When a brand really matters

Financial Express 11.06.2012
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People often ask me, "What is luxury?" Even occasional readers of this space know this is a question to which I devote an inordinate amount of time. Certainly different people can define luxury in different ways, and I’ve written that luxury is about experience and rarity, not necessarily the “excess” that its Latin root word suggests.

Moreover, if something does go wrong, you know that the luxury brand will make it right through personalised after-sales service.

Although I am in the hospitality business of luxury hotels and fine restaurants, I take many great lessons from luxury clothing brands. A while back, I purchased quite an expensive jacket—it fit well, looked nice and felt like a quality product. There was only one problem: after three months the sleeve started to separate from the shoulder. My wife took it to one of the brand’s shops, not the one where I purchased it, but a different one. She explained the problem, showed the jacket and asked if they could repair it. "Why repair it?", the attendant asked, “this is not right, take a new one.” With no fuss and no questions asked, I had a new jacket. We expected that they would repair the jacket, hopefully for no additional charge. They went beyond the expected and provided a brand new product and did not trouble us with the details. Something went wrong, and they made it right.

So you tell me, is it worth it to spend on luxury brands that understand their business?

However, be wary that you are dealing with a brand that understands their value proposition. During my visit to Japan, I had quite the opposite experience. I went to a very expensive restaurant, one of the so-called elites of the world. Our reservation was for 9:30pm and we arrived at 9:25pm. The staff asked us to wait for five minutes, as we were early. We waited, outside, for a full thirty minutes. My guest was a senior representative from Google and I was quite embarrassed. Once we finally got our table, they added insult to injury as we were informed that they could not honour the dietary requests of which we had previously informed the restaurant. The waiter was quick to inform us that if we decided to leave, we would be charged for the meal anyway.

Is that luxury? If not, why are such establishments of this elite club? I predict that particular one would not last. The problem was not the delay, it was the recovery: instead of a simple apology or perhaps a glass of wine, we were met with rude demands.

Fortunately, during a visit to Europe for various meetings, I visited Ledbury in London, and not for the first time. This is a restaurant worthy of its many plaudits. We had preferences, including my wife’s rather strict dietary requirements. Despite giving the restaurant no notice, all requests were honoured with aplomb. It goes without saying that the meal and service at Ledbury were fantastic and truly worthy of a special journey.

So, when it comes to luxury brands’ value to the consumer, and their ultimate success, I think the key is staying humble. We all have a lot to learn and we should stay close to the customer so we can learn properly. Things will inevitably go wrong. True luxury brands will do what it takes to make it right.

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