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Retailers play to the faithful: big spenders

Luxury brands' exclusive events (and maybe a charitable donation or two) entice elite shoppers more effectively than price-slashing sales. .

May 10, 2009|Carla Hall

For luxury stores wooing their highest-spending customers during these recessionary times, it's less about offering a sale and more about "giving people some kind of connoisseurship experience that gets them in the store," said David Winter, chief executive of the Luxury Marketing Councils of Southern California and Arizona. "Then when you get them in, they buy stuff."

Sometimes that means an exclusive invitation to chat with a designer while sipping cocktails. Barneys New York sent out on the road its creative director, Simon Doonan, a celebrity himself for his cheeky column in the New York Observer and a guest critic stint on "America's Next Top Model." He hosted get-togethers at stores in smaller cities where he chatted with select customers about trends. "We have Champagne and nibbly bits and a laugh and lounge around the shoe salon," Doonan said. His event one Friday morning two months ago in Boston "started at 9 and by 10:30, we'd sold $30,000 worth of shoes."

Other times, it means an invitation to an elegant private home where a jeweler and a furniture maker may display their wares -- and a percentage of the proceeds goes to charity.

The underlying strategy is "surprising and delighting your current best clientele," according to Winter. "Concentrate on that instead of casting a wide net for people who you don't know are vetted to purchase your product. . . . If you already know the people who love Chanel, spend money on them, do a private event at their homes," said Winter, who has helped his clients arrange a number of invitation-only events in private homes. "You can sit in your boutique and have 100 people come through and make two sales. Or you can go to a private home, spend $1,500 on some nice hors d'oeuvres and sell $100,000 of Louis Vuitton."

Stuart Winston, vice president of marketing and development for the appointment-only jeweler Lugano Diamonds has found another way to please big-spending customers: The jeweler contributes to a variety of philanthropic organizations patronized by clients -- sometimes in the client's name. Lugano made a six-figure contribution in 2008 to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, a favorite cause of several clients. And after a Lugano client who made a recent jewelry purchase of more than $25,000 mentioned being involved with an organization that finances wells in Africa to provide clean water, "We donated enough money to that organization for a well," Winston said. (He estimates that it was a $2,000 donation.)

"I think they feel more comfortable because their relationship doesn't just end with the fact that they're buying," Winston said. "It takes a little of the edge off. It doesn't seem just frivolous. We know we're not curing anything here."


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