16 November 2008

Working for Brooks Brothers

I'm putting this book on EBay with a $200 minimum. My copy of the Employee Handbook. Circa 1985.

Back in the 80's I worked for Brooks Brothers. Without going into a lot of detail about why...I did score a remarkable wardrobe -- at a very low cost -- and I learned a lot from the associates I worked with. Both the men and women. To begin with, there was intense competition among the employees when it came to personal appearance. And why not...these people loved clothes (most of them). The trick to the competition was acquiring the Brooks Brothers look without buying it from Brooks Brothers. No small feat for a beginner. Those with experience had it down pat.

I was told more than once that anyone could buy the Brooks look. That was the easy part. To take the customer by the hand and sell him or her the look. Whether they were familiar with the look or not. I had one customer. An older woman whom I never met face to face. She had called looking for help with socks. Not the sort of call you're hoping for on a commission job.

We talk and I determine she lives on the Main Line. A inquiry for socks turns into a phone order for a dozen pair of cashmere socks for her husband. She also wants to know if we carry Kent combs. I tell her no but give her the name of a store that does. I place the order for her and send her a thank you note on some beautiful engraved letterhead not unlike the President's letter in the employee handbook. She always called and asked for me afterwards. That meant more to me (still does) than the sale.

I had another regular. She was in her mid to late 30's and would come in alone in the middle of a week day. At first I thought she was just a bored house wife whose thrill was shopping. It wasn't until I met her husband and two young sons that I discovered she had cancer. The husband told me how much she enjoyed shopping with me and how it was one of the few things she really looked forward to after she learned of the cancer. He was there that day to buy the boys navy blazers for her funeral.

I've always felt ashamed I didn't know. I had seen the weight loss and the silk scarf on her head but never put it together. I'm always moved when I remember her and what shopping at Brooks Brothers meant to her.

I remember another customer who bought a hat. It came in beautiful round hat box in navy with the gold fleece embossed on the lid. I gave him the box and he was very impressed. We talked about the history of the Golden Fleece and I was able to go into a little (okay, a lot) more detail of the Fleece's history. Thank you National Park Service for giving me a primer in Spanish Colonial History at the Castillo de San Marcos. Anyway, I noticed the store manager close by. He smiled at us and came over. I introduced the customer and after a short conversation the manager pointed the customer to the register and stood next to me. Still smiling at the customer the manager whispered, "We don't have time for fucking history lessons here. Got that." He turned to me, smiled and walked off.

I'll never forget Brooks Brothers. Good and bad. A recent visit to the 346 Madison store turned into an hour session of shooting the bull with a couple long time salespeople who both remembered a lady in HR I had dated. Maybe that's why I get so upset when I see the quality of the product taking repeated nose dives. I still wear the cordovan wing tips I bought my first week with the company -- 23 years ago. And I'm still giving history lessons.

PS-Please click on the images to read the handbook excerpts. I don't think the girl I dated from HR had anything to do with this handbook. At least I hope not.


M.Lane said...

Great manager. I bet he really had a future.

BUT, fascinating story. I hope you kick it into the "Take Ivy" category on the Ebay sale!


Anonymous said...

The BB I remember-the flagship store at 346 Madison Ave. in the early 60's-was the true mecca of traditional American men's wear. I miss it very much. My first "good suit" was a University Shop charcoal grey unfinished worsted-3-piece, of course!-and when I first wore it to freshman rush in college, I felt that I had arrived.

Anonymous said...

My God, T, what an amazing story!

heavy tweed jacket said...

Tintin, Brilliant post. Very moving. Sounds like that manager failed history & human relations 101. You are a gifted writer. Best of luck on eBay.

Anonymous said...

Great stories as usual! I think Brooks salesman would be a great job for transitioning into retirement. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure the salesforce is now unionized. Was that the case in your day?

Ben said...

Great entry. It explains alot about you.

Although I didn't need to be told, my National Security seminar professor, Adm. Stearman, included advice to buy suits from Brooks in his farewell lecture titled "What you need to know about life".

Anonymous said...

I miss Brooks Brothers. I used to shop there with my father and grandfather and think, "Some day, I'll have all this." Then not long after I got out of college it was sold to Marks & Spencer and ever since it just hasn't been Brooks Brothers anymore.

Unknown said...

Amazing... I've got an in at the corporate archives... (disclaimer, they also made the mistake of not hiring me at said archives).

Alan said...

Very impressive! I hope you tell some more stories from your BB days (especially the girl from HR).

OTC said...

I still have my officially issued tailoring guide from Polo/Ralph Lauren, c.1994.

I need to get myself a scanner!

Unknown said...

Great Story! I live in Mexico and I'm the marketing manager for a store chain. We sell first quality baby clothes and I'm always motivating my sales personal, giving them tips to build better relationships between the company and the clients... but unfortunately my boss says that "it's not necessary, they have to sell, sell and sell"

It's great to read this, because this reaffirm that taking care of the costumer goes far away than getting the commission.

Again, very nice story, it would be great to chat with you someday!


tintin said...

RG- Thank you for your comment. It's hard working for those who are short sighted like my Brooks manager. People like this can't sell a golf ball in a pro shop but somehow they manage sales people. Don't ask me how.

Anonymous said...

Brooks Brothers specializes in gang torture.