores and the stores helps the book, there’s this beautiful alignment there of the one helping the other which I think is what’s the business books ultimately should do. They should be aligned with whatever your strategic goals are and if you have a place based business or a service based business or whatever it is, they should complement the, complement each other and hug your customers is an example of exactly how to do that. Well Jack, again thank you so much and I sincerely hope that we get to meet in person sometime.

Jack: Let’s do it for sure, thank you.

Derek: Thank you, have a great evening.

Jack: And so do you.